Sergey Kuznetsov: in Venice Russia focused on culture, rather than economy
The Chief Architect of Moscow and Curator of the Russian Pavilion Sergey Kuznetsov explained why the Russian Exposition at the Venice Architecture Biennale appeared to be in opposition to the ideas of European architects.
‘Following the call of Curator Alejandro Aravena to show in what ways architecture can solve not only artistic but also political, social and environmental problems, the participants of the 15th International Architecture Biennale talked mostly about economy, anti-crisis measures, and mass housing construction. The expositions of most countries turned out to be very simple and low-cost, demonstrating the idea that it’s high time we focused on the architecture for emergencies when dealing with a lack of time and resources.
In this contest, the exposition of the Russian Pavilion dedicated to VDNH was away from the overall trend. However, it responds to the Biennale’s theme “Reporting from the Front” in the best way possible,’ Sergey Kuznetsov said.
‘The culture of the city determines to a greater extent its boundaries rather than administrative and physical barriers; when we prepared for the Biennale, it seemed to us that the reconquest of the culture with a “positive sign” from the culture with a “negative sign” was that front line, which takes place in present day architecture, at least in Russia. The Biennale has demonstrated that the attitudes of the advanced European society and Russian society prove to be in a certain antiphase. When we strove for cheap mass housing, building “Khrushchyovkas” and forming commuter areas, the whole Europe was concerned about improving the quality of life. Nowadays, we are focused on comfort and began to develop urban spaces and improve cities, we develop cultural and entertainingprojects, such as VDNH; while other National Pavilions presented ideas likethat of communal dormitories, prefabricated houses and other things.’
Indeed, housing affordability seems to be the most pressing problem for many countries. The Spaniards, whose exposition was declared to be the best, offered various options how to use unfinished building, and demonstrated how to satisfy everyday needs with the help of spaces which are poorly adapted for use. And in the UK, for example, the housing crisis in big cities has reached dramatic proportions and people have to rent small apartments, being unable to buy their own dwellings. The British exhibition presented conceptual prototypes of dwellings: inflatable ball-houses, wooden living units, which old large apartments can be filled with, apartments with wardrobes and kitchens shared by all tenants and so on. ‘I am sure if today at the Biennale our architects presented the projects of 60s, they would cause a real sensation. The simplified to the greatest possible extent areas, such as Novye Cheryomushki, have already been built; we live in them and do not consider them attractive. In terms of aesthetic values and comfort issues, it became a thing of the past for us. Europe did not face such problems, so they are ready to look for the beauty in uncultivated grounds and urban fringes,’ Sergey Kuznetsov said.
It can be stated that Russia has its own cycle of architectural development, which includes social housing issues as well as the rich national heritage. ‘To be honest, I do not understand why so little architecture was presented the Architecture Biennale. Above all, we tried to fill the space of the Russian Pavilion with beauty as much as possible, because contact with architecture must be a delight to the eye. Our idea was to demonstrate the value of the city culture, rather than the importance of square meters. After all, if you provide migrants with dwelling units, the problem of cultural differences will not be resolved. VDNH is such an integrated huge platform! There is a museum and exhibition space, park, entertainment, educational elements, beautiful architecture. The city is investing seriously in the development of VDNH so as to raise the average level of the city culture and to bring people together,’ said the Chief Architect.
The creators of the Exhibition arranged the exposition on two levels. The first thing visitors notice when they get to the first hall is the high-relief by Yevgeny Vuchetich, which was accidentally found in one of VDNH’s pavilions during restoration. The other hall is devoted to the history and contains some artifacts of the Soviet era, recreated by a group of young sculptors. There are the statues of girls from the People’s Friendship Fountain, a sculpture of a farmer and a bull from Meat Industry pavilion, a small copy of Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture. On the second floor there is a video installation, which plunges visitors into the atmosphere of modern VDNH. The Curators wanted to show the large scale and beauty of the complex in all seasons, so the video was made during the whole year. Also at the top level visitors can get to the Researcher’s Study and Laboratory, where 12 students from different countries worked out possible scenarios for VDNH development with the guidance of urbanist Vicente Guallart. The Researcher’s Study is a hall where 90% of the exposition was done manually to demonstrate that there is room for both new ideas and traditions. In the Laboratory we presented the plan of VDNH performed in the form of a motherboard, which reflects our current attitude towards the territory of VDNH in particular and the architectural profession in general. Architecture today is not only creation of motionless forms; it is a profession that is always inside the process. The building has its hardware, rigid base, and software, which adds the content and gives meaning to it,’ said Kuznetsov.
When answering the critics’ questions about the communist ideology of VDNH, the Curators ask not to associate the Exhibition with the revival of the Soviet past, but to consider the complex solely as an architectural masterpiece and a good example for urban environment transformation. Sergei Kuznetsov: ‘The Italians are proud of the architecture created during the Mussolini era, but they have no sympathy for the dictator himself. When we told Alejandro Aravena about the theme of our exposition, he was delighted by the fact that we have such an amazing space, and we found the way how to use it wisely. Yes, we can say that it is sort of advertising, but advertising, as we know, stimulates the progress.’
- Venice Biennale