Foreign architects in Russia

Foreign architects have become full-fledged players in the Russian property market, which is quite logical for the globalization era. But how do consumers benefit from this and what is a foreign team for a Russian project? These issues were discussed by experts as part of a forum entitled Adventures of Foreigners in Russia. Architectural Voyages and Their Results, held on May 16 at ROOF POINT.

Projects designed by foreign experts are not uncommon in the today’s de luxe and premium residential property market. Barkli Corporation has probably the longest track record of working with foreigners. The developer is currently building a residential property, Barkli Residence, on Ordzhonikidze Street, designed by Robert Stern, a famous US architect. The company has recently completed its Barkli Virgin House and Barkli Park engaging renowned foreign designers Kelly Hoppen and Philippe Starck.

“Barkli Virgin House and Barkli Park have already been sold out, except for penthouses. I can say that we have obtained the wow effect that we expected,” says Yekaterina Fonareva, Barkli Corporation’s Commercial Director. “Our key motivation in inviting foreign experts to our projects was as follows. First, we wanted to bring something totally new into the city’s architecture. Foreign experts bring an open and fresh vision. They are not dazzled with the regulations and problems we face in the Russian market. They are able to keep away from these problems and produce something original. When foreigners join a project, they first learn the city’s history, study the concept of a specific neighborhood and then start creating unconstrained by any narrow-minded way of thinking.

Second, we wanted to implement our notion of a perfect product, which is unfortunately what Russian architects are unable to provide sometimes. But we do not need mistakes. How is Robert Stern’s approach different? He begins designing a project with layouts, not façades. While Russian architects do the exactly opposite: they first draw façades and as a result layouts become something secondary for them. Stern first designs a comfortable home and then fits a façade over finished layouts. Nobody designs like this in Russia. A “perfect” product for us is a finished apartment, which is a standard abroad, and still an exception for Russia. In Barkli Residence, all apartments will be commissioned fully finished.

Finally, the third motivation is the added value expected by all developers. The added value from engaging foreign professionals reaches at least 20%.”

Active relations with foreign architects in different countries are a global practice existing for decades, note discussion participants. “We believe that these relations have brought quite positive results,” said Alan Bretagnolle, a partner in A. S. Architecture, a French architect firm. “For instance, the engagement of foreign architects in France has considerably raised the quality benchmarks for construction projects in the country. The same is true for China. While twenty years ago foreign architects were the most popular in China, last year the principal award in the architectural universe, the Pritzker Prize, was given to a Chinese architect. This witnesses the level of Chinese professionals that has notably grown. Thus, relations between architects and developers of different countries should be mutually beneficial for both sides.”

Cultural exchange is the only possible way for global coexistence, noted discussion participants. It is an altogether different matter that such exchange should not substitute one culture with another. It should promote evolution and progress.

The discussion also raised another issue: sometimes architects refuse to put their name on the list of a project’s authors as they become ashamed for the project’s result which is not their fault. Why does it happen? “We had cases when the contractor or customer saved on everything so that the project was “lopped” all around, and the final result was totally different from what we designed. In such cases, we had to deny our authorship,” admitted Yegor Glebov, Chief Architect, SPEECH Architect Studio.

“We, Russian architects, are totally rightless in the today’s architecture and construction market,” Pavel Andreyev, head of Masterskaya 14 and President of the Chamber of Architects (Moscow Union of Architects), joins the discussion. “In Europe, the professional, whether he is a shoemaker, a builder or an architect, has achieved much by gaining positions in various trades. And the main achievement is the absolute respect for the profession. What did our major players do to raise the rating of the architect’s profession in Russia? Nothing I guess. In Russia, every customer reckons that if he invests in the project, then he has the right to dictate the architect whatever he wants and to direct the architect’s pencil. As a result, our agreements include totally weird requirements from lawyers of major companies to dispose property rights. Our designs get reworked; anyone can alter or remake them however he likes. Over my long career, I have seen much arbitrariness shown by customers at different stages. At the same time, I have worked much with foreigners, and we have never felt humiliated. They have never acted toward us as if we were made of a wrong material. Our position in the society is still absolutely inappropriate. I dream that all foreigners who visited or worked in Russia would try to help us set the rules of the game: not European, not international, but the only possible rules, professional rules where the responsibility for the project’s design would lie with a specific architect. These are the rules used today by the whole world.”

Yekaterina Fonareva noted that Barkli Corporation is working with a foreign architect firm on pari passu terms and considers that it is unacceptable when the architect products a project’s design and then the developer starts implementing it, and as a consequence, the project does not resemble the initial design in the slightest. “We contact the US office every week, run conference calls and tell them about our progress,” says Mrs Fonareva . “That is, close cooperation that should be maintained by each developer in working with any architect, not only a foreign one, is critical.”

At the same time, the expert sees the problem of Russian architects in the very ideas that they produce. “At times, façades suggested by Russian architects simply do not fit into the structure of the district or prove to be copied from a neighboring building,” says Yekaterina Fonareva. “Functionality and practicality is the last thing they think of. Everyone tries to prove themselves and maintain his or her self-esteem, without thinking of what the consumer needs. Russian architects are trying to implement their golden dream in every project, but quite often their dreams have nothing to do with reality. For this reason, developers prefer first engaging a foreign architect, and only then Russian experts to adapt the resulting design to national regulatory requirements.”

BARKLI is an investment and construction corporation founded in 1993. Its core operations include: investment and construction; development and project management in Russia and Eastern Europe. Chairman of the Board of Directors and owner of Barkli Corporation: Leonid Kazinets.

Since its inception, the corporation has built and commissioned over 300 property projects in various segments, including business centers in Moscow and prime residences. Benchmark projects: Klubny Dom on Zachatyevsky Lane, Dom s frantsuzskimi oknami, De Luxe estate on Khilkov Lane (included in Forbes’ top 100 most expensive homes of Moscow in 2010), Barkli Plaza, Barkli Virgin House, Barkli Park. etc.

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