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The author of the Vnukovo terminal, Zhivopisny bridge and more than 40 metro stations told about working in tandem with artists, modern architecture and the phenomenon of the Moscow metro.

On the first Monday in October, the whole world celebrates Architecture Day. We talked with Nikolai Shumakov, an outstanding architect of Russia, the author of a unique cable-stayed bridge, terminal A of Vnukovo airport and other large-scale projects, as well as dozens of metro stations. Nikolai Ivanovich is the only Russian architect to be awarded the prestigious Auguste Perret Prize. He spoke about his path in the profession, the internal censor and why the modern construction of the Moscow metro is a real miracle.

– Nikolay Ivanovich, for 44 years of work you have designed about 40 metro stations. How do you manage to keep the bar for so many years and find ideas for new projects?

– In every person who is engaged in creative work – be it a writer, artist or architect – there is an internal censor who sets this very bar, and you simply cannot do worse, the censor does not allow. Therefore, every time you have to do only better and better – there is nowhere to go. Over time, they develop their own recognizable style. I have this tough graphics, usually in black and white, and small blotches of color or artistic and monumental elements.

I really love working with artists, they add intrigue to the object. Some are afraid of this, they are jealous, they fear that the artist will divert attention from the architecture. But it seems to me, on the contrary, cooperation allows you to achieve just crazy architecture. You just need to incorporate these artistic elements into the project from the very beginning. For example, at the Sretensky Boulevard station, I foresaw 30 illuminated niches in which Ivan Lubennikov made metal collages. I invited Kostya Khudyakov to “Fonvizinskaya”, he made illustrations for “Minor” on the pylons, Sasha Rukavishnikov at the station of the Big Circle Line “Elektrozavodskaya” made a huge canvas – 162 meters long and eight in height. There are many examples, and all of them, in my opinion, are successful. We worked in close cooperation, in love and friendship, and everyone was satisfied: both the artists and the architect, and most importantly, the passengers.

– If we talk not about your style, but about the trends of modern architecture around the world, what would you highlight?

– There was a period when everyone wanted piece architecture, such as, for example, Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry did. This is such an attraction, amazing from an aesthetic point of view, but not very convenient to operate. This time has passed, the money in the world has run out, and functionalism has come to the fore, turning into minimalism. Function takes precedence over form today.

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– You have designed and continue to design stations for the Big Circle Metro Line. What does this project mean to you?

– My colleagues and I were lucky enough to do the first section of the BCL with the Delovoy Tsentr, Khoroshevskaya, Shelepikha and others stations. Last year, three of our stations were commissioned: Electrozavodskaya, Aviamotornaya and Lefortovo. We exhibited them at the Zodchestvo festival, and I think we will get high marks. We continue to work on several more stations. Of course, the BCL is an incredible project that will relieve the Ring Line and make life much easier for passengers.

But I would like to say not only about the meaning of the BCL for me, but also about what is happening with the metro in general. And a real miracle happens, it is impossible to name it otherwise. I have been designing the metro all my life, as I began in 1977, and I will continue to do so until my death. And until the last decade, these were some kind of small objects: one station, one lobby, sometimes a piece of a line. Large-scale metro construction programs were announced more than once, but they were not implemented. And when 10 years ago Sergei Sobyanin announced this gigantic metro construction program, my colleagues and I, grated rolls, decided that these were just another words – they would talk and forget. But when the program began not only to be implemented, but to expand more and more, we simply could not believe our happiness.

Moreover, my colleagues and I turned to the Mayor of Moscow with a request, despite the huge number of stations under construction, to make them not typical, but individual, because we understand that the Moscow Metro is a brand. And he supported us, said: yes, we will make unique structures, each station will be a work of art.

Now the BCL is being actively built, there is also a groundwork for the Biryulevskaya line and Rublevo-Arkhangelskaya and Troitskaya. Not individual stations or sections, but entire lines – this is just a miracle and a fairy tale. And I will be involved in their design, so I am the most contented person in the world.

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– Do you have a favorite metro station?

– I love all my stations, but even more I love the stretches. They are flawless in terms of architecture.

– How to maintain a balance between the functional and aesthetic components of the project?

– The balance there is very simple: almost the entire cost of the project is the construction of the station and the line itself. And the architectural, design component is one to two percent of the total cost. Even if you cover the entire platform with marble, this is still nothing compared to the rest of the costs. Therefore, an experienced customer always invests in architecture as much as possible, he knows that this is his face, people will see it, and in monetary terms, this is the minimum.

– How do you see the metro in the future?

– This is a multi-level multifunctional underground space. In some cities – in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris – they already do this: there are conventionally four levels, on the first – trade, on the second and third – metro platforms, and on the fourth something else, up to the public library. Or, like in the Parisian metro, an underground winter garden: you are driving through, and you have gardens behind the glass of crazy beauty, can you imagine? That is, the metro should be one of the components of a large underground space, this is the future.

– If we are not talking about the metro, but about all your projects, what would you highlight?

– Large-scale interesting projects are gifts of fate, not everyone is lucky to receive them. There have been several such gifts in my career. For example, Zhivopisny Bridge is the first cable-stayed bridge in Moscow. This is a unique structure: 72 cables, a span of 409 meters without an intermediate support, a huge arch 100 meters high and a huge ball is also suspended.

Or another gift. We made a railway to Vnukovo airport, the last 1.5 km section and the station were taken underground so that they would not interfere with the planes. The customer really liked this solution, and he offered us to design the terminal. And we did it just in one go. I think this is a strong object, at one time it was the largest in Europe. This is a whole city, eight floors (there are variable number of storeys, but up to eight), in which it was possible to very competently divide the flows of passengers and, in general, to make the space as convenient and comfortable as possible for people.

– You have a lot of awards. Which ones are especially valuable to you?

– Awards are a matter of chance, some are more fortunate with them, some less. For an architect, the most valuable thing is his work, not a reward for it. I have been lucky many times, and my projects have been awarded prizes, but this is all transitory. However, there was one ceremony that made a lasting impression on me. I was fortunate enough to be the only Russian architect to be awarded the Auguste Perret Prize by the International Union of Architects. This is a very important award in the world of architecture. I went to Seoul to receive it, the meeting was at the highest level: a limousine picks you up from the plane, takes you to the hotel, then a banquet, and most importantly – a concert. Imagine, a huge symphony orchestra plays for you – it’s unforgettable.

– For which project did you receive this award?

– It is awarded for more than one project. Each applicant submits an application with a block of several structures. I served Zhivopisny bridge, Vnukovo airport terminal and several metro stations.

– What was your very first project?

– After studying at the institute, I ended up in a large design institute “Metrogiprotrans” and began to study again from experienced specialists. Then these 50-year-old women seemed old to me, but now, when I myself am under 70, I understand that they were just girls. So, you gradually learn, adopt experience, first you are put to work in a team. So I took part, for example, in the design of “Tulskaya” and “Shabolovskaya”. And my first independent project was the Krasnogvardeyskaya station. I wanted to do something unusual, I read literature, magazines, but it was difficult with that then – everything more or less worthwhile from under the floor had to be taken out. In the end, everything worked out, and by the way, even then I collaborated with the sculptor: Lenya Berlin was making a large panel at the station.

The most nervous and difficult time is before putting the facility into operation. You need to be there all the time, give instructions, make some final edits. And finally the station is being opened. And you are covered with euphoria – that’s it, it happened! But at the same time, you continue to worry: how will the audience accept? You know, in the past, books were placed at new stations for passenger reviews. And it should be noted that the reviews were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. And we, young people, reread these reviews like fools, rejoiced. I can say that even now, 40 years later, this delight has not gone anywhere. Every time you hand over an object, an immense joy is overwhelmed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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