MARCH 11, 2019


As part of the project 'Residential property. Making it better, not more expensive', together with the international MosBUild exhibition, Timur Abdullaev, the leader of ARCHINFORM bureau, who is also the founder of the School of Chief Architect, told Archspeech about the situation with residential construction and beautification as illustrated by Yekaterinburg.
The idea of creating the School of Chief Architect came to me when I was working as the Chief Architect of Yekaterinburg and was continuously facing the same situation: a developer company wants to lobby a solution that is not beneficial for the urban environment and refuses to compromise, insisting on their rightness. The School of Chief Architect was designed as a communicative platform where all the participants of the process – the city administration, expert community representatives, young professionals and developers – can openly exchange their visions of urban development and choose new nonlinear solutions to developers' requests based on real-life cases. In essence, SCA was created rather for developers than for architects.

You can lead a healthy lifestyle, do sports and stay well or reduce yourself to a dire state and take pills to try and look healthy. Unfortunately, quite often, developers talking about the quality of their product mostly look for marketing means to increase the sales, which is exactly the second option: how to sell the same product without changing anything about it under a different name. When developers play marketing, they do not apply any solutions to enhance the quality of the product. For new formats and models to be sustainable, one needs to contribute into the ideology and the quality of future solutions at the very beginning, maybe, even to change the design model and construction process technologies.

The idea of standardization and unification of design solutions is massively promoted among developers. At the same time, everyone talks about a new product and new quality. But the key element of urban environment is its uniqueness, visibility of separate districts and separate quarters. People often choose a place to live based on these criteria. However, 'multicolor construction sets' are steadily invading our cities. If comprehension of unique environment features of the future development, its special characteristics and consumer qualities took place in the beginning of the design process, I suppose, much less architectural nonsense would occur.
It is very odd when a certain structure – a construction company or client's service – tries to predict specific architectural solutions before the start of an architect's work on the design. Historically, the profession of an architect in our country has been demoted to that of a specialist who serves the construction industry; however, this is certainly not what an architects' mission is about.

Nowadays, the situation in Yekaterinburg is ambiguous: the same price segment includes absolutely different buildings. Some make panel high-rises, others work with different-level solutions, with clinker facades, with mid-rise quarter developments etc. Both options are sold equally successfully. I suppose it depends on the consumer's maturity.

In Yekaterinburg, foreign architectural bureaus are working actively. By the way, quite often they do so not only in the residential segment. For example, many concept designs for the projects of Brusnika were developed by the Dutch bureau KCAP. In my opinion, the creation of the notion of product is not relevant in the premium segment where one can afford a lot, but is more important in those cases when there's a need for an optimal correct and economically efficient architectural solution, with creating an architecturally valuable design at the same time. Quite often, techniques and principles offered by
Dutch architects are pretty adaptable to budget-friendly residential properties. However, none of the developers in Yekaterinburg is ready to bear the expenses of paying for the designs of foreign bureaus – they are invited to participate only at the concept stage.

Developers often start with completely erasing the existing identity and then desperately try to create a new one, which is nowhere to be found. They make up some kitsch names for their properties, create some pseudohistory, which they didn't have, trying to fill them with some art objects devoid of any background. If you enter a site, you should value what it has to offer. I keep trying to explain to developers that separate environmental objects can become market advantages and create added value for the entire project.

An architect's art lies in finding balance between private and public interests: on the one hand, they are designing for all the citizens; on the other hand, they work for the specific client. An architect should be able to change the developer's mind with good reasoning and find common language with them. Apart from that, an architect should possess knowledge in sociology, economics and design marketing. In essence, an architect designs not buildings but people's life, broadly speaking.

Yekaterinburg is rich in industrial sites that are currently located in the city center. This is a huge potential for redevelopment. But what is happening in reality? A bulldozer is moving in front of the developer. Construction starts from scratch: a site is completely 'cleaned' from everything that existed there. This is called greenfield development and, of course, has nothing to do with the word 'redevelopment' – let us not fool ourselves.
Our architectural bureau ARCHINFORM works with several companies on former industrial properties and we often suggest keeping the existing urban fabric, its elements, even if they are not part of architectural heritage, but simply have architectural value, because a city consists of cultural layers that cannot be completely destroyed by erasing history. For now, the process is complicated. The logic of immediate economic efficiency usually takes over in the minds of developers.

Compared to many million-plus cities, Yeakterinburg is a rather well-developed city from architectural point of view, but, in terms of the quality of land improvement, I'd say, it is way behind those values that should be present in a modern metropolis.

KB Strelka commissioned our bureau to create a land improvement project for the central part of Yekaterinburg as part of the program of 'Comfortable urban environment'. We have successfully developed it and been through public discussions with it. However, the logic of this program presupposes cooperative financing – federal and regional. Neither the city budget nor the district budget has substantial finances for this, so there are no federal grants. No visible changes are taking place, or their pace is simply insignificant. The program has acquired a lukewarm character. The residents' expectations turned out to be failed.
In my opinion, there is much concern about the differentiation of land use rules and development rules in Yekaterinburg. They require explications, clarifications and 'smart' feature determination. Development standards are now very ambiguous and unified: one can build anything anywhere. The city does not have the opportunity to reserve separate central areas for any publicly important functions – all of them are used for residential properties, the old urban fabric is disappearing, and no new meaningful one is created.
Source: Archspeech