NOVEMBER 20, 2019


Round table discussion: where do chief architects come from?

At the federal level, the necessity to raise the profile of chief architects in regions is being discussed. The President of the Russian Federation set a mission according to which they should report to governors directly and thus become chiefly responsible for the city-planning policy. A the same time, according to the data from the Russian Ministry of Economy and Development monitoring, which was held in the first half of 2019, the position of the chief architect exists only in 33 regions; while in 49 subjects of the Russian Federation, authority in the field of architecture is granted to clerks supervising construction and housing and utility services. What chief architects lack at their places, how the political will of the management influences their work, whether they have enough authority to promote city-planning decisions beneficial for citizens instead of developers – all these questions were brought up during the discussion at the Second Youth Architectural Biennale.
«The top-down command structure is quite rigid»

The discussion of the city and regional chief architects club covered the following topic: 'How to create new value for the area by means of architecture?' Experts from Krasnodar, Kazan, Lipetsk, Kaluga and Voronezh were invited to the discussion.

'Now, a lot is being said about the necessity to upgrade chief architects, their status. Current situation requires quality review. Chief architects should have more authority, more opportunities to influence the architectural and constructional development of our country and our cities', Timur Abdullaev started. He shared his experience: 'I came to Yekaterinburg's Mayor's office as a chief architect without any bureaucratic experience, being a practicing architect. It became clear at once that municipal work is a special sphere of activity with its own working laws and communication systems. On the one hand, a chief architect is a creative person. On the other hand, when he or she enters the authority system, he or she should be no stranger to the instruments and know how to use them', the moderator noted and suggested that the participants of the discussion shared what authority chief architects have in their positions, how influential they are and how they interact with regional authority officials.

'In our region, there is no clear distinction between chief architects of the region and city. There are common tasks. In this respect, we use the experience of mutual project teams that can communicate with each other, for example, to find a quick solution to a specific problem. Besides, now we are discussing the issue of reformatting: of optimal distribution of authority between the region and the city, so that the city would have enough functions to fulfill the tasks set by the administration, in the same way as regions would solve the tasks set by the governor', Naida Ismatulaeva, the Head of Construction and Architecture Department of Lipetsk region, said. According to her, this is a complicated task because chief architect often have to solve problems that go beyond the scope set by the Town-Planning Code of the Russian Federation. This includes the fact that the Code describes modern notions connected with city-planning in 'very distant and general terms'. In particular, this refers to working on cities' masterplans.

The talk about interaction of city and regional teams was picked up by Natalya Mashtalir, Chief Architect of Krasnodar. 'On the one hand, municipal architects have more authority. But, on the other hand, municipal authority depends heavily on the regional one. And if regional authorities do not enact statutory instruments necessary for more active development of municipalities and districts, then municipalities have their hands tied. The top-down command structure 'federation – subject – city' is quite rigid', she said. However, according to her, we should not forget about the top-down structure within the local government itself. 'For instance, in Krasnodar, a chief architect is a person who manages spatial development and changes in the city's appearance. At the same time, we have a mayor, we have a deputy head and the department of architecture. And it turns out that the chief architect is not at the top of the managerial pyramid, but below a large number of people who practically manage him or her', she explained.

The round table of the city and regional chief architects club at the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Naida Ismatulaeva I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Andrey Yerenkov and Natalya Mashtalir I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Andrey Yerenkov, Chief Architect of Voronezh region, gave similar example regarding regional government. 'I head up the Department of Architecture and Construction of Voronezh region. On paper, I report directly to the governor. However, as in any other government, perhaps, for each major sphere there is a vice-governor. I am in the same block as experts dealing with construction, housing and utility services and regulatory bodies in this sphere', he said. Besides, although the authorities of Voronezh region also control the issues of spatial planning, land-use and development rules, the chief architect of the region 'does not have that many direct instruments to influence the exterior of the environment'. 'In this situation, we, in particular, focused our attention on producer activity of a kind. We pay a lot of attention to working with young architects and working with the professional community. There is also a large block of cultural and educational projects', Yerenkov said.

The issue of the lack of authority was also mentioned by Aleksey Komov, Chief Architect of Kaluga. 'If initially a chief architect is a subordinate in the City Department of Architecture, City-Planning and Land Relations, he or she has practically no rights, apart from making esthetic decisions and talking about the good versus the bad', Komov is sure. According to him, in Kaluga, there was no chief architect for five years. He has been working in this position for three and a half months, and starting November the decision was made to raising his profile to the Deputy Head of the City. Clear results of this approach can be seen in a couple of years, Komov thinks. In 2021, Kaluga will celebrate its 650-year anniversary, and a large number of works are dedicated to this date, aimed at enhancing the quality of urban environment.

'As no two cities are the same, perhaps, there are no same tasks for architects in different cities. We should understand that, with time, depending on the tasks set, the status of a chief architect may also change, as well as the degree of his or her subordination to certain structures', Tatyana Prokofyeva, who worked as Chief Architect of Kazan for about ten years, summed up.
Who programs the development of cities

Is a chief architect a personality or a simple paper-pusher in the system of authorities? Timur Abdullaev raised the question of the real persons behind programming the cities' development and the way chief architects can influence city-planning policies in the current authority system.

'A lot is being said now about the role of a chief architect in terms of his or her competences. Quite often, the question arises at the level of the Ministry of Construction and regional authorities about a 'chief city-planner' to solve problems of spatial development, approve projects of spatial planning. At the same time, a chief architect often gets the function of someone who mostly deals with design codes, architectural image and outdoor advertising, instead of working with determining city-planning policies. The former issues are definitely very important to people but, on the other hand, they do not lay any strategic bases for the city to develop', Abdullaev shared his opinion.

Chief architects should have wide authorities to define the city-planning policy, the participants of the discussion are certain. 'I absolutely agree. Only a chief architect is able to assess the situation at the same time in general and from the viewpoint of an average person. In this respect, of great importance are both the authority a chief architect has and the political will of his or her supervisor', Aleksey Komov specified.

'It is important that a prosecution attorney does not take the place of a chief architect. In Krasnodar, architectural and city-planning councils were cancelled upon the decision of a prosecution attorney. Although their decisions serve as guidelines, we were prohibited even to recommend anything to the developers. The prosecution office think that somebody's rights are infringed when we discuss their project and give recommendations', Natalya Mashtalir added.

Andrey Yerenkov I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Timur Abdullaev I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Aleksey Komov I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
«Be ready to any feedback»

Архитекторы.рф project should have facilitated the creation of skill pool, including the positions of chief architects of cities and regions. But for now, no significant improvements have occurred, and experts are still asking the question: where do chief architects come from?

'I became a chief architect: from punk to clerk', Aleksey Komov smiled and told about the time he worked in the Crimea, among other things how he was the Chief Architect of Yevpatoria. 'It's battlefield experience, it's like making the first steps on the Moon. Probably, the main thing to understand for those who want to become a chief architect, is that it's not champagne splashes and architectural forums – it's hard donkey work', he said and brought the house down.

Natalya Mashtalir confessed that in Krasnodar she practically had to change the team of subordinates to get results in her job. 'When I came to the administration and announced my plans, former employees said: it's long, it's expensive, it's impossible. I invited young architects; they came and made the same design code without wailing. Together we have moved forward with the issue of creating an architectural council as well', she shared her experience. In her opinion, in the case of a chief architect's job the step-by-step strategy works best. 'One can spend hours talking about the sublime. And we have this tradition in Russia, not only in the field of architecture. But it's still more effective to move forward, even little by little', she concluded.

Timur Abdullaev noted that he had faced similar issues in the administration of Yekaterinburg. 'When I found myself in a bureaucratic environment, I realized that people working in this sphere are not ready to move forward and change things. As a result, I had to change the staff almost completely, because they didn't want to work under my supervision, and invite young employees', he said. An important advantage of young people, in Abdullaev's opinion, is the absence of fear and 'bureaucratic stereotypes'; the scariest thing for an experienced clerk is to go beyond his or her job description, that's why many progressive things are impossible to do.

Interestingly, thanks to an outsourced team of attorneys, a brand new legal framework has been formed. 'I spent my first year as chief architect fighting with low-quality projects and developers' attempts to push them through. However, my second year was devoted to forming new game rules – a legislative framework regulating the process of reviewing and approving architectural solutions. This may surprise somebody, but in Yekaterinburg it was simply nonexistent, not even a registry or a base of projects previously approved by the administration; all the information was only in the head of the previous chief architect. It became clear that we needed to lay the foundation for the municipality's future legitimate decision-making regarding the city's development' Abdullaev explain. In particular, tremendous work has been done on the strategy of spatial development for Yekaterinburg. Statutory instruments regarding the need for approval of the architectural appearance of the newly built properties have been developed and enacted; the program of façade certification of the existing buildings in Yekaterinburg has been launched.

Tatyana Prokofyeva I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Natalya Fishman-Bekmambetova among the participants I the Second Russian Youth Architectural Biennale
Naida Ismatulaeva, in turn, shared how she was noticed and invited to an interview thanks to the Архитекторы.рф project. 'I had never wanted to be a chief architect. When I studied at university at the 'Applied geodesy' course, I used to think, "Who are these crazy people running around with sketching boards?" It was much later that I became interested in this field', she continued. People who choose this profession, according to her, should be ready to prove their point of view not only to architect colleagues, but also to the representatives of adjacent spheres; for instance, those working in the transport sphere or in housing and utility sphere. On the other hand, you should be ready for any feedback from the citizens. 'People may simply come up to you in the street and share their opinion of your work. It may be both positive and negative'.

«We will found a club of young architects»

Apart from personal qualities, interaction among chief architects is important as well. 'Lack of fear is crucial for this profession. You will achieve nothing if you come here thinking that some things you cannot do', Tatyana Prokofyeva believes. However, if we talk about personal qualities, in her opinion, integrity and patience are crucial for a chief architect. 'There have always been and will always be a lot of ways for people to become chief architects. I suppose, it would be interesting to have a support group for the existing chief architects, to give them additional opportunity to communicate with each other and share experience', she proposed. And all the participants of the discussion liked this idea. 'I think this is a very relevant idea – to have a modern platform for opinion exchange', Timur Abdullaev noted.

Unexpectedly, Natalya Fishman-Bekmambetova, presidential adviser of the Republic of Tatarstan, the director of the Second Russian Young Biennale, took the floor. She had been observing the discussion in the audience. 'We do need a club of young architects, and we will definitely create it. But the most important thing is the degree of your superiors' genuine motivation', she noted. In her opinion, the development of cities and regions would go faster if, along with the supported projects by Архитекторы.рф participants, noncommercial organizations with small volume of financing could enter the region to commission concepts and hold educational events. 'This is a really effective instrument. Because the main problem is often connected with the absence of instruments to commission a concept that could further be launched in design by the state', Natalya explained. According to her, from time to time she had to personally defend some young chief architects she had recommended. 'I called governors and explained to them that they had to support their colleagues because it was difficult enough for them to work'.

New tasks every day

In the final part of the discussion all the participants shared their opinions regarding the necessity of a sensible and systematic approach towards the job of a chief architect, which is, unfortunately, still absent. The federal law 'About architectural activity', which is now under discussion, is only the first step in creating work mechanisms and does not solve all the issues.

Meanwhile, a systematic approach should consequently lead to the situation when cities develop in a harmonious way, without leaning towards developer's commercial interests; and city-planning policy should be defined not by clerks but by professional and competent chief architects who have the corresponding authority.

Maria Plyusnina