The following article, written by Jacob Dreyer and originally published in The Calvert Journal as “Maximum city: the vast urban planning projects of Soviet-era Russia are being reborn in modern China,” analyzes a fascinating phenomenon: the exportation of Soviet urbanism — or rather Stalinist urbanism — shaping Chinese cities today.
As I cycled to work on 20 May this year, the Yan’an Expressway — Shanghai’s crosstown artery, named after the utopian socialist city that was Mao Zedong’s 1940s stronghold — was eerily silent, cordoned off for a visit by President Vladimir Putin. We discovered the next day that the upshot of his visit was the signing a $400bn contract with China for the export of gas and petroleum. As President Barack Obama had once promised he would, Putin made a pivot to Asia, albeit on a slightly different axis. From Shanghai, the terms of the deal — which was immensely advantageous to China — made it seem as if Russia was voluntarily becoming a vassal-state of the People’s Republic, making a reality of both the predictions of Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian fantasy novel Day of the Oprichnik and of Russian scare stories about Chinese immigrants flooding into Siberia.
The irony is that models of society imported from Russia during the Soviet period — as realised in popular culture, legal apparatuses and, of particular interest to the cyclist, in architecture and urban planning — are as influential as ever in China. If, as Chinese philosopher Wang Hui observed in his book The End of Revolution, Socialism was the door through which China passed on its voyage into modernity, then it was Russia that opened that door, by exporting models and expertise that laid the foundation for much of what constitutes modern China.
In an article for London’s Royal Academy of Arts Magazine entitled Plane Sailing, Zaha Hadid discusses the influence of Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich on her own design work. In Hadid’s early work, such as The Peak Blue Slabs (1982/83), the visual connections to Malevich’s strict, regular shapes and lines are evident.
Foster + Partners has revealed designs for the headquarters of RMK, one of the world’s leading copper producers based in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The 13-story building is designed to complement the company’s working style, splitting office spaces into two-story modular units which provide comfortable and flexible work spaces.
The facade of the building features triangular panels of bronze-colored steel, a motif that is inspired by the color and chemical structure of copper. These steel panels also express the modular offices within the building, with each ten by six-meter panel corresponding to a single office module, and regulate the building’s temperature by shading the building in the summer but admitting winter sunshine.
Read on after the break for more on the design
Design studio Megabudka has won the Russian Character competition, an open contest to design a culture and education centre for the Moscow suburb of Butovo Park. Their concept, entitled “Dacha in a Dvor” plays on the typically Russian idea of the Dacha, a seasonal home located outside the city that has been a part of Russian culture since the reign of Peter the Great.
The design by Megabudka consists of a cluster of buildings arranged around a “Dvor”, or central courtyard containing apple trees and recreational spaces. As a whole, the design aims to bring the joys of seasonal rural life to the outskirts of Moscow, with a single flexible space shared by the whole community.
More on the design after the break
What can you do with a business district that has an office vacancy rate of 40%, is completely separated from its surroundings and is facing increasing competition from business centers emerging throughout the city? These are questions that are increasingly being asked about Moscow‘s International Business District, the symbol of capitalism that was planned in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union, yet is still under construction today.
Eduardo Cassina and Liva Dudareva, founders of METASITU and researchers at the Strelka Institute, have proposed a provocative idea in response to this dilemma: envisaging the business district’s future in 2041, they imagine a scenario where the district is linked by underground metro to Sheremetyevo And Domodedovo airports in the North and South – forming the world’s first mega-airport, and the first one where it is possible to live in the terminal building without ever leaving.
Read on after the break for more explanation of idea
Competition organizers Archpolis have announced an international shortlist of ten practices that will go on to compete for the chance to redesign Moscow’s Sokolniki Park. The park, which at 515 Hectares is the largest park in Moscow, is an important part of Moscow’s Heritage, having first been used for recreation as a site for falcon hunting in the 15th century.
During the 19th century, the park was officially established, and bestowed with a distinctive radial design.The winner of the competition will be expected to work within this framework, as in 1979 the park became a protected monument of garden-park design from the 17th through 19th centuries.
Read on after the break for the shortlist
Russian practice Project Meganom have won a competition to redesign the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. Their winning entry seeks to transform the museum complex into a hive of cultural activity, preserving the institution’s world class art collection whilst “actively engaging with the surrounding territory as a potential space for exhibition, dialogue, and communication.” The project focuses less on the provision of new areas but rather provides a single unified platform for a series of discordant parts, tying together all the elements of the environment into one cohesive design – “from buildings and monuments to benches and navigation.”
Russian city dwellers live their daily lives, drive cars on busy streets, sit in front of computers in offices, buy groceries and other goods in supermarkets and shops, bring up their children and watch television at home. This decidedly typical Lebenswelt, routine, everyday, the gigantic and complex world of the ordinary, is under-researched and poorly analysed. The theme for Strelka’s 2013-2014 research school year is Urban Routines.
Student research, public lectures, and talks on Urban Routines constitute an attempt to figure out what the everyday life of Russian cities is made of.
Despite severe corrosion, with almost 70% of one its six sections “thoroughly corroded” according to the government, Vladimir Shukhov’s 1922 radio tower has never been restored. Earlier this year, a large group of international architects petitioned the government to save the tower, one of only 20 or so of Shukhov’s 200 towers still standing in Russia. Now Moscow’s government has put the fate of the landmark tower to a public vote.
Until July 6 Moscovites can use the “Engaged Citizen” app to support one of four actions: hold an open competition to restore the tower, move the tower to a new location, move it to its historic location on Shabolovka street, or invent a new solution.
What do you think should be done? Let us know in the comments below.
The Russian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale is selling the most important architectural ideas from Russia. Curators Anton Kalgaev, Brendan Mcgetrick, and Daria Paramonova selected twenty ideas that offer solutions to contemporary architectural issues and designed the pavilion as a commercial fair. It’s even got generic furniture and salespeople manning the booths.
They talked to us about their project Fair Enough and why their contribution to the Biennale is a market where Russia’s originally socialist ideas are sold as updated “products.”
Check out the full curatorial statement, flip through the 160-page pavilion catalog, and see a full gallery of images after the break.
Few Constructivist projects made it through the World Wars, but if you’re looking for those that did, you’d be wise to travel to Yekaterinburg, Russia. With over a dozen complexes, the city probably has the world’s biggest collection of Constructivist buildings—and it’s definitely the only place with a hotel in the shape of a hammer and sickle.
The fascinating video above by Ural Life and Culture tours the city and surveys the elements common to Constructivist buildings. Yekaterinburg was a laboratory for Constructivist architects who started building there soon after the movement was founded in Moscow in 1921. Architects from all over the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany designed 4-5 story apartment blocks and office towers to replace single story wooden houses. The Soviets also introduced new typologies like public baths, kindergartens, and a 14-building secret police complex called the “Little Town of Cheka Officers,” with covered passages so residents could walk between buildings indoors.
The city is particularly remarkable when you consider Russia’s track record with its Constructivist architecture. The country’s most famous Constructivist building, Konstantin Melnikov’s house in Moscow, was only listed as a heritage site, after years of preservationist efforts, in 2013.
Architects: nps tchoban voss
Location: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Planning Collaboration: Evgeny Gerasimov, Evgeny Gerasimov & partners, St. Petersburg (Full construction project design services); Sergei Tchoban, nps tchoban voss Berlin (Building construction, interior lobbies); SPEECH Tchoban & Kuznetsov Moscow (Interior offices)
Design Team Nps: Eugen Pfeil, Christoph Heimermann, Natalia Mantler, Pavel Zemskov, Igor Markov, Silvia Grischkat
Design Team Speech: Sennikova Ekaterina, Dionisjeva Maria
Area: 40000.0 sqm
Photographs: Aleksey Naroditsky
True to the country’s experimental past, Russia’s participation for the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale will expose the continued relevance of historical urban ideas by applying them as solutions for contemporary needs. Titled Fair Enough, the exhibition will be presented as an international trade show of ideas, a “marketplace of urban invention” that is both “made in Russia and open to the world.”
The full curatorial text, after the break…