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We work remotely: Moscow architects about working from home during the pandemic

In this article, we are speaking to the leaders of a few Moscow architectural companies about their plans for remote work caused by the #COVID19 pandemic.

20 March 2020
Research
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Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief Architect of Moscow:

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“Most of Moscow architectural companies are now encouraging their employees to work from home in order to prevent the spread of #COVID19” – the Chief Architect of Moscow, Sergey Kuznetsov, reported on Monday, March 16. “This is an important and responsible move for most of the employers, even though it was a hard decision to make for many of them. Here are but a few companies that have switched to remote work or flexible attendance policy: Citizenstudio, MAD architects, Maryarch, Wowhaus, Nefa, Kleinewelt Architekten, Master’s plan, buromoscow, ABTB, Meganom, TPO Pride Architects, Ostozhenka, and others. Also, MARKhI, MARCH, MITU MASI, and other architectural schools of the nation’s capital are bracing for massive experiment in online education.”

We spoke to a few leaders of Moscow architectural companies – all of them are busy switching to the remote work mode, and all of them rate this measure as a necessity. Many of them turned out to be partially ready for it because they already had some experience in online communication and remote work, while for some of the companies this was a standard practice for quite a while. For now, the general impression is that after the epidemic the architects’ work will be organized in a much more flexible and contemporary way.

Vera Butko and Anton Nadtochiy, ATRIUM:

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“Switching a company that has about a hundred employees to a remote work mode is quite a difficult thing to do. However, we got serious about tackling this task, and after March 8, all of our face-to-face meetings with clients were suspended. Not all of our clients were ready for this, and sometimes we had to insist.

At the same time, we spent a whole week preparing for this: we were getting our servers ready for the remote work, buying extra equipment, and testing the performance of our computers. Currently, our employees are working from their homes, plugged in to their office computers. This way, they have access to good processing power and all the software that is installed in there. Meaning – we did not take our office apart, and both BIM and 3D Max work from there. What is essential in this case is a fast Internet access. Most of our software worked great on 40 megabits, but those who worked in 3D Max said that sometimes it was a little bit slow. Thus, beginning this week, we will pump it up to 100 megabits and see if that helps. As for the large monitors, yes, those of our employees who did not have such monitors at home, took them home from the office – as a rule, our employees have two monitors in the office.

Since March 17, most of our employees have been working from home; only a handful of those who decided to stay continue coming to the office. These are young people who live within a walking distance, and they do not use the public transportation system. And there are so few of them in the space designed to house a hundred people that they barely see one another – they keep sending us pictures of an empty office. 

We switched over to Slack as our corporate messaging service. The most convenient thing about it is that its channels can be subdivided into different project groups, and hierarchical interaction is organized in a really smart way, you can communicate within your team, communicate with the outside controllers of the project, and so on. However, the task setting and execution control are performed in the same software as we used before, nothing basically changed here. So, yes, we were probably half-prepared for this situation. Now we are crash-testing this remote format.

We are bracing for some certain difficulties with designer supervision. However, for the two or three projects that are now in the active phase of such control, we made arrangements about technical supervision on the construction site – they take photos and immediately send us as much information as possible. Of course, if there is a situation when our physical presence is essential, we will show up. However, most of the day-to-day operations can be indeed controlled remotely. Normally, it would be impossible to get these guys to do this kind of job but now we’ve been able to reach an agreement.

On the whole, we rate this experience as a positive one. Our average workday is just as intense as it was in the office. We don’t waste time on commuting, traffic jams, and being late; less time is spent in meetings. We cannot say that somebody got less responsible – our employees are still up for it. You could even say that our team has summoned up its resources. Everybody understands that this is a new reality, and everybody reacts responsibly. Of course, it’s like making a virtue out of necessity but we are taking it as a challenge, we just go for it.

However, I think that the biggest challenge now is to keep construction work going. Because if construction stops, the virus will be nothing compared to the devastating economic impact and the necessity to pay for the empty offices and pay wages to the employees who in fact do not do any work. This really may present a serious problem. This is why we believe that everyone must summon their resources and keep on doing their duty”.

Julius Borisov, UNK Project:

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“We are preparing to transfer our employees to working remotely, and on Monday we are starting the experiment with the new operation format. We ultimately hope to transfer 100% of our operations to the remote mode. It’s not much of a problem for us; this is how we worked with our international colleagues from Japan and the USA – and we completed quite a number of projects including the ones that won in various competitions.

We have already been actively using cloud computing technologies; we work remotely with our clients, vendors, and subcontractors. A few years ago we invested a lot of time and effort to create a powerful financial accounting system based on 1C software. The financial side of architectural design is something that’s pretty hard to calculate – on the one hand, this is a service, on the other hand, this is a product; one is paid for by the hour, the other is paid by the unit; we have a combined system, and we have learned to account for both. We are currently setting up standard Microsoft services for communication at the micro-command level. Most of our employees have the basic equipment at home; if they need something extra, we organize setting up the workplace at their home or deliver some special equipment.

The equipment, however, is the least of our worries. The biggest problems are psychological and energy ones. We believe in our employees; we believe that our people are our main asset, but, nevertheless, self-isolation and working from home is a serious challenge for everyone. If you are used to the routine when you work in the office and rest at home, it requires a certain effort to adjust. However, just like any skills, this is something that you can learn; you can master working from home.

Another challenging task has to do with the collective nature of our creative work. A project is done by a large team, and it’s very important to transfer the synergy of the creative strength from the physical office to the cyber one. Partially, we tested this when working with our international colleagues but now we need to spread it over to our local employees.

Third, psychology. People are social creatures, and many of them perceive work as a social club. It is important not to lose these connections along the way, and to make sure that people don’t start feeling alienated – and this is a very important task for those companies that are switching to the work-from-home mode. We are learning yet. This is the number one rule of today’s world – never stop learning. My personal opinion is that what’s going on right now is mass hysteria. But there is also an upside to it because now we can channel more of our creative energy to creating the product as such. And we can use the free time that we now have on our hands to spend more of it with our families, our children – or to develop new projects. Circumstances – any circumstances – are a good incentive to make a change. In addition, the construction market is very conservative, and if it makes such innovative changes, it will certainly be a plus. Probably, this forced change of format will make some unnecessary things go away, which will vacate new energy for creative work. The way I see it, the pandemic will go, but the industry will never be the same.”

Anna Ishchenko, Wowhaus:

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“We partially switched our office to working from home. The key employees, who are involved with the projects that are in the most active phase, stay in the office. We have long since launched a system of remote access to our files; also, all of our employees have applications with our corporate emails installed on their smartphones. This is something that we are already used to, and switching over to a remote mode was not really painful to us. Currently, taking advantage of the situation, we are fine-tuning our videoconference system – we have long since been wanting to do it but somehow we never got round to it.”

Vladimir Plotkin, Reserve Union:

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“Yes, we also transferred about 80% of our work to a remote mode – it will not be easy, but this might become a useful experiment. If it turns out to be effective enough, we might continue working like that even when the pandemic is over. This could help us save some money.”

Andrey Gnezdilov, Ostozhenka:

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“Well, what can you say – new times are coming. Tomorrow we are opening an exhibition in the Museum of Moscow, marking the 30th anniversary of Ostozhenka, both of our company, and of our project bearing the same name, and this now will be done remotely, by online broadcasting.

Today, almost all of our employees are working from their homes, and we are trying to organize our work in a new way, preparing for the day when moving around might not be as easy as it used to be. Of course, everyone realizes that now we have to keep social distances, use the public transportation system less, and avoid potentially dangerous places. Our employees feel a lot more comfortable that way.

It is a necessary measure, but it’s not all that easy to enforce it; at least it requires some organizational efforts – both on behalf of the project leader and on behalf of every team member. Our job is collective by nature – when there is a project going on, different people need to see it: at some point in time you want to get together and take stock of the result of your work. When you all work in the same office, that’s the easiest thing to do – we lay out our materials on the conference table, and have a discussion. Of course, it is a lot more difficult to have such a discussion online. But it’s still possible. This is not so much an issue as a new form of communication. We will yet have to get used to it, living in this new format. In any event, however, organizational and emotional efforts will have to be made – at least to make sure that this “work from home” does not turn into an unscheduled vacation.”

Sergey Skuratov, Sergey Skuratov Architects:

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“I’m in quarantine now because I arrived from Lion, France, on the 7th of March – I skied with my family in Val d’Isère. There was nobody on our plane who contracted coronavirus. I saw the data on all of the flights. I will be in quarantine until Monday. I consult by the phone, via WhatsApp, and Skype.

So far, everything’s alright. Our company operates almost in full capacity. We have two competitions and a new concept ahead. We have not yet issued an order for remote work, and so far it’s a voluntary thing – some of our people do work from home but it’s not a mass trend with us. More than half of our operations is essentially working documents, which are done by teams from 3 to 15 people. Somebody must get these things together, print them out, and hand them over to the client. Anyway, we are up for it. Our studio is very clean, the rooms are aired regularly, and we wash our hands several times a day. We are in the working mode.

I will venture a guess that the next month we are going to work remotely. This, however, is not what matters. What matters is our orders. It is very important that the construction work continue, and that developer companies not suspend their operations for an indefinite period of time. Because if that happens, this will be hard on us, especially on the lower-rank employees. We will not have the money to pay them their wages.”

Sergey Nikeshkin, KPLN project bureau:

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“Collective work on large projects in BIM implies a constant exchange of data, a process which would be quite tricky to organize if everyone works from home. But we are trying to tackle this problem; we are currently preparing the technical basis for the remote work, launching our cloud data storage, and analyzing the possibilities of our employees’ home workplaces.”

Mikhail Beilin, Citizenstudio:

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“We have been working in this “online office” format for quite a while as it was. And we really love this format. We consider it to be very productive, and we consider such way of organizing the work of an architectural company to be extremely flexible, especially during this difficult situation in the country and in the industry. And this format makes the company leaders – me and Daniel – still more responsible for this remote operation. This is like some super-management task. You cannot see all the details of the process how people work, and, accordingly, you must always monitor the architect’s product. You need to divide it into micro tasks so as to always be able to quickly make corrections both to the process and the result. You need to learn to quickly respond to these remote challenges, to be always online. To keep in your head and to have a clear idea of all the working processes that your employees are involved in during various projects. Yes, of course the visual contact facilitates interaction. But in our format it rarely happens – only at special meetings with architects. However, now that the system has been debugged and the employees are used to it – everything is going fine. Thus, nothing has changed in our case.

The main advantage of this format is not economizing (on the office rent, operations, etc.), but the fact that you can be more flexible when choosing your work. Not having to spend that much, you can take up only the orders that are really interesting to you.”

***

20 March 2020

Headlines now
Campus within a Day
In this article, we talk about what the participants of Genplan Institute of Moscow’s hackathon were doing at the MosComArchitecture booth at the “ArchMoscow” exhibition. We also discuss who won the prize and why, and what can be done with the territory of a small university on the outskirts of Moscow.
Vertical Civilization
Genpro considered the development of the vertical city concept and made it the theme of their pavilion at the “ArchMoscow” exhibition.
Marina Yegorova: “We think in terms of hectares, not square meters”
The career path of architect Marina Yegorova is quite impressive: MARHI, SPEECH, MosComArchitectura, the Genplan Institute of Moscow, and then her own architectural company. Its name Empate, which refers to the words “to draw” in Portuguese and “to empathize” in English, should not be misleading with its softness, as the firm freely works on different scales, including Integrated Territorial Development projects. We talked with Marina about various topics: urban planning experience, female leadership style, and even the love of architects for yachting.
Andrey Chuikov: “Optimum balance is achieved through economics”
The Yekaterinburg-based architectural company CNTR is in its mature stage: crystallization of principles, systematization, and standardization helped it make a qualitative leap, enhance competencies, and secure large contracts without sacrificing the aesthetic component. The head of the company, Andrey Chuikov, told us about building a business model and the bonuses that additional education in financial management provides for an architect.
The Fulcrum
Ostozhenka Architects have designed two astonishing towers practically on the edge of a slope above the Oka River in Nizhny Novgorod. These towers stand on 10-meter-tall weathered steel “legs”, with each floor offering panoramic views of the river and the city; all public spaces, including corridors, receive plenty of natural light. Here, we see a multitude of solutions that are unconventional for the residential routine of our day and age. Meanwhile, although these towers hark back to the typological explorations of the seventies, they are completely reinvented in a contemporary key. We admire Veren Group as the client – this is exactly how a “unique product” should be made – and we tell you exactly how our towers are arranged.
Crystal is Watching You
Right now, Museum Night has kicked off at the Museum of Architecture, featuring a fresh new addition – the “Crystal of Perception”, an installation by Sergey Kuznetsov, Ivan Grekov, and the KROST company, set up in the courtyard. It shimmers with light, it sings, it reacts to the approach of people, and who knows what else it can do.
The Secret Briton
The house is called “Little France”. Its composition follows the classical St. Petersburg style, with a palace-like courtyard. The decor is on the brink of Egyptian lotuses, neo-Greek acroteria, and classic 1930s “gears”; the recessed piers are Gothic, while the silhouette of the central part of the house is British. It’s quite interesting to examine all these details, attempting to understand which architectural direction they belong to. At the same time, however, the house fits like a glove in the context of the 20th line of St. Petersburg’s Vasilievsky Island; its elongated wings hold up the façade quite well.
The Wrap-Up
The competition project proposed by Treivas for the first 2021 competition for the Russian pavilion at EXPO 2025 concludes our series of publications on pavilion projects that will not be implemented. This particular proposal stands out for its detailed explanations and the idea of ecological responsibility: both the facades and the exhibition inside were intended to utilize recycled materials.
Birds and Streams
For the competition to design the Omsk airport, DNK ag formed a consortium, inviting VOX architects and Sila Sveta. Their project focuses on intersections, journeys, and flights – both of people and birds – as Omsk is known as a “transfer point” for bird migrations. The educational component is also carefully considered, and the building itself is filled with light, which seems to deconstruct the copper circle of the central entrance portal, spreading it into fantastic hyper-spatial “slices”.
Faraday Grid
The project of the Omsk airport by ASADOV Architects is another concept among the 14 finalists of a recent competition. It is called “The Bridge” and is inspired by both the West Siberian Exhibition of 1911 and the Trans-Siberian Railway bridge over the Irtysh River, built in 1896. On one hand, it carries a steampunk vibe, while on the other, there’s almost a sense of nostalgia for the heyday of 1913. However, the concept offers two variants, the second one devoid of nostalgia but featuring a parabola.
Midway upon the Journey of Our Life
Recently, Tatlin Publishing House released a book entitled “Architect Sergey Oreshkin. Selected Projects”. This book is not just a traditional book of the architectural company’s achievements, but rather a monograph of a more personal nature. The book includes 43 buildings as well as a section with architectural drawings. In this article, we reflect on the book as a way to take stock of an architect’s accomplishments.
Inverted Fortress
This year, there has been no shortage of intriguing architectural ideas around the Omsk airport. The project developed by the architectural company KPLN appeals to Omsk’s history as a wooden fortress that it was back in the day, but transforms the concept of a fortress beyond recognition: it “shaves off” the conical ends of “wooden logs”, then enlarges them, and then flips them over. The result is a hypostyle – a forest of conical columns on point supports, with skylights on top.
Transformation of Annenkirche
For Annenkirche (St. Anna Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg), Sergey Kuznetsov and the Kamen bureau have prepared a project that relies on the principles of the Venice Charter: the building is not restored to a specific date, historical layers are preserved, and modern elements do not mimic the authentic ones. Let’s delve into the details of these solutions.
The Paradox of the Temporary
The concept of the Russian pavilion for EXPO 2025 in Osaka, proposed by the Wowhaus architects, is the last of the six projects we gathered from the 2022 competition. It is again worth noting that the results of this competition were not finalized due to the cancellation of Russia’s participation in World Expo 2025. It should be mentioned that Wowhaus created three versions for this competition, but only one is being presented, and it can’t be said that this version is thoroughly developed – rather, it is done in the spirit of a “student assignment”. Nevertheless, the project is interesting in its paradoxical nature: the architects emphasized the temporary character of the pavilion, and in its bubble-like forms sought to reflect the paradoxes of space and time.
The Forum of Time
The competition project for the Russian Pavilion at EXPO 2025 in Osaka designed by Aleksey Orlov and Arena Project Institute consists of cones and conical funnels connected into a non-trivial composition, where one can feel the hand of architects who have worked extensively with stadiums and other sports facilities. It’s very interesting to delve into its logic, structurally built on the theme of clocks, hourglasses and even sundials. Additionally, the architects have turned the exhibition pavilion into a series of interconnected amphitheaters, which is also highly relevant for world exhibitions. We are reminding you that the competition results were never announced.
Mirrors Everywhere
The project by Sergey Nebotov, Anastasia Gritskova, and the architectural company “Novoe” was created for the Russian pavilion at EXPO 2025, but within the framework of another competition, which, as we learned, took place even earlier, in 2021. At that time, the competition theme was “digital twins”, and there was minimal time for work, so the project, according to the architect himself, was more of a “student assignment”. Nevertheless, this project is interesting for its plan bordering on similarity with Baroque projects and the emblem of the exhibition, as well as its diverse and comprehensive reflectiveness.
The Steppe Is Full of Beauty and Freedom
The goal of the exhibition “Dikoe Pole” (“Wild Field”) at the State Historical Museum was to move away from the archaeological listing of valuable items and to create an image of the steppe and nomads that was multidirectional and emotional – in other words, artistic. To achieve this goal, it was important to include works of contemporary art. One such work is the scenography of the exhibition space developed by CHART studio.
The Snowstorm Fish
The next project from the unfinished competition for the Russian Pavilion at EXPO 2025, which will be held in Osaka, Japan, is by Dashi Namdakov and Parsec Architects. The pavilion describes itself as an “architectural/sculptural” one, with its shape clearly reminiscent of abstract sculpture of the 1970s. It complements its program with a meditative hall named “Mendeleev’s Dreams”, and offers its visitors to slide from its roof at the end of the tour.
The Mirror of Your Soul
We continue to publish projects from the competition for the design of the Russian Pavilion at EXPO in Osaka 2025. We are reminding you that the results of the competition have not been announced, and hardly will ever be. The pavilion designed by ASADOV Architects combines a forest log cabin, the image of a hyper transition, and sculptures made of glowing threads – it focuses primarily on the scenography of the exhibition, which the pavilion builds sequentially like a string of impressions, dedicating it to the paradoxes of the Russian soul.
Part of the Ideal
In 2025, another World Expo will take place in Osaka, Japan, in which Russia will not participate. However, a competition for the Russian pavilion was indeed held, with six projects participating. The results were never announced as Russia’s participation was canceled; the competition has no winners. Nevertheless, Expo pavilion projects are typically designed for a bold and interesting architectural statement, so we’ve gathered all the six projects and will be publishing articles about them in random order. The first one is the project by Vladimir Plotkin and Reserve Union, which is distinguished by the clarity of its stereometric shape, the boldness of its structure, and the multiplicity of possible interpretations.
The Fortress by the River
ASADOV Architects have developed a concept for a new residential district in the center of Kemerovo. To combat the harsh climate and monotonous everyday life, the architects proposed a block type of development with dominant towers, good insolation, facades detailed at eye level, and event programming.
In the Rhombus Grid
Construction has begun on the building of the OMK (United Metallurgical Company) Corporate University in Nizhny Novgorod’s town of Vyksa, designed by Ostozhenka Architects. The most interesting aspect of the project is how the architects immersed it in the context: “extracting” a diagonal motif from the planning grid of Vyksa, they aligned the building, the square, and the park to match it. A truly masterful work with urban planning context on several different levels of perception has long since become the signature technique of Ostozhenka.
​Generational Connection
Another modern estate, designed by Roman Leonidov, is located in the Moscow region and brings together three generations of one family under one roof. To fit on a narrow plot without depriving anyone of personal space, the architects opted for a zigzag plan. The main volume in the house structure is accentuated by mezzanines with a reverse-sloped roof and ceilings featuring exposed beams.
Three Dimensions of the City
We began to delve into the project by Sergey Skuratov, the residential complex “Depo” in Minsk, located at Victory Square, and it fascinated us completely. The project has at least several dimensions to it: historical – at some point, the developer decided to discontinue further collaboration with Sergey Skuratov Architects, but the concept was approved, and its implementation continues, mostly in accordance with the proposed ideas. The spatial and urban planning dimension – the architects both argue with the city and play along with it, deciphering nuances, and finding axes. And, finally, the tactile dimension – the constructed buildings also have their own intriguing features. Thus, this article also has two parts: it dwells on what has been built and what was conceived
New “Flight”
Architects from “Mezonproject” have developed a project for the reconstruction of the regional youth center “Polyot”(“Flight”) in the city of Oryol. The summer youth center, built back in the late 1970s, will now become year-round and acquire many additional functions.
The Yauza Towers
In Moscow, there aren’t that many buildings or projects designed by Nikita Yavein and Studio 44. In this article, we present to you the concept of a large multifunctional complex on the Yauza River, located between two parks, featuring a promenade, a crossroads of two pedestrian streets, a highly developed public space, and an original architectural solution. This solution combines a sophisticated, asymmetric façade grid, reminiscent of a game of fifteen puzzle, and bold protrusions of the upper parts of the buildings, completely masking the technical floors and sculpting the complex’s silhouette.
Arch, Pearl, Wing, Wind
In the social media of the governor of the Omsk region, voting was conducted for the best project for the city’s new airport. We asked the finalists to send over their projects and are now showcasing them. The projects are quite interesting: the client requested that the building be visually permeable throughout, and the images that the architects are working with include arches, wings, gusts of wind, and even the “Pearl” painting by Vrubel, who was actually born in Omsk.
Architecture and Leisure Park
For the suburban hotel complex, which envisages various formats of leisure, the architectural company T+T Architects proposed several types of accommodation, ranging from the classic “standard” in a common building to a “cave in the hill” and a “house in a tree”. An additional challenge consisted in integrating a few classic-style residences already existing on this territory into the “architectural forest park”.
The U-House
The Jois complex combines height with terraces, bringing the most expensive apartments from penthouses down to the bottom floors. The powerful iconic image of the U-shaped building is the result of the creative search for a new standard of living in high-rise buildings by the architects of “Genpro”.
Black and White
In this article, we specifically discuss the interiors of the ATOM Pavilion at VDNKh. Interior design is a crucial component of the overall concept in this case, and precision and meticulous execution were highly important for the architects. Julia Tryaskina, head of UNK interiors, shares some of the developments.