Tuesday, May 19, 2015



The following is an excerpt from an article published in the specialized Russian magazine URBAN, about a project I had the honor to lead, in collaboration with my colleague Sergei Mostovoi and students from the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.

The Russian government has been paying special attention to Vladivostok in recent years. The APEC summit held in September 2012 gave a fresh impetus to the development of the city as a centre of business and innovative cooperation between Russia and Asia-Pacific countries.
Preparations for such a significant international event called for serious efforts to create and improve Vladivostok’s infrastructure with upwards of 50 projects around the city having been completed or restored. Among them, the Far Eastern Federal University, a medical centre, three bridges, a theatre of opera and ballet, international airport and etc.
Notable changes have occurred in the infrastructure of Russky Island, where the summit was held. The mighty bridge across the Eastern Bosporus Strait incorporated the island into the transport network of Vladivostok and made it part of the city.
The rich natural landscape of the island makes it a good place to create a unique tourist and recreational zone, which would have a positive impact on the socio-economic life of Vladivostok.
Today the city’s development is gravitating towards the model of sustainable development combining an effective economy, harmonious social space and a comfortable urban environment.

For all their effort to improve the urban environment, however, the city government has been unable to resolve long-standing problems which go back to the past. In the 1960-ies the prominent architect E. Vasiliev who studied the urban problems of Vladivostok criticized the city’s greening policy (1).
According to Vladivostok’s Master Plan, the key objective is preservation and restoration of the city’s historical centre, which includes Main Square, the embankments of Amur and the Golden Horn Bays (2).
The historical centre, an iconic signature of Vladivostok, reflects the evolution of the Russian Far East and plays a key role in the city’s tourist infrastructure.
Given this, the policy-makers should take into consideration the problem related to construction of new high-rise tower blocks in the old centre as they clash with the city’s architectural heritage.
The creation of public open spaces will improve the architectural image of Vladivostok and its environment.
Vladivostok is rich in urban heritage, however the urban space is mostly occupied by parking lots that block the view of the monumental area.

However, there are some obstacles to be cleared. One of them is the lack of a comprehensive systematic approach to formulating and developing urban spaces in central Vladivostok. Solution to this problem is a top priority of the comprehensive plan for the development of Vladivostok’s waterfront, which is conducted by Prof. Carlos Zeballos (from Peru) and Prof. Sergei Mostovoi from the Urban and Landscape Design Laboratory of Far Eastern Federal University.
Despite the potential that waterfront areas offer, Vladivostok, unlike many other port cities, has very few public spaces, where people can enjoy contact with water. Paradoxically, most waterfront areas with a unique natural landscape are  occupied by industrial estates, parking lots and disused beaches. Meanwhile, the existing public spaces, relatively small and scattered across the waterfront, have a weak connection with the city limiting the access of residents to the seaside.

Large waterfront areas with great potential for development are occupied by industry or neglected uses.

Proposal of a metro park, social housing and improvement of environmental conditions of industrial facilities. 

According to recent world trends, waterfront areas possess specific social and ecological resources. Architectural and spatial rearrangement of these areas could help the city to achieve a goal of harmonizing the urban environment in the context of sustainable development.
The development of open spaces in Vladivostok should be based on the  identification of urban interfaces – the areas of contact between ecosystems, through which multiple levels of interrelation as well as flows of materials, energy and information can converge. From the viewpoint of communication, interfaces can be positive when they allow and cause the transmission of information, or negative, when they do not. In addition, interfaces can be social or active when they have a unifying function, assuming the role of a node or institutional link, or they can be physical or passive when functioning at the edge or boundary between the active areas of the urban "tissue" they bind.

Analysis of interfaces. The darker red spots show the more feasible areas for intervention.

The interface method differs from traditional urban planning because it focuses on key, sensitive points where the city develops. Rather than investing a great amount of resources that standard urban plans generally involve, the efforts are focused on solving the interfaces, which are especially sensitive to the needs of people and their environment. Also, interfaces can serve a catalyst for urban change channeling positive and controlled impacts in their surrounding areas, which in turn affect others.
In order to identify the location of interfaces, several indicators or types of information related to the physical and socioeconomic characteristics of the area were used. Each indicator was mapped and values were assigned according to their positive or negative impact on the development of a public waterfront area. Prior to the analysis using Geographic Information Systems (specifically QGIS), these data were systematized, geo-referenced and rearranged in thematic layers according to the subject of research.
The layers were combined into a single map of interfaces. The darker areas correspond to the zones of major interfaces located on the waterfront and suitable for intervention.
Clearer tones correspond to either areas far from the waterfront or where intervention is neither feasible nor convenient.
The analysis of passive or physical interfaces identifies not only the location of the most sensitive areas, but also the characteristics of their environment. Additionally, active or social interfaces suggest the cultural features and the patterns of appropriation of public space. This study allows us to consider three main axes that structure the master plan for the development of the downtown and its waterfront.

The interfaces were arranged into three main axes: recreative, monumental and civic.

The first one is an axis connecting spaces located on the northern edge of the Golden Horn Bay, such as the Main Square, Korabelnaya Embankment, and  Tsesarevitch Embankment. This axis extends eastwards through Svetlankaya Street, which houses some of the most important examples of the city's architectural heritage. The second axis runs parallel to the coastline along the Amur Bay and contains sports, tourist and recreational facilities. The third axis runs perpendicular to the Golden Horn Bay, connecting Pokrovskiy Park with the Main Square along Okeanskiy Prospect.
These three axes articulate a multipolar structure that establishes a street circuit encompassing ecological and recreational activities, transportation, tourism and preservation of the urban heritage.
However, it is arguable whether the mere presence of these axes would ensure a fluent dialogue between the city and the sea.
Jane Jacobs emphasizes the importance of access to urban spaces in order to prevent them from becoming abandoned areas that promote vandalism and crime(3).
Based on this analysis a spatial model of Vladivostok City was proposed, including the location of key projects and their interconnectivity through spatial axes or corridors. The plan proposes a continuity of urban renewal activities as well as links between the downtown, the Golden Horn Bay and the Amur Bay.

Master plan of Vladivostok, based on a network of public spaces, linked around three main axis

The master plan comprises the following projects:
Waterfront Metropolitan Park, located on the coast of the Amur Bay in the central part of city, is to become the biggest single multifunctional green space of around 20 hectares, home to both recreational and cultural activities. Currently it is a heavily polluted area with parking lots, industrial warehouses and garbage dumps. It would have a connection with Pokrovskiy Park via the extension of Krasnogo Znameni Prospect through a succession of embankments and boulevards. Realization of this project would contribute to the development of the green infrastructure in downtown Vladivostok.
Waterfront public green areas. Creation of a system of green areas would involve tackling three tasks: the improvement of existing parks and embankments along the coastlines of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays, the creation of new public spaces with beaches, fishing piers, bikeways and the articulation of these by means of corridors or pedestrian malls.
Integration of Power Plant #1, situated on the coast of the Amur Bay, into a large recreational complex would help to transform its territory into an attractive landmark in the urban landscape.
However, it is first necessary to reduce the power plan’s emissions and pollution level.
Pedestrian precincts. A network of paths injects the flow of the pedestrian traffic away from the city and along the coast. Construction of a new plaza under an existing railway would connect recreational zones on the coast of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays. Creation of pedestrian paths would provide a system of corridors with waterfront zones promoting a better visualization of the historic heritage buildings.
While working on this plan its authors took due account of the latest trends in contemporary urban design. According to European experts, future cities will be energy-efficient and green. New buildings will not burn fossil fuels and generate their own electricity.
The use of asphalt and concrete will be minimized. An abundance of urban greenery makes people feel more comfortable (4).

Two proposals for the pedestrianization and recovery of urban space for the people and its connection with the sea through new urban spaces. 

Recently in Europe, non-car mobility has gained popularity and public transport is now accessible throughout the city. The new Vladivostok master plan should reflect such trends.
The development of public spaces and formation of a single recreational zone in Vladivostok tailored to the unique characteristics of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays represents a well-balanced dialogue between the city and the sea. The realization of this project will substantially improve the social and environmental situation in the Vladivostok.

Recovery of the waterfront area and its link with the upper urban spaces through vertical accessibility

1 Vasiliev, E.A., Orlova, M.V., Sukhova, V.I. Problems of greenery in Vladivostok. Vladivostok, 1962. PP. 3-14.
2 The Master Plan of Vladivostok Metropolitan Area. Regulations on regional planning. 1028-PЗ1. Vol. 1. 2011. P. 13.
3 Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities / translated from English. Moscow. 2011. 460 p.
4 Cities of tomorrow – Challenges, visions, ways forward / European Commission – Directorate General for Regional Policy.
Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011. P. 43–46.

 I would like to thank my dear students for their support and enthusiasm during the field work and proposals.

Sunday, February 15, 2015



"I follow the Moskva 
down to Gorky Park, 
listening to the wind of change ... " 
Scorpions, from the song "Wind of Change"

The Gorky Park is one of the most famous if not the most emblematic park in Moscow, especially linked to political events during the Soviet revolution, since it was conceived as an open space for the society dedicated to leisure and culture for the working classes. 

It was designed by the renowned constructivist  architect Konstantin Melnikov ( whose house and studio was discussed earlier in this moleskine) and dedicated to the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. 

The park takes advantage of its position besides the Moskva River and it is organized around a major axis that runs roughly parallel to it. The slight inclination of the axis in the composition is due to its perpendicularity to the Krimsky Val Avenue -which crosses the river at the Krimsky bridge- and establishes a balance between the irregular geometry of the trapezoidal plot occupied by the park. 

This monumental axis is dominated by a large entrance with a colonnade that reminds me of something to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin , only the muscovite version presents solid bodies at each side of the gate, which accommodate Soviet iconography. The Gorky gate is a classic example of Stalinist monumental architecture. 

Around the axis there is a series of pools and iconic statues as well as games and recreation for children and adults, which made the Gorky a very popular area, especially in summer. 

Aditionally, Gorky Park has hosted numerous exhibitions to disseminate culture among the population.The exhibition pavilions were a typology favorited by Soviet architects, as they could experiment new proposals representing ideals of what Soviet society should have been. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the park began to deteriorate, filled with cheap attractions and junk food stalls. However, in 2011 the park underwent a complete renovation, including large areas of landscaping, a huge skating rink, bike lanes, and free WiFi access. 

In 2008 the Center for Contemporary Culture Garage was formed and since then it has become a great promoter of art and culture in the park, holding exhibitions and education programs and inviting great exponents of contemporary art. 

Among other activities, Garage invited architect Rem Koolhaas for a renovation project of the once famous restaurant Vremena Goda (Year Seasons). The OMA's project  included a 5400 m2 building, including two levels for exhibition galleries, a creative center for children, a shop, a café, an auditorium and offices. 
The conclusion of this building was scheduled for 2014, but has been postponed given the economic situation in Russia. 

Model of OMA's proposal for remodeling the Vremena Goda restaurant 

Furthermore, Garage, which owes its name to have originally been housed in the former bus garage- organizes frequent events and exhibitions that promote the exchange and development of contemporary artistic and cultural activities.

Place for summer 2013. Structures on paper.

In October 2012, Garage organized the exhibition "Temporary Exhibitions in Gorky Park: From Melnikov to Ban". The center of this exhibition was a temporary pavilion designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who was later awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2014 (the most recent, at the time I write this post). 

Ban has been internationally renowned for its ephemeral structures and  his contribution has been invaluable especially after tragedies that required the implementation of cheap and quickly erected buildings, like the Cathedral built after the earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand or shelters built after the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011 , financed by his own resources. 

Detail of the model for the pavilion in Gorky Park. 

Shigeru Ban's architecture is characterized by the use of recyclable materials such as cardboard or paper. In this regard, the proposal for the pavilion in Gorky Park comprises a sequence of cardboard tubes describing a ​​2400 m2 ellipse and enclosing a transparent structure of metal and glass comprising a 800 m2 rectangular exhibition area​​. 

The cardboard tubes, in addition to their aesthetic character, have a structural function since they support the entire load of the roof. Shigeru Ban's called them the "invisible structure". 

At the intersection of both geometries there is a café and towards the other end there are other services. The café is wrapped by a warm atmosphere due to the use of simple materials such as wood and cardboard, contrasting with the white rectangular prism. 

This simplicity in both materiasl and composition allowed the pavilion to be built in record time and at a very low cost. The pavilion should have been demolished in December 2012, but fortunately Garage has decided to keep it, and it was on display at the time of my visit in September 2014. 

The proposal is simple, but it offers an interesting play of light, which is filtered through the separations between the tubes. These support  the roof which crowns the composition of the facade, which at times seems to be levitating given the lightness of the material. 

Inside, the Japanese architect has also made use of cardboard tubes for the composition of furniture such as the  reception and some of the tables. 

At the time of the visit, the pavilion inside did not include the original exhibition of the work of Melnikov and others, but works  under the title The New International, an exhibition that shows a way to describe how individuals share, understand or experience specific context situations without universalizing their results. 

"warmth I was interested in working in russia first and foremost because of Russia’s culture, architecture, music and art and due to its geographic connections with Japan… although Russia and Japan are neighbors, we have very different cultures. Garage is well-known in the international art community for its progressive projects. the construction of the temporary pavilion is both efficient to construct and affordable by using local materials produced in St. Petersburg "
Shigeru Ban


- Urban Parks