Chris Wilkinson, 63, is an architect and a painter. He has a mind of an engineer and a philosopher. In 1970, after graduating from London Polytechnic Institute, now known as Westminster University, Wilkinson traveled throughout Europe and then went on to work for several of the most successful architects in the United Kingdom, including Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Michael Hopkins. Chris Wilkinson founded his own firm in 1983 and a few years later, he promoted his collaborator Jim Eyre to become partner and renamed the firm Wilkinson Eyre Architects. Wilkinson Eyre Architects built a number of widely recognized projects including the Stratford Regional Railroad Station and the Kew Gardens’ Alpine House in London, as well as the National Waterfront Museum Swansea in Wales and the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, England. Currently the firm is overseeing the construction of the 437 m tall Guangzhou West Tower in Guangzhou, China. However, the firm’s most celebrated projects are their bridges. The architects have designed over two dozen beautiful kinetic structures in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Greece, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and the United States. Among the firm’s most widely known bridges are the Gateshead Millenium Bridge in North East England and a tiny Bridge of Aspiration, twisting like a ballerina skirt to gracefully connect the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden, high above Floral Street in central London. Wilkinson Eyre Architects won the coveted Stirling Prize twice (2001 and 2002) for the best building of the year in Britain. In January 2008 the joint team of Wilkinson Eyre and Russian developer giant Glavstroy won the competition to design the masterplan of the Apraksin Dvor district in St. Petersburg, Russia, which will feature a spectacular new footbridge over the Fotanka Canal. I met with Chris Wilkinson in his office in Islington, London where the practice of about 140 architects occupies two full floors in a low-rise modern office building. Tell me about your winning Apraksin Dvor project in St. Petersburg?
It is a very exciting project for us because St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, almost every building is a historical masterpiece, and the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Therefore to build anything new in such a situation is a special challenge. Apraksin Dvor is a run down market area near Nevsky Prospect. The idea is to turn it into high-end retail space, apartments, offices, hotels and museums. It will have a London’s Covent Garden feel to it. We kept all the buildings at the perimeter and removed the run down structures at the core, which will provide an opportunity to have a covered courtyard and streets under a glazed roof with outdoor cafes. We also linked this area to Fontanka Canal and designed a pedestrian bridge on the other side with a cloud-like sculpture. A huge crystalline glass tensegrity roof hangs over the canal and reflects the water and the sky. How is the relationship with your client Glavstroy developing? Did you notice anything different working in Russia compared to Britain and other places?
The client is very professional. All the expenses at the competition stage were paid for and once we won, they organized an exhibition of our design in the Union of Architects of St. Petersburg. At the very final stage of the competition we presented our scheme along with Foster and Partners to the governor and jury and then the projects were exhibited for a couple of weeks at the City Hall. What impressed me is that the decision after these two presentations was made on the spot – in just 15 minutes. This would never happen in the UK. Decisions take a long time here. How familiar were you with the local context of St. Petersburg and how does your project address it?
We spent a lot of time on site and we had all the necessary surveys and historical data, which was very helpful. Personally, I went there three times. The key idea was to renovate most of the historical buildings and make any new architecture not very noticeable. This is very tricky because if you make new architecture too invisible you might as well just not bother at all. So I think the contrast between old and new is very exciting. I think if you don’t allow for new development a city will die. Cities have to regenerate themselves. But of course, we need to try to keep as much of the historical fabric in tact as we can. Do you think St. Petersburg is ready for progressive contemporary architecture? How is working in such a sensitive historic city different from working in other places?
Well, there is a reluctance on the part of the people of St. Petersburg to accept any new development. I definitely got that impression when I was interviewed by the press. My feeling is that new interventions need to be sensitive. The only way you can explain your intentions is by showing examples and we have worked in historic contexts before. For example, we just completed the Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre and that is in a World Heritage site. It is a very modern building and it is very well accepted by locals. We are also building a transportation interchange and a school in the center of Bath.
Do you think it is beneficial for Russian cities to invite foreign architects to build?
I think it is. I think there is a benefit in the mixture of cultures and thinking. London is a very international city and we have many international architects building here even though we have plenty of great local architects. It provides a healthy competition and it helps to improve the standards, hightening the benchmark of quality. I think it is very good to have some input from outside. Right now many foreign architects are working in London – Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Mecano, and of course, we have a lot of major American firms here SOM, KPF, HOK, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects and so on. How personally are you involved in this project and how often do you come to St. Petersburg or Russia? What is your impression of the country and its culture?
I am personally involved in the project because I like to design. I’ve been to St. Petersburg four times and I’m going there again. I visited Moscow twice before the competition. The last time I was there was for a conference on high-rise buildings organized by ARX magazine. I like the vitality in Russia. When I visit Russia, I always pick up this excitement and interest in things that are happening so I was really excited to get the project there. I have a particular interest in projects by constructivists and have visited the Melnikov House. I am also aware of contemporary architecture being designed and built in Russia. I think we will see much better projects in the next few years because there is a very strong desire to move forward. I went to see some towers that are under construction in Moscow with the city chief architect Alexander Kuzmin. He also took me to see the new Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was extraordinary because it was built so quickly. How do you feel about the fact that your project proposal was chosen over Norman Foster’s, whom you worked for as a young architect?
Well, it is not the first time. Sometimes they win, sometimes we win. We actually have a good record of winning competitions. Today the architecture scene is very competitive, hence one always has to compete for new work.
What was your childhood like and how did you get interested in architecture?
I was brought up in the suburbs of London and my father was a surveyor. I met architects through my father and I think I was attracted to architecture because of the people I met. They were very interesting to me so I was interested in architecture very early on and art was my favorite subject at school. Tell me about your path as a young architect after graduating from Polytechnic Institute?
Right after school I worked for one of my professors and three years after, I took three months off to travel and search for what I wanted to do next. I went to France, Italy and Greece. I wanted to leave London for a while. This was in the early 1970s. While traveling I realized that I wanted to work for either Norman Foster or Richard Rogers. They were not well known then but I wanted to work for them because they were definitely forward thinking. So, I rushed back and applied for work at both places. Foster offered me a job. At that time he had about 30 people. After working there for a few years, Michael Hopkins, who was then a partner at Foster’s, left to open his own firm and asked me to join him. I worked for Michael for five years. Then I was offered a job at Richard Rogers and worked there for a few years. And then there was a point when I decided that if I ever wanted to set up my own practice that was the time. I was 38 years old and I made the decision to start my own practice with no work. I’m going to be 38 this year. Tell me how do you open your practice with no work?
Well, people were very good to me. Michael Hopkins helped me with work. Also, I continued to work for a while for Richard Rogers. Also, Peter Rice, a well-known engineer from Arup, gave me a couple of projects. One of them was to look after the IBM traveling technology exhibition, which is a building designed by Renzo Piano. This exhibition pavilion was traveling throughout Europe and I looked after it in the UK – putting it up in London and York. Gradually I got more work. All this time I was working by myself. Then I got one person, then another. Initially, I shared space with a former coworker at Richard Rogers. For a while, I had five or six people and then in 1990 we won two major projects for the London Underground Jubilee line – the Stratford Train Depot and Station. Other projects followed subsequently.
You worked for all of the key high-tech British architects. What did you learn from them?
In my last year at university, I went to Richard Rogers’ lecture, which made me aware of new architecture technology, which I had never heard of before. It was about prefabricated joint construction, new materials, fascinating gaskets and details and all of those things that seemed so interesting. So, intellectually, I felt that architecture is constantly evolving. I was always attracted to Modernism, but Modernism that would evolve. Suddenly, I could see that it was the new technology that was going to change architecture. That’s why I was attracted to Foster, Rogers and Hopkins--because of their new approaches, which were still within Modernist principles. When I started my own firm, I had to make some big decisions because I didn’t want to repeat what I had done in the past and it took me a while to find my own approach. I am not really a high-tech person but I am interested in using technology. I like exploring forms, structures and new materials. It is not about just one thing – we do very site specific projects and they are all different because every site is specific and unique. In one of your texts you say that the philosophy of your firm is about bridging art and science and that in your projects you like to explore the boundaries and crossovers between architecture and engineering. This approach is very characteristic of British architecture. How do you see your role in continuing this tradition and how do you try to distinguish your architectural style?
I think the technical aspects of architecture should not take over. I have a particular interest in aesthetics, proportions and beauty. Atmosphere is another important aspect that deals not only with how a building looks, but also how it feels. The objective is always to make architecture uplifting so when you enter the space you feel good and there is a potential to lift your spirit. Then there is meaning. For me architecture has to have meaning and be relevant. I like to think that there is always a narrative within a building and it is not just a fancy. For example, in St. Petersburg the meaning is to bridge old and new, and to create a new life. All old cities need to regenerate themselves and it is the architects’ responsibility to make that happen. So there are three words that guide me: aesthetics, atmosphere and meaning. In addition to being an architect, you are also a painter.
I started painting about ten years ago when my wife, who is a professional sculptor, decided to study painting in art school. I followed what she was learning. I find it very relaxing and stimulating. We have a house in Italy and I usually paint a lot whenever I go there. I noticed that the paintings I do in Italy are much more colorful than the ones I do in England. How does painting relate to your work as an architect?
I don’t believe in starting a project with a painting as an inspiration. I think this is where the art and science split. Mental process in painting is very different to design, which has a very rigorous process, whereas in abstract painting you have to try to forget everything and just go for it. Yet, when you apply art to design it gives you a risk-taking element and a freedom of spirit. For me this “freeing” of myself is very important. I gain a lot of confidence from my love for painting. Your bridges are very complex and beautiful. What prompted your fascination with engineering?
It started with buildings. We did a long span for the Stratford Regional Railroad Station which we worked on very closely with our engineers, particularly to ensure that the structure would be very efficient. Based on that project we were invited to take part in a pedestrian bridge competition in 1994 at Canary Wharf, which we won and built the bridge for. Then we were asked to do another bridge competition in Manchester, then another one. So we won five bridge competitions in a row. Overall we have built at least 25 bridges.
Your Apraksin Dvor masterplan in St. Petersburg has a footbridge over Fontanka Canal with a hovering sculpture above it. It is very light, delicate and evocative of Naum Gabo’s kinetic sculptures. Does he or other Russian constructivists play any role in inspiring your architecture?
Definitely. I think what Naum Gabo offers to me inspirationally is this magic quality, which seems to capture light. His sculptures look very light and delicate. It is very inspiring for our bridge designs and we push our engineers really hard to refine the structure of our bridges. In your texts you say, “Good buildings have spiritual qualities”. What are the qualities that you would like people to notice and feel in your architecture?
I would like people to feel good. When I say the buildings are “spiritual”, I mean they have the power to lift the spirit. It is a combination of space, light and acoustics that can have such an uplifting effect. When you go into a cathedral, for example, you get a feeling of being somewhere special. I think all buildings could give that comforting and spiritual quality.
Wilkinson Eyre Architects office in London 24 Britton Street, Islington April 23, 2008
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.