The Urban and Advanced: 12 Faces of the Master’s Programme

Master’s Programme Architects, designers, journalists, scholars in cultural studies (culturologists) and economists. Russia, Sweden, Serbia, Latvia and the US. The Advanced Urban Design master’s programme, launched in 2016 by the HSE’s Graduate School of Urbanism in cooperation with the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, gathered students with different backgrounds and unique stories. Some are fresh graduates continuing their education, the others decided to return to school after years in successful careers. Strelka Magazine found out what brought them all together, their expectations of studying in Russia and the goals they set for themselves and their native cities.

Oscar Simann, 25, architect 

I received my bachelor’s in architecture at Umeå University last year and spent the next one studying writing and photography in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

During my third year at the university my classmates and I traveled to Mumbai, India, where we completed a  mapping project in Dharavi, one of the largest slum areas in the city and the world. The trip sparked my interest in working in a non-western context. I realized that the largest urban challenges that architects and urban planners will have to face in the next few decades will not appear in the West, where the situation is more or less stable. Instead, they will be presented by countries like India or China, or developing parts of Africa, or Russia and the former Soviet republics. 

In India about 50% of the urban population lives in informal slum-like settlements. When the country begins to develop its economy and an increasing number people move into the middle class, this creates the need to make these settlements more formal. Today this formalization is often achieved through evicting everyone living in these slums, tearing the existing structures down and building some kind of high-rise area. I think that this is a really socially unsustainable way of doing it. I’m interested in how we can discover more sustainable options to help people living in these locations. 

A friend of mine and I have a podcast called Platsen («The Place»). For each episode we select a place to be our topic: so far we have worked with bridges and beaches; we’ve also made episodes about Israel and the Caucasus. We always try to find several specific stories for each topic and then paint a broader picture using the stories we found. My friend is a political scientist and I’m an architect, so we offer different viewpoints on each location we cover. So far we haven’t done an episode on Moscow, but I have found a very peculiar thing about the city that I would love to investigate: there are a lot of 24-hour flower shops in Moscow, and it’s not something you see in Sweden. I really would love to see why they stay open 24 hours and what happens there at 3am at night.

Marina Salimgareeva, 24, architect 

My bachelor’s programme at MArchI and my master’s programme in urban management and development at Erasmus University Rotterdam were two sides of the same coin: the former emphasized design, while the latter focused on research. Although I liked both of these approaches, I was searching for a way to combine them. 

Research-based design is one of the underlying principles of the Advanced Urban Design programme. It is quite an abstract method and it is tricky to learn, but if we succeed, it will definitely prove to be a useful skill. Although research-based design is often mentioned by architects and urban planners, in reality projects based on research often fall apart into two separate pieces with little connection between them. I hope that we will manage to properly combine them. 

I am currently working on publishing my thesis. During my studies in Rotterdam we looked into whether architecture and urban planning have an impact on human happiness. I decided to pick Moscow for my research location. Here I studied several development types and evaluated the level of life satisfaction in each of them. I found out that people living in Stalinist-era buildings are happier than those living in microdistricts (this category included Khrushchev- and Brezhnev-era buildings, late-soviet 14-25-story buildings, as well as post-soviet developments). This is mostly explained by the difference in income, marital status, education, and a number of other factors. However, being generally satisfied with the appearance of your house or neighborhood also has an impact, even when everything else has been taken into consideration. That does not mean that Moscow should be filled with modern Stalinist architecture: the interpretation of this research requires a more considered approach, and I hope to develop my findings in this area in this programme.

Eric Wicks, 33, designer 

I’m a graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where I studied graphic design and its communicational aspects. From there I moved into web design, and ultimately ended up working in software design. I have always been fascinated with the idea of the city being the ultimate interface, determined on one hand by its architecture, and on the other by its need to stay friendly and user-centered, with citizens being the users. 

I observed that a lot of products that we were creating, like apps and services, were slightly cut off from reality. If we were creating something like Twitter, we wouldn’t know exactly how it would inform human behavior. Essentially we created a third, virtual space, in addition to our personal space and the physical space around us. I’m really fascinated with this and want to better understand how this virtual space is starting to remap our physical space. 

I’m a designer and after the programme I think I’ll still be a designer, but with a new understanding, a more systematic approach to the things we create. I’d love to be in the field of urban and spatial planning and create tools to aid in that process. In the urban complexity that we’ve created, I think there is a real opportunity to use data to better analyze and understand it. With a combination of proper design, funding and politics we could use this data and create cities for people again. 

My grandfather was a developer in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and there are some streets and areas named after my family. I used to tell my friends at school: «This part of city is named after my mother». And they kind of looked at me: «Yeah, right, I don’t believe you». Even when I could prove it to them, they still did not believe me, because it feels so unobtainable for a person to make a mark on the city.

Larisa Koroleva, 28, architect 

I received my bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk. Before joining the programme, I worked on a number of projects at the Moscow practice Sergey Kiselev & Partners, including the Zilart and Industrial Bakery № 9 projects. Urban planning has always fascinated me as a field closely related to architecture, and during my work on the renovation of the bakery space I realized that I wanted to make a professional transition to urban design. 

I considered several options for my master’s, including studying abroad. The thing that caught my eye in the programme launched by HSE and Strelka was the word «Advanced» in its title. The programme focuses on developing countries with unstable socioeconomic contexts where the work of an urban designer has no defined guidelines, where there is no ruleset, and additional skills are a must. Russia is one of these countries, and as I would prefer to continue my career here, this was a deciding factor in my choice.

Emily Radosavljevic, 30, curator 

Before I joined the programme, I studied material culture in the US and industrial design in the Netherlands. Over the years I’ve been involved with cultural policy research, cultural programming, teaching, creative workshops and numerous other projects. I’m half-Serbian and after I completed my master’s I moved to Belgrade to get to know my family and learn more about Serbian culture. In Belgrade, I joined an organization managing all sorts of cultural programming: for example, we curated a programme aimed at promoting emerging local filmmakers. 

My background is quite broad and I’m interested in a lot of different subjects: from anthropology and cultural studies to contemporary and vernacular architecture. In developing countries there is a strong force of modernity which does not regard vernacular architecture as valuable or worth being saved, whereas in the West people have already started to regret getting rid of it. For instance, the UK has established a number of organizations dealing with this issue. In Serbia, there are just a handful of specialists working with this problem and their efforts are yet to be properly organized. 

I think that the built environment should be looked at from the perspective of society, culture and politics, and I’m dissatisfied that a lot of mainstream design discourse conveniently cuts off the sociocultural context. In February we will have a module called «Cityscapes through the Prism of Cultural Studies,» and I’m really looking forward to it. 

A lot of people have been asking me what I see for myself in the future, but day by day there is such a change that it is difficult to make any predictions. When I arrived here to study, I was thinking that there were a lot of large urban changes in Belgrade that required some sort of addressing and that would be a natural decision for me. But at the same time a lot of new opportunities are going to open up and I like to go with the flow. I enjoy travelling and I’m totally open to working in different environments, so it’s an open future.

Innokenty Volyansky, 24, economist 

Before I joined the programme, I worked as a headhunter for a recruitment agency and then as a project manager for 5-100, a programme aimed at maximizing the competitiveness of leading Russian universities. Finally, my experience at Strelka KB, where I worked as a freelance analyst, sparked my interest in urban studies. 

I enjoy a workshop-based model of study with a lot of collective projects. In our small group of 12, everyone is constantly involved in the study process. We are prompted to react, act and provide options; I find it to be a great way to better grasp new material. 

In the future I am considering working as a project manager for urban projects, but everything can change within these two years. Whatever happens in the future, I believe that Russia provides a lot of material for work and shows great potential. In Europe, a lot has already been tried and done before. In Russia, there is room for catching-up and large-scale experiments.

Axel Burvall, 28, architect 

Since I received my bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, I’ve been working in Sweden with various urban planning and architecture projects. From October 2015 to May 2016 I did an internship at OMA Rotterdam. At OMA I mainly worked on a master plan for a new exhibition in Toulouse called Parc des Expositions. The Toulouse city administration made a decision to develop this master plan in an attempt to attract additional funding for the center through selling adjacent territories to investors. 

I was working with sketches for this master plan and relevant research, and also contributed to the redesign of one of the buildings comprising the expo center. I sought to do my masters in the field of urban design and urban planning. I have always had an affinity for research both in my practice and my studies, but I have had a hard time intertwining the research with my designs. I hope to discover tools and methods to do this better and find a way to use it in my further practice. 

To study here meant leaving everything I had back in Sweden: my girlfriend, my family and my friends. I find Moscow a very interesting city. Our campus being in the heart of it is a great advantage: a big city is a great source of research material which nourishes the study process.

Dmitry Panov, 28, culturologist 

I graduated with a bachelor’s in Culturology from the Russian State University for the Humanities in 2010. In 2012-2013 I studied at the Moscow School of New Cinema, which I quit after the first semester. Last year I attended the Moscow School of Architecture, where I joined the workshop tutored by Narine Tyutcheva. After that I decided to pursue my interest in urbanism and enrolled in the Advanced Urban Design programme. I am trying to discover professional applications for my interests and integrate urban planning into my work, potentially in cultural programming for public spaces. Ideally I would like to open my own design and research practice. 

In addition to my studies, I also curate the event programme at  the Gulag History Museum; this includes the arrangement of lectures and film screenings. Also, this spring a partner and I launched a business of our own: the Glinka Modern Music School. This is not a classic music school: we offer courses in music production, sampling, sound synthesis, harmony and other disciplines.

Daniel Roche, 23, architect 

I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, and I studied architecture at the Catholic University of America. My background is in journalism: I’ve written about architecture and urban planning for a few publications and newspapers.

After I graduated in 2015 I went to work for a client from Washington, D.C. to design a children’s library in Kenya. During that time I also went to work for four months in an office in Boston, but I left it to continue designing the library. From April through July of 2016 I stayed in Kabarnet, Kenya, where I was overseeing its construction. Currently I am continuing work on a small side-project in Kenya and I’m also doing media research for another US-based company. 

Someday I would like to practice as a journalist as well as an architect. My goal is to continue writing about subjects related to the city, whether it’s fiction or data journalism. I’m very excited about studying with experts who are not necessarily just designers, but are also very strong writers who incorporate journalism and multimedia into their work.

Yekaterina Zarudnaya, architect 

I’m an architect and a graduate of the Far Eastern Technical University. After completing my bachelor’s I spent several years working on projects as large as 800 hectares in scale at several companies in Harbin and Beijing. Working in China means working in a constantly evolving context, where changes occur so fast that architects and urban planners are forced to experiment and seek responses to emerging challenges. This experience prompted me to research the cultural, social and economic context, and I decided to continue my education. 

Right now I haven’t found any opportunity to do anything besides studying, as our first month turned out to be very intense. I joined the programme with a specific set of goals, but as each module brings new ideas, I start to realize that in two years I will probably complete the programme with a new understanding of what I want to achieve and where I want to work. It is quite special when a study programme makes you rethink your aspirations and create new ones.

Ernests Sveisbergs, 24, architect 

After receiving my bachelor’s degree at RISEBA university in Riga I spent the summer of 2016 as a curator’s assistant at the Baltic Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. This year the Baltic Pavilion was co-organized by Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Inside, almost 100 artifacts relevant to the past and the present of the Baltic region and reflecting different-scale processes within it were exhibited. 

During my work at the biennale I got to talk with multiple experts from the Baltic, the UK and the US. I had this very abstract idea that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on their own were too small to be really sustainable in the future. So if those countries would unite as a united Baltic state, their potential for economic and social growth would be much greater. Back then, I saw myself as a contributor to this cause. However, staying here in Moscow for more than half a month, attending these lectures and hearing different opinions made me look at that idea from another angle and adopt a more critical approach towards it. 

I hope that the Advanced Urban Design programme will help me gain a deeper understanding of how cities work and what kind of processes drive the development of cities, s well as help me see Riga not only as the separate capital city of Latvia, but also as a center of the Baltic States and a powerful European city.

Yevgeny Yurasov, 30, project manager 

I’m a graduate of MSU, where I studied computational mathematics and cybernetics and later public administration. Six years ago I joined a development company, and since then my work has been primarily focused on the Knightsbridge Private Park elite residential complex project in Moscow. 

From the time I joined the company I stayed committed to my job mainly because I had no opportunity to leave it. But recently I have realized that I truly enjoyed what I was doing and started to search for opportunities for professional growth. For me, being an expert in my field is important. I have also always had a profound interest in scientific research. I was working on my PhD in sociology for a few years, but unfortunately that field had virtually no connection to my line of work, and my studies did not mix in too well with it. The Advanced Urban Design programme manages to combine real urban projects with large-scale research. My decision to enroll was not an easy one: it meant giving up things I had gotten used to, to cut my work hours. I hope that further study will provide me with an alternative perspective on current trends and my profession and give me a certain inspiration which could turn into another project.

Author: Philipp Kachalin
Photos by Yevgeny Kruglov
Cover photo by Gleb Leonov

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