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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Post-Soviet Architecture Makes London Debut

For MTAnapa-based Eriel's modern design for the Admiral Hotel breaks the Soviet mold.
Post-Soviet architecture will show its face to the world on Wednesday, when the exhibition "Time for Change: Recent Developments in Russian Architecture," opens at London's Royal Institute of British Architects.

"We thought it would be nice to benchmark 10 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union," said James McAdam, a British architect and one of the organizers, "and to put together an exhibition of what happened in architecture over these 10 years.

"We're taking the stance that this is a good start," McAdam said in an interview. "Let's go from there."

The exhibition will be the first of Russian architecture in London since 1926.

"It's very important that people overseas know what is happening here," said Vasily Bychkov, whose company, Expo Park, staged the Central House of Artists' annual exhibition of architecture and design last year.

"Russian architecture is isolated from the rest of the world," Bychkov said. "Very few foreigners work here and very few Russian architects work overseas.

"That's very bad for local architects and for architecture here."

The London exhibit's organizers selected the designs of 10 architects from the 40 architects featured last year at the Central House of Artists.

The London exhibit includes works by two divisions of the Moscow city government's architectural arm, local private architects and two British architectural firms working in Moscow. Only one firm, Eriel, based in the resort of Anapa on the Black Sea, is located outside of Moscow.

The exhibit examines the new directions Russian architectural design has taken over the past 10 years, development that was only possible because the state relaxed its control, said McAdam, whose nonprofit organization Project Imagination has been promoting architecture in Russia since the early 1990s.

In Soviet times, architecture was done in state institutes. Some architects have since seized their chance to open independent companies.

"There were some very strong architects in the system who had the contacts and opened private practices. Today they have practices of 30 to 40 people in them," McAdam said. "You also had young architects coming out of a school and setting up their workshops straight away."

The institutes also survived by taking on a mix of state and private work, he said.

Soviet architecture was often unresponsive to people's needs, and McAdam said the public is only now coming round to the idea that architects can be useful.

"They think we are expensive and pompous and something they don't need. That's a great shame because things that are designed are better than things that are not designed," he said.

Using an architect can improve people's living space and is inexpensive -- only about 5 percent of the total cost of construction, McAdam said.

Moscow captures the lion's share of investment in Russia, but regional architecture is also developing, McAdam said.

A part of the London exhibit highlights architectural innovation in Nizhny Novgorod, formerly the closed city of Gorky, in the 1990s.

The exhibit looks at earlier styles that are influencing Russian architecture today. It features designs by architect Ivan Leonidov that were denounced by Communist authorities in the 1930s as "bourgeois and anti-proletarian fantasies." None of Leonidov's designs were ever built, but according to McAdam, some architects have developed a new interest in Leonidov's ideas.

The organizers also wanted to call attention to the geometric forms of the Soviet constructivism movement in the 1920s and 1930s.

"Constructivism is the only Russian architecture with international recognition," McAdam said. "People give lectures about it along with the Bauhaus [German design movement].

"However, these buildings are in complete disrepair ... and they are not protected by the city government," he added.

"We are going to be telling the international community that somehow these monuments of architecture are being destroyed and that the international community should be doing something about it and that there will be some lobbying and pressure as a result of this," McAdam said.

Eugene Asse, vice president of the Moscow Union of Architects, said a prestigious venue like the Royal Institute could draw a lot of attention to Russian architecture.

"I think all types of international contact are good for Russian architecture," said Asse, who heads his own architectural firm. "Not only should Russian architects work with foreign colleagues, they must work with them. In the modern world it is common for architects to work in different countries."

The London exhibition runs for one month, after which it will be shown in the Central House of the Artists in May and next year in France, possibly in Paris' Pompidou Center, Bychkov said.