MARK MEEROVICH: I SEE FRAGMENTS OF THE PAST IN THE PRESENT
In the last year alone, several major projects in Moscow have attracted illustrious international architects and urban designers. One only needs to recall the Moscow Agglomeration Competition, which saw the participation of Ricardo Bofill, Antoine Grumbach, Bernardo Secchi, Paola Vigano, representatives of Urban Design Associates (USA), the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (Netherlands) and many others. Six consortia of Russian and international architectural firms were named on the shortlist for the Architectural Design Competition for the Museum and Educational Centre of the Polytechnic Museum and Lomonosov Moscow State University. LDA Design of Great Britain won the tender for the redevelopment ofGorkyPark, overcoming numerous celebrated international companies. Meanwhile, world-famous architects Rem Koolhaas, Kazuyo Sejima and Pierre de Meuron continue to work on the design of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology campus. The aforementioned Rem Koolhaas is also working on the renovation of the Hexagon and Seasons of the Year pavilions for theGarageCenterfor Contemporary Culture.
In autumn 2012, the 48th ISOCARP Congress (International Society of City and Regional Planners) was held inPerm, demonstrating the interest of international professionals in working inRussia. Speaking at the Congress, Mark Meerovich, Professor of Architecture and Design atIrkutskStateTechnicalUniversityand Corresponding Member of theRussianAcademyof Architecture and Civil Engineering, provided a critique of the work of foreign architects in the Russian context. In an interview for the Strelka blog, he shared his views on this issue, which is common for both foreign architects and many of their Russian peers.
Life is such that we always perceive the present moment as something new and different to what has gone before. Aristotle said that there is neither a past nor a future, but only the present. Nevertheless, the present is made up of three highly distinctive elements: “the past present” “the true present” and the “present future.”
The “past present” is everything we consciously draw from the past. For instance, if we bring certain customs, rites and rituals – fragments of our memory – to life in the present, then the past continues to endure. If we were not to do this, the past would die out. The same applies to the future. When we consciously do something that is intended for the future, our actions beckon a specific version of future events. If we did not do so, we would only have the “true present”, which we experience from one day to the next.
I see fragments of the past in the present. They are imperceptible to us, irrespective of our attitude towards them. If we fail to pay attention to the aspects of the past that have crept into our present-day lives, we cannot free ourselves from our involuntary bouts of daily nostalgia. This is an imperceptible fixation, from which there is no automatic release.
Looking back at the Soviet era, I can clearly see the trends, structures and fragments of Imperial thought and the organised practices and command and control systems that continue to this day. A failure to recognise or consider this fact means we cannot free ourselves.
This is an extremely difficult task because the Soviet authorities lied throughout their time in power. They fabricated everything, both internally and externally. Simply understanding what actually happened then is a great challenge in itself. Otherwise, we will never escape from the past.
However innovative we may feel, we are children of that era and ideology. Mechanically filling our heads with idealised images of that world, to which our daily lives bear no relation, without rendering the relationship problematic, is senseless.
Western intellectuals who come to Russian have neither the desire nor ability to carry out problematic work. For them, Russiais a place of business, a country where they can make money.
When a professional is implanted in the region where they live and work and in the area’s professional community, they feel a degree of responsibility. But when they leave their homeland behind and enter a system that lacks this dominating perspective, their only focus and goal becomes income and profit.
When coming to Russia, foreign professionals show captivating flights of thought and work on genuinely interesting projects, which are possible in the conditions, culture and system of knowledge to which they are accustomed. However, elements that they take for granted are completely lacking here.
To move forward, we must deal with our problematic past. How can this be achieved? It clearly will not be via the work of foreign professionals or their Russian counterparts in their sixties and seventies. They inhabit another world. As a rule, Russian architects in their forties and fifties have, with rare exceptions, also fulfilled themselves and carved out their own niche. The only hope rests with the younger Russian generation, which is actively engaged in an intellectual quest to make sense of the past and create the future. So, all our hopes are on you.