The “Rossiyskaya Federatsiya segodnya” ¹9 May, 2007

Alexey Vorontsov: “I never reject what my destiny offers me”.

Visual perception of architecture of cities, settlements and villages is rather intimate for me.
As in Moscow streets and broad streets, so as in other old Russian cities, such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Rostov the Great (and in less known cities, however) the eye, first and foremost, always catches familiar sights, such as snow-white outsides of Orthodox temples and their golden cupolas, yellowy lustre of elevations of residential and office buildings. Whether they blink in the morning sunlight or plunge in rays of the evening sun, your personal life is taken in a different way, as if it is in tune with the great history of your native land. It is like a natural touch to the past ages and it is always very important for each new generation. At first, it may sound too exalted, but it is really so.
Probably, people living in Rome, Paris, London and like cities, feel the same. National architecture is poetry, which is open and easily understood to every citizen of his country. It is policy, ideology, self-affirmation, admiration and self-admiration of people, living there. I think, the well-known statement from the medical practice “First, do no harm” is of the same importance in that case. Perhaps, it is even more important. Is it really so? That is what we are going to discuss with the famous Moscow architect, Alexey Vorontsov.

- Alexey, it’s amazing that the buildings, constructed by your designs, are trendy and super modern, and at one and the same time, they smoothly fit in familiar, for most people, Moscow surroundings. When I pass by the shopping centre “Nautilus”, which is in Nikolskaya street, it occurs to me, that I have already seen it there for twenty or even thirty years. Though, I know it very well, that it has been built lately and it doesn’t look like buildings, which were constructed thirty years ago. It so perfectly blends with that place.
And how about the reconstruction of Paveletskiy Railway Station in 1987?

- I think, it’s quite clear. It is so perfectly corresponds to the basic idea of Paveletskiy railway station in the view of its passengers, that many people coming there and leaving it are sure, that the station has always been so comfortable and fine.
My first teacher in architectural design was Sergey Viktorovitch Prokhorov. Once, at the lesson, he, looking carefully through my design-work, thought and said, “Vorontsov, if you have luck, you will be able to touch a wall of the building, constructed by your design.” When I was a senior student of the town-planning department, my favorite teacher was Boris Konstantinovitch Eremin. He told us, that the most important thing for an architect was to see, what design gave the best fit to a particular site. So, as it turned out, I’m twice as lucky, as I can both touch the buildings I have designed and I have learnt the way they should look according to the places they are situated in. I can say it more figuratively. I like the expression “Genius of the site”. If you hear what he tells you, the most difficult project will easily blend with the present town-planning surroundings.

- Will modern conceptions and trends be taken into account?

- I would like one to be more careful with such wards. The matter concerns only professional skills. Let’s take, for example, my design in Sakharov broad street, which is between two tall buildings (built in the period of time, when Stalin was in power), the Leningradskaya hotel and the office and apartment building at Krasnie Vorota. This is the continuation of the history of this country but at present, with its new conception and artistic interpretation. I think, we have found an adequate answer as to the task of the customer, so as to the restrictions of the town-planning regulations and to the stylistic peculiarities of the town-planning surroundings. It is the very building that perfectly blends with that place. The design is made without following any new trend. It is based on the traditional for Moscow tier and silhouette structure and its detailed drawing was made with the use the motives of Russian constructivism of the 20th of the XX century.

- How important for you was it to keep to the historical course?

- It was very important, as this country existed as before 1917, so as before 1991. Each historical period gave us its great architectural masterpieces. We have been working long and hard at restoring the former complex of Bakhmetyevskiy autopark, designed by the great Russian architect, Konstantin Melnikov. It is a striking example of late constructivism. Melnikov created the perfectly functional construction, but together with that, it belongs to pure romanticism, based on constructivism. Light girders bare the roof of the main building. The famous Russian engineer, Shukhov, designed them. When I got there for the first time, I was struck by the lightness and openness of that space. It was filled with light and air. New owners didn’t need much of it. So, we had literally to fight for Shuckov’s girders and for Melnikov’s design. That piece of art was saved, and besides, its total area was greatly extended due to constructing later buildings of new dimensions on the place of the demolished ones, which due to their area and size harmonize with Melnikov’s buildings and make them prevail in the whole construction. The architectural idea was based on complete front glazing, facing Melnikov’s buildings, with the small module of stained-glass windows partition. While designing, we made the new area squared, like a student’s copy-book, showing our respect to the great master. Even exhibitions of avant-garde tendencies of the XX century can be held there.

- As it turns out, architects are not always in smooth relations with their customers, aren’t they?

- It depends. Not only poets accomplish the educational mission in Russia. Sometimes, we have to stand our ground firmly. Though, lately, there has been not so much debate.

- Why? Have your arguments got more convincing?

- May be. But the main thing is, that the regulations have got more exact. Besides, customers now differ from those of the early 90th of the last century. Probably, the architectural ideas, realized by my colleagues and me, serve as sound arguments.

- In Moscow, new buildings are almost every day under construction, sometimes very unusual and odd-shaped ones. Is that process spontaneous or controllable?

- It is more controllable. The capital is being built up by the general town-planning scheme.
Unfortunately, some buildings are beneath criticism from the aesthetic point of view, and to justify that, I should say, that not all buildings should be architectural masterpieces, as they do not need to be. I have seen that neither in London nor in Paris nor other cities of the world. I travel a lot, and I can say, that I always come back to my home city with pleasure, as there are nowhere such architectural diversity and inner town-planning development as in Moscow. Russia doesn’t have that cultural stratum of material samples of architecture and town-planning as Europe does, which adopted and developed all the knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome, Renaissance and further ages. And when I remember all that, I feel a kind of pride, how quickly and efficiently we adopt those attainments and experience. Learning is necessary for us, as, for instance, Paris prefecture solves its town planning problems in their modern interpretation for almost two centuries. I disagree, that Russians are idle and not inquisitive. They are inquisitive and hard-working. Besides, they learn very fast. But inwardly, every Russian has something from “oblomovism”…

- And you too? With such huge amount of work?

- I said, inwardly. But life always makes me use the inherited qualities of the German branch of my family. So, speaking about me, both Oblomov and Shtolts are in dynamic balance.

- When you design a building in Moscow, everything helps you: your love for the home country, your historical background, your understanding of principles of the development of the capital and, probably, a lot of other things. That’s what, I suppose, you call “Genius of the site ”. But now the Orthodox temple is being built in Havana by your design. Besides, you are making the other design, which is in reconstruction of the church on the territory of the embassy of the Russian Federation in China and you also began designing a hospice in Jordan.

- From the professional point of view, the more a task is difficult, the more interesting it is to me. By the way, the more different it is from my former designs, the much more interest it awakes. My first design was the Cycle Track at Krilatskoe. There are office buildings and dwelling houses, constructed by my designs. Now, I’m thinking of designing of public welfare homes. To make a good design using minimum costs is a great thing to do. Besides, I never reject what my destiny offers me, because I ‘m sure, it will never offer me anything bad. I often repeat to myself the ancient roman proverb: “The fate leads the one who obeys it, but drags the one who resists it.”

- Alexey, you were the deputy of the chief architect of Moscow for almost five years. Taking into account this fact, is it easier or harder to work on your designs? After all, you have worked out the modern ideology of building up of the capital in many respects.

- Both. It is easier, because I understand, what the city and its citizens need. It is harder, because I also understand, that it is heavy responsibility. By the way, I ‘m absolutely sure, that today, the responsible attitude to your work, no matter, whether you are a president, a minister or just an architect, is the necessary thing for the country development. As for nowadays, it is definitely indisputable.

- Then, I’d like to clear up the following. Since 2001 you’ve devoted yourself to the private practice. And you have succeeded in it. You have a lot of designs of your own and the company you are at the head, Vorontsov’s Architectural Bureau, does a great deal of work as well. At the same time, having such tremendous amount of work, in 2004, you agreed to become the first vice-president of the Union of Architects of Russia.

- It means, that I’d like to change something in our architectural sphere to the best. For example, I realize the need of the law of self-regulatory organizations and the wish to implement it. In countries, with advanced democracy such kinds of laws have been put in force long since and have been very effective. The self-regulatory organizations, but not the power structures control the problems of functioning of professional associations there, otherwise, it will never be possible to do it sufficiently. In Europe, a thousand years ago, the medieval guilds with their standards of corporative ethics and corporative responsibility typified those kinds of organizations. But nobody is going to give us that thousand of years today, so we need that law. Besides, there is no point to focus only on your own, even very interesting and many-sided work. I have some good ideas and understand the way our architecture should develop. Why not realize them through the professional organizations?

The interview is by Valeriy Krasotin
The “Rossiyskaya Federatsiya segodnya”

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