Archi.ru: More than four years have passed since the 2008 crisis. How do you think architecture has changed over the years?
Nikita Biryukov: I think today it is too early to assess whether the architecture has changed after the crisis. The "medical" results of architectural development will not be clear very soon. In fact, the crisis has not gone anywhere; architecture is a rather inert process. And the current situation is hardly better than the one in 2008. Some revival can be observed, but even then only because this process, by definition, is very extended in time - many projects being implemented today were launched even before the crisis.
Archi.ru: How would you characterize the current vector of architecture development in our country?
N. B.: Unfortunately, I cannot give him a positive assessment, in my opinion, with the vector we have sad. I only see what is happening in Moscow, in other Russian cities, probably even worse, I do not know the rest. Architecture is a high-cost business that requires a lot of investment. Today, for obvious reasons, everyone is forced to save. Almost all the assets that the developers had were transferred to banks, and crisis managers came to replace the charismatic leaders, whose main goal is to master the budget. Most of them do not understand the essence of the process, and therefore are not able to promote new sites, generate a plot of the development of a particular territory. As a rule, they develop already formed and partially mastered sites and bring them to some final and not always positive result. Against this background, it is difficult to talk about any conscious architectural movements.
Archi.ru: And what happens “against such a background” with the architects themselves?
N. B.: I can only say about myself - life in the profession has become boring today. Work in the city is monopolized. I’m experiencing deja vu more and more, it’s like we’re back in the 1990s. This is sad, because for more than 20 years we have been growing up together - both architects and developers. When we first got into business, we understood little about it. But all these years there was a process of evolutionary development. All these years, a competent customer came to the architect, understanding what he is able to do, what is the potential of his personality. Today there was a substitution of the key concept of competition for all our practice - a tender for a contract. See who wins the tenders. Good architects? Cheap offers and often companies with an incomprehensible biography win. For example, what is happening with the "Slavyanka" shopping center? First, they hired Turkish "Russians" and got what they got. And now they are hiring a couple of companies for the facades. It seems to me that it is indecent to be hired for such a job. The client must sip his stew with those he chose in the tender. What was the purpose of such a tender? And it’s not only about the facades, but about the shameless attitude to TEPs and the place. This complex should be at least two times less. Then everything else will work out.
Archi.ru: Still, I would not say that today's architecture can be compared with what and how they built in the 1990s
N. B.: Naturally, there is a difference, everyone has gained experience. New materials and new technologies have appeared. But fundamentally nothing has changed in the profession. Those who worked conscientiously before, work the same way now. Before the 90s, wasn't there great architecture? There is only one recipe: the quality of solutions and implementation.
Archi.ru: In other words, there is still a certain percentage of architects who are able to defend the quality of architecture in front of the customer and the state and influence the result?
N. B.: Of course have. It is possible and necessary to influence the final result, although it is not always easy. Architecture is not painting, where paint, canvas and the genius of the artist determine the quality of the final product. Architecture is directly related to the economy, politics, social situation, urban planning situation, etc. An unsuccessful building cannot be crumpled like a drawing and thrown into a bucket, therefore a good architect is always aware of this, and this is where professionalism manifests itself.
Archi.ru: Today the government has changed in Moscow, a series of new appointments followed, and the city itself has changed, more than doubling. How, in your opinion, is the architectural appearance of the capital changing?
N. B.: I have no illusions about the new government. People have changed - the power has remained. Moscow, as it was a cash cow, has remained with it. I look with horror at our city, which is ruined for a long time. I like to watch old films, where there is still greenery in Moscow, few cars, people calmly walk along sidewalks and squares. Moscow today is not a city for life, it is a place for making money, and not a place for joy and happiness. Maybe this is not a completely objective assessment, but I'm afraid I'm not alone in it. The city has become evil. And this terrible energy shapes our way of life and thoughts. In my understanding, Moscow has long been unsuitable for bringing up harmonious people. Monstrous vulgarity flourishes in him. I never thought that I would live to see the years when I wanted to leave here, but today it has become unpleasant to live here. The city was destroyed by our own hands, we ourselves are to blame.
Archi.ru: Do you think that this course of degradation cannot be redirected towards development? Those initiatives that are now being promoted by the city - I mean competitive programs, programs for the improvement of city parks and public spaces, etc., do you think they will not bear fruit?
N. B.: I don't live on a planetary scale today. I understand that it is impossible to fix this throughout my life. Where are the resources for these purposes? Where is the land? Will we demolish houses that have appeared in former parks, squares, will we demolish houses built on the former red lines? So there is no answer for me. For this, there must be a desire for power and a lot of money, but they probably will never have this. These guys have other interests. Power must be enlightened in order for such accomplishments to become a reality. How many new theaters have been built in recent years? How many new public spaces have appeared? They are not. There used to be squares and parks in the city, how many public places have been built in our 20 years? Now the city has nowhere to go, except perhaps to Gorky Park. But this is rather an exception. Instead of greenery, time bombs such as huge shopping centers have appeared, which, like magnets, attract huge flows of people and cars, destroying the normal course of life around them. Shall we demolish? The law does not regulate this. Such a regime leads to the fact that even on weekends people rush to shopping centers instead of spending this time with their families and close people. Priorities are violated and values are shifted. Surprisingly, this is largely the result of urban planning policy: the city programs such human behavior.
Archi.ru: How do you assess the active participation of foreigners in the architectural life of our country and the capital?
N. B. There are indeed a colossal number of foreigners in Russia today. There are many of them and they are different, just like us. As a rule, the customer engages them at the initial design stage, at the concept development stage, and then the project is adapted by domestic architects. This is a fairly standard operating scheme today. Our company is also running several such projects. For example, we were invited to work on the project for the Skolkovo business park as a general designer at the “Design” stage, when the draft proposal of the English company Scott Brownrigg was approved. Working with this company is quite comfortable. At the stage of development of working documentation, we have already invited them to participate in the development of part of the project. But in general, with regard to the presence of Western architects in the Russian market, I must note the following: our foreign colleagues offer a quite high-quality product, which, however, is not exceptional. If initially the same task had been assigned to our workshop, then, I am sure, we would have coped with it just as well.
Archi.ru: If our specialists are able to do the same job, then why does the customer choose foreign architects?
N. B.: A customer who attracts Western specialists (with a different mentality, different education and approach to design) is quite understandable, because our architects have largely discredited themselves over the past 20 years. I'm not talking about all the designers. There are a small number of professionals who have been successfully working on the Russian market for a long time. But they noticeably suffer because of the general formed half-disdainful attitude towards the profession. This tendency cannot but grieve, because Russian architects are not yet left with the slightest chance to rehabilitate themselves. An absolutely disgusting situation was with the competition for the Polytechnic Museum, when Russian architects, both individuals and self-sufficient Russian companies, without the participation of Western firms, were generally purged from the list of participants..
Archi.ru: What do you think is the main reason for such a precarious position of the architect and architecture in our country?
N. B.: Moscow was once wooden and more than once burned down almost to the ground. On the site of the burnt buildings, new ones were built - with the same taste and understanding of life, national characteristics and traditions. Some monuments were replaced by others. Of course, there was also some kind of background, ordinary buildings. But all this more or less harmoniously existed for centuries. One talented generation generated the next, equally talented. Now they constantly cite constructivism as a national architectural pride as an example and wonder where it all went. But we must understand that the Constructivists were brought up by a powerful Russian culture. And then the entire cultural stratum of the country began to be cut cleanly, someone immigrated, some of the rest died in the war, then Khrushchev … Today's generation is not yet capable, though trying, to produce something worthwhile. An architect does not live and create in a vacuum. He is part of our society. We are where our medicine, education, industry and everything else are …
The profession of an architect, as it was little respected, has remained. It is hard to imagine that our architects and engineers would be entrusted to build, say, Burj Dubai in the UAE. But before the revolution, architects in Russia created epoch-making things. Then the architects were entrusted with both the construction and the budget. Now such a system is successfully operating in Switzerland, where architects hire contractors, form a team, and track all work from start to finish. In Russia, there are virtually no architects today, there are builders and designers, or rather, "designers", as Vladimir Resin called us. And when there is no respect, there is no evolution, no ambition and no desire to reach new heights. One of the most serious problems for the profession, including all engineers and designers, is the lack of super tasks. Only the state can set such super-tasks in Russia today. Private investors are not yet capable of this. And the state is not yet up to architecture …
Archi.ru: But if, as you say, nothing can be fixed, then maybe it is worth working out some mechanisms so as not to make things worse? What do you think an architect should be like today? Maybe we should start with education?
N. B.: There is only one mechanism. This is the law and its strict observance instead of various interpretations. An architect always fulfills someone's order. We are all addicted people. As for education … In Russia today there is no decent architectural education. MArchI as a professional university has been destroyed. All attempts by individuals with clever faces to open architectural "schools" bring only a smile. For a new gifted generation to be born, some selection must take place and a sufficient amount of time must pass. Today, the guys are still studying for real only after graduation in companies. Well, and here - as someone is lucky.
Archi.ru: That is, among the young architects of our time, you would not single out a single one who could develop a line of high-quality architecture?
N. B.: No, I won't. But they certainly are.
Archi.ru: And the very concept of "architect's taste", in your opinion, has changed today? Has it become more blurred?
N. B.: A person either has taste or not. I admit that sometimes some exotic projects with a dose of madness should be born that do not fall into the standard framework. In architecture, as in any other art, there is always room for experimentation. But when bad taste becomes dominant, disasters such as in our poor city occur. There must be internal filters, including conscience, which will not allow committing "criminal" actions in relation to the city and the townspeople. Unfortunately, such "harmful" human qualities for business are rarely found in the construction world.