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“Limiting construction volumes gives a chance for good architecture

At the VRN Architecture architectural forum, representatives of the professional community discussed the evolution of the urban environment, as well as the circumstances that contribute to this process or, conversely, block it. Nikolai Shumakov, President of the Union of Architects of Russia, member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Arts, expressed his vision of these processes in an exclusive interview with Arendator.ru.

Surveys appear that indicate that architecture has risen substantially in the hierarchy of customer priorities. Is it a local phenomenon or a steady global trend?

For me, the situation in this regard is extremely clear, because I know well what is happening in the country, including outside of Moscow, I travel a lot to the regions and try to keep abreast of this topic. Unfortunately, the level of culture, including consumer culture, remains very low. In the context of culture, the word “architecture” practically does not sound. The ideal of the average buyer remains extremely unassuming. If you wish, you can even sell him a wretched hut with a broken roof. And no conscious request regarding architecture has yet developed. Therefore, any polls that declare the importance of architecture in the eyes of the consumer audience are pure guile. For most developers, this is also irrelevant. Their priorities: to reduce the cost of construction as much as possible, to realize the object as quickly as possible and to do it at the highest possible price. Architecture in this hierarchy is hardly in tenth place. However, it should be noted that successful developers who adhere to a different policy are represented on the market. They collect a large box office from their ordinary mass development, and this gives them a resource to experiment with more interesting projects or they need to offer an exclusive architecture. But there are very few such developers. All others adhere to the described scheme. Other criteria in Russian realities do not work.

Is it doom?

This is not doom. If it were doom, we would not give 40-50 years of our life to architecture and would not fight so for our profession. Faith always stays. At one time – after the famous November decree of 1955 – architecture was actually eliminated in one day. It got to the point that the applied decor was cut down directly from nature. And now let’s imagine that we wake up, for example, in November 2019 and find out that by presidential decree, architecture is returning to its previous positions. Can this be in Russia? In Russia, everything is possible. Therefore, we live this dream.

Is direct intervention by the president the only scenario that can fix the situation?

Nothing is being reformed in our natural processes. In complex industries such as architecture and construction, you cannot count on improvements coming on their own.

As part of our research, we have recorded a sharp decrease in the number of issued building permits – due to the transition to project financing and other legislative reforms. How can these processes affect the architectural component?

This is one of the ways out of the endless crisis. Limiting the volume of construction makes it possible to think about what we are doing and where we are going. Therefore, I do not exclude that this situation may create the prerequisites for the emergence of good architecture.

Another factor that plays a prominent role in the use of a particular architectural solution by the developer is the attention of the authorities and the urban community. Depending on specific areas, this factor manifests itself in different ways. Outside the central locations, construction companies may actually not reckon with such restrictions. Should we expect that this imbalance will be eliminated or at least mitigated?

This state of affairs will continue for a very long time. This applies to all of Russia. There will be a division into sleeping areas and central. The main streets always stand out, which must be filled with beautiful, interesting and high-quality projects – in order to show not to ourselves, but rather to some strangers, foreign delegations that we are not inferior in terms of architecture and accomplishment. This situation will not fundamentally change. Comprehensive urban reform will take decades.

You are known as one of the consistent supporters of the renovation program in Moscow. What determines its necessity, and how do you evaluate the results achieved?

Talking about any outcome is premature. The program, in fact, has just started. A huge competition was held with the involvement of very famous architectural bureaus. Pilot sites appeared on which project implementation began. But it will be possible to evaluate the success of renovation only after the first complex areas are formed (and not just separate point houses) in accordance with the competition material.

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