Bokov Brings Russian Architecture to Light

At the Center for Architecture by • 01/12

Event: New Architecture in Moscow
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.04.10
Speakers: Andrey V. Bokov, Ph.D. — President, Union of Architects of Russia, & General Director of the State Unitary Enterprise, Moscow Scientific Research and Design Institute for Culture, Leisure, Sports and Health Care Buildings (“Mosproject-4″);
Introductions: George Miller, FAIA — President, AIA National; Vladimir Belogolovsky — Architect, Tatlin correspondent, & curator
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director
Sponsors: Center for Architecture


Reconstruction of memorial museum of cosmonautics.


When the Soviet system gave way to more openness in politics and economics, not everything opened up at once. Despite the abiding global influence of the Constructivists, modern Russia’s architectural culture remains largely mysterious to outsiders; new projects in Russia by global boldface-name architects receive far more publicity than the work of Russians themselves — even those, like Andrey Bokov, who knew Konstantin Melnikov personally and continue to keep Constructivist principles vibrant. Highly productive and honored in his homeland, Bokov brought a unique perspective to New York: he is a survivor of shifting regimes, a veteran of struggles with various authorities (Soviet and post-Soviet), and, as architects in every nation need to be, a relentless optimist.

Bokov’s presentation was alternately baffling and encouraging. He is modest — Vladimir Belogolovsky’s introduction offered an anecdote in which Bokov, when asked which projects he is particularly proud of, replied that “he doesn’t trust people who are very proud of their own projects” — but Bokov’s buildings, drawings, and models supply eloquence, whether or not he chooses to elaborate. He guided the audience through a reverse-chronological walk through his built and unbuilt works, which include more than 100 projects ranging from major components of Russia’s public environment (hospitals, housing, stadiums, museums, memorials, mixed-use projects, and master plans) to run-of-the-mill office towers. Bokov works boldly with geometries that link Constructivism with various postmodernisms, particularly the tension between grids and circular, semicircular, or elliptical components. Even in projects that he described as “quite regular” he introduces surprise asymmetries, bursts of color, and innovative solutions to technical problems. His contributions to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere are sculptural and unafraid of the bizarre.

The Museum of Cosmonautics literalizes the aspirations of Russia’s space program in a liftoff sculpture emerging from atop a monumental staircase. A club for retired secret agents presents an irregular, black-and-white cladding pattern that gestures toward the mathematics of coded messages while also implicitly commenting on the binary thinking that characterized the Cold War. The (Vladimir) Mayakovsky Museum in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square frames its entrance with a sharply angled grid, trumpeting the Futurist poet’s independence through boldly exposed trusses. The Parus (“Sail”) residential tower involves technical problem-solving in managing snow loads and other climatic challenges; an ice rink with a roof suspended from a metallic belt solves a similar snow-load problem, allowing internal supports to be half the customary size and creating a space that functions like both a theater and a sports facility. (Site-specific engineering is a recurrent theme in Bokov’s accounts of design choices: the general Russian preference for bulky structural members, he reminded us, has a lot to do with weather that can create snow and ice pressure of 300 kilograms per square meter.)

While never short of ambition — his diploma project, the final image shown, proposed a massive urban corridor stretching eastward to link Moscow with Vladivostok — Bokov’s oeuvre includes quite a few admirable projects that went unrealized or underwent compromises, often owing to nonspecified “government restrictions.” He is under no illusions about the thoroughness or effectiveness of post-Soviet reforms (“We changed the mentality, but we still have the same codes”), and he recognizes explicitly that “the mission of a modern architect in the world and the mission of a modern architect in Russia do not coincide.” He lamented various procedural constraints, preservation controversies, cultural losses to reckless demolition, and profession-wide fallow periods, while pragmatically and wittily understating the details. Some of his descriptions remained on a casual, untheoretical level, leaving listeners unclear whether certain questions remain unanswered or are unanswerable.

One senses that Bokov has developed a radar for the appropriate level of direct expression in a state with rapidly evolving legal frameworks and, as in one joke he recounted, “an unpredictable future and an unpredictable history.” Sustaining utopian architectural ideals in the past few decades’ political setting could not have been easy; Bokov deserves considerable respect for ensuring that Constructivism remains a living tradition. His visit lays the groundwork for expanded communications between national professional cultures, to the benefit of both.

Note: Bill Millard sat down with Bokov to discuss his ideas further. To listen to the Podcast, click here.

One Response to Bokov Brings Russian Architecture to Light

  1. Alla Albert, Intl. Assoc. AIA says:

    I have read a good few Mr. Bokov’s articles on whole bunch of topics including conservatism and radicalism in modern architecture; architecture quality and its impact on human life; the function of architecture within its urban context and complexity of urban development and preservation of historical and cultural environment in today’s cities of Russian Federation, which filled in my interest about new Moscow’s architecture and filled up for me the casual, untheoretical level of presentation. If some highlights of Bokov’s articles were presented along with his presentation, and of course translated in English (articles are written in Russian), many questions would became clear and answered.
    In his presentation and radio interview, Mr. Bokov articulated certain architectural problems relying on legal and technical framework in modern Russia which are connected to its history, traditions and geographical location. Coming from the same with Mr. Bokov professional culture and educational background, under conditions of globalized world I would not agree with him at some points of his view on architect mission in Russia comparing differently to architect mission in other countries of the world. Being an admirer of constructivist architecture which combined advanced technology and engineering with social purpose, and influenced on later development of world architecture, I would agree that Mr. Bokov’s presentation proved necessity for expanded communications between national professional cultures.

Schomburg Center renovation by Marble Fairbanks. Credit: Nicholas Desbiens, Marble Fairbanks
In the News In The News
Photo via NYCgo
Policy Pulse: NYC Agency Heads Discussion Policy and Advocacy
Displacement: Capital, 10.04.2017.
“Displacements: Capital” Investigates the Impact of Foreign Funds on NYC’s Skyline Chapter News
Courtesy of US Department of Defense.
Learn How to Assess Homes after a Disaster Chapter News
Turrett Penthouse Suites at the Beekman Hotel by Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects (GKV) in collaboration Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. Credit: Simon Lewis.
In the News In The News
Advertise on Dezeen Jobs!
Get 20% off featured ads on Dezeen Jobs Chapter News
Credit: Erik Bardin
“Scaffolding” Kicks off Archtober at the Center for Architecture At the Center for Architecture
“Of, By, and For The People: Grassroots Movements and Policy Transformations.” Credit: Center for Architecture.
Defining Citizen Architect Chapter News
“The Activist, the Architect, the Artist: Case Studies in Civic Engagement,” brought together six practitioners from various professions – architecture, art, landscape architecture, law, and urban design – to explore different forms of civic engagement in communities both large and small. Credit: Center for Architecture.
The Activist, the Architect, the Artist Policy and Advocacy
Kate Slevin (left), Saskia Sassen, Ethan Kent, Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, at Public Spaces, Social Movements. Credit: Center for Architecture
Policy Pulse: Imagining the New Civic Commons Policy and Advocacy
Classifieds Classifieds
Temple Israel of the City of New York, New York, NY. White's role: Partner in Charge. Image: PBDW Architects.
Featured Member: Samuel G. White, FAIA, LEED AP Featured Member
56 Leonard Street by Herzog & de Meuron, one of Archtober 2017's Buildings of the Day. Credit: Iwan Baan.
Are You Ready for Archtober? At the Center for Architecture
The Cornell Tech Campus in Roosevelt Island. Credit: Iwan Baan.
In the News In The News
Credit: Center for Architecture
Of, By and For the People Policy and Advocacy
Classifieds Classifieds
Center for Architecture staff rolled up their sleeves to help Win students design and build their own tree house models. Pictured: AIANY/CFA Executive Director Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA; Morgan Watson; and Camila Schaulsohn. Image courtesy of Win.
Engaging the Community through Design Learning Learning by Design
Credit: Center for Architecture
CLP Development Session III: Community Transformations through the Lens of Resiliency Chapter News
Hunter's Point Campus, Queens, NY. Rolland's role: Project Director. Image: David Sundberg/Esto.
Featured Member: Ann Rolland, FAIA, LEED AP Featured Member
Cocktails and Conversation: Peter Gluck and Inga Saffron, 09.08.17. Photo: Daniel Cole.
Peter Gluck and Inga Saffron Appraise the State of Architecture for Cocktails and Conversation Chapter News
Anthology Film Archives expansion by Bone/Levine Architects.
In the News In The News
Archtober is Coming! At the Center for Architecture
Credit: Center for Architecture
AIANY Members: Engage and Recommend Leaders Chapter News
Percy Griffin, AIA, interviewed at the Center for Architecture by Jack Travis at "Legends: 3 Harlem Architects, 4 Decades" in 2016. Credit: Center for Architecture
In Memoriam: Percy Griffin, AIA In Memoriam
Courtesy of AIA Houston.
Help the Architecture Center Houston AIANY - Message From the Executive Director
Image courtesy the NYC Department of Buildings
DOB Proposes Rule for Additional Fees Policy and Advocacy
New Visions for Public Schools by Gruzen Samton LLP. Burke's role: Director of Interiors/Design Director. Photo: Mark Ross.
Featured Member: Mary Burke, FAIA Featured Member
Working together on the grouping exercise. Credit: Center for Architecture
CLP Development Session II: Facilitating Inclusive and Productive Engagement—Strategies and Struggles Chapter News
Woman´s March on NYC, 2017. Credit: Michael Kowalczyk ©/ Flickr.
Public Spaces, Social Movements: How Planning and Design Can Shape Public Discourse Policy and Advocacy
Names in the News In The News
“Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia,” closing 08.26.17. Credit: Erik Bardin.
On View Exhibitions
Moynihan Train Hall by SOM.  Credit: SOM, image via New York State Governor's Office.
In the News In The News
Sonali from our elementary school Fairytale Architecture program shows off her castle design. Credit: Center for Architecture.
Summer@theCenter Wraps Up Learning by Design
Yale University Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, New Haven, CT. Nieminen's role: Partner in Charge. Image: Cervin Robinson.
Featured Member: Michael Nieminen, FAIA Featured Member
Classifieds Classifieds
2100 Troll is Antarctica’s first megacity, its ringed megastructures each organized around a central green space. 2100: A Dystopian Utopia—The City After Climate Change, by Vanessa Keith/StudioTEKA (New York: Urban Research, 2017). Image: courtesy of Terreform.
Featured Member: Vanessa Keith, AIA Featured Member
Grand Central Terminal in Midtown East. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Policy Pulse: City Approves Midtown East Rezoning Policy and Advocacy
Myrtle-Wickoff Station Complex. Dugan's role: Principal in Charge. Image: Vanni Archives.
Featured Member: Jeffrey Dugan, AIA Featured Member
Bronx River House by Kiss + Cathcart Architects.
In the News In The News
Names in the News In The News
2017 AIANY COTE Awards. Deadline: 09.17.17
New Deadlines In The News
"This Future Has a Past," on view through 09.12.17. Credit: Center for Architecture.
On View Exhibitions
Office loft / Maker space Hudson Yards Penn Station
Classifieds Classifieds
OBL/QUE, A Journal on Critical Conversation published by Harvard GSD, is the winner of the  2017 Douglas Haskell Award for Student Journals.
Announcing the 2017 Douglas Haskell Award for Student Journals Recipient At the Center for Architecture
At SpeakUp 2017 in Denver, Colorado.
Policy Pulse: AIA Hosts Annual SpeakUp Event Policy and Advocacy
Community Mural, 116th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Photo: Shilpa Patel.
Challenges of Engaging Locally: Civic Leadership Program Opens Discussion Chapter News
Member Survey: How Are Firms Helping Members Grow Professionally? Chapter News
Design educator Hadley Beacham performs a structural test for a triangulated model. Credit: Center for Architecture
Youth Explore Architecture at K-12 Summer Design Programs Learning by Design
New York Public Library 53rd Street Branch by TEN Arquitectos. Steele's role: Principal in Charge/Project Architect. Photo: Michael Moran.
Featured Member: Andrea Steele, AIA Featured Member
LOT-EK's Hi-LIGHTS has won the international competition for the Gateways Public Art Commission in Gold Coast, Australia. Image: LOT-EK.
In the News In The News