Home to of one the most ambitious residential projects in history, Russia is now seeking to create a new type of modern and sustainable housing. Strelka Magazine spoke to international architects whose designs may change living conditions across the country.
The finalists of the Open International Competition for Standard Housing and Residential Development Concept Design have traveled to Moscow. They met with Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who is chairman of the competition jury. They also toured residential neighborhoods in Moscow to experience Russian mass housing developments.
The 20 competition finalists, who hail from Russia and nine other countries, have created housing models which fit into one of three categories: low-rise residential, mid-rise residential, or a central area.
The competition was created by the Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending, in cooperation with Strelka KB. It is aimed at creating “innovative, sustainable housing that meets modern requirements for providing comfort and security of the living environment completed with the use of advanced construction technologies.”
The jury also includes Construction, Housing and Utilities Minister Mikhail Men, and the CEO of the Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending, Alexander Plutnik.
“We need to learn how to build our cities differently,” Shuvalov said at a meeting with the architects, which was held at Strelka Institute on March 2. “Thanks to the international competition, we have the chance to launch the mass construction of modern standard housing, including rental housing.”
Strelka Magazine spoke to six of the international finalists, who discussed their visit to Moscow and their housing visions.
UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED IN RUSSIA
One of the most obvious challenges, and one that was repeated by several of the participants, was Russia’s harsh winter climate. As such, Colombian architect Luis Calderon said he needed to adjust his design to fit Russia’s needs. For instance, he noted that there should be an area for residents to take off their coats once they enter their apartments – a foreign concept in his home country, where people “don’t wear winter attire.”
Macedonian architect Sara Simoska agreed that the weather presents its own unique challenges, stressing the need to accommodate “low sun” and “strong winter winds.”
Meanwhile, Maxime Cunin of the Rotterdam-based BOLD collective said the biggest challenge was designing housing for a country that is incredibly varied. “If you design for something that is in the middle of the Urals or in the middle of the mainland where it’s completely frozen, that’s completely different than if you design for Moscow...that was the most challenging part, how to make something that is flexible enough to be applied anywhere.”
His colleague Geoffrey Eberle said that a major concern is the “very conservative mindset” that he has observed in Russia. “These days, there seems to be a skepticism deep within the Russian culture...and I think we need to deliver a product that is genuinely an extremely exciting alternative to what is existing today.”
Bangkok-based architect Peeraya Suphasidh agreed that conservativism is a challenge, particularly when it comes to building materials. “We would like to reform the material of construction from concrete to wood-based.”
Cunin also noted that while timber is being used in architecture across the world, it isn’t being widely used in Russia – despite the country having the potential to use it as a cheap, sustainable, and achievable substance. “I think this is the main point we want to make here, is that building with timber in Russia is not something that is unachievable, and it’s something that is done everywhere.”
Meanwhile, Suphasidh also pointed out a rather specific observation, related to the storage of items in the Russian apartments she visited. “Different generations passing down into the family” has led to Russians using their homes “more or less as a place of storage,” she said, noting that “if we get rid of that stuff, we would earn more [usable] square meters.” However, she said that such an idea is “a little bit contradictory to how the Russians are living today.”
Claudia Ricardi from TA.R.I-Architects in Italy noted the challenge of being conscious of Russian traditions and Russian history, while also being aware of “new trends and needs.”
But some of the overall issues faced in Russia are exactly the same as those seen in the finalists’ home countries. “We are in different universes, but we face the same problems,” Calderon said.
“These are the same problems that I had to deal when working on the same type of projects in my country – the size of the apartments, efficiency.”
QUEST FOR EXCITING ALTERNATIVES
Paulo Pontes of PPA Arquitetura in Brazil believes that first and foremost, special attention must be paid “to the context in which we are working, and respect must be given to the people who will live there. A lot of people will be living in social housing, but each person is different and you have to keep that in mind.”
Simoska believes that some features of Russia’s Soviet architecture should be preserved, but stressed that this can be done in more than one way. “It should be preserved, but not only preserved formally...preserving is not only like putting something in the refrigerator and keeping it there, but trying to recycle it, to re-think it, to find positive ways to reuse it in design,” she said.
As for Eberle, who spoke of the need to deliver an “exciting alternative” to what currently exists, he envisions that alternative to be extremely unique. “Not just slightly different, but radically different,” he said.
The winners of the competition will be announced on May 20 at a forum in Kaliningrad. Up to five winners will potentially take home first-place prizes. The categories of second- and third-place can have up to five and 10 winners, respectively.
First-place winners will receive 2 million rubles (US$35,000), while those in second-place will pocket 1.5 million rubles ($26,000). Third-place winners will get 1 million rubles ($17,500). All of the finalists have already received 1 million rubles for making it into the top 20.
Text: Lynsey Free, Timur Zolotoev
Photos: Gleb Leonov