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Julia Tryaskina: Modern public interiors are about the super-goal, not about unnecessary embellishments

Julia Tarabarina

The new IPI Award for design of public interiors considers the projects from the point of view of todays trends of the modern world, and even broader from the point of view of a super-goal set by the client and achieved by the architect. In this article, we are speaking to the initiator of the award: about the specifics of rating the projects, about the priorities, fears, and hopes.

The new IPI Award was announced on the 28th of March. It is about searching for unique innovative trends in the area of designing public interiors. Eligible are interior design projects implemented over the last three years, in seven typological nominations by four criteria: innovative, functional, sustainable, creative. The deadline for submitting the applications is June 30.

In this article, we are speaking to the initiator and co-organizer of the new award Julia Tryaskina – about the mission, about the trends, the architect’s paths to achieving the super-goal, and about the subtleties of rating the projects. There are already about a hundred participants, many of whom come from non-capital cities.
How long ago did you come up with the idea of this new award, and what is its super-goal?

Julia Tryaskina

Julia Tryaskina:
The idea to change the very approach to public interior awards, which have appeared here in recent years, is something that I’ve been entertaining for quite a while now. In recent years, they all turned into awards for fancy pictures, where all the judging panel does is they check them out and decide whether they like them or not – nobody goes any deeper than this. This approach is slightly outdated, and individuality is lost altogether. Spaces aimed at forming an unconventional perception of the world, new technologies, and inclusion were not covered by the topics of these awards because they spoke a different language and used different approaches. The architects, who posed (and achieved!) certain super-goals in their interiors, simply did not fit in with the vacuum created by the “diverse beauty” of recent awards.

Can you give a couple of examples of such interiors: innovative, inclusive, advanced? Just so that we could understand the benchmark of your new award.

Well, it would be incorrect to cite probable winners as examples but, generally speaking, this could be a school for children whose eyesight is impaired or an eco-hotel operating on full-cycle utilization of water and source materials. “Sustainable” becomes a synonym for “modern”. One of such examples is the new flagship Bulgari store, designed recently in Shanghai by MVRDV. The material for the facade panels was recycled bottles. Of course, sustainability of the solution does affect the image: specifically, for the power received from photovoltaic batteries, not every fashionable designer light will be the best choice.

Yet another example is the (SO)What Chengdu boutique in Shanghai from Various Associates – its interior actively uses multimedia technologies. Modern technologies in general are a subject that we have very much interest in. It includes 3D printing of individual elements or even whole houses, and design of their interiors as well.

If we are to speak about inclusion, in this country it is often limited to access ramps; otherwise, inside the buildings, people with disabilities need to be escorted. And the ramps are something that the architects seem to be somehow embarrassed of as the elements that ruin the aesthetics of the space they designed. If you want to honestly build a public space that would function as an inclusive one, you need to have a desire for it, you need to have patience, as well as courage and taste; you also need understanding on the part of the client. The public urban spaces have already achieved that, but the public interiors are only moving in that direction.

One of your evaluation criteria is sustainability. How do you see it?

Environment is, of course, the next big topic. And in this area, regrettably, there is also more conversation than action. Every detail is important: you need to convince your client to use this or that equipment, and use it systematically, saving the resources and minimizing the damage. All architects, for example, love large-format materials. However, such materials are expensive to come by, and their production often harms the environment. What is important is not just the feel of the material, but the method of its production as well, and what consequences it entails. None of this is ever reflected in the beautiful 3D renders. Creating truly sustainable spaces changes your way of thinking.

When were you exposed to such a “different” approach? What made you change your mind?

What became for me such a discovery, and a professional challenge, was the experience of working with the “School of the Future” in Irkutsk. We worked with the idea of subjugating everything – every little detail and every solution – to the super-goal of changing the child‘s life and giving the child a chance to change the world. We checked every solution with this question: why this staircase? What purpose does it serve? This experience turned out to be very valuable, and even working with small routine tasks I tried to break away as much as possible from thinking in beautiful pictures, and think functionality.

“Point of the Future” educational complex
“Point of the Future” educational complex
Copyright: Photograph: “Point of the Future”

When your approach to design changes, you proceed not so much from the beautiful material as from the function, from the super-goal of the specific space, new technologies, and solving social tasks.

I also want our award to cover this aspect as well – I want the architect to think out of the box, and have the courage to do more than just the routine decoration tasks. 

What will you award the Grand Prix for? For a maximum of innovations?

Rather, for the interior that is best conceived in terms of the super-goal: one that solves specific problems of the society, or, possibly, even aimed at changing the society and individuals. Definitely, not for the beautiful pictures. On the other hand, the fact of implementing the idea is important – the fact that both the architect and the client were able to see the value of the idea and make it a reality.

How many participants are there so far?

About a hundred projects. We’re looking for the projects as if we were digging for gold. And, surprisingly, these are not just Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many of them are regional. There are many architects in the regions, which, while solving specific tasks posed by their customers, ultimately change the habitual view of the world for themselves and for people around them. They know their world better, and they want to show that you can create a different environment, and live in a different way. 

Do you consider only the projects that have been implemented?

Yes, because implementing your ideas is a heroic deed in itself.

How will the screening be organized?

If you look at the experts list, you will see that there are not so many architects in it. We have a rather large circle of experts, from technologists to progressive bloggers, who specifically cover the topic of understanding the new human being. We want our project to be evaluated from different sides. We will have interviews not just with architects but with clients as well. If a person is a missionary, he will speak about it, and it’s important for him to be heard. 

Tell us about the leader of the project, Lavlish Tanedzha. Why him?

He is a person who can do such things, he’s got plenty of experience in this field. Being the chairman of the MCFO association, he organized the great MCFO Awards. Because it’s not enough just to grow your award ideology-wise – you also need to make sure that the market is ready to change with it, that the colleagues, clients, and technologists are ready to respond… I offered quite a lot of people to be in charge of the organization of this award, and I am very happy that Lavlish has agreed to it, being also instrumental in finding sponsors and other companies that one way or another have to do with our mission, such as the Ficus company that helped us build a giant green wall in the Simferopol airport – you cannot just water it from a hose; it has a rather complex watering and fertilizing system, like a real scientific development.

Simferopol International Airport
Simferopol International Airport
Copyright: Photograph Yuri Yuganson

Another example is the tubs with wild grapevine in the business center in the Zemelny Lane – this is basically agronomist’s work, but they changed the entire surrounding environment of this industrial park. The task of interior design is pretty much the same: you always have to be one step ahead, you have to embrace the change. You must seriously stop wrapping everything in gold and stop doing all this fancy decoration work because it will get you nowhere. Because the world is different now. 

I cannot help reacting to the words “the world is different now”. Was your award affected in any way by the developments of recent months?

Of course it was. We planned to present our award on March 1, but then we realized that we just couldn’t handle meeting the press with our narrative, so we postponed it to the end of the month…

What am I concerned about the most? I really don’t want to lock up in my own shell again, miss valuable information, be behind the rest of the world, and search for every crumb of a fresh thought, the way it was in the 1980s and even in the 1990s… Being aware of the current trends and current issues is very different for an architect. And our new award is all about promoting new ideas. We don’t want to either backslide or get stalled. We want to move forward without losing access to information.

Well, today, with the Internet, getting information has become much easier…

What also matters is the number of buildings that you’ve seen with your own eyes, not just by seeing their pictures online but knowing them inside out, and for that you need to be able to freely move in and out of the country. We all know perfectly well how the points for magazine photo shoots are chosen – then you arrive on the spot and see that everything looks different. And then Photoshop is doing its thing too. I also want our experts to evaluate the interiors based upon real feelings, and not online pictures.

In addition, I see that you also accept videos…

We did this to be on the safe side. I really wanted international experts to be on the judging panel, we conducted negotiations still in winter, and we received preliminary agreements, and we are still conducting negotiations, hoping that it all will work out in the long run. Because architecture is ultimately about organizing the world. 

As for the videos, which will be provided in cases when visiting the building would not be feasible, we will shoot them in a manner as objective as possible, without any unnecessary embellishments.

How often are you planning to organize your award?

Interior design projects are completed pretty fast, and originally we planned on this award being an annual one. Now, however, considering the circumstances, we decided that it would be wiser to conduct it every two years. Some of the construction projects are frozen now, and we will not be able to consider some of the interesting projects as implemented ones, so they will have to wait until the next award is held.

My next question is about the nominations. As I see, most of them are typological ones, you also have a “Reconstruction”. Is this comparison entirely correct? Aren’t these things in different leagues?

No, there is no contradiction here. We decided to allow ourselves to widen the boundaries and proceed from the material. According to our rules, one project can be submitted in several nominations, and then the organizers and experts will decide where it would be the most appropriate. Actually, we decide this when still in the stage of accepting the projects.

I understand why you do not consider corporate offices because this is a separate and a very big narrative. But why don’t you consider the innovative multifunctional coworking spaces?

I am convinced that coworking spaces are first of all business spaces. Things that are done in this area still belong with the business environment. Public interiors, on the other hand, are more about life and communication in general, more about how we as humans perceive this world and understand our values. And work is more about acceptance and obedience, about the routine and time-tested technology.

If somebody designs a coworking space that is based upon a new perception of life – they are entirely welcome! However, here is the thing: unusual coworking spaces are born as a rule as a function that complements some other prevalent function. Hence, when coworking is the main function of the space, it will hardly fit in with our nominations.

And my final question: we started from talking about “unnecessary fancy things”. Aren’t you in danger of rejecting aesthetically pleasing projects just for being beautiful?

If a great project is also aesthetically pleasing, this will not prevent it from high ranking. Any task will be considered from different sides, the judging panel will go straight to the bottom of things, and evaluate the interiors knowing how they are wired. The question that we want to ask is what this person wanted to say, and why he did it in this specific way. Probably this is where the mega-idea lies.

I must say that this is interesting for architects and investors alike. An experienced client is not just after beautiful things – this is like the first stage of development. Having enough of this game, everybody starts posing new tasks of a higher level, more interesting and more complex.

Even if you take a look at our interiors – those of them that were designed with a super-idea in mind, live longer. They don’t go out of style, and they develop gracefully, keeping the original idea intact even during remodeling.

When you know exactly what you are doing, the result is usually beautiful. Beauty is achieved by realization of new ideas, and they already speak the language of new aesthetics, making this world a better place. Beauty – but not pretty things – will save the world.