По-русски

Mikhail Filippov. Intarview by Grigory Revzin

Mikhail Filippov is one of the participants of the exhibition of the Russian pavilion at 10th architectural biennale in Venice

Grigory Revzin

Written by:
Grigory Revzin

06 September 2008
Report
mainImg

You are an architect with a very distinctive personal programme. How do you define
your place in modern architecture?

There is no such thing as modern architecture. All my life – well, the last 25 years at least – has been shaped by this major discovery, which I have been articulating forcefully in the last few years, even though it came to me earlier, in 1981. That which we call modern architecture is non-architecture. It’s another genre, another type of activity. That which is called modern architecture is really construction design, design that lays claim to monumentality. I have no wish to occupy a place in it. I want to replace design with architecture in the true meaning of that word.

Is it worth placing such importance on words?

These are not words, but an essential opposition. Modern architecture is based on a programme which comes from design – i.e. on the quest for the form of things which move. It has nothing to do with the expressiveness of stable, vertically standing objects. It’s the opposite aesthetic, and it stands in opposition to the very beamand- support nature of architecture, the latter’s fundamentally static quality, the idea that ‘the Universe is unmoving’.

This is a very abstract level of reasoning.

No, it’s extremely specific. Take a simple example, from antiques. An Empire-age chair, for instance. Its leg always tapers towards the bottom. But no column – either in Empire or in any other classical style – ever narrows towards the bottom. Why? Because a chair is something that moves. Its stability is based on the idea of providing maximum reliability where there is maximum load – where seat and legs join. The main load borne by a chair is not vertical, but horizontal. The same goes for a carriage, ship, airplane, etc. But not for architecture. Architecture created using the instruments of design is, ontologically speaking, ugly. It’s the application of the aesthetic of moving objects to that which is unmoving. What is beautiful in an automobile is ugly in a house. What is beautiful in a horse is not acceptable in
a woman.

I agree with your opposition between the aesthetic of the moving and the non-moving. But what do you mean by ‘ontologically speaking’? Yes, the aesthetic of one has been transferred to the other. But this has been done entirely consciously. Modern architecture’s striving for movement and flight have been declared at a programmatic level by a plethora of manifestos for modern architecture. When Corbusier said, ‘A house is a machine for living in,’ this was brilliant, comprehensible, and unambiguous. But the fact that he said everything in advance does not relieve him of responsibility. And the same goes for modern architecture’s other founding fathers. There is aesthetics as an aesthetic imperative, a commandment which cannot be broken because it would be wrong to do so. He broke the commandment – or rather, reflected the internal mutation which had taken place in society. Architecture has one rather strange characteristic: it is a portrait of Dorian Gray. It is inseparable from the life of a person, just as skin is inseparable from the body. Architecture grows out of daily life, imparting form to it and revealing its meaning. We are slaves of a certain spiritual reality, and the point is that in our creative processes nothing should prevent the manifestation in a man’s life of that Man with a capital letter which constitutes the meaning of his life. We should be able to look at the facade of a house and see ourselves, our own lives, in it, and see that it is beautiful or ugly.

If someone is ugly, then it is terribly difficult to hold back this horror by some movement of talent. I’ll give an example: Zholtovsky’s house on ulitsa Mokhovaya. It is clear today – and it was clear to everyone at the time when it was built – that it is impossible to cover up a Palladian Constructivist prison using the most beautiful columns. The prison seeps through to the surface and represents the reality of 1930s Russia that gave rise to it. But here, at any rate, people still had a chance to become better. It is a crime when our creative process deprives a person in advance of this opportunity and destroys the very possibility of an image being manifested. This is what I call ugliness in the ontological sense – when the very structure of existence offers no possibility of an image being yielded. What is meant by ‘the Universe is unmoving’? Not that the universe is devoid of movement. For it is not – we see this for ourselves. But rather that the universe cannot be pushed aside, i.e. is indestructible, eternal. That which moves subsequently stops – dies. That which is unmoving is everlasting. The loss of an image means the loss of the possibility of eternity. This is the crime.

It’s good that they declared everything in advance. Take Hitler – he also said everything in advance. Mein Kampf was written in 1923, not in 1939, and it contains an animated account of what exactly he was going to do with mankind. Or take Lenin. He came out with his programme of revolutionary terror in 1905, not in 1917. Does this relieve them of responsibility for their crimes?

These comparisons strike me as too harsh.

Possibly, this is a response to the customary slander directed by Modernists at Classicism, which they regard as clothing for totalitarianism. Incidentally, on the subject of totalitarianism. Le Corbusier advised the future wise khalif of Paris simply to cut off the head of any who opposed the architect’s brilliant project, and to his dying day Gropius simply could not understand why his beloved Hitler had rejected Bauhaus. The crimes committed by modern architecture are aesthetic; they are sins against the image of man, as opposed to against his life. I’m simply comparing them with moral sins because people have engaged in them consciously. They have joyfully acted with aggression towards old cities – as is especially clear in Le Corbusier’s plan for Voisin, which is symbolic to the point of madness. Voisin were precursors of Peugeot. Corbusier was working to increase their sales of cars. For this he felt it necessary to clear the old city. Everything was to be destroyed and in its place towers completely devoid of any detailing were to be erected; the justification was that that they would be seen from speeding automobiles. Today Moscow’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers. I’ve been in one of them; it has a view over all Moscow. The city in which we were born is a terrible sight. It’s as if they’ve started making a garden and then scattered the most awful rubbish all over the place. Like in the forest after an incursion of tourists. Boxes and boxes. Everything’s been covered with rubbish, as with the discarded packaging from life after life itself has been consumed. The same thing is happening in cities all over the world. From the point of view of overall silhouette, scale, and from the point of view of life at street level, it’s a catastrophe. And this catastrophe has happened everywhere, with a few exceptions such as Venice and St Petersburg. That place in a city which should be occupied by living architecture is occupied instead by a trashy sea of used designer packaging. Architecture becomes rubbish, ecological pollution, and the city becomes a rubbish tip. This explains my comparisons, which strike you as too harsh.

Doesn’t it worry you that almost no one shares your views on architecture? Hundreds of architects have gone down the path taken by Corbusier. Were they all mistaken?

The number of people sharing a point of view is not a measure of its truth. Mankind can commit collective mistakes. Just remember communism. For me proof that I’m right is that old architecture is alive for people. There’s almost no work of world architecture that is dead. Most continue to work in accordance with their primary functions. As cathedrals which people continue to visit just as they did when these buildings were first built. Or, for instance, a medieval centre may be a political centre. Like the Kremlin. Or even a centre of tourism. A Petra or Acropolis can bring in just as much money as oil, which Greece and Jordan don’t have.

Yes, it’s not hundreds but hundreds of thousands of architects that have taken the wrong path. But there are ordinary people as well, and they number not hundreds of thousands but millions. The point of view I’m talking about is shared, I’m quite sure, by the majority of people on the planet. For ordinary people the old museum aesthetic is still alive. They visit the old cities and fill the museums. But there’s not a single person who would go to Mitino [a suburb of Moscow] to admire the architecture. People don’t take holidays in Brasilia or Chandighar. No, they go to Italy.

So you are appealing to the tastes of the speechless masses, who maybe manifest certain views in their economic behaviour, but in no way express them.

The fact that the people I’m talking about are not professionals does not make them a speechless mass that has nothing to do with culture. On the contrary, the accepted view is that people infused with the old museum aesthetic have a very significant relation to culture. Opposition to Modernism is culture’s opposition to barbarism. Where I’m unique is in that I’m a professional architect with such views. But the views themselves are definitely  сommonly accepted ones. You have reproached me for unjustified harshness in comparing Le Corbusier to Hitler. In response, I’d like to quote Iosif Brodsky’s Rotterdam Romance:

Corbusier and the Luftwaffe
have in common
That both worked flat out
to change the look of Europe.
What was forgotten
by the Cyclopes in their fury
Was soberly completed by pencils.

Do you really think Iosif Brodsky belongs to the speechless masses?

Of course not. But it does happen that professionals advance in leaps and bounds and then it takes time for common tastes to catch up.

‘Leap ahead’: that’s a modernist myth. As if the existence of mankind is a sprint towards progress and whoever fails to get there in time is too late. I would like to know where we’re running to and where the finishing point is. What the Modernists have done can much more accurately be compared with vandalism. The Vandals were Christians, you know. Heretics and Arians, but Christians. And they destroyed Rome not because they did not know Roman culture, but because they wanted liberation from culture. This is a very subtle intellectual barbarianism, a side-product of the development of culture. As, incidentally, is fascism and communism.

Fine: your position is clear. How did you arrive at it? Where does this come from?

Since childhood I’ve felt a desire to say something new. But prophecy is a very difficult thing to carry off. It’s not enough to guess something; you also have to do something in yourself. You have to do a great deal with yourself. I have educated the artist in myself. But you also have to persuade everyone else, and for this you need enormous willpower and a great deal of talent, and this is what, I suppose, I don’t have enough of.

No, and what about the content of your programme?

There’s something strange I can tell you. I came to Classicism through the Avantgarde. There is a central myth in modern art. The myth of the lonely genius who knows something that no one else knows – like Picasso or van Gogh or Modigliani. People whom no one understands and who then find themselves on top of the world. The myth of the artistic prophet, in short. All modern artists and modern architects spend their whole time trying to live this myth. I am no exception. Of course, I dreamt of becoming the main hero of this myth. So I painfully thought up the most original, most marginal point of view. I wanted to be unlike everyone else. This is the proud, absurd, and senseless thought which drives all artists. But I should be honest with myself. I thought up everything I’m saying now out of a desire to draw attention to myself.

So you had no initial predisposition for classical architecture?

I suppose it would have been impossible for me to think up anything else. I was born in the house in which Pushkin wrote The Bronze Horseman. My kindergarten was in the house of Arakcheev. My first, and literally the first, art school [Art School No. 1] was the house of Prince Golitsyn. I honestly loved all this. We spent the whole time visiting the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. I knew the Hermitage collection by heart, room by room. The natural environment in which I grew up was the world’s best aesthetic education. Furthermore, I was imbued with an extremely strong dislike for everything Soviet. This was the period of socialist Modernism. We hated everything that came from the Soviet regime, whereas pre-Revolutionary Petersburg was, on the contrary, the aesthetic ideal of an alternative to Soviet vulgarity. The result does not have to be guessed.

Nevertheless, you came to Classicism through the myth of the Avant-garde artist?

Yes, but the idea was so radical that it turned me upside down. It was impossible to go back to what I had been doing. It turned out that this was not simply a technique, a new style, etc., but existence itself. I had myself baptized. The ideology of Orthodoxy and canonical art seemed to me incredibly alike. I guessed that modern art and modern architecture are the syncretic icon of the atheistic consciousness. True, it proved impossible to use Orthodoxy as support for my aesthetic position because if you do that, then you immediately find yourself in the company of patriotic Pharisees crowding the church railings – as does almost everyone who tries to use ideology as a substitute for serious artistic work in creating beauty. I began looking for a proper aesthetic route.

In what does this consist?

I immediately realized one very important thing. I realized that in Classical architecture as such there is no recipe to be found. Which is to say, if you simply learn the various classical orders and start affixing them to boxes, you won’t create a proper work of art. The recipe lies in creating aesthetic experience in yourself. In the oldest, most serious meaning of this word. Just as pianists spend five to six hours each day playing the piano. ‘Why?’ you ask, given that they are already able to play. But, no, it’s only when you do something beautiful constantly that you’ll be able to do it well. You have to be always drawing, always doing something. In the old days everyone understood this, and it wasn’t even discussed. All architects worked all the time, like artists. But to prove that you need to sketch Antinous in order to design Mitino is very difficult. This is impossible to prove.

So you became an artist for intellectual reasons, in order to realize an aesthetic programme?

Yes, I never set myself the task of simply being an artist; this was something I did for the sake of architecture. Possibly, this slightly narrowed the opportunities I had as a painter or graphic artist. But in itself this was a very true path to take. I find it difficult to tell a L esbian from a D oric cymatium, but I never err in choosing a colour scheme or proportions. When I visit a building site, I can spot a 5-centimetre error on the 9th floor. The guys at the office who visit the building sites may look, but they don’t see; they think everything’s fine. But I see – because I know that I wouldn’t have been able to draw like that. And in the old days it was absolutely elementary; it wasn’t a subject for discussion. This was experience that everyone possessed. I want to say this to everyone who is trying to return to traditional architecture, and I’m sure that sooner or later this is bound to happen. Traditional architecture is a matter of constant quest and raising your own standards. In this lies the morality of the old aesthetic programme – in a very exacting attitude towards ones own work. Do not spare yourselves, do not spare your work. If you have drawn something and you’ve liked it immediately, then either your eyesight is bad or you’re lazy. You must apply the highest standards to yourself.

In your architecture do you employ only this artistic experience? Experience in drawing old architecture?

I can say that I am essentially the son of my own school. The school of the 1970s – inventiveness, complex compositional structures. This school had an emphasis on inventing spatial effects, and this was very interesting. Only it has nothing at all to do with the plastic problems of antiquity, and there is no contradiction between the compositional quests of the 1970s and the classical order. On the contrary, combining the one with the other is terribly interesting.

But there’s a self-evident contradiction. Classical, order-based architecture is about harmony. The architecture of the 1970s is about disharmony. Dissolution, breakage, conflict. A fundamentally non-classical architecture.

What about the classical ruin? It consists entirely of precisely this: dissolution, breakage, conflict. There are thousands of such ruins. And people travel hundreds of kilometres to pay homage to them. This is based on a boundless wealth of plastic techniques. And the most important attraction is freedom. A ruin contains freedom, which does not at all exclude a profound historical aesthetic.

Can I ask you a number of specific questions? Can you tell us about your experience of ‘paper’ architecture?

I am sceptical about the ‘paper architecture’ period. The way I see it, this period’s importance has been unjustifiably distorted, including by critics. Paper architecture as a whole, as a phenomenon, is not worth talking about it seriously. I am grateful to paper architecture for its giving me the opportunity to declare my programme – and declare it quite loudly – given that my Style 2001 won first prize. But that’s all. In order to understand this phenomenon, you have to picture the situation in which it came about. How did we live then? We saw nothing in the flesh; we bowed down before the magazines. We looked at an image and conceived in our minds the reality that lay behind it. Magazines were a window onto Europe (onto America and Japan, to be more exact). And when I came to Moscow and found out that it was possible to take part in competitions – and Misha Belov had already done so and won – this was amazing. There was this feeling that, firstly, you can yourself draw these windows, and, secondly, if all turns out well, you can pass through the window that you have drawn and appear on the other side. In the same way that these others had triumphed and travelled abroad. All the excitement about paper architecture is 75% explained by this miracle. Essentially, paper architecture consists of cheerful or sad caricatures illustrating an architectural kapustnik [‘cabbage party’], a type of event which was very popular at the time. The word kapustnik came from the feasts organized by actors at Great Lent, when theatres closed and the pies eaten contained cabbage and mushrooms. The second half of the 20th century was precisely a fast for architecture. Architecture died as an art and creative young people poured out their unspent talents – into the kapustnik called ‘paper architecture’.

In 2000 you represented Russia at the architecture biennale in Venice. Your exhibition on that occasion consisted of apartment interiors and urban utopias. Since then you have acquired a large office and large commissions. Has your understanding of architecture changed? Have you had new experience?

As for apartments and utopias, here I was inspired by the example of the brilliant Neoclassicist Ivan Fomin. For seven years I was banged up in apartments, but Fomin went through exactly the same thing. He designed the apartments and mansions of Vorontsova-Dashkova, Lobanov-Rostovsky, the Abamelek-Lazarevs, and at the same time devised the grand utopias of ‘New St Petersburg’.

After the Venice biennale of 2000 this period came to an end. Yes, commissions on a larger scale started coming my way.But I can say that I have in no way changed. Everything that I can do, that I want and know, I conceived in 1982. My programme has not changed since then. Nor should it
have.



06 September 2008

Grigory Revzin

Written by:

Grigory Revzin
Headlines now
Sunshine, Air, and Water
The construction of the “Solnechny” (“Sunny”) summer camp, designed by ARENA project institute, has been completed, the largest summer camp within the legendary Artek seaside resort for children. It was conceived still in Soviet time, but it was not implemented. The modern version surprises you with sophisticated engineering solutions that are combined with a clear-cut structure: together, they generate Asher-esque spaces.
​Art Deco at the Edge of Space
The competition project by Stepan Liphart – a high-end residential complex executed in a reserved classicist style in close proximity to the Kaluga Space Museum – responds equally well to the context and to the client’s brief. It is moderately respectable, moderately mobile and transparent, and it even digs a little into the ground to comply with strict height restrictions, without losing proportions and scale.
The Life of Iron
The building of the Vyksa Metallurgy Museum, designed by Nikita Yavein and Sergey Padalko, provides for the natural aging of metal – it is planned that the iron will gradually rust – at the same time utilizing the advanced type of construction, based on metal’s ability to stretch. The building will be constructed from pipes and rolled steel supplied by OMK company, as well as from recycled bricks.
​And the Brook is Flowing
ASADOV Architects have designed a master plan for developing a residential area at the outskirts of Kaliningrad: a regular grid of housing blocks is enriched by large-scale public facilities, the main “artery” of the new area being the fortification channel that regains its original function.
Off We Go!
The new terminal of the Tomsk airport is being designed by ASADOV bureau. The architects keep on developing its identity, building the imagery upon the inventions of Nikolai Kamov, whose name the airport bears. The result is laconic, light, and, as always, levitating.
Maximum Flexibility
The Multispace Dinamo, which recently opened within the Arena business center, is an example of a project that is entirely based upon cutting-edge approaches and technologies. It is managed via a mobile application, special software was created for it, and the spaces are not just multifunctional but carefully mixed up, like some kind of jigsaw puzzle that allows the office workers to mix their working routine for better efficiency.
A Factory’s Path
Last week, the new center for constructivist studies “Zotov” hosted its first exhibition named “1922. Constructivism. The Inception”. The idea of creating this center belongs to Sergey Tchoban, while the project of the nearest houses and adjusting the building of the bread factory for the new museum function was done by the architect in collaboration with his colleagues from SPEECH. We decided that such a complex project should be examined in its entirety – and this is how we came up with this long-read about constructivism on Presnya, conservation, innovation, multilayered approach, and hope.
The Savelovsky Axis
The business center, situated right in the middle of a large city junction next to the Savelovsky Railway Station takes on the role of a spatial axis, upon which the entire place hinges: it spins like a spiral, alternating perfect glass of the tiers and deep recessions of inter-tier floors that conceal little windows invented by the architects. It is sculptural, and it claims the role of a new city landmark, in spite of its relatively small height of nine floors.
Parametric Waves
In the housing complex Sydney City, which FSK Group is building in the area of Shelepikhinskaya Embankment, Genpro designed the central city block, combining parametric facades and modular technology within its architecture.
The Multitone
The new interior of the Action Development headquarters can be regarded as an attempt to design the perfect “home” for the company – not just comfortable but broadcasting the values of modern development. It responds to the context, yet it is built on contrast, it is fresh but cozy, it is dynamic, yet it invites you to relax – everything of this coexists here quite harmoniously, probably because the architects found an appropriate place for each of the themes.
Refinement No Longer Relevant
A few days ago journalists were shown the building of Bread Factory #5, renovated upon the project by Sergey Tchoban. In this issue, we are publishing Grigory Revzin’s thoughts about this project.
The Comb of Strelna
In this issue, we are taking a close look at the project that won the “Crystal Daedalus” award – the “Veren Village” housing complex in Strelna, designed by Ostozhenka. Its low-rise format became a trigger for typological and morphological experiments – seemingly, we are seeing recognizable trends, yet at the same time there are a multitude of subtleties that are a pleasure to go into. Having studied this project in detail, we think that the award is well-deserved.
A Tectonic Shift
For several years now, Futura Architects have been working with the “New Peter” residential area in the south of St. Petersburg. In this article, we are covering their most recent project – a house, in which the architects’ architectural ideas peacefully coexist with the limitations of comfort-class housing, producing a “multilayered” effect that looks very attractive for this typology.
Three “Green” Stories
In this issue, we are examining three environmental urban projects showcased by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the Zodchestvo festival. The scale of the projects is really diverse: from gathering information and suggestions from the residents on a city scale to growing meadow grass between houses to paintings, which, as it turned out, possess power to cure trees, healing their wounded bark. + a list of kinds of plants natural for Moscow to help the developer.
​The Slabs of Bagration
The construction of a new skyscraper designed by SPEECH within the complex of Moscow City has been announced. A keen observer may see in it: Moscow high-rises, Chicago architecture, Malevich architecton, and an attempt of deconstruction of the integral image of the Moscow skyscraper – a technique that has been actively employed by the architects in their recent works.
​Preserving the History of Clean Ponds
How do you make a comfortable high-end residential complex that meets the modern requirements for expensive downtown housing, and keep as much of the original 1915 building as possible? Ilia Utkin, together with Sminex, solved this charade for Potapovsky Lane, 5 – here is how.
​Living in a Forest
The apartment complex in Roshchino, designed by GAFA architects, looks very much like a glamping: the residents enjoy the untouched nature of the Karelian isthmus, while having urban amenities and opportunities for social life.
A Laboratory for Life
The building of the Laboratory of Oncomorphology and Molecular Genetics, designed by the author team headed by Ilya Mashkov (Mezonproject) uses the benefits of the natural context and offers space for cutting-edge research, both doctor- and patient-friendly.
The Logic of Life
The light installation, designed by Andrey Perlach in the atrium of Moscow's Federation Tower, balances on the edge between a mathematical order of construction and the diversity of perception when viewed from different angles.
An Architect in a Metaverse
In this interview, we talked to the participants of the festival of creative industries G8 about why metaverses are our tomorrow’s everyday routine, and how architects can already influence it today.
Three in One
The house on Telezhnaya Street, designed by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners, located just a couple of steps away from the Nevsky Prospect, can be visually divided into three independent entities. By doing this, the architects keep up the scale of the historical street and overcome the challenges posed by a stretching land site.
​A Circular Arrangement
The project by UNK interiors, which won in the competition for the “Zagorye” metro station, is resonant to the ideas of the surrounding industrial and housing construction thanks to its modular laconic shapes. At the same time, the station is “all metal”, which is a nod towards the name of the nearby Lipetskaya Street because Lipetsk is a metallurgical center. One could expect that the authors would fall for the brutal images of metallurgy and blast furnaces but the project turned out to be light and laconic – we are examining why.
A Complex Dimension of a Dream
The TOTEMENT/PAPER project by Levon Airapetov and Valeria Preobrazhenskaya became, as was announced in the beginning of August, the winner of the competition for designing “Ostrov Mechty” (“Dream Island”) metro station. Contrastive graphics, united by a common method of geometric composition, “grows into the volume”, gets embellished with color, and ultimately results in a compound solution that seemed to us nothing short of exceptional. Below, we examine the construction method and keep our fingers crossed for the project to be implemented the way it should be – it would be exciting to see it become a reality.
The Beams of Energy Effectiveness
On August 22, Berlin saw an official opening of the new HQ of the energy company Vattenfall, the office complex named EDGE. One of its buildings is Germany’s biggest wood hybrid building. The term means that its supporting frame is made of glued timber, but in certain places wood cooperates with metal, reinforced concrete and fiberglass. Below, we are sharing about the inner design of this structure, not just environmentally friendly but energy efficient as well.
Inside Out: Pavilions of Eternity
The reconstruction of the warehouses of the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod – they opened in the beginning of June as concert and exhibition halls – became, without exaggeration, the event of the year, both in the field of culture and architecture. Their story seems to us to be extremely attention-worthy from the point of view of discovering, researching, and protecting this monument to engineering thought of the 19th century. At the same time, the solution proposed by Sergey Tchoban on how to adjust and how to expose these structures is as relevant as it is bold and unconventional – on the edge of temporary, timeless, and eternal.
A High-Rise Erector Set
In this article, we are examining one of the projects submitted for a closed-door competition for a housing complex to be built in the north of Moscow. The KPLN architects proposed a simple volumetric pair of 100 meter high towers, united by a common sculptural design based on laconic contrast, yet dramatic at the same time. Another interesting thing is an oval yard that is “carved out” in the stylobate roof.
The Leisure Culture
In the new extra building of the Klyazma resort center, whose project was developed by KPLN, the aesthetics of Soviet modernist architecture is combined with modern ideas of how leisure activities should be organized.
The White Grove
This project by “Ginzburg Architects” scored first place in the international competition for a draft project of a Cathedral Mosque in Kazan, dedicated to the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam in Volga Bulgaria. The concept of a “white garden”, which the architects presented in modern shapes, interprets the rules and notions of Islam and refers to historical figures. Below, we are examining the project in detail.