Architects Look To High-Density Holland For Inspiration


Dutch architecture has become a force in the world over the past 20 years, not least in Russia, and that's led to a busy exchange of architects, students, teachers and ideas between the two countries.

The influence in Russia of architects from The Netherlands goes back centuries, to the draining and construction of St Petersburg. Many Dutch architects were invited for landscaping even at that time. Lefortovo Park in Russia was designed by a Dutch architect. In recent times Dutch architecture has been well represented on the Russian scene.

Evgeny Asse, Dean of the Moscow School of Architecture (MARCH), cites as an important figure, Bart Goldhoorn, the founder and chief editor of Project Russia, a magazine that supports the development of architecture and design in post-Soviet Russia and who is linked to two other magazines, including Project Classica.

"Over two decades the magazine played a radical role in the development of Russian architecture," said Asse. Goldhoorn also curates the Moscow Biennale of Architecture.

There are two main fields for Dutch architects working in Russia: urban planning and building design. The master plan for city of Perm was by a Dutch company, KCAP. This was the first example of such intervention in Russian urban design planning and there are other master plans by Dutch architects in the new territory of Moscow.

"An important element is the well-developed methodology and the profound research into the political, social and economic context of buildings. They are very good in the field of analytical research and investigation," says Asse.

Another example is social housing and urban development for social use, said Asse: "High density social housing of high quality. Not the high-rise buildings but low rise and a kind of block system of low-rise buildings of four or five floors but still very dense with very good urban environment.

"This is a specific to Dutch architecture and that is where they are very good. There are no examples in Russia yet but this could appear in the new territories near Moscow."

Dutch companies are currently competing to offer designs for Zaryadye Park on the site of the former Rossiya Hotel near the Kremlin. West 8, from Amsterdam, is among the six finalists. The same company has already designed the landscape for the luxury village of Barvikha, near Moscow.

Two of Europe's tallest towers, both in Moscow, Capital-City and Mercury-City were designed in part by Erick van Egeraat, who has his head office in Rotterdam.

Another firm, de Architekten Cie., won a tender for a new satellite city on the periphery of Moscow. The mixed-use development will cover 1 million square meters, with up to 30,000 units, from family villas to high-density apartments and social housing.

Pi de Bruijn, partner of de Architekten Cie., describes himself as an expert in brand new solutions that comply with areas of historic context and importance.

He visited Moscow several months ago to meet Alexander Kibovsky, Russia's Minister of Cultural Heritage and he says the Russian government is eager for Dutch input because "they have this long tradition of sculpting their countryside around historical fabric," as de Bruijn puts it.

The two men share their concerns about the demolition of historical buildings. "You have to find concepts to tell developers that there are other ways to make their money. To stop thinking in square meters only."

His response to developers is that by building around historical beauty, and making it part of an entity, you will earn more revenue in the long term. "They are blindfolded. Very close to the Manege, by the Kremlin, they demolished a fine hotel, the Moskva, which was considered a scandal in professional circles.

"Developers promised to be careful with historical issues but they are destroying a lot of elegance and historical substance. This is stupid because we all know cities like Paris, London, Amsterdam, Vienna and Rome are loved and magnificent precisely because they have been careful to protect their heritage. Once you destroy a thing of beauty, everything around becomes grey and mediocre."

He says buildings of heritage need better protection and could benefit from case studies, such as the parliament structures in Berlin on which de Bruijn worked, and which preserved ancient buildings.

Television programs can help raise public awareness so that people can act as watchtowers and keep an eye on what happens.

On the other hand, developers are often ill equipped to deal with projects that cover large urban landscapes: not only is the cost greater; it is also about the mentality, says Asse. "In Holland it is cozy and nice and every square meter of land is very dear, especially since it was conquered from the sea. It is something in the mentality of the Dutch to make the most of it. Land is the most expensive and dear thing in their life. For Russians it is the opposite. For us land is endless and vast and all around and we used to pay it little attention. Only in the past few years have we started to think about this on a big scale."

The Dutch do not always work on a small scale. Rem Koolhaas is one of the biggest influences, who is developing projects from The Netherlands and exporting huge-scale architecture, which would never be built on his native territory. "It's not a matter of scale, but more of consciousness. And professional competence," says Asse.

Asse founded MARCH a year ago. The second year began in October 2013, with just over 60 students, including a few from neighboring states and one from Israel. He hopes to make the Master's in Architecture and Urbanism truly international.

Pi de Bruijn, of de Architekten Cie., says his company has two or three deals close to fruition that could make a contribution to Moscow's architecture. One is at Belaya Dacha, which is expanding the shopping outlet and residential complex.

The earlier-mentioned satellite town, 30 kilometers from the center of Moscow, has involved one and a half years of preparation. The developer, whom de Bruijn prefers not to name, has confidence that a planned motorway will provide excellent links. However, de Bruijn thinks the district should be connected by metro at least.

Moscow city government created a wealth of opportunities for architects when it doubled its area by creating the Moscow Agglomeration to the southwest. However, it faces a challenge in the lack of infrastructure, from the quality of roads to the paucity of rail links. The city is in the midst of a survey to check the quality of infrastructure for the haphazard development that has already taken place.

A parallel is the development of Zuidas, a fast-developing business district between Amsterdam and the airport hub of Schiphol. It is expected to be the second center of Amsterdam, says de Bruijn. "Urban development should only happen in areas of urban mobility where you can enter by different ways: road, train or plane. We know this in the west but in Moscow there has to be a mission to overcome commercial forces." The Dutch design, engineering and management company Arcadis has been commissioned to report on the mobility of Moscow.

Perhaps, says de Bruijn, Moscow could benefit from a little Dutch complexity. "It is a very Dutch attitude, this thinking in complexities. You start the conversation by saying, 'you are absolutely right but there are one or two things we should solve along the way.' In Russia it is seen as a battle: one opinion against the other. It needs an attitude or will to respect each others' interests."

Who is de Bruijn's favorite Russian architect? "I'm an architect raised in the seventies. I love the constructivists extremely much, so I would say Konstantin Melnikov."

Russia - Holland 2013
Russia - Holland 2013
The Moscow Times is releasing its new "Russia - The Netherlands 2013" supplement, dedicated to economic and cultural cooperation between the two nations. The current edition is published in partnership with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
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