​Yuliy Borisov: “We created a system that is flexible, yet manageable and accumulating competences”

UNK has announced a new stage of its reorganization. Now it is an ecosystem consisting of 9 companies interacting with one another “seamlessly and horizontally”. We asked Yuliy Borisov to elaborate on the essence of the reform.

Julia Tarabarina

Interviewed by:
Julia Tarabarina
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

02 February 2022
According to the press release, UNK is now “a single system, all of whose elements are independent, yet linked to one another”, interacting within “a single seamless environment” aimed at solving various tasks, accompanying the client throughout all the stages of architectural project development, both chronologically – from concept to completion – and scale-wise – from large town-planning tasks to “design elements”. According to Yuliy Borisov, “such a system is, first of all, beneficial for the client, because they get assured quality from the same hands, i.e. integrated and interconnected solutions, thus reducing the time spent on preparing the construction documentation.”

Totally, the ecosystem consists of 8 companies: UNK project, UNK architects, UNK engineering, UNK interiors, UNK landscape, UNK lighting, UNK facade, and UNK design. Plus the ninth company, as proceeds from the interview below, is UNK. We asked the leader of UNK Yuliy Borisov a few questions about the specifics of the new ecosystem.

A year ago you announced that UNK became a group of companies. Now you are saying that UNK is an ecosystem. What is the difference between an ecosystem and a group of companies?


Yuliy Borisov:
First of all, the form of ownership. The controlling stake belongs to the parent company UNK. This company handles property issues, manages finances through corporate procedures, manages the HR, and regulates activities within the ecosystem. That’s for starters.

Second, an ecosystem is more open; it is focused on increasing the number of its links. It is expected that the divisions will generate new businesses within themselves, and the number of specialized companies will be growing. Currently, we are still developing our structure.

OK, currently you are a system of 9 companies, one of which is the head one. How does this correlate with your administrative structure?

We have different levels of management. The top level is the board of directors: it includes the heads of all the companies, and it solves strategic issues, such as issues of interconnection of the companies and further adjustment of the structure of their interaction. There is also a level of making tactical decisions, which is delegated to individual companies.

Are all the companies located in one place? 

Today, we have three offices, two of which are located next to each other on the Luzhnetskaya Embankment. We came to this accommodation gradually, and we are still working on its optimization. Of course, the perfect situation would be to get everyone to work in one place, and we are working on that.

The UNK office at work
Copyright: Provided by UNK

You’ve been speaking about seamless interaction. What is this? What makes it different from regular interaction between divisions or departments within one company? 

The usual structure of a large project organization is arranged within a single system of specialist management, a single “entrance door” for the client, and a single contract. This is a vertical structure, and it’s good for working with standard tasks. 

Another structural pattern is the general designer and subcontractors – this structure is better suited for unique and varied tasks. It is more sustainable financially, but it’s not always good for getting a real high-quality result. The life cycle of design and construction is rather lengthy – about 5 or 6 years, and not all of the subcontractors will stay with you throughout this entire period. At the same time, we do not fully control our subcontractors, and many of the developments “leave” together with them – no accumulation of competences takes place.

We at UNK created a system that is flexible and horizontal at the same time – it does not turn into a “mastodon”, yet it is still under our full control, and it is capable of accumulating unique expertise inside of it.

How do you ensure the announced “horizontal structure” if everyone knows for a fact that Yuliy Borisov is the key decision maker here?

Me the key decision maker? Not at all! We have great leaders that are competent in various management areas, as well as in the areas of architecture and design – specialists who really know their stuff when it comes to construction technologies.

My goal is to ensure the connection between all the companies in terms of goal setting and solve the strategic tasks.

What is your strategy about?

First of all, it is about creating high-quality solutions for unique tasks. I am the guarantor of quality and stability for most of our clients. At the same time, over the 22 years of our existence, the main value of UNK was team work, combined with our ability to efficiently act both formally and informally in the system of our common goal setting. These fundamentals are unchanged; they have been practice-tested, and they’ve been known to bring results: all our development and all of our projects are proof of that. And now we are entering a whole new level: we have new specialists and new partners but the principles and values on which we base ourselves in our work, our products, and our relationships, remain unchanged.

We try to think big, stay away from going with the mainstream, and always be cutting-edge.

The large-scale Ostrov housing project – was it a bit of a challenge to you?

Of course, it was a challenge. Today we are trying, together with the developer, to propose solutions for this project with an overall area of about 1.5 million square meters based on our principles and approaches. And the new structure of our company is very helpful in efficiently solving this task. Earlier, we would not have been physically able to apply our approaches to such a volume of construction implying complex tasks – including working with totally different classes of housing. I don’t think that either a vertically organized holding or hiring subcontractors would allow us to perform a task of such magnitude.

How much has the number of your employees grown? How many coworkers do you have now? 

What matters for us is not the number of our employees – not how many of them are sitting in their cubicles – but first of all the competences of the team. What is important is the fact that the competences have grown dramatically. Currently, we can say that our main pool totals 250 people, which is an all-time high.

What competences did you master in 2021?

We developed a great landscaping and land development team, just as the team that does integrated lighting design. We also formed a team that is expert in construction technologies of implementing unique facade solutions, and can oversee the construction; also, we have a few interior design branches because tasks and specializations in this area are very diverse. Interiors appear that are connected with highly specialized tasks: sports, educational, and a number of other tasks that require special competences, and this is why we created a dedicated team for that.

Incidentally, what is the exact difference between UNK Interiors and UNK Design?

Interiors has been operating within the structure of UNK for quite a while; its operation is based on traditional approaches to designing. Design, on the other hand, presents a fundamentally different approach based upon the principles of sustainable development. UNK design’s responsibility area includes development of interior design, both public and corporate.

The subdivision of corporate interiors headed by Nikolai Milovidov – it did not fit in with the UNK ecosystem, did it? 

Nikolai Milovidov chose to take an independent path of his own. We still stay friends. Within the framework of the ecosystem, I repeat, this work is done by UNK design.

And the subdivision guiding the construction of complex and unique facades – it is preoccupied with working design of facades, correct? 

Not quite. Their competences are required from the very start of the work. They are connected with both technologies of facade implementation and with economic rationale – today, in every technical brief, you need to be very clear on the cost of facade implementation – and, approximately, the technology of construction. Our experts in this area have expertise not just in facade design, but they also have profound understanding of construction and manufacturing processes. As is known, there are companies all over the world that specialize in facade consulting, guiding the design process at all of its stages – from concept to overseeing on the construction site. In Russia, most of our colleagues use the services of companies that simply rehash existing facades; you cannot consider them independent.

It is for this reason that we took the path of accumulating and using our competences – we already have considerable expertise. For example, at the Water Sports Palace project, we mastered the practice of working with reinforced fiber-concrete, including reproducing historical reliefs in an enlarged format. Also, sophisticated facade systems were implemented in the “Akademik” business center.

“Academic” business center on the Vernadskogo Avenue
Copyright: Photograph © Dmitry Chebanenko / UNK project

Unique facades with glass insulated units more than 12 meters high without upper clamping and with radial pull-out partitions was something that we designed for the Rosatom Pavilion at the All-Russia Exhibition Center; it’s nearly complete, you can already take a peek at the facades from behind the fences. The interiors of the main hall, also important for the outdoor perception, will be completed in the first half of the current year.

Rosatom Pavilion at the All-Russia Exhibition / 2022 / under construction
Copyright: Photograph © UNK

In addition, we have a lot of developments in the area of premium-class housing: we do know how to make beautiful things, which are at the same time cost effective and economical in terms of further operation of the facades. We accumulate these competences inside the company in order to further improve the quality of our product. 

An “ecosystem” sounds very up-to-date and very broad at the same time. It seems to me that you are trying to broadcast a message that now UNK can do everything.

Quite the opposite – we are not trying to do everything. We are focused on a rather narrow product – on buildings and locations where people live, work, study, do sports, and generally do positive things. We are not looking to work with infrastructure projects, for example, even though we did have an interior design project for an airport, but this is not quite our niche. We are focused on a human being and their needs. 

At the same time, we don’t do premium projects, you know, of the super-high-end type, and, on the other hand, we almost never work with mass and social housing. We also did a few renovation projects, but it is not our thing. Thus, we are focused on people who have approximately the same level of income as we do – and we work virtually for the same people as we are.

Meaning – upper middle class?

I guess you could say that.

But we are real experts in our field, not just in the traditional understanding of the subject but also in making competent project documentation for the construction of beautiful facades: we raise our competences on the profound understanding of how various technological processes take place, and what will happen in the future. We make brainstorming sessions, trying to anticipate the client’s desires, and offer things that we hope will be relevant in a five or seven years’ time. This is also an extremely important thing – to be able to the future. Like I already said, the construction cycle takes up 4 to 5 years, and it is important that when your project is complete it must still be cutting edge, not fall behind.

In this case, I cannot resist the temptation to ask you about your forecasts for the next five years.

It is obvious that the world is becoming increasingly dynamic. The basic segments will remain the same, though: there will be housing, there will be offices, and there will be trade – but the borders between them will become blurred. For example, designing a housing project, we spent almost a week discussing how the delivery services would operate, so that the consumers would be able to get all these services, yet at the same time we could avoid the annoying jams of bicycles and delivery persons at the entrances. Thus, it turns out that we need complex technologies with back doors and dedicated elevators. This is already a reality: mixing housing where we need privacy, rest and peace, and the logistics of product delivery, which is now part of our lives. Another example is a large number of co-working spaces in housing complexes. Third is the paths of development of shopping malls: clearly, as online shopping develops, they will have to change their format – possibly, into entertainment, cultural, or educational centers.

You don’t plan to introduce a futurology department, do you?

No, we don’t, we’re not that formal. But we do organize discussions. We draw information and ideas from many of our clients, and we share our insights with them as well. To recapitulate: no, we don’t have a futurology department, but our ideology is that we must actively transform the world for the best, be cutting-edge, and one of the key requirements for any specialist of ours, starting from an architect and ending with a master plan engineer – they must be active in innovations. 

We plan to create an educational department.

As far as I know, you, just like many other architectural companies, had trial periods. What’s the difference between those and the educational department? Whom will you teach and what? 

Our business is based both on our own competences, and on the competences of our employees – of course, we are interested in attracting highly skilled specialists. This is why we are trying to introduce a branch for supplementary education for architects, engineers, designers, project managers, and other specialists.

At first, we plan to organize remote instruction, then the final full-time internship in companies that are part of the UNK ecosystem. What makes it different from a one-time internship is that we, among other things, plan to prepare advanced training programs, that is, we will approach the task more systematically.

If we are to be more specific about the future – what other companies do you plan to create within your ecosystem?

I cannot say right now. Usually we build a strategic plan from a five-year perspective, and at the moment we are ahead of schedule. Therefore, now we are focused on tactical tasks.

02 February 2022

Julia Tarabarina

Interviewed by:

Julia Tarabarina
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
Headlines now
For All Times
The modular technology combined with the building material of glued wood allows the architectural company Rhizome to create quick-mount hotels (no less!) that are highly rated by the architectural community: last week, the new hotel “Vremena Goda. Igora” scored three awards. Below, we are examining the project in detail.
The Other Way Around
Few awards instead of many, the award ceremony conducted on the first day instead of last, projections instead of sketch boards, trees inside and art objects outside – the renewal of the Architecton festival seemingly took the sure-fire path of turning all the professional traditions upside down – or at least those that happened to be within the scope of the organizers’ attention. There’s certainly a lot to pick on, but the exhibition does feel fresh and improvisational. It looks that pretty soon these guys will set trends for Moscow as well. We shared with you about some elements of the festival in our Telegram channel, and now we are examining the whole thing.
ArchiWOOD-14: Building Bridges
This season, the festival’s jury decided not to award a grand prize: judging by the fact that the shortlist included several projects that had not reached the award in previous years, and the “best house” was pronounced to be an undoubtedly beautiful but mass-produced model, the “harvest” of wooden buildings in 2023 was not too abundant. However, there were many unusual typologies among the finalists, and restoration and revitalization projects received their share of recognition. Let’s take a look at all the finalists.
The Chinese Symphony
The construction of the Chinese center “Huaming Park” has been a long story that came to fruition relatively recently. The building is adjacent to a traditional Chinese garden, but it is very modern, laconic and technological, and the simple-in-form, yet spectacular, white lamellae promise to someday be incorporated as a media facade. This complex is also truly multifunctional: it contains different types of living spaces, offices, a large fitness center, conference halls and restaurants – all wrapped in one volume. You can comfortably hold international forums in it, having everything you may possibly need at your fingertips, and going outside only to take a walk. In this article, we are examining this complex in detail.
Ensemble of Individualities
Construction of the first phase of the INDY Towers multifunctional complex on Kuusinen Street, designed by Ostozhenka, has started. The project opens new angles of similarity between the column and the skyscraper, and we examine the nuances and parallels.
Black and Red
Kazakov Grand Loft received its name for a reason: responding to the client’s brief and proceeding from the historical industrial architecture of its immediate surroundings, Valery Kanyashin and Ostozhenka architects proposed a new version of a modern house designed in the fashionable “loft” style. What makes this building different is the fact that the bricks here are dark gray, and the facades of the romantic “fortress” towers blossom with magnificent glazing of the windows in the upper part. The main highlight of the complex, however, is the multiple open air terraces situated on different levels.
Icy Hospitality
Mezonproject has won the national architectural and town planning competition for designing a hotel and a water recreation center in the city of Irkutsk. The architects chose hummocks of Baikal ice as a visual image.
The Mastery of Counterpoint
In the sculpture of Classical Greece, counterpoint was first invented: the ability to position the human body as if it were about to take a step, imbuing it with a hint of the energy of future movement, and with hidden dynamics. For architecture, especially in the 20th century and now, this is also one of the main techniques, and the ATRIUM architects implement it diligently, consistently – and always slightly differently. The new residential complex “Richard” is a good example of such exploration, based on the understanding of contrasts in the urban environment, which was fused into the semblance of a living being.
Countryside Avant-Garde
The project of the museum of Aleksey Gastev, the ideologist of scientific organization of work, located in his hometown of Suzdal, is inscribed in multiple contexts: the contest of a small town, the context of avant-garde design, the context of “lean production”, and the context of the creative quest of Nikolai Lyzlov’s minimalist architecture – and it seems to us that this project even reveals a distant memory of the fact that Aleksey Gastev learned his craft in France.
On the Hills
In the project by Studio 44, the “distributed” IT campus of Nizhny Novgorod is based on well-balanced contracts. Sometimes it is hovering, sometimes undulating, sometimes towering over a rock. For every task, the architects found appropriate form and logic: the hotels are based on a square module, the academic buildings are based on a “flying” one, and so on. Modernist prototypes, specifically, Convent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, stand next to references to the antique Forum and the tower of a medieval university – as well as next to contextual allusions that help inscribe the buildings of the future campus into the landscape of the city hills with their dominants, high slopes, breathtaking river views, the historical city center, and the Nizhny Novgorod University.
The Magic Carpet
The anniversary exhibition of Totan Kuzembaev’s drawings named “Event Horizons” shows both very old drawings made by the architect in the formative 1980’s, and now extracted from the Museum of Architecture, as well as quite a few pictures from the “Weightlessness” series that Totan Kuzembaev drew specifically for this exhibition in 2023. It seemed to us that the architect represented reality from the point of view of someone levitating in space, and sometimes even upside down, like a magic carpet with multiple layers.
​A Copper Step
Block 5, designed by ASADOV architects as part of the “Ostrov” (“Island”) housing complex, is at the same time grand-scale, conspicuous thanks to its central location – and contextual. It does not “outshout” the solutions used in the neighboring buildings, but rather gives a very balanced implementation of the design code: combining brick and metal in light and dark shades and large copper surfaces, orthogonal geometry on the outside and flexible lines in the courtyard.
The Light for the Island
For the first time around, we are examining a lighting project designed for a housing complex; but then again, the authors of the nighttime lighting of the Ostrov housing complex, UNK lighting, proudly admit that this project is not just the largest in their portfolio, but also the largest in this country. They describe their approach as a European one, its chief principles being smoothness of transitions, comfort to the eye, and the concentration of most of the light at the “bottom” level – meaning, it “works” first of all for pedestrians.
Spots of Light
A new housing complex in Tyumen designed by Aukett Swanke is a very eye-pleasing example of mid-rise construction: using simple means of architectural expression, such as stucco, pitched roofs, and height changes, the architects achieve a “human-friendly” environment, which becomes a significant addition to the nearby park and forest.
Ledges and Swirls
The housing complex “Novaya Zarya” (“New Dawn”) designed by ASADOV Architects will become one of the examples of integrated land development in Vladivostok. The residential area will be characterized by various typologies of its housing sections, and a multitude of functions – in addition to the social infrastructure, the complex will include pedestrian promenades, shopping malls, office buildings, and recreational facilities. The complex is “inscribed” in a relief with a whopping 40-meter height difference, and overlooks the Amur Bay.
Agglomeration on an Island
Recently, an approval came for the master plan of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk agglomeration, which was developed by a consortium headed by the Genplan Institute of Moscow. The document provides for the creation of 12 clusters, the totality of which will give the region a qualitative leap in development and make the island more self-sufficient, more accessible, and less dependent on the mainland. We are inviting you to examine the details.
Ivan Grekov: “A client that wants to make a building that is “about architecture” is...
In this article, we are talking to Ivan Grekov, the leader of the architectural company KAMEN (translates as “stone”), the author of many high-profile projects that have been built in Moscow in the recent years, about the history of his company, about different approaches to form making, about different meanings of volume and facade, and about “layers” in working with the environment – at the example of two projects by Osnova Group. These are the MIRAPOLIS complex on the Mira Avenue in Rostokino, whose construction began at the end of last year, and the multifunctional complex in the 2nd Silikatny Proezd on the Zvenigorodsky Highway; recently, it received all the required approvals.
Grasping and Formulating
The special project “Tezisy” (“Abstracts”), showcased at Arch Moscow exhibition in Moscow’s Gostiny Dvor, brought together eight young “rock stars of architecture”, the headliner being Vladislav Kirpichev, founder of the EDAS school. In this article, we share our impressions of the installations and the perspectives of the new generation of architects.
The White Tulip
Currently, there are two relevant projects for the Great Cathedral Mosque in Kazan, which was transferred to a land site in Admiralteiskaya Sloboda in February. One of them, designed by TsLP, was recently showcased at Arch Moscow. In this article, we are covering another project, which was proposed during the same period for the same land site. Its author is Aleksey Ginzburg, the winner of the 2022 competition, but now the project is completely different. Today, it is a sculptural “flower” dome symbolizing a white tulip.
ATRIUM’s Metaverse
The architectural company ATRIUM opened a gallery of its own in a metaverse. Inside, one can examine the company’s approach and main achievements, as well as get some emotional experience. The gallery is already hosting cyberspace business meetings and corporate events.
​From Darkness to Light
Responding to a lengthy list of limitations and a lengthy – by the standards of a small building – list of functions, Vladimir Plotkin turned the project of the Novodevichy Monastery into a light, yet dynamic statement of modern interpretation of historical context, or, perhaps, even interpretation of light and darkness.
Modernism in Avant-Garde
The contest proposal that Studio 44 made for the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theater is bright in all senses, and in many ways even provocative – just like a modern theater performance should be. Being in context with modern culture, it even shocks you in some respects. At first, you are amazed at the red color that is present all around, and then you gradually make sense of the picturesque congregation of volumes that share a multitude of functions. And it’s only later that you realize that this conglomerate conceals a modernist building, most of which the architects save intact.
The Black Mountain
The project of reconstructing the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet theater developed by Wowhaus, which won the competition, proposed a total demolition and new construction, as well as considerable expansion (up to 8 floors) – and transformable multifunctional spaces. The new project, however, does retain the recognizable elements and the image of the old theater. As for the main spectator hall, it is turned – figuratively speaking, of course – into a semblance of a black volcano.
Recently, Moscow saw the presentation of a project by Yuri Grigoryan, devoted to turning the truck garage on Novoryazanskaya Street, designed by Konstantin Melnikov, into the Museum of Moscow Transport. The project involves restoring the monument of architecture, adding a new underground floor and a new entrance, as well as a whole park. The implementation is already underway.
Houses by the Lakeside
Approvals came for the project of a housing complex that DNK ag designed in Kazan. The complex is low-rise; its sections are designed as separate volumes united by a common podium. Everything is very much like DNK: delicate and sometimes even lyrical, especially where the yard meets the lakeshore.
Exemplary Adaptation
In Novosibirsk, the construction of a school has been completed, whose project is standing every chance to set a new standard for the nation’s educational institutions. SVESMI Architects and Brusnika company started by developing the brief that would answer the modern teaching practices, and then they proposed the optimum plan, versatile classrooms, and reserved, yet expressive, image in the spirit of this Amsterdam alliance.
Terra Incognita
An 800-room hotel complex, designed by Ginzburg Architects, offers the seaside city of Anapa a fragment of well-organized urban environment that keeps up the cultural spirit of the place. The architects break away from traditional white facades, turning to the antique and even archaic periods of the history of this land, and drawing inspiration in the color of red clay and simple, yet lightweight, shapes.
In Plumage Colors
Working on the facades of a mid-rise residential area in Odintsovsky district, GENPRO architects “adjusted” a number of features of the volumetric composition, which they received without the right to make any changes to, by purely “decorative” means, such as ornamental brickwork, including glazed bricks and the rhythm of the windows. Interestingly, the starting point in the search for the color code was the plumage of birds that are found in the Moscow region.
Julius Borisov: “The “Island” housing complex is a unique project – we took it on with...
One of the largest housing projects of today’s Moscow – the “Ostrov” (“Island”) housing complex built by Donstroy – is now being actively built in the Mnevniky Floodplain. They are planning to build about 1.5M square meters of housing on an area of almost 40 hectares. We are beginning to examine this project– first of all, we are talking to Julius Borisov, the head of the architectural company UNK, which works with most of the residential blocks in this grand-scale project, as well as with the landscaping part; the company even proposed a single design code for the entire territory.