Evgeny Ass: “Better one ugly house in the suburbs than on Bolshaya Nikitskaya”

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Eugene Ass is known in many, sometimes opposite guises. He is an architect and artist, an exhibition designer and a member of the Architectural Council of Moscow, rector of the MARSH architectural school, author and co-author of many architectural projects, including the renovated Crimean Embankment and Muzeon Park, loved by Muscovites.

In addition, today he is being prepared to publish a book and make an exhibition of your graphics in one of the Moscow galleries or in a museum: “There are many invitations, I haven’t decided yet.”

Eugene Ass explained to ARTANDHOUSES how old buildings are being demolished and new buildings are being built in Moscow, what powers are vested in the chief architect of the capital, and talked about the eroticism of doing graphics.

Let's start with the most burning question: the demolition of Buloshnikov's Moscow mansion on Bolshaya Nikitskaya. What do you know?

There are two answers, and both are sad: on the one hand, I, of course, am depressed by the very fact of this demolition. This is a tragic event, because the destruction of the still existing ensemble of Bolshaya Nikitskaya and the appearance of some new house, commensurate with the TASS building, will, in my opinion, be a terrifying dissonance for this whole place. On the other hand, it depresses me as a systemic problem, because this is one of the typical cases for Moscow, when such important urban planning decisions are made not at the expert level, but at the power-economic level, where the value orientations are completely different than those of the expert community. .

And there are no constraints?

There is no control over the activities of the Land Commission, and all decisions regarding the future development of the city are made by it – it issues the so-called GPZU (urban planning project of a land plot), in which all the parameters of the future building are spelled out. And even before the advent of architecture, it becomes clear what can be here. For example, on this territory (I do not know if there is already a project for this site), according to the planning and development project, the density is several times higher than that which exists today on Bolshaya Nikitskaya, and the prescribed parameters of 9 floors, and so on (for the uninitiated – density refers to the number of square meters per unit area). Then you can already argue about what kind of architecture it will be – very ugly or not very beautiful, but the fact of volume has already been recorded, and this is half the battle. That is, no one will be able to say: “Let's make a modern, but three-storey house here”. This decision is not made by architects.

 Does the chief architect of Moscow have any tools to manage this process?

Even if the chief architect participates in the work of this Commission, his word is hardly decisive.

What a horror!

Interestingly, Moscow residents have no idea how it works, and therefore, they begin to throw themselves at the poor chief architect, who is not authorized at all. This is beyond his competence.

Why are architects unable to influence this at all?

I am a member of the Architectural Council of Moscow, and, unfortunately, such systemic issues are not within its competence. The Architectural Council is an advisory body that makes decisions regarding certain architectural solutions for a relatively narrow range of objects. We meet once a month and a half and discuss one or two, at best three, objects, not even necessarily central ones.

Are these residential or administrative buildings?

These are both hotels and shopping centers and interchange hubs, but we are not talking about city-forming systems.

And on whom does everything else depend?

Decisions are made at a completely different level. The chief architect is responsible for the exterior, not the system solutions.

But the exterior is an important part of the architecture …

Important, but not decisive. Recently, we just discussed the story of the development of the site near the Kinocenter on Krasnaya Presnya, where they plan to erect an 18-storey building, which will virtually destroy the panorama of the skyscraper on Vosstaniya Square, obscure the views from the zoo, and so on. An absolutely disastrous thing, huh? And I personally discussed with the chief architect what can be done about it. It is impossible to change the decision of the Land Commission, but it says that the height is 72 meters or something like that, the density is such and such, that is how much “meat” will be built there. And then let's discuss with you: will it be built of glass and concrete or brick and cement. That is, this mass will exist, and then we will discuss: it will be very ugly or not very ugly. To what extent can we accept this ugliness? But the fact of the existence of this huge mass is, as it were, predetermined. Therefore, unfortunately, this discussion is within the powers of the chief architect: how ugly it can be.

Have major developers ordered any project for you?

I have long ago withdrawn from this activity, precisely being wary of such tests. There are a lot of temptations, both financial and creative, because it's like a chance to build something like this … I don't want to get involved with it.

How do you feel about what is being built in outskirts of Moscow? Do you personally know the people who design this?

Of course, I designed something myself.

Well, I am familiar with your projects. I'm talking about castles, palazzo and other bad taste.

This is a very, very difficult question. The entire development of both the Moscow region and many other Russian suburbs is a completely unique urban development situation. Moscow is practically repeated twice: it exists in the form of Moscow, and it exists in the form of dachas, and now also villages. This is all growing, spreading, all agricultural land in the nearest Moscow region is already inhabited, and there is no end in sight. This in itself is a unique phenomenon that requires separate study. Why it is being built up in this way is a separate question. I am not responsible for the taste of the Russian people. You call it bad taste, but perhaps 90% of the population will disagree with you, because this is the taste that they profess, and they grew up with it, live and believe that this is how it should be. They are spurred with great efficiency by the construction industry, which produces all this trash, spurred by all sorts of print and Internet publications that promote not so much taste as a way of life. After all, all this “beauty”, it is less related to aesthetic values ​​than to the idea of ​​the correct way of life. This is how you should live, this is how you live well.

A simple example from my own practice. I built a house outside the city, and a neighbor of my client asked him to advise on combining a kitchen with a living room. And he asks: “How do you think how to make the opening? I want an arched one. ” I answer him: “No, in my opinion, we need to make a rectangular one, just a little more.” He looked at me like that and said: “And they told me that you are a good architect.” I disappointed him, because in his concept of a beautiful arch was a must. And it is difficult to deal with this somehow, and is it necessary? (Laughs.)

Recently I was still at the dacha of my friend not far from Moscow and looked at what was being built there. Well, of course, you laugh, such miracles, and at the same time it is clear that the owner himself will not draw like that, which means that there are still some guys who make money on this, and this is understandable.

But let it be they'd rather build one ugly house somewhere out there, in the suburbs than an ugly house on Bolshaya Nikitskaya, still incomparable values.

Modern architecture of which countries are you most interested in?

Difficult question. I like a lot about Scandinavian architecture for a variety of reasons. I like a lot about Japanese architecture. Portuguese and Spanish architecture also seems very interesting to me. I also have such a long-term base in Switzerland, where there are a lot of friends and close to me, consonant architecture. But it is not at all necessary that these cases of private architecture affect the urban context. I think this is a problem of the whole world, in general, it is a crisis of cities. And the problem with which we began our discussion, Bolshaya Nikitskaya, exists in London and other big cities.

Many good architects there are in different countries, I have listed what lies on the surface, but in France, for sure, there are interesting authors, although there is a slightly different architectural culture. But less in Italy, for example. Compared to medieval and Renaissance architecture, modern architecture is slightly behind!

As an artist, you are mainly engaged in graphics.

You can say exclusively graphics.

Is it related to the search for a new shape or are you not interested in experimenting with other techniques?

Yes, I tried something else; rather, graphics are related to professional skill. I'm used to always having a pencil or fountain pen in my hand and scratching something. Now I'm not teasing and I'm even nervous, because my hand is not busy with anything!

And then this chirp turns into something: sometimes into some kind of concept, sometimes into some kind of strokes. The graphics are clearer to me, and I also love the pencil because of the sound: the rustle of extinguishing pencils, as Nabokov wrote. There is a certain eroticism in this technique. There is a white sheet and is waiting for something from you. You are in a very difficult relationship with him. It is always very difficult to attack him somehow. There is a complex dialogue with an empty sheet: on the one hand – temptation, temptation, and on the other – fear and risk. Even if it's a simple A4 sheet, I feel like a hunter: shoot or not shoot?

You are considered a minimalist. But as far as I know, you deny the term.

No, I've already come to terms with it. Not that I deny it, I am a little afraid of inaccuracies, although the tradition in which I work is close to this definition.

I have such an article “Apology for Simplicity”, and my friend Lena Revich and I arranged such a performance , which was called “A Simple Concerto for Violin with an Architect.” We selected musical compositions that seemed to us to fit this terminology. Lena played the violin, my drawings were spinning on the screen, and I was reading a text about simplicity. For me this is a very important concept, the idea of ​​the simple as a kind of concept is very important for me. There is a lot behind this and is hiding. Therefore, the term “minimalism” in a sense flattens this concept, distorts this fundamental and deep for me idea of ​​simplicity, which has platonic foundations, and reduces it to a stylistic matrix in which I feel cramped. Therefore, I do not just somehow reject this term, it just seems to me a simplification. Moreover, now such a minimalist mannerism has appeared in architecture, which I do not like at all: the emasculation of everything to the point of insensibility, to complete sterilization.

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