Main trends

This anniversary issue is published at the same time as the book "Facade/Section. Russian architecture in the 1990s-2000s. Turning the pages of AV" that summarizes the past 15 years, it is a retrospective review resulting from the secondary selection of the magazine's volumes that became historical. We chose 50 realizations from the almost 80 featured in the book. The pictures from the architectural life suffered even more crucial screening-out: from 150 stories in the book the magazine carries 50. However some of them cover several topics. There is a certain inconsistency too: the book contains the articles written by AV editor-in-chief while this issue highlights a wider range of stories. 15 years is quite a long term if compared to the pace of the modern social and cultural dynamics. The first collection featuring best realizations reflects the changes in the national architecture, while the second collection focuses on the transformation of the profession's image, the related architectural life and professional discourse and the city planning. The list of trends below resulted from the generalized, corrected and updated classifications we developed in the early 2000s (See: AV №6, 2002, pp.2-3, №3, 2004, pp.4-5).


- the Russian architecture has improved its quality standard: best projects are mainly big-budget and targeted at the top level of consumption but they climb up to the normal European standard by the skin of teeth. Those works are closely followed by the "middle" layer which is notorious for a gap between the project and its realization: mainly due to poorly developed details caused by the insufficient budget and the consequential implementation. The quality of mass architecture production built with and without architects is beyond the scope of professional discussion;

- during the past 15 years the stylistic pendulum described a complete circle from the late modernism to the post-^nd later neo-modernism simultaneously generating the atmosphere of artistic and aesthetic tolerance;

- regional architectural schools have appeared beside those in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhni Novgorod;

- the priority of the decorativity basis remains the specific property of Russian architecture due to many historic prerequisites ranging from the mental ones connected to both Orthodox and Muslim archetypes to the educational ones (we mean the pictorial trend typical of the national architectural school);

- the typological sector is expanding in line with the current social and cultural requirements and standards;

- Western technologies not always the latest though are mastered but sometimes not in full extent;

- designers' styles are formed thus promoting recognizability of leading architectural bureaus;

- the past 15 years have witnessed two changes of the scope of professional interference: from the Soviet demiurge-like city-planning to the special-purpose approach and back to the sensible urbanism;

- there is a permanent growth (especially recently in the regions as well) of investment programs volume as a consequence of the petrodollars inflow;

- architecture is getting younger which is especially visible in the segment of suburban construction and interior design.

Profession in the context of socio-cultural, political and economic changes:

- assuming our four-cycle model of the Russian architecture evolution we can come to conclusion that now the profession is at the peak of the second wave of the post-modernist cycle and is about to dart to the singularity point or to the limit generated by the auto-simulation sequence (see: fig. on p.134);

- the new information age made the computer one of the most important professional tools ensuing redefining its content and limits, the very standards of architectural culture;

- the change-over of post-modernism with neo-modernism along with the transition from the decentralized vector of the political development to the consolidating vector;

- sequential development of both the federal and regional the legislative bases of the architectural and city planning;

- the bipolar structure of the urban development - "exclusive" and pre-cast panel construction for "the rest population" - as a projection of the social polarization of the Russian society;

- since the 1990s till present the construction business has featured a profit rate of hundreds of per-cent while an average business budget in the capital does not exceed 40-45 thousand rubles per 1sq.m. and in the regTons a profit rate is sometimes lower than 10 thousand rubles per 1 sq.m.(l);

- preservation of the multi-stage red tape procedure of approving project documentation;

- opportunities of integrating the national architecture in the world architectural process have not been fully realized,

- for decades the Russian architecture has been in the state of "overtaking" or "laying behind" devel-opment based on the socio-psychological mechanism connected with the notion of the reference group: the western architecture is a reference group for the national architecture while the architec-tures of two Russian capitals are professional fashion and style setters for the regions and former Soviet republics;

- the profession, especially its interior design sector, is getting closer to showbiz, learning its laws and customs. Among other symptoms and results of this process is the phenomenon of glamorizing architecture that turns into a fetish of the hedonist-consumerism society;

- thanks to the real-estate/developers', boho-artistic and showbiz community the architectural profession joined the ranks of the establishment, an elite which is rather political and economical than intellectual - long-awaited (at least since the second half of the 1990s) event;

- interregional professional ties that were almost cut off in the 1990s started to revive in the 2000s however on a new quality level with regional architectures preserving their creative and organizational independence;

- the structures of federal and municipal, corporate and private orders vary in different Russian regions and there is lack of integrating mechanisms of different investment sources within major city planning programs;

- the Vise of the profession's cultural status which manifested itself in the 1990s has not equalized the architectural profession with such cultural areas as literature, theater or cinematography;

- the architects' guild did not escape tribelizing professional groups and subcultures each of which stands out for specific traditions, folklore, customs, rituals, etc., now on in industrial and post-industrial societies. This «autonomising» vector appears counter-directed to the trend of bringing back the social and cultural status to the profession, the status lost in the mid 1950s;

- there are first signs of the post-industrialist paradigm formation within the theory and history of architecture the core of which is the concept of interdependence of the past, present and future and the concept of cyclically developing in the world of processes that attract architecture to their orbit.

Situation within the profession:

- Russian architecture still manifests 5-10 year lagging behind the world architectural process;

- greening professional consciousness does not lead to resource-saving bias specific to the western architecture;

- autonomism of various professional areas: city planning, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture;

- relatively peaceful coexistence of design organizations with different patterns of ownership;

- there is a more rigid generation stratification of the architectural profession if compared to the western practice due to the external (socio-cultural) reasons and the historical divisions of the pro-fessional spheres of influence a consequence of which is a phenomenon of professional destructions in the professional senior age groups;

- "competition design" keeps its status of a "subordinate mechanism" with a hypertrophic non-utilitarian function, not to mention the constantly scandalous environment both at domestic and international competitions that range from the discrimination of Russian architects to reconsideration of jury's decisions;

- the milieu paradigm forced to stay theoretical for decades came on the architectural stage in the 1990s, however by the beginning of the 2000s it had already committed itself due to being appro-priated by the authorities and to profanation: it resulted in hapless reproduction of external features of the environment;

- conservation of the historic traces simulation ideology which specifies the Russian restoration practice against the western experience;

- the number of architects per 1000 citizens is still insufficient in comparison with the same index in the developed countries;

- professional infrastructure (festivals, competitions, shows, mass media, galleries, web-sites, and most recent young architects' "plain-air" events, etc.) is developing speedily; however our achievements are considerably inferior to their western counterparts;

- in spite of historic challenges including the coming integration into the Pan-European system of higher education under the Bologna convention the architecture education in this country still relies on the functional basis that raises its volume and does not complicates design tasks with the absolute domination of the graphical principles.

Revivification of the urban sphere:

- the second half of the noughties features the first signs of the city planning escape from the 20-year-long nose-spinning;

- adoption of the City planning code, no matter how incomplete it is, which caused a swordplay within the profession, but such as there were, it implemented the sorting out function: local editions and packages of city planning documentation were developed in view of the looming danger to curb investment activity if there is none by administrative measures;

- developing two math vectors that influence the settlement pattern in RF: the first is related to the westward outflow of population; the second is connected with the southward migration flows and appearance of prerequisites for developing a "settlement belt" along the Trans-Siberian railway;

- disproportion in development of Russian regions determined by inequality of their socio-eco- nomic potential (suffice it to say that the difference of per capita income in the regions ranges from 10 to 15 times!);

- transition of urban agglomerations developed in the late-Soviet period to the phase of recon-struction and internal rearrangement,

- since the 1990s long-term trends of urban development have been formed: super-concentration of socio-economic and demographic resources in Moscow and Moscow region, reduction of population in large cities with a population over one million and other;

- transition of large Russian cities from extensive to intensive model of urban development which envisages redevelopment of the historically formed territories: historic centers, bedroom areas, industrial zones, etc.;

- appearance of objective regularity in big cities' development which is connected with initial improvement of quality of citizens' living during transition from socialist to capitalist city (revivification of urban activity in downtown areas, development of shopping and entertainment function, improvement of the city's look and other) that is followed by its successive decline (reduction of public spaces, community facilities and green areas, deterioration of ecological situation, transport problems and other);

- appearance of specific signs of neomodernism expansion into the urban sphere with hypertrophic volumes, spatial scopes and inconsideration to a man - those signs are well-known from the modernist city planning of the second half of the 20th century;

- growth of the suburbanizing trend since the first half of the 1990s that captured megalopolises and major cities and caused a whole series of negative consequences from ecological to social and infrastructural ones. Speculative positioning of gated communities as permanent residences can result in reactive backsliding and escalation of the visible dysfunctions;

- by the second half of the 2000s there emerged a phenomenon of new towns still in the design phase that appeared even in regions other than capitals; predominantly for-profit businesses invest in their development and without state participation they are "doomed" to result in "premium"-class estates or become gated communities and in no way "affordable and comfortable" housing;

- looming transport collapse in both big and smaller cities due to over than tenfold growth of motor vehicles per capita and poor pace of transport infrastructure reconstruction;

- ill coordination of city planning policies of neighboring RF subjects that is explicitly demonstrated by the seal*! urban practice in Moscow and Moscow region;

- there are numerous problems and shortcomings in urban construction ranging from ill balance of exclusive and affordable housing to "insufficient" number of community facilities and excessive number of office space in downtown areas;

- the dangerously deteriorating condition of architectural heritage in many big and small cities due to investment pressure and lack of budget and mechanisms for monuments protection;

- the profession of an urbanist has no full-fledged status yet.

It should be noted that while in the 1990s the architectural discourse was based on the problematics of style, establishment of design bureaus and criticism of the late Soviet architecture, the noughties manifest enrichment and diversification of the discourse: revival of topics of urban-ism and protection, criticism of restoration/reconstruction/reproduction and domination of the so-called exclusive housing, super-concentration of investment resources in big cities and screaming dysfunctions of their development and other. This trend is displayed by the materials of our feature.

In the 1990s interior design and architecture (in this succession) were in the epicenter of changes but in the 2000s, especially in their second half, the epicenter is definitely moving to city planning that attracts to its orbit landscape architecture as well.

Urbanism shows most dynamic changes, at that in this country it remains under-developed and under-institutionalized. Apparently such "professional finishing" must happen in the near future. It is very important for the vector to originate from within the architectural profession...