Tell us about your first steps in the profession. How did you get started?
- I got acquainted with architecture back in Soviet times in Chisinau, where I studied at the Faculty of Architecture of the Polytechnic Institute. After leaving school, I chose between medicine, theater direction and architecture. And in the end I leaned in favor of the latter. But he did not have time to finish his studies, because in the 1990s. together with his family he immigrated to Israel. There I continued my education, however, I chose a completely different direction, enrolling in the Faculty of Economics at Bar Ilan University. But my training did not end there either. After serving in the Givati forces of the Israel Defense Forces, I entered the theater directing department of Tel Aviv University. I tried myself in different fields of activity, but at that moment I decided that the most interesting thing for me was my own business, and at first it had nothing to do with architecture, but rather with product design. We started by developing the design of European perfumes, which were then supplied to Moscow for sale. In a fairly short time, my colleagues and I have created twelve product names with their own unique design and aroma. We were very young and times were hard, so our business did not last long. However, this first experience taught me a lot, including the ability to correctly build a logistics process.
The next step was the private Fetish club in Tel Aviv. It was 1997. Together with my friend, we found a suitable place, brought good designers from St. Petersburg and literally four months later the opening took place. I took an active part in creating the interior design and the atmosphere of this place. In fact, this was my first architectural project. And without undue modesty, I can say that the experience was a success. At first, the townspeople reacted to the idea of creating a club with suspicion, but after six months the club became the most fashionable place in the city, the whole Tel Aviv bohemia was in line. Perhaps too powerful a start and the incredible success of the project caused the club to be burned down after a while. We had to rebuild the building from scratch. This was my second architectural experience, completely different from the previous one, but, it seems to me, no less successful.
Some time later, we decided to open a restaurant in the city. And for some reason I got the idea to solve its interior in the art nouveau style. Here I must say that Tel Aviv is a very modern city, the most ancient buildings in this city date back to the time of the Bauhaus. Therefore, my idea seemed to many to be pure madness, which, however, did not bother me at all. With great enthusiasm and enthusiasm, I selected color solutions, looked for wallpaper and furniture of those times, glass stained glass windows and authentic materials. I went to all the antique shops in Paris and Prague. Every little thing in the interior was verified and had its own meaning. In the end, it turned out really very close to art nouveau. The Tel Aviv audience accepted this project with a bang, the restaurant was full of visitors from morning to morning.
As far as I know, you have worked in other countries, for example, in the Czech Republic
- Yes. Despite my successful work in Israel, I was constantly striving for something new. Probably, my decision to leave for Prague was connected with this. There I continued my restaurant business and quickly opened two wonderful establishments. The concept of a sandwich bar was born in my head after I saw Frank Gehry's "Dancing House", so the interior of this place was decided in the style of deconstruction. This was followed by an interesting experience of reconstruction of a building of the early XX century, inside of which a luxurious Art Deco interior was created. It was a stunning building with huge stained glass windows and incredibly high ceilings - about 9 meters. While working on the project, I studied all the surviving materials, collected photographs of the building in the 1930s, when SS officers occupied its premises. As a result, we carried out a complete renovation. It was very difficult to work, considering that the Prague Municipality is a very clumsy bureaucratic mechanism. To simply drive a nail within the boundaries of the old city, you need to obtain a special permit. And so in everything. But, despite numerous difficulties, the project turned out, and it was implemented in record time. For the contractors and builders themselves, this was a great surprise. The owner of the construction company involved in the implementation of the project was so impressed by my ability to clearly and competently build a workflow, when the work did not stop for a minute, the builders worked in shifts, and I myself was on the site almost around the clock that he offered me to become a partner of his company XP -constructions. I agreed and worked there for two more years. I helped to correctly build a management system within the organization, I was engaged in marketing and promotion of the company. All this contributed to the fact that many interesting orders in the city came to us. In addition to modern buildings, we took part in reconstruction projects for buildings of the 17th – 18th centuries.
When and why did you decide to come to Russia?
- First, fate brought me to Georgia. It seemed to me that there, in connection with the ongoing democratic reforms, a burst of construction is possible. By this time, I already had good architectural and design experience, managed to work in the construction industry and came to development. I created my own financial group, but there was no serious development. Georgia is a rather small country and the market is small there. I saw no prospects. It was also pointless to return to Europe, because all the niches were occupied for a long time: the crisis in the field of construction there began long before the global financial crisis. Therefore, the only correct direction for me was Russia.
I have been to Russia before, there were many friends and acquaintances. But the Russia of the 1990s seemed to me hostile and not comfortable enough for life. I didn’t want to become a bandit and didn’t want to have anything to do with them. At that time, it was almost impossible to achieve success in Moscow in any other way. When, years later, I came to Moscow again, I did not recognize this city. The situation has changed radically. The standard of living has changed, household infrastructure has appeared, I saw completely different people and other relationships between them, I saw the development and colossal prospects of the city. Moscow smiled at me, and there was a pleasant feeling that I had come home.
How was the Homeland Group created? Did you immediately decide that you would be engaged in architecture in Moscow?
- Yes, right away. Together with my brother, we decided to organize an architectural bureau and invited Yulia Podolskaya from Israel, who, in addition to being a good friend of mine, was seriously engaged in architecture and led several large projects in Moscow and the CIS countries.
At first, I took part in development projects, for example, I oversaw the purchase of a land plot for the construction of a residential neighborhood in the Rostov Region. And quite unexpectedly, the investor of this project suggested that Julia and I develop a planning and development concept for him. This was the first large order of our young company, followed by a shopping center in Taganrog and other projects. We opened an office on the Arbat and began to recruit staff. And everything would be fine, but at that moment the crisis came. To survive the crisis, we began to thoroughly analyze the government order market, began to participate in tenders and win them. At that time, the main scope of our activity was urban planning projects. We worked on territorial planning schemes for districts, on master plans for urban and rural settlements, developed the PZZ, etc. There were not many specialists in this area, perhaps in specialized institutes. And we were looking for professional urbanists all over the country and not only, specially brought them to Moscow, recruited a team literally by one person, which immediately taught us to treat our staff with great respect.
When did you realize that Homeland Group has turned into something more than an architectural bureau?
- Gradually, we gained more and more confidence in our abilities and at some point realized that the format of the architectural bureau did not quite correspond to our ambitions. The scope of the work that we were ready to perform prompted that the company should be comprehensive, multidisciplinary, offering not only architectural and urban planning services, but a full cycle, including engineering, transport and even the functions of a technical customer. In a completely natural way, since initially we did not have any scheme for building a company, specialized departments began to form, about which Yulia Podolskaya spoke in great detail in her interview. But as people with certain professional experience, including management experience, we understood how to properly organize and structure all this. Of course, along with the growth of the company, the business structure also changed; the process never stops. We strive to be as efficient as possible. This is the task of every manager.
At times it was difficult, even conflicting, which, however, was quite justified. Today, a real strong team of like-minded people has been formed who are interested in the process and enjoy it. We employ more than 300 specialists, and we offer such a range of professional services, which, even though it may sound a little presumptuous on my part, few people on the Russian market will be able to offer. Such a number of competent specialists within one company is a rarity.
Does the clear structuring, management and diversification of the company affect the quality of the final product?
- The fact is that the link between the customer and the architect, as a rule, works ineffectively precisely because the architect has to involve outside specialists for each project - to hire contractors, construction teams, etc. And there is no guarantee that he will find good and qualified specialists. As a result, there is a lack of quality guarantees. We come to the site as one large and well-coordinated team, in which each cog is in its place, which immediately calculates all possible options, takes into account all the details, carefully analyzes the problems of the project at the earliest stages of its development. All this together guarantees a consistently good and consistently high quality result.
Very often we have to start a project from scratch. We come to the site, create a working group, which includes specialists from different departments, appoint a leader. Then the group conducts surveys and analysis of the territory, collects initial data, receives all permits. Then the urban planning department enters and develops the planning concept, the transport department makes the transport scheme, networkers, ecologists and other specialists are connected, who, together with designers, engineers and designers, form a single concept. The result is a very balanced product. This is almost a piece of jewelry. I'm not talking about architectural taste, because everyone has different tastes, but our technique is akin to the work of a jeweler.
As for management, a project office has been created within the company - a team that deals exclusively with management. It consists of former GUIs and GAPs, trained to properly manage all work processes. Of course, a project office is not know-how, but believe me, it helps us to work effectively both with customers and directly on projects, and also contributes to the formation of a friendly team. Two years ago, together with our top managers and heads of departments, we even went to study at the Higher School of Economics for courses that teach the correct passage of the entire project cycle and classical project management. In general, we pay a lot of attention to self-education and professional development and always strive to ensure that the company is not inferior to its Western counterparts.
What, ideally, are you striving for?
- Our main incentive and our motto is to create a product for people, to create a comfortable space for life. We love and know how to do it. And this is what drives us in the first place - not the desire to make a profit or build a successful business, but the desire to create.
And what place do you assign to architecture itself?
- For me it is always in the first place, this is my drive. But I would like to emphasize once again that there will be no high-quality architecture without a well-functioning mechanism. Any process must be properly structured, and this is especially true for project work. This is the only way to achieve success in the architectural field. The best architects in the world are not just artists and creatives, but primarily practitioners with experience in management, management, understanding of technologies and structures. These are people who can combine a brilliant idea with a clear practice of its implementation.
Could you name such “best architects in the world” by name? Who are you guided by in your practice?
- There are many talented and successful architects in the modern world. But I find it difficult to single out someone in particular. I myself am a leader by nature and I cannot accept anything as perfection, because I am sure that you can always do better. It's like a movie. Is it possible to answer who is better than Tarkovsky or, say, John Cassavetes? They are completely different, and each is genius in its own way.
What design principles do you put at the forefront? What is at the heart of every Homeland Group project?
- I can answer without hesitation that the main thing for us is environmental friendliness, and in the broadest, philosophical sense of the word. There are a lot of environmental problems in Russia. And now I'm not just talking about factories, cars and the irrational use of natural resources. Non-environmental friendliness is manifested even in the attitude of people to their home, homeland and each other. All this is easy to explain. Because we are the Soviet generation with severe residual effects. The Soviet person did not belong to anything, he was used to being a part of society and not bearing personal responsibility for anything. The details were not perceived by him as something important. This attitude has been formed over the years and is still preserved among the majority of Russian residents. It is important for us what is happening in our small apartment, and what is there beyond its threshold - we do not care.
We strive to create an environment that is holistic, comfortable and safe. We always try to convince the investor that landscaping a yard or building a kindergarten is a vital necessity and our personal responsibility to the city. People need parking spaces, they should easily and fearfully get into their yard and entrance, and move around the city calmly. And I think that you need to start with just such elementary concepts, and only then take care of environmentally friendly materials and construction technologies.
A person loves things intuitively, he does not always understand why he likes something more and something less, he just feels it. As professionals, when designing buildings or planning development, we must anticipate his wishes and needs. We have to take care of every detail. And this is our main principle.
How would you describe the architectural style and signature of the company? Do you have any style preferences?
- Of course, we have our own special style and handwriting. But, probably, the company's projects cannot be called recognizable. And I'll explain why. Firstly, we are still a fairly young company, unlike those workshops that have been practicing here for many years, we constantly have to assert ourselves, look for ourselves, and prove our right to work in this market. Secondly, in Russia, as in the world in general, there are small architectural bureaus, which, as a rule, are backed by one specific architect. It is he who determines the nature of architecture. Hence the recognizable style. The people who work with him are, in fact, apprentices, performers, and they always remain in the shadows. With us, and this is our deliberate strategic decision, every architect standing has a voice. Of course, Yulia Podolskaya works closely with all the architects of the company, but at the same time we do not try to do everything one size fits all. We give the opportunity to speak out to our CEOs, creatives, young architects. We do not develop the Yulia Podolskaya brand, we stand behind the Homeland Group brand, and this brand implies collective thinking. As a rule, 3-4 groups work on each project, each offers its own concept, then all proposals are discussed at general meetings, we weigh all the pros and cons and gradually come to some kind of consensus. We do not hide who is behind each project, and we openly represent our authors, but there are many of them, so there is some variety of projects.
The style of one architect is temporary. Today one architect is considered fashionable, tomorrow another. But very few of them become world lights. Based on these considerations, we have relied on quality.
Roman, what kind of architecture do you like personally?
- If you visit my house, you will immediately understand it. There, the space is filled with a variety of objects, from different eras and styles.
- Yes! This is what I like. And I also really appreciate everything new, individual, not like anything else. And it doesn't matter in what way this was achieved. It can be work with form, with structure, with materials, but also with construction technologies.
How are the roles distributed within the company? What is your specialization?
- Between me and Julia, the roles are distributed as between a man and a woman, the truth is born in disputes and friction. The masculine opposes the feminine. Our employees even call us Romeo and Juliet, and at the reception there is a cage with two parrots named Romka and Yulka. And if we speak to the essence of the matter, then I am engaged in the strategic management of the company, form tunnel thinking, determine the main direction of movement. And Julia is engaged in real management, prescribes business processes within the bundles, manages all technological issues. If necessary, I always come to her aid.
You said that your activity covers a variety of areas. Are there any priority ones among them? What interests you the most today?
- All directions are equally interesting for us, but especially those where we can fully realize ourselves, that is, go through the entire project cycle. It doesn't matter if it is a shopping center, housing or a village. It can be any civil architecture. Today we do not consider specialized objects, such as power plants or dams, because we strive to become the best in the already chosen field of activity. Although it is quite possible that if tomorrow we are asked to build a power plant, then we will be able to do this, taking into account the skills to properly organize the work. Previously, we took on such orders as gasification or engineering. Today we no longer take such projects. We are interested in solving complex problems.
How do you build a dialogue with a customer? Do you always manage to find a common language with him, even if your positions are fundamentally different?
- The relationship between the client and the architect often breaks down due to the excessive ambition and pride of the architect. An architect, like any creative person, very often puts his ego too high. But it is difficult to talk to such people. Some chefs, for example, are confident that their food is the very best. And when a client comes to them and says that he does not eat sweets because he has diabetes, how can a chef force him to eat his dish, no matter how tasty it is? If he is an adequate person, then, of course, he will offer a similar option, but without sugar. It's the same in the construction business. There is no need to argue with the customer from scratch and prove to him with foam at the mouth that your idea is the best in the world, and therefore, is not subject to discussion. Our task is to explain to the customer what is good for his project and help him choose the right concept.
We do not go against the rules and regulations. But each investor invests his money in the project in order to make a profit. We understand this well. We are also practical people and can put ourselves in his place. A common language and a compromise can almost always be found.
You started working before the crisis, managed to work during the crisis years and quite confidently stayed afloat. How have working conditions changed today?
- We came out of the crisis basements like the Lyubertsy guys of the late 1980s in plaid pants. I'm kidding, of course. But we learned a lot during the crisis. We did not have expensive and grandiose projects, we worked very hard, we are used to saving money - our own and the customer's, we are used to living rationally and within our means. During the crisis, we got on our feet. The crisis is our usual state. Today we have a huge staff. And to some extent, we are afraid of this growth, because we bear personal responsibility for each employee. In such conditions, we are obliged to be practical, not saving on specialists and their salaries and bonuses, but also not suffering from gigantomania.
Yulia mentioned in her interview that you have almost no Muscovites on your staff. What is the reason for this?
- We do not divide people into Muscovites and non-Muscovites. The company employs specialists of various confessions and nationalities. There are guys from Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and other countries. I myself was born in Chisinau, lived in Israel, in the Czech Republic, in Georgia. We are all people of the world, and we absolutely do not care where a person is from, the main thing is that he knows how to work and loves what he does.
The corporate spirit at the Homeland Group is not just a term we've learned about in books. This communication style. I am the president of the company and over 70% of our employees are older than 70, but most of them call me by name and address me as “you”. This does not mean a lack of respect, we have deliberately created an atmosphere where every person in our team can express their opinion without hesitation and directly. We have no barriers.
As for Moscow architects, it seems to me that this is the problem of all megacities. In big cities, people want to make money easily and immediately. A person who was born and raised in Moscow does not need to think about how to get on his feet, how to self-actualize. He has fewer aspirations and less activity. I think this is the reason. Although, of course, I'm not talking about all the young Moscow architects. Many of them are undoubtedly talented and hardworking and I take off my hats to them.
In conclusion of our conversation, I would like to ask if you associate your future with Moscow and with Russia?
- Undoubtedly we connect. We love Russia, like the whole world, we consider ourselves absolutely Russian people who studied in Soviet schools and grew up on the books of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. We did not come to Russia, like many investors, in order to make money and disappear. We did not come here by chance, we returned home. What we do is very important to us. We hope that our business will continue for another hundred years, and maybe even longer. Our strategy is designed for many, many years to come. We want our children and our grandchildren to work here. The atmosphere created within the company is already very reminiscent of a family business, because our team is one big family.
In addition, Russia today provides us with a unique experience. The infrastructure here is not yet sufficiently developed, so there is an opportunity to participate in the most interesting and significant projects that have long been implemented in Europe. At the same time, all employees of the company learn English, because in the long term we plan to go to the world level. In Soviet times, the country could offer the world something that no one else could, for example, in the field of nuclear energy. I ambitiously hope that someday our comprehensive approach, which is very rare even for the States and Europe, will be in demand outside Russia as well. I believe that we will also build in Africa.