The case study down the street: what do they teach at Chief Architect School?

Strelka Magazine spoke with the participants of the Chief Architect School workshop in Yekaterinburg and learned how to make a developer think outside the box, why students have to compete and what drawbacks projects like this have.

Photo: Chief Architect School / Facebook

What can be done when developers’ sole interest is the pursuit of profits, new buildings are disconnected from their surroundings and fresh graduates of urban and architectural studies programs still lack the skillset to work with the urban environment at the highest level? Put them together in a classroom. This is the idea behind the week-long workshop created by Yekaterinburg’s chief architect, Timur Abdullaev: “It’s an attempt to establish a dialogue between developers, young experts and the chief architect to discover a common set of values through collaboration on joint projects. Firstly, the school is an educational program for young specialists and students. Secondly, it offers solutions for problems facing developers and finally, it’s a beneficial dialogue for each of the parties involved.” The free workshop is funded by the developers, its partners, who fully cover the rent, materials, transfer costs and accommodation for the tutors. In addition to gaining PR, they also benefit from students working on their projects and, as a result, developing several solutions for the problems set for them.

The first Chief Architect School took place from August 20-28 at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center; the second workshop session is set to begin in early 2017.

Timur Abdullaev, Yekaterinburg Chief Architect, workshop curator
Vitaly Stadnikov, Deputy Dean and Associate Professor, HSE Graduate School of Urbanism
Tatyana Mindiyarova, Ural Federal University graduate and tutor, program participant
Ksenia Balaeva, member of one of the School’s winning teams <

INITIAL CONDITIONS: LECTURERS, DEVELOPERS AND 75 STUDENTS

Although more than 400 people applied for the first edition of the School, only 75 managed to pass the try-out and make it to the Yeltsin Center. Those enrolled consisted mainly of young professionals in various fields related to urban planning and urban development, as well as students of architectural schools.

The selected participants were split into 15 teams and assigned five problems set by Yekaterinburg developers: three teams per task. Forum Group asked the students to develop a planning block concept for the Solnechny residential area and a project for improving a waterfront promenade. Brusnika assigned the task of developing the customer environment at the Shyshymskaya Gorka micro district. PRINZIP proposed a design for the territory development concept for a  future residential area. All of these projects had already been launched in production but were still in their initial construction stage at the time of the workshop. During the last day of the School, the teams presented their solutions and the curators selected the best concepts proposed for each of the cases. The winning teams were offered internship opportunities and invited to participate in the implementation of the projects.

Photo: Chief Architect School / Facebook

Besides working on the main assignment, the students also attended a series of lectures given by Tatyana Khramova (British Higher School of Art and Design), Vitaly Stadnikov (HSE Graduate School of Urbanism), Dmitry Narinsky (Higher School of Economics) and Markus Appenzeller (MLA+). “We gave lectures and consulted the participants during their work on the projects,” said Vitaly Stadnikov. “We aimed to demonstrate a more flexible approach to planning and show that numerous difficulties caused by government regulations and traditional methodology could easily be avoided by adjusting the toolset.”

Photo: Chief Architect School / Facebook


CONCEPT CREATION WITH SLEEP DEPRIVATION

According to its participants, the Chief Architect School offered a classic workshop environment: the participants skipped meals and pulled all-nighters, living an entirely new life for a week. Ksenia Balaeva, a member of one of the winning teams, credits their victory to the composition of her team. “We had an urban planner, a design theory expert and a spatial designer on the team. It was great! We found our synergy in no time and everyone was doing their part while sharing the experience with the others. We worked like a team of sculptors, each one using his or her own tool to perfect the sculpture.”

“The working title of our project was: “Two Wheels, Five Minutes, City Center”. The project we were working on stretched along the embankment connecting the city center with the Zarechny residential district. We chose cyclists as our audience; the transport infrastructure of the district is becoming increasingly overloaded, resulting in traffic jams on the main streets during rush hour. Meanwhile, bicycles could become a viable alternative both to private vehicles and to public transportation. Forum Group, the company that gave us our assignment, was building a residential block adjacent to that route and we proposed to launch a free bicycle rental service for its future residents in one of the buildings.”

Photo: Chief Architect School / Facebook

According to Ksenia, the street fixtures for the project were picked from open catalogues and could easily be acquired should the developer proceed with the idea. Although the team has high hopes for the implementation of their concept, they lament that one week was too small of a timespan to develop the idea into a full-scale project. The developers could potentially opt to combine the ideas from several concepts generated by the workshop.

THE NEW WAVE AND ANALYSING THE RESULTS

The final projects developed by the participants were put together for an exhibition which took place at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center from October 28 to November 20 – a sort of graduation party for the students. While Vitaly Stadnikov pointed out several advantages of the School, including a large number of students, a high level of engagement from the developers at every stage of the program, and the chief architect being able to influence the development of the city environment first-hand, he also mentioned the limitations of the selected workshop format. “Existing regulations do not oblige developers to commit to any sort of public discussions at the initial stage of their projects. Basically, they can completely ignore any results we have achieved here, leaving it all on paper,” said Stadnikov. “But if they were legally obliged to hold public discussions, that could help resolve multiple conflicts. For instance, when public hearings are held after the design work has already been done, committing to any proposed changes means reworking the existing documentation and bearing additional expenses. Earlier discussions equal greater effect.”

“School participants learn to see the city in a more complex and humane way,” said Timur Abdullaev. “Often when architecture objects, even the most remarkable, are created they fail to form a quality urban environment around them. By creating and improving adjacent public spaces, a developer invests in the future success of their project. Unfortunately, this realization is not something that is becoming common fast enough. But even within the short time span of the School our cases, initially regarded as ‘residential development areas’, evolved into systems of higher complexity through the inclusion of public spaces and new typologies, which made these projects more viable, interesting and distinctive. Although the results of a one and a half week session do not allow us to offer readymade solutions for the project, the ideas we came up with could help with the selection of a correct and thoughtful approach to future planning.”

Text: Svetlana Kondratyeva
Translation: Philipp Kachalin

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