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​The Social Biology of Landscape

The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.

Elena Petukhova

Written by:
Elena Petukhova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

06 March 2020
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The trail of perception

The list of projects that any decent megalopolis must have includes, among other things, a zoo. This has been the custom since about the end of the XVII century, when in Europe court menageries were replaced by public places of such kind — botanical and zoological gardens, in which the enlightened citizens took great pleasure in getting acquainted with the flora and fauna of the faraway lands and continents. However, whilst the format of presenting vegetation was formed pretty soon, remaining unchanged ever since, the format of demonstrating the animals has been constantly changing over the last 300 years, effectively becoming a mirror image of the changes in the relationship of man and nature in general and representatives of the animal world in particular.

The approaches to animal keeping kept changing over several centuries: cramped cages gave way to spacious aviaries, then came the system of “islands”, and still today there is an ongoing search for a method to keep the animals coexisting within a confined territory that would be humane and comfortable for animals and safe for humans. During the XX century, many renowned architects, such as Berthold Lubetkin and Ove Arup (Penguin Pool in London), Norman Foster (Elephant House in Copenhagen), BIG (Panda enclosure in Copenhagen), 3XN (Aquarium in Copenhagen), Fay Architekten and Liquid Architekten (monkey house in Frankfurt-am-Mein), Hascher Jehle (monkey house in Stuttgart), and others tried their hand at designing such spaces.

However, even considering the accumulated experience and a fundamental change in the human stance towards animal protection, it would be a mistake to think that the optimum format of animal keeping has been finally found. And it comes as no surprise that a lot of people, haunted by the idea of animals that are suffering in steel cages, do not visit zoos on general principle.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


A sad fairytale

The Moscow Zoo was opened in 1864 and is one of the oldest zoos in Europe; at one time, it was also considered to be one of the most advanced. However, already in the middle of the last century it became clear that the 21-hectare territory in the center of the city cannot provide the necessary comfort for the animals. In the 1980’s, a chunk of land in the north part of the Bitsa Park was allotted for a new zoo. However, the good intentions of transferring the zoo to a more suitable place ran into antagonism from the local residents, whose concerns in those perestroika days outweighed the arguments coming from the specialists. Since then, the zoo survived a general reconstruction of the 1990’s, when thanks to Luzhkov’s good graces, it got weird Disney-Land-style pavilions and numerous sculptures by Zurab Tsereteli, the biggest one of which, named “Tree of Fairytales”, can serve as a great illustration of a hard everyday life of the Moscow Zoo, whose inhabitants are locked up in the center of one of the world’s largest megalopolises.

Since that time, no fundamental changes in either structural or functional systems of the zoo took place — that is, up until 2015, when a decision was made about the necessity of an overhaul of the so-called “children’s zone”, a narrow L-shaped strip of the new territory of the zoo, which spills over to the Garden Ring and essentially serves as the entrance corridor for the visitors coming from that side.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


The burden of discoveries

To develop the new concept of the children’s zone of the Moscow Zoo, in 2015 the city invited Wowhaus, who shortly before that already began working on one of the innovative projects — the City Farm in the All-Russia Exhibition Center. And for both of the locations the architects were able to propose not only the up-to-date form, but also unconventional approach to ideology and the program, fundamentally changing all of the notions of how people and animals can coexist and interact within a city.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


One of the primary tasks of the project was to bust some of the negative associations. Anna Ishchenko, the General Director of Wowhaus, comments on the self-imposed task: “If you talk to random people on the street, you will find that many people give a very negative feedback to the very “zoo” term, they will go like “oh, a zoo, it’s so terrible, it’s a prison, how can you ever get involved with designing something like that?” Or worse yet: “Is it going to be a petting zoo where children squeeze the animals till they’re numb, and then die from depression?” And when we tried to explain to them that it was not going to be that way, and that our attitude was quite different, people just did not believe us. We, however, did understand that this could and had to be a fundamentally different space with a fundamentally different system of relationships, with a concept of humane coexistence of man and animals, which is more and more actively spreading around the world. And we posed for ourselves a task of demonstrating this new approach to solving this problem here in Russia.”

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Interestingly, it has become a good tradition for Wowhaus to bust stereotypes, reinventing old typologies, such as parks, waterfronts, and “outdoor cinemas”, or creating new ones, such as city farms or museum parks. When asked how it turns out that time after time his company is pioneering new typologies, the partner of the bureau, Oleg Shapiro answers: “Each new architectural or town-planning task is a challenge, and we spend considerable time searching for the solution. This is why we believe that it’s better to spend our time inventing something new than just making a mediocre copy of something that’s already been there. This is why every time we try to discover something new for ourselves and for others, hopefully.”

Like a museum, only a living one

Discovering the new typology was by no means an easy task to do. The thing is that in this country zoos are governed by the Ministry of Culture and are considered to be a variety of museums, the only difference from their brothers in respectable status being that their exhibits are still alive, with all the consequences that come with it. Therefore, the reassembling of the children’s zone of the Moscow Zoo was done with consideration for the long list of mandatory requirements for the comfort of animals, visitors, and, last but not least, employees.

However, architects, zoo employees, biologists, ornithologists, zoologists, and animal psychologists, as well as experts of the research company KB23, who joined the team of the project for analyzing the context of developing the new functional and program strategies, extended this list still further by adding a considerable number of positions describing the modern notions of how the museum must look and operate, turning in front of our eyes from a place of passive accumulation of information into multifunctional space that ensures an interactive educational process.

Project of reorganizing the Minor Territory of the Moscow Zoo © Wowhaus, 2015-2016
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    Project of reorganizing the Minor Territory of the Moscow Zoo © Wowhaus, 2015-2016
    Copyright: © WOWHAUS
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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In order to form an interactive educational process, the team of architects, together with psychologists, sociologists, and biologists, developed a methodology of presenting the information about animals, which became the key to building the entire structure of the children’s zoo.

According to the architects, “The educational process is built around a game of simulating the animals. For example, rabbits hide in their holes, and the children can also crawl into the tunnel of artificial vine, resembling a furrow, situated on the opposite side. Alpacas and goats skip over rocks, and children can also skip over rocks and wooden constructions, and so on. What we are ultimately getting is a projection — the child looks at the animals, trying to simulate what they are doing. There is no necessity for long drawn-out lectures, because you can see everything firsthand. The plaques, of course, are also there, serving as an addition source of information.”

The path of cognition

The plan of the children’s zone of the Moscow Zoo looks like the “L” letter, and is essentially a broken corridor that links the new territory of the zoo to the Garden Ring. The width of the passage is under 65 meters, the length being 300 meters.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo. The simplified master plan
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


The architects laid two routes inside this passage, narrow as it is, by which the visitors will be able to make an exciting journey either to the world of domesticated animals, or, if they are already tired of watching the main part of the zoo, taking in the details of the exposition, they can quickly proceed to the exit. The main route, sophisticated, full of attractors and special edutainment stops, is meant for children who will come here once to become a regular visitor or maybe come back a few times but will always remember the great memories about how he or she was first exposed to the world of animals, could watch the busy life of birds in the aviary, get pushed around by the not-so-sheepish sheep asking for a treat, or understand that rabbits are not only valuable fur but first of all bright personalities and great athletes.

All these impressions and adventures are carefully thought out and distributed along the winding route, allowing the visitors to alternate the exposure to scientific information with various simulation games, as well as with contacts with the animals and many other intellectual and physical activities. The architects designed it in such a way that a few-hundred-meter route includes ten main thematic blocks: a shop, an educational center with a cafe, a “rabbit city”, an aviary, a zone of domestic birds, a pigeon house, a contact area with a “goat mount”, a “farm”, and a technical zone.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Nests, tunnels, and mountains

For each of the blocks, the architects came up with an image of its own, yet still based on the common designer theme of the entire children’s zoo — a paraphrase of the natural elements, but without any direct imitation or playing with literally associations, which did indeed produce a very bleak impression before the reconstruction. In the image of each block, one can easily see a prototype, which was subjected to a thorough architectural arrangement, tying the outward plastique and the constructive skeleton into a single volumetric composition.

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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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Immediately after the entrance to the children’s zone, the visitors are greeted by two most prominent, because of their imposing size and complexity, modules of the block: the store and the educational center. This place will host hobby groups and lectures, and it will also be the meeting point for the guided tours. The facades of the buildings with an oval plan are formed by the crossed tilted yellow stands, which the architects themselves liken to birds’ nests. Each of the blocks is surrounded by a sophisticated system of staircases, ramps, terraces, and overpasses, with a few playgrounds situated at different levels forming their own adventurous ecosystem.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Between the shop and the center, there is a large playground with various games, including a unique erector set, developed in collaboration with the biologist Dmitry Knorre, who also invented the table game “Evolution” and adapted it for the Moscow Zoo in such a way that children can try their hand at coming up with new species, combining bodily parts of real animals in unusual sci-fi combinations.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Nearby, starts the S-shaped tunnel of the aviary that also remotely resembles a nest thanks to its shell of wooden planks, which press the mesh down to the metallic framework. The aviary is designed in such a way as to give the birds that live inside an opportunity to independently control the degree of interacting with the visitors. The birds can walk on the ground, sit on the branches, or fly away into the depth of the lush vegetation in the curves of the tunnel, where the visitors cannot get.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Similarly, with a division into public and private spaces, are organized the aviaries for domestic birds and the ungulates. Even the inhabitants of the contact zone can choose, in which part of the pen they choose to stay. However, it seems as though for this part of the park they choose the most communicative and the most voracious animals; so much so that the visitor himself will probably want to hide from their importunate interest to the contents of his pockets. All you have left to do is beat a hasty retreat and take a timeout near the enclosures with melancholic alpacas who with equal tranquility take the treats and pose for the photographs.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Like a lighthouse that marks the “breaking point” on the territory of the children’s zoo, rises the “Czar of the Mountain” tower that all the visitors take for yet another children’s attraction, while in fact this sophisticated agglomerate of constructions and playgrounds was designed solely for the entertainment of the goat society, whose members, just as they do in their natural habitat, adore climbing and bouncing from one ledge to another. And, in order to make sure that the goats do not get bored climbing up and down the same route, the “Mountain” is engineered in such a way that it can be changed and augmented with new obstacles. And, of course, time, multiplied by the energy of the horned users, will add new “challenging zones” to this construction.

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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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Behind the contact venue, there is the only traditional architectural element — the “farm” — which looks as if it were carried over here by some tender caring tornado from somewhere in the Austrian Alps. The pitched roofs, covered with trimmed straw, look extremely traditional, in sharp contrast to the modernist “nests” of yellow stands. This place, however, is the “rest home” for the inhabitants of the zoo, and the maintenance rooms are also situated here, so the reserved traditional look is the tribute to the function, as well as a means to avoid attracting the visitors’ attention any more than necessary.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


The yellow color of knowledge

What the design of the infrastructure objects and navigation have in common is the yellow color, which we already mentioned in the part about the design of the shop and the educational center. “Yellow color is to be seen across the entire territory. We used it to mark all of the information and game elements, so as to make them highly visible and easily discerned by the visitors from among the multitude of objects that perform various functions. There are also small information modules that are spread out across the territory as reflections of our main info center. For the little ones, these modules are of no interest, of course, but for those children who are a little bit older, and who want to learn more about the inhabitants of the zoo, and about their lives in natural environment, these will come in very handy. All the more so, because we developed different types of information presentation, laying our main stress on the gamification format” — comments the role of this color in the overall design Anastasia Izmakova, the leading architect of the project, responsible for the designer supervision.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


Emergency

The extremely compact territory of the children’s zone of the Moscow Zoo, includes a huge number of various architectural, designer, educational, and entertainment ideas, bright and inspiring. The density of original ideas and solutions per square meter is simply other-worldly. And, as it often happens in our realities, the number of unconventional elements spawned a geometric progression of difficulties at the stages of approval and implementation.

The main loss of the project was the forced abandonment of using the bearing wooden structures. Ensuring fire safety, taking into account the large estimated number of visitors and the proximity of neighboring residential and office buildings, necessitated the replacement of all wood-glued structures with metal ones. In addition, the architects had to abandon the use of natural wood in the braid of the “nests” on the playgrounds and in the decoration of the enclosures. The experience of using the natural tree branches in the “Krasnogvardeiskie Prudy” and “Serp i Molot” parks showed that this natural material soon breaks down, not being able to withstand the sheer energy of the little players, and therefore does not meet the safety requirements. The architects were able to keep the wood in the decoration of the small architectural forms, in the railings, and, partially, in the decoration of the enclosures’ facades.

The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
Copyright: © WOWHAUS


The project of the children’s zoo became a doubtless success, and yet another discovery for Wowhaus, but, at the same time, one of the most complex projects in the history of the company, a four years’ battle for the preservation and implementation of all those ideas, which the architects found together with the guest experts and the employees of the zoo in order to change, once and for all, our notion of what a modern zoo must look like.

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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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    The children′s zone of the Moscow Zoo
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06 March 2020

Elena Petukhova

Written by:

Elena Petukhova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
Headlines now
​Buyan and the Court Quarter
The news about cancellation of the Tuchkov Buyan park has been stirring the minds of people of St. Petersburg for a week already. In the absence of any verified specific information, we discussed the situation with the architects of the park and the Court Quarter: Nikita Yavein and Evgeny Gerasimov.
​The Possibility of Flight
The project of the airport, which ASADOV Architects developed for the city of Tobolsk, and which won in the architectural competition, was not implemented. However, it is interesting as an example of designing an airport building of a very small scale, where the main challenge is the optimal organization of space and infrastructure without compromising the imagery component.
​The Wavelength
Built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow area, the “Turgeneva 13” housing complex, while fitting in with the surrounding context, differs from it with the rhythmic austerity of its dual composition, a slight wave of the façade, and the color design, in which one can see two images, winter and summer, both “growing” from the specifics of the place.
​A Shell by the Sea
Designing the Sports Palace that will determine the development of the entire northern part of Derbent, ASADOV Architects turned to the architectural legacy of Dagestan, local lore, and ancient layers of history.
​Christmas Skyscrapers
Karen Saprichyan is wishing everyone a merry Christmas, presenting a series of letter-shaped skyscrapers. The architect has long since been working on this theme, and has calendars of various years in stock. His latest development is a group of towers designed for the city of NEOM, which will be built in Saudi Arabia.
​Parade Order
The three brick blocks of the “River Park” housing complex gaze at the water with their terraces. Each block forms a backdrop and two wings, while the residents-only yards turn into “stages” perceived from the river. The landscaped embankment, accessible to all the city people, complements the hierarchy of private, semi-private and public city life that is formed here.
Pompidou Inside Out
Renzo Piano and his GES-2 have already been compared to Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti and his Cathedral of the Assumption. And for a good reason: GES-2 also stuns you with its grace and loftiness, but ultimately turns out to be the richest collection of recognizable motifs from an early masterpiece by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the George Pompidou Center in Paris. These motifs are fused into the grid of Shukhov-esque structures, painted white, and they create a dialogue between 1910, 1971, and 2021, built on references (not devoid of a poster-like quality) to the main masterpiece. The basilica-shaped space of the former power station is taken apart virtually just like the museum, in accordance with the concept by Teresa Mavica.
​Next to Lidval and Nobel
The housing complex designed by Anatoly Stolyarchuk in Neishlotsky Alley: tactful change of scale, tribute to the memory of the place, Finnish additions to the functional typology – specifically, saunas in the apartments – and plans for receiving a BREEAM certificate.
​And stabbed it with a knife
The leader of Coop Himmelb(l)au, Wolf D. Prix, presented three projects that he is currently doing in Russia: a complex in Sevastopol, Crimea, which, as it turned out, a western architect could build bypassing the sanctions, because this is a cultural project; a museum and theater center in Kemerovo, and the “SKA Arena”, which is built in the stead of the destroyed Sports and Concert Complex in St. Petersburg – during the presentation the latter was symbolized by a round cake that the architect eventually cut.
​The Thin Matter
The house named “Medny 3.14” (“Copper 3.14”) is composed of two textures, each of which resembles in its own way some kind of precious fabric, and of three units, each of which is oriented towards one cardinal point. The architecture of the house absorbs the nuances of the context, summing them up and turning them into a single rhythmic structure. In this article, we are examining the new, just-completed, house designed by Sergey Skuratov in Donskaya Street.
​Super Pergola
The new business center built in Moscow’s district of Presnya in the 1st Zemelny Lane is all about technology and sustainability. Its streamlined shapes and white facade grid are combined with a new version of vertical greenery: the green of wild grapes, placed at a distance from the facade, instead of arguing with the “pergola” grid, sets it off by contrast.
​Lightness of Being
Blooming Sakura, a campfire party, kids splashing in a swimming pool – no, these are not pictures from a vacation, but everyday life going on in the yards of Kiev’s housing complex “Fayna Town”. In this issue, we are examining how the utopia designed by the architects is wired, and what they did to make it a reality.
​A Triangular Folded Structure
The project of the new terminal of the Muraviev-Amursky airport in Blagoveshchensk offers architecture based on a modular form – endowed with a special imagery, it becomes the basis both for the carrying structures of the building and the plastique of the facade, at the same time reverberating in the interior design.
​The Breath of the East
Designing a residential complex for Tashkent, GENPRO is turning to traditional architecture and modern trends, aiming at emotionality and efficiency: the panjar window lattices and mishrabias are neighboring on vertical greenery and parametric ornaments, while the theme buildings do on a cotton alley and an oriental bazaar.
​The Openwork XX-Construction Set
The yard of the Architecture Museum on Moscow’s Vozdvizhenka hosts an installation by DNK ag. It is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the company, and was originally presented at Arch Moscow. The art object is expected to stay in the yard of the museum for one year and set a new tradition – a regularly renewed exhibition project called “Modern Architecture in the yard of MUAR”.
The Spinning Vibe
The pavilion designed by Sergey Tchoban for the World EXPO 2020 in Dubai is a bright and integral architectural statement, whose imagery can be traced back to avant-garde graphic experiments by Jacob Chernikhov, but allows for multiple interpretations. The pavilion looks both like a dome temple, a spinning “Planet Russia”, and the head of a matryoshka doll. Still more interestingly, the core of the exposition is a “brain”. In this article, we take a closer look at the interpretations and the subtleties of the implementation.
Tolerant Aesthetics of Terraforming
The World Expo is a gigantic event; it is difficult to give it one definition or cover it at a glance. All the more so – such an ambitious and record-breaking fair as the one that is now open in Dubai despite all the pandemic restrictions. By no means claiming to present an all-rounded review, we are making an attempt to examine Expo 2020, where signs of aesthetic tolerance of a developer project begin to loom behind the imposing-looking “wings” of “star” architects and delights from space exploration.
The Town in the Snuff-box
The new academic building of Cooperation School in Moscow’s Taganka, designed and built by ASADOV Architects, is a compact volume, at the same time filled with functions and impressions. It easily combines classrooms, a theater, a cafeteria, a gym, and a double-height atrium with an open library and an exit to the terrace – virtually everything that you expect to see in a modern school.
​The Northern Versailles
On the bank of the magnificent Vychegda River, in a picturesque location six kilometers away from Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi republic, the renowned neoclassical architect Mikhail Filippov has designed the town of Yugyd-Choi in the traditional aesthetics inspired by the center of St. Petersburg. The customer Elena Soboleva, the head of the Syktyvkar Housing Construction Fund, sees her mission in making Yugyd-Choi the hallmark of the republic.
​Analysis and Synthesis
The project of the housing complex “Krasin”, designed for the historical center of St. Petersburg, and situated in a very obliging place – next to the Mining University designed by Voronikhin, yet bordering on an industrial area – became the result of a thorough analysis of the specifics of historical construction on the Vasilyevsky Island, and a subsequent synthesis with avoidance of direct stylization, yet forming a recognizable silhouette, resonant with the “old town”.
​Tatiana Guk: “A document that determines the development of the city has to be flexible”
In this issue, we are talking to the director of the Genplan Institute of Moscow about trends that determine the future, about the 70-year history of the Institute, which is celebrating an anniversary this year, about electronic computing in the field of urban planning and about international experience accumulated in this area, as well as about how the Institute is involved with other cities, and about the perfect document for the city development, which has to be flexible and strategic.
​Dialectical Manifesto
The high-rise housing complex MOD, whose construction has begun in Moscow’s district of Maryina Roshcha next to the site, on which the new Russian Railways headquarters will be built, is responding to the “central” context of the future city surroundings, and at the same time is positioned by the architects as a “manifesto of Modernist minimalist principles in architecture”.
​Asimov’s Dream
A project by DNK ag won in a competition for the science campus of the National Center for Physics and Mathematics in the city of Sarov, conducted by ROSATOM corporation in collaboration with the Moscow State University, Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Kurchatov Institute.
​Near-Earth Space
The new terminal of the Leonov Airport in Kemerovo was built in record-breaking time, despite the pandemic. It became one of the important factors for the rapid development of the city, visually reflecting its dedication to the first spacewalk, both in the interiors and on the facades. Its main features are the “starry sky” effect and overall openness.
​The Spiral Approach
The school building in the city of Nur-Sultan, designed by Vera Budko and Anton Nadtochiy from beginning to end – from concept to working documentation – became the embodiment of the architects’ method for creating a modern educational environment, which the ATRIUM architects have been developing for years. Its fundamentals include creating an inspiring environment that motivates you to create. This is why the new school received a shape of an ornamental golden spiral that symbolizes ascension to knowledge; on the inside, the building is a compound and multifunctional “city within a city” with multilevel atriums, amphitheaters, and varying routes.
​The Ecological Bend
A story about how plans for laying a road on the border of a park turned into plans for saving the ecosystem and improving the walking trails.
​Kasimir from Kemerovo
The project of the branch of the Russian Museum for the Siberian Art Cluster is based on the ideas of Suprematism: basic shapes, and dynamism of color and form.
​Stream and Lines
Stepan Liphart’s projects of Art Deco villas demonstrate technical symbolism in combination with a subtle reference to the 1930s. One of the projects is a “paper” one; the others are designed for real customers: a top manager, an art collector, and a developer.
On the Bank of a Very Quiet River
The project of landscaping the territory of the residential complex NOW in Moscow’s Nagatinskaya Valley goes beyond the limits of its task and looks more like a modern park: with viewing platforms, an embankment, spaces different in their moods, and thought-out scenarios for visitors aged between 0 and 80.