​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.

Alyona Kuznetsova

Written by:
Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

04 October 2022
The settlement of Roshchino, which until 1948 bore the Finnish name of Raivola, is not so well-known as Komarovo or Repino, and is situated further away from the gulf, but it can be accessed by a suburban train of the same direction, and is abundant in the same pine trees and glacier boulders that surround local dacha houses – some exquisite, some dilapidated, built before the 1917 Revolution, some modest-looking from the Soviet times, and some luxury and modern.

The land site, with which GAFA worked is the territory of the former “Leninets” pioneer camp, lying derelict, like many others of its kind. On both sides of it, there are hotels and villas, spending vacations and weekends in which you have to plan well in advance – the city people flock here for fresh air, peace, and long walks through the Lindulovskaya Coppice with 300-year-old ship-grade larches. On the territory of the camp, over the several years of human absence, nature has taken what righteously belonged to it: underwood has grown, moss has covered the roofs of the houses and the concrete flower beds, and the paths are all but indiscernible. Still before it was turned into a camp, the land site belonged to the dacha estate “Tanino”, founded in 1910 by State Councilor Mikhail Khrushchev.

The developer set the program as an “apartment complex”, the kind of “second housing”, to which city people can come for the weekends to recharge their batteries. Such a concept has already worked very well In Sestroretsk – in the complex named “Shiny World INSIDE”, where another developer also tried to create a resort-like environment, yet on a greater scale. However, while in Sestroretsk the architects proceeded from the gulf and the dunes, GAFA tried to preserve and explore a different resource – the pine forest.

Since the trees became the main value of the project, GAFA strived to preserve as many of them as possible. The master plan was based upon that of the pioneer camp – the new buildings appear on the blueprints of the former cottages, yet the architects are placing them in a more freehand fashion, rotating them at a small angle in respect to one another, and forming punctured lines.

Apartments in Roshchino. Overview
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Closer to the street, there is a public nucleus, open to everyone who arrives – the building of the health center and the plaza in front of it, as well as a parking garage with sports fields on its roof. The former central alleyway turns into a winding trail that branches off other trails, forming an extended pedestrian route.

Apartments in Roshchino. Master plan
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Apartments in Roshchino. Functional zoning
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The buildings of the apartment blocks appear to be scattered around the territory like boulders, between which the green sea of the pine forest is rolling its waves. The abundance of trees and the “eco-friendly” positioning of the houses creates a feeling of privacy and a feeling of living in a forest. In order to maximize this experience, the architects came up with what might be called “cantilevered recessed balconies”: one of their walls is dull and blocks the view of the neighbors or the view of the street, and the others two are completely transparent, allowing the residents to contemplate the surroundings. This is exactly the case when bird watching can be combined with enjoying a cup of coffee.

Apartments in Roshchino
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Apartments in Roshchino. House Type Б
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Scale-wise, the houses are close to urban villas – their height does not exceed six floors, the sixth containing apartments with terraces, which, accordingly, step back from the main plane. Thanks to the cantilevers, balconies and sunken-in fragments, the facades took on a dramatic plastique, quite appropriate for such a context, augmented by textured materials – multicolored bricks, laid horizontally and vertically, as well as wood and brass.

Apartments in Roshchino
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Apartments in Roshchino
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

All the houses are grouped in pairs, which are connected by a “link” one window wide – it contains the staircase and elevator core. The entrance groups, complemented by little gardens, include spaces for storing baby strollers and bikes. The typology of apartments is augmented by a two-story villa situated approximately in the center of the site.

Apartments in Roshchino. House Type В
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

GAFA has a reputation for paying serious attention to the landscaping part of its projects, but in Roshchino the company strived to keep an impression of a virgin forest, only adding to the space between the houses some ferns and heather, characteristic of the environment of a moist shady forest. Recreation areas with sun beds, outdoor tables and grill houses are neatly integrated into the existing landscape. In some places, architects preferred not to disrupt the existing ecosystem at all and created a second level of landscaping: a “floating” promenade and a playground in the form of a tree house.

Apartments in Roshchino. Villa
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Apartments in Roshchino. Skyway
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

Apartments in Roshchino. Skyway
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The landscaping project of the complex includes such an unusual typology as a tea house – an oriental place for contemplation that focuses the visitors’ attention on the beauty of the surroundings and creates a place for communication and meeting one’s neighbors. Inside, there is a stove and a wooden community table; in the yard, there is a garden for meditation with a composition of natural stones.

Apartments in Roshchino. Skyway
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The privilege of living in a forest is further complemented by an opportunity to do sports, use a swimming pool, and eat out. The “satellite” of the apartments is a public nucleus with two big infrastructure projects, beyond which private life begins.

The first project is a health center, with a crescent-shaped plan. Its wide outside arc commands fine forest views, while the inner perimeter forms a cozy semi-closed plaza.

Apartments in Roshchino. Tea yard
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The plaza is a gateway to the public life of the complex, as well as the main entrance to the health center. The trees are interspersed with restaurant tables, as well as lounges and waiting areas. A wooden paving stone resembling a plowshare is used as paving. The plaza is illuminated by subdued light from the windows of adjacent public spaces, which will be complemented by spheres located in low bushes underneath the pine trees.

Apartments in Roshchino. Health center
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The multistory overland parking garage seemingly had to bring dissonance into the concept of the project but GAFA did find a way out. The architects “dissolve” the big volume, placing it close to the trees and covering the facade in grapevine – if the project takes place, it will probably be the first example of vertical landscaping of this scale for St. Petersburg and the region. The roof of the parking garage is used as a sports hub – it hosts a multifunctional sports park, a tennis court, and a workout area. The amphitheater with a view of the tree crowns serves as a spectator stand and a recreation area, as well as a noise barrier.

Apartments in Roshchino. Plaza
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

The project will be implemented; currently, the construction permit has been issued.
Apartments in Roshchino. Parking
Copyright: © GAFA Architects

04 October 2022

Alyona Kuznetsova

Written by:

Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
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