Interview with accomplished Russian-German architect, artist, collector, curator, and author

Sergei Tchoban

November, 2021

A Russian-German architect, artist, collector, curator, and author, Sergei Tchoban’s interdisciplinary career unveils his passion and enthusiasm towards architecture, interior architecture and the arts. Born in 1962, Sergei co-founded SPEECH architectural bureau in 2006. One of the most acclaimed contemporary architects in Russia, Sergei’s most famous projects to date include the Federation Tower in Moscow, the DomAquarée CityQuartier in Berlin; ExpoForum and Nevskaya City Hall, St. Petersburg. In 2012, he was named Russia’s Architect of the Year. In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious European Prize for Architecture.

The face of many European cities has changed in the past decades. How do you think Russia’s architecture and interior design landscapes have evolved? What is the challenge of introducing modern architecture and interior designs whilst still preserving historic buildings and character integral in today’s cities?

 The cities are undergoing a colossal evolution. Fundamentally changed by radically accelerated technological development, today’s architecture is very different from what it was 100 years ago. Even if we compare New York and London in the beginning of the 1990s and now, just 30 years later, we have to confirm that these are completely different cities. Moscow has also changed dramatically over these thirty years. The contemporary architecture employs entirely different techniques, and this meant that it contrasts with its historical surroundings. Form became increasingly exalted, often increasingly sculptural; surfaces became increasingly lapidary; and the materials from which these surfaces were made were now either deliberately brutal, for instance, concrete or, on the contrary, transparent or glossy – even stone was usually polished. The latter factor introduced a fundamentally new quality into the urban fabric: mirror-type reflectiveness, which fundamentally transformed how streets looked and were seen in perspective. In this connection I am sure that it is no longer possible to regulate the city. New buildings appear next to the old ones, and each of these buildings speaks its own language, creating complex, and sometimes contrasting mise en scene. And this completely changes our idea of the city as an ensemble, dominated by horizontal lines with a small number of individual high-rise spikes, where each new building should fit into the existing context. Today a modern city is no longer a single ensemble, but it consists of many different voices. And it includes many different high-rise dominants.

 

 

Your buildings showcase design finesse and flair on the outside. What is your take on interior design and the connection between architecture and interior design to conjure maximum impact?

I must say that I initially adhered to the idea that the exterior of the building and it`s interior should work together. I still believe that this provides the most holistic and strong impression of the object. And where it turns out, you need to try to do it. Where the client trusts the architect, it is necessary to make a single ensemble between the exterior and interior. But at the same time, I have a sufficient number of buildings where the exterior and interior are different. The most striking example is the NHow Hotel in Berlin, where I made the building, its architectural and planning solution, and Karim Rashid has created the interior design. This sharp contrast between the architecture and the interior is crucial for this project and has brought it a real success.

 

Your passion for architectural drawings led you to author the book, Sergei Tchoban: Architecture Drawings, featuring your drawings and sketches of European architectures and fantasy buildings. In 2009, you established the Tchoban Foundation, and subsequently in 2013, the Museum for Architectural Drawing in Berlin to showcase your vast collection of drawings. Why are architectural drawings so close to your heart?

I grew up in St Petersburg and graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the Academy of Arts, so for me drawing has always been the most important means of communicating and studying architecture, both historical and modern. I began drawing when I was still at school and almost immediately discovered that my main interest in this subject was precisely architecture — all the diversity of perspective views and mises en scène which is revealed to the eyes of someone moving through the streets and squares of the European city. Not just of St Petersburg, although it was understanding the latter’s harmony and coherence that launched my journey in both drawing and architecture. Over the course of many decades I ‘studied with my hand’ cities in Europe. In capturing views of streets, squares, embankments, and individual buildings, I have always striven to understand their rhythm, their logic, and in the final analysis the secret of their existence.

 

 

Beyond an architect who constructs buildings, you led the Russian Youth Architecture Biennale as a way to springboard young Russian architects. What inspired you to initiate this and how has it helped next-generation Russian architects?

The professional recognition is very important for any architect. And it is very crucial to help young people take their first important steps in the profession as early as possible. That is why I suggested the idea of The Russian Architecture Biennale for Young Architects. I am very grateful that it has been supported.

 

In the second Russian Architecture Biennale for Young Architects, young architects were challenged to revitalise industrial sites. Why is it important for young architects to be involved in repurposing sites?

It is important for architects to solve the relevant problems. And since a contemporary city is a combination of very different layers – architectural, historical, functional – it is very important to be able to work with existing buildings. This has become a very popular, important and interesting task – not to demolish, but to save, not to destroy, but to try to add a new layer to an existing object. Now, during the Third Russian Architecture Biennale for Young Architects we have suggested to the participants to create an office space and to think about a combination of an existing and a new building. I think this task is also very suitable and demanding.

 

 

 

How does environmental and social sustainability play a role in your work?

Of course, these issues are very important for me and determine my way of working. Our cities are changing, becoming more complex and multi-layered, but at the same time they must remain convenient for people. We have become very diverse, and each of us is trying to add his voice to the appearance of the city, to the appearance of our environment. An architect is someone who sensitively moderates this process.

 

In the book Sergei Tchoban: Lines and Volumes, we are offered a personal insight into your design process and your fascination with architecture and drawing. If you can just sum it up briefly, how would you describe your approach towards architecture?

I always try to analyze very carefully what I do as an architect. And try to express with lines and volumes my thoughts and feelings about architecture and the creation of the built world around us.

 

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