OUR INTERVIEW

Nikolai Shumakov:

Architecture should be
high-quality and well
thought-out

President of the Moscow Union of Architects, President of the Union of Architects of Russia, Chief Architect of “Metrogiprotrans” JSC and member of the Architectural Council of Moscow Nikolai Shumakov talked to Capital Ideas about plans for the development of the Moscow agglomeration and public transportation.

Mr. Shumakov, VDNKh is hosting the international congress MOSCOW URBAN FORUM 2017 on July 6-12. This year’s topic is “Age of Agglomerations: rethinking the world map.” Do you think this new era is really upon us, or is this an exaggeration?

If we’re talking about the Moscow agglomeration, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this era began a long time ago. Life has shown that Moscow and the surrounding region is a single unit, in spite of everything. A good example is Moscow’s expansion to the southwest and construction across new territories. The region is also holding construction projects next to the new buildings. This speaks to the convergence of these areas.

What about other cities?

Russia is primarily focused on developing the central part of the country, so there are no agglomerations to speak of. The concept doesn’t apply to the cities there. They exist on their own, not growing or making contact with surrounding areas.

A few years ago, the Moscow government together with a group of foreign architects developed a new concept for the city. What do you think about the changes?

Life has shown that the West is more advanced in terms of city improvement. This is why we borrowed successful techniques from the West and included them in the concept for Moscow. Russian architects worked on the concept as well. We took down advertising structures, then small stands and outdoor shopping areas, especially in the center, got rid of the endless wires on city streets, and straightened up window displays. Cleaning up the city was a good idea, and I definitely support it. Improvement projects are underway now. The Moscow government is taking these projects seriously, and has demonstrated as much.

The next step is renovations. Do you support the demolition of five-story buildings?

I am definitely an advocate, and actually think measures should be even more drastic. I think we should leave a couple of quarters in Novy Cheremushki or Mnevniki, for example, take down the rest and create civilized spaces.

What do you mean by that?

I mean spaces that are suitable for living - not just houses, but the entire infrastructure. This includes social facilities, transportation, provision of amenities - everything. It’s very important to avoid simply replacing a five-story building with an eighteen-story one.

This is exactly what people whose buildings are included in the program are afraid of right now.

Because they haven’t been properly informed. Nobody understood anything, and everybody thinks that their building will be torn down to be replaced with a 30-story ant colony. But this is not the case.

A quarter or group of buildings will be demolished and replaced with an individual residential construction project. It’s not a simple replacement. There will be a new civilized area, mostly residential quarters, a more comfortable environment to live in.

The transportation problem, which is currently impossible to address, will be resolved. All transport will be located underground - there will be a parking lot underneath the entire territory. Under the buildings, the courtyards, and roads. Cars will go underground and the area will belong to us, the pedestrians. There will be grass, parks, courtyards, and trees.

This is why I think that this was absolutely the right decision. The city needs to be cleaned up, and this includes getting rid of bad architecture. The program will take place in stages, over the course of at least 15 years.

You said that the demolished buildings will be replaced with individual projects. Do they already exist?

We’re in the preparation stage right now, developing the design specifications.

The Moscow City Architecture Committee and other bureaus are putting together the preliminary projects, sketches in the spirit of Dutch architecture have already been demonstrated. I don’t think this is the right direction to move in, it’s not like the rest of Moscow. This is why the Union of Architects insists on holding a competition and thorough discussions about the projects for future buildings.

According to the rules of the competition, the lowest price tag wins. How is this compatible with thorough discussions?

I’m not talking about the tender, but about an open competition. About a completely open, widely-publicized contest that includes public opinion and discussions with people who will be living in these buildings. We shouldn’t be hiding from the people, or be afraid of them. And let the best, most beautiful project win. And definitely no panels!

We need to involve multiple architectural bureaus, universities, and firms in Moscow and all over Russia. Moreover, we should be counting on Russian teams. It’s important to give them work, and also, after going through all these design and renovation stages the experience we will get out of it will be invaluable. We’ll be able to really take the quality of Russian architecture to a new level. We shouldn’t rely on foreigners for everything.

Do you want to bar foreigners from the competition altogether?

Of course not. We are always open to foreign designers and construction companies, but we shouldn’t give preference to them. Let them come and compete with our experts on equal ground across all levels. Unfortunately, a lot of landmark projects right now are outsourced - Zaryadye, the Museum of Contemporary Art on Khodynka, the restoration of the Polytech Museum on Staraya Ploshad. It’s not right, and we’re not going to continue going down this road.

Does the government support your idea of an open contest?

Yes! We met with Marat Khusnullin (Deputy Mayor of Moscow in the Government of Moscow for Urban Development and Construction), who talked to the heads of our architecture department. There was a two-hour discussion about renovations, and he ended up supporting our idea about holding a contest. He also thinks that Muscovites should take part in the process.

You mentioned that the transportation problem will be resolved. Did you mean in terms of improving public transportation and toll roads for cars?

It’s time we realized that we have to tackle the problem of personal transport in the same way it’s done in civilized countries: to get people to switch to public transportation, at least in the city center. It’s hard here because people prefer to sit in traffic over taking the trolley for a few stops. Still, we’re planning to stress public transportation in the future.

And Moscow will have bicycle lanes?

With our climate, when you have winter for nine months out of the year, developing bicycle lanes doesn’t make much sense. Bicycles are good for parks, but it’s not a form of transportation to and from work. It’s more about sports and entertainment.

Let’s go back to the agglomeration. Is the Greater Moscow Area going to be included in your vision of the future?

This is a big question. On the one hand, it’s silly to hide behind MKAD as a barrier, when everything should be intertwined. On the other hand, it hasn’t worked out so well in practice yet. Right now we’re talking about a general plan for Moscow. We need to be talking about a general plan for the Moscow agglomeration, but right now it doesn’t exist.

Is the metro going to extend to the Greater Moscow Area?

Such plans exist, but they are not short-term plans. The current metro construction program is strong thanks to support from the federal government and the metro will continue to expand, but so far not to the Greater Moscow Area. Of course, in the future the metro will be extended to the regions. The system must be viable and meet the needs of the entire agglomeration.

A few years ago there was a lot of talk about the light-rail metro, especially in connection with the Greater Moscow Area.

I’m of the opinion that the closest cities in the region need to be connected with a light-rail metro system. It’s about half the price than even the cheapest underground metro system. Plus, there is a big difference in timelines in terms of both design and construction. So a light-rail metro system has a lot of potential in resolving the agglomeration’s challenges. There are plans to build a couple of lines into New Moscow. There are no confirmed plans for the Greater Moscow Area right now.

Are architects in demand right now?

We have a very good architecture school in Moscow, but unfortunately there isn’t much demand for good architecture in our society. People think they can get by fine living in poor panel houses. But architecture should be high-quality and well thought-out. It has to exist as a form of art. And until there is a shift toward quality architecture, good architects won’t be in demand. Unfortunately, things don’t seem to be looking up. There has been a decrease in the number of architecture schools over the past five years. Right now, MArchI is the only one in Russia. We used to have schools in Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk, the Far East, but they all merged with larger institutions and transformed into faculties and departments. Everything shrank, like a shagreen skin.

There are ten times more architects in civilized countries. Every project is done by an architect, and we get to admire the final result.

Is this a financial problem?

This isn’t so much about money, it’s a political decision. When it happens, we’ll have good architecture for the same price tag.

 

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