Matiss Groskaufmanis, alumni
For me it was an incredible effort with low returns to get into, at that time, the only architecture school in Riga. Not due to the lack of previous interest in the field, but because the ultimate criteria for admission was students’ drawing skills. With such priority I didn’t feel like it was worth the effort and drawing was not my strongest ability either. Therefore, I decided to go for studies abroad and got admitted to Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow. After a fruitful experience during the first year of my studies, I started to realize the value of operating in different environments. This led to an exchange programme in Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during the second year of studies.
The Viennese school revealed yet another take on how one can study architecture, how one can look at things. It was not just the school but also the city and geographic position within Europe that gave a way more cosmopolitan drive. At that time, also the approach of the school was highly conceptual and based on exhaustive reasoning and research. I found this a seducing change of perspective, however it backfired when I had to go back to finish my degree in Glasgow, where much emphasis was put on the sensuality of architecture. I mean, we actually had to ‘absorb’ the potential project site, concentrate on the haptic qualities and look at colours of autumn leaves. I suspect there was an underlying submission to the ideology of Peter Zumthor.
Having said that, I still hold the best opinion of the school. It is a very competent institution which produces architects who are also prepared to go to a building site right on the next day after graduation. Despite the fascination with building sites in general, after the experience in Vienna, I felt my interest shifting to a larger scale of processes.
Around the same time I found out about Strelka — its vague, undefined and, therefore, liberating approach to education seemed to be exactly what I needed. So in a year after I graduated from the Mackintosh School of Architecture, I did not hesitate and applied to Strelka.
It was a big deal as I could never believe I would live in Moscow! At the same time I was really curious about it – in Latvia, where I come from originally, there is a specific, politically sensitive and limited angle on the affairs in Russia. While on one hand, I can understand and relate to it, on the other, I have always known that there must be so much more about Russia that I am not aware of. I wanted to find out.
EDUCATIONAL PROCESS AT STRELKA
Compared to an architecture school experience, at Strelka you are put in a situation when one cannot work with background music on- you have to think all the time, you have to be really focused on what you doing. It is not about production, but constant thinking and processing of information.
Moreover, it was a new experience to study and work on the same outcome alongside students from different disciplines. I learned that the true interdisciplinary experience is not outsourcing the alien aspects of your own project to external experts, but rather seeing how someone else, with a different profile, deals with the same challenge you are dealing with. The sense of freedom that arises from the possibility to look at projects from a perspective that does not necessarily involve architecture was a refreshing one. It is that moment when you find yourself having a lecture on economics in a class of curators, culturologists, architects, planners, philosophers, graphic designers, artists and sociologists.
COLLABORATIONS WITH CLASSMATES
I was doing the final project together with Blazej Czuba. Blazej also studied in the UK before Strelka, so we had a somewhat compatible background. From previous experiences of teamwork in architecture education, it has always turned out as more or less an unproductive nightmare. This one, for the first time ever, turned out good. We were both interested in microrayons, the phenomenal impression of badness of Soviet housing districts. That is why we decided to do this project together - not only to get a more advanced result but also a more engaging process. Despite it sometimes being overdosed, constant and intense discussion 24-7 about our project, it turned out to be a valuable tool and a one of a kind experience.
The studio I chose was called ‘Citizens as Customers’ directed by David Erixon and supported by Anastassia Smirnova and Kuba Snopek. The mission of the studio was to examine, reinvent or perhaps, assassinate the notion of the microrayon, the omnipresent Soviet housing district. We anticipated coming up with a sustainable model for low-cost housing which would have a customer-centric approach at its core. The actual process of the studio, however, turned out to be an unpredictable tornado of business models, beautiful beginnings, urban planning concepts, failed attempts, exhausting research, concrete panels, political affairs and crisis scenarios. I suspect that in the end we did not come up with what we wanted to. Instead, we arrived at a new starting point.
Strelka’s educational process opened a lot of possibilities, potential trajectories for the future. I am still interested in housing; I still read and think about it. Almost a year has passed, but we still keep exchanging emails with Blazej on how we could have done the project better, we update ourselves on new developments and ideas. To some extent, we’re still doing the project.
Concerning my career, before I went to university, I worked for several architectural firms. While being in university, during one of the summer
breaks, I worked in advertising — in Leo Burnett — where I learned how valuable are really good, not mediocre ideas, and how insanely difficult is to get to them. I also realized that despite what many architects claim, they do not work more hours than others who are really going for the best outcome. Architects are just architects, sometimes it seems they claim too much of self-gratification for their work.
In many ways Strelka spoiled me as an architecture student by granting the freedom to look at things from a broad perspective and working on an immaterial research project. This also caused a need for a kind of a detox after graduation from Strelka to readjust myself to the current state of affairs in architecture. We did two architectural competitions together with the office I used to work for. We won both of them, but I was really missing the scope of thinking that was being cultivated in Strelka.
This led me to working at OMA/AMO. I remember, when I first walked into the office, there were all kinds of maps, graphs, charts and documents with different data all over the walls, but no facades or interior decoration moodboards. So far, it seems that it has been a reasonable way to continue working in a remotely identical way I was used to in Strelka.