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​Done with ‘Urban Routines’: a report on the Strelka Institute degree show

, Art & Design

27th of June saw the opening of the Strelka Institute graduate show. This academic year students were working on personal projects that were tightly bound with the idea of everyday life, routines, habits and the mundane. According to the program director Anastasia Smirnova, what made the academic year of 2013/2014 so special is the fact that all of the graduates were very keen on exploring the theme of «Urban Routines» and that the choice of the subject reflected their interests. These students have an eye for detail and the ability to spot the interesting and the complex in what can appear as mundane and boring. They are not just researches: their main goal is to come up with solutions that can be applied in practice.

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Eight students answered our questions about their life at «Strelka» and their final research projects.


Giulio Margheri 

What is your project about?

We were looking at the Moscow Automobile Ring Road. I think just one glance at this road makes you want to carry out an investigation. Our project has several parts, for example one of them is dedicated to the history of the area, the other – to the noise emissions that the road is constantly producing. Did you know that 20 years ago there were only two petrol stations on MKAD and now there are thousands?

What are the practical uses of your research?

In the last chapter we are trying to imagine the future of the Moscow Ring Road. We have designed a strategy to increase the mobility of the road, because right now it is constantly congested with traffic. The project is entitled ‘From circulation to destination’ because MKAD itself became a destination and that is what leads to the circulation being suspended. Among some of our proposals: a separate line for buses, parking space for those who live in the outskirts of Moscow to leave their cars and switch to the public transport and also a proposal to link the big shopping malls in this area to the main avenues of Moscow so that people could avoid using the Ring Road altogether.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

The whole year was full of surprises! I didn’t know what to expect from this programme when I arrived, but my 9 months here were very exciting. During Studio Generale we were introduced to the history of Moscow and also we got to know each other. The month of the competition was very exciting as well, but for me the research process was probably the most interesting and challenging part of the programme.


Liva Dudareva and Eduardo Cassina

What is your project about?

Liva: Our project is about Moscow-City. We were fascinated by this place but it offered quite a few challenges. We wanted to create an image of ‘Moscow-City’ in future so we made a film that shows what it might look like in 2041. We think that it will turn into a sort of an enclave, with links to two international airports.

Eduardo: The main problem is that Moscow-City exists in isolation from the rest of the city. Also, 40% of it’s towers are empty and lots of much more attractive offices are being built in other areas. So the idea is to turn ‘Moscow-City’ into a visa-free trade zone.

What are the practical uses of your research?

Liva: We have already received some feedback and we were told that our proposal is one of the most realistic strategies for ‘Moscow-City’. It seems that in Russia the more impossible the idea, the higher the chances that it might actually come into life.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

Eduardo: The people, the level of team work and of course the context in which we were working - staying in Moscow for 9 months was quite an experience for us.


Anel Moldakhmetova

What is your project about?

We have designed a concept for temporary dwelling in the centre of Moscow. As a part of our research we looked at all the difficulties of renting a flat in Moscow: you cannot keep a pet, smoking is prohibited, you are not allowed to change the interior design, the prices are very high and so is the level of ethnic discrimination. As a response to that we composed a manifesto and created an ideal model of temporary dwelling in Moscow city centre.

I was very interested in the temporality aspect. Many people come to Moscow and all of them need a place to live. Most of the people I know are renting, they don’t own their flats. Our research has shown that the demand in Moscow is very high but the city cannot satisfy it. We decided to think of an alternative and came up with a hybrid model that combined a flat, a hostel and a semi-detached house.

What are the practical uses of your project?

Right now there are many hostels in the Arbat area, both legal and illegal. The platform already exists, but we need to civilise it. While working on our project, we heard of Moscow mayor’s plans to turn the famous V-shaped buildings on the New Arbat into hotels for the fans that will come to Moscow during the World Cup in 2018. We think that it might be a good idea to transform these hotels into temporary dwellings once the World Cup is over.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

The most unexpected was taking part in the competition for projects of relocation of the Institute. No one was helping us or mentoring us, it was all independent work. The amazing thing is that it actually allowed us to realise our potential more.


Nicolas Moore

What is your project about?

The theme of my project was the yards of Moscow, the dvory. I think that the concept of domestic exterior is very important in this city: the yards may become the new definition of the shared and the common in Moscow. As a result, I developed a more coherent vision of these areas and also gained a new understanding of the city. The outcome of my research is a series of photographs and a strategy for the development of this type of spaces.

What are the practical uses of your research?

First of all, I myself found the experience very productive: it offered me new ways of reading cities. In some ways, my job was quite simple: I was walking round the city with my camera looking for things and details that seemed to me worth recording. The results of my work may be of use to other researches working on the development projects for the yards of Moscow.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

The process of learning more about Moscow and Russian history in general: it made me realize that my education in the US was quite superficial. The biggest shock was the day I arrived: my ideas about the life in Russia were completely shattered. Lots of exciting things are happening here and I really enjoy exploring Russian culture.


Aleksandr Aupov

What is your project about?

I was looking at the stops that we make during our daily commutes and city walks. Most of the people think that we are just traveling from home to work and vice-versa, but actually we are making many stops on our way and each of them creates a space, we can even call it a personal space.

I was always interested in finding out the answer to the question ‘What makes a city?’. In my research I looked at the concept of eventuality as it is represented in the life of Moscow. A big city has a very high density and frequency of events and a stop you make on your journey is one of them. An event in this sense is a fusion of space, time and action, and we can analyse it by asking what happened, where it happened and why. Using the data from OpenStreetMaps I created a new map of Moscow with all the routes and stops marked on it. It showed Moscow in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. As a result, I came up with the following proposal: to formulate a new definition for the city based on the daily events. I mean, for example, what makes the temporary settlements that nomads create in the desserts? I don’t think it’s infrastructure, I think it’s the events. The higher the frequency the easier it is to define what the city is all about.

What are the practical uses of your research?

I have contacted one of my friends and he offered me a grant on the condition that I find a way of applying the results of my research in practice. Frankly speaking, I still don’t know how to do that. For me, every stop is a unique opportunity. Some stops are more popular than others. For example, I found out that there are certain spots on the Moscow-river embankment where people decide to stay for a little bit longer before carrying on with their journey. This is what makes those places special, and I think that urban developers should take this into account.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

When I applied for this programme, I had ambitious plans: I wanted to become a person who is capable of anything. I also saw myself as a tool-maker. To my great surprise, I managed to learn the language of Big Data in just one month and ‘Strelka’ really helped me in that.


Steven Broekhov and Vlado Danailov

What is your project about?

Vlado: Our project is about the center of Moscow, we investigated all the possibilities that it may offer. As a part of the Studio we investigated not just the dwellings themselves, but also how they can survive and be incorporated into the city. Afterwards we tried to envision the city center without the houses. We believe that all the contemporary needs can be satisfied with the facilities that are already provided.

Steven: In the first part of our project we zoomed in the image of the city center and looked at all the details. Then we realized that actually there are not than many dwellings in the center - people mostly live in the periphery of Moscow. So we tried to rethink the way of living in the city center. As a part of our project we designed a comic book. There are three characters in it and each of them has their own personal story based on real interviews and our own experiences. The book shows the reader that it is actually possible to imagine your life without houses.

What are the practical uses of your research?

Vlado: Our research is an attempt to develop a critical vision of the life in the city. It’s not a new housing policy, not a strategic proposal. It’s an analysis of the phenomenon, a new way of discovering the city. We decided to focus more on investigating the problems the city is facing before we can come up with any new architectural projects.

Steven: Architects are often perceived as the medium between the client and the contractor. Meanwhile, the actual necessity to build houses is not critically assessed: it is a given that cities need more houses. At this point, we are more interested in gaining a critical perspective rather than in offering any new urban development strategies.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

Steven: So many things surprised us. The most surprising thing for me was probably the revelation that if you actually put effort into something a lot can be done in a very limited amount of time. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to work with people with all sorts of professional backgrounds.

Vlado: A year ago I couldn’t even imagine myself studying and living in Moscow. It was interesting to observe the ways in which I adapted to the daily routines and to the community life at ‘Strelka’. For instance, once I was buying a pack of juice but I didn’t have enough money on me. And you know what? The lady at the counter said to me “You can take the juice now and bring the rest of the money tomorrow’. Can you imagine that? Suddenly it felt like living in a village, not in a big city!


Alina Bibisheva

What is your project about?

Primarily I set out to identify all the types of retail that can be found in Moscow: formal, informal and even illegal. The divide between the formal and informal types of retail is a matter of personal opinion, really. Anything can be included, even slave trade. The informal types of retail interested me the most because they were very difficult to identify and analyse. You can’t really give a percentage, you need to track each of them and put them on the map.

Initially my project was titled ‘Typology of Retail’, but soon I realised that among the more obvious forms of retail, like shopping malls and boutiques, there are many things that are just impossible to track, like the self-employed masseurs that come to your house for example.

What are the practical uses of your project?

We need to admit that the informal types of retail exist and that they should be integrated into the system somehow. The more we try to put restrictions on them, the worse it becomes. For example, one of the subways close to my house for a very long time contained a lot of the little shops that all Muscovites are so familiar with. Then, a new policy was implemeneted by the local authorities and all the shops were cleared out. Pretty soon old ladies selling knives and cucumbers replaced those shops. Their modest business is just another type of informal retail. The main difference is that the shop owners employed cleaners, installed cameras and hired security thus improving the environment of the subway. Once they were gone, nothing was done to ensure that their positive functions were delegated to some other type of organisation. I think my research will change the perception of informal retail. It might give it a chance to become a legitimate part of the city life.

What was the most unexpected aspect of studying at ‘Strelka’?

I was working in the sphere of urban development and at some point realised that I want to widen my horizons and learn new things. I thought that studying at ‘Strelka’ might answer some of my questions. What happened is that the number of questions had actually grown by the time I completed my education here. But my understanding of the city became much deeper. I also gained a lot of confidence at ‘Strelka’ by working with people that believed in me and were open for dialogue. This experience really helped me to realise my own strengths.

The final word from the programme director of ‘Strelka’ David Erixon:

The theme ‘Urban routines’ and the way it is structured with all the different studios might seem a little bit naïve. But I think that when you start looking at seemingly trivial things in a new way they are not so trivial anymore. That is why at the end of the year we had so many interesting projects. Another important thing is that people that come here usually already specialize in one area or another. They are sociologists, architects, designers; they see the world in a very particular way. What we are trying to do is to make them think differently and find new ways of looking at things. When I hear words like “This has totally changed the way I understand my profession! There are so many perspectives to consider!”, all I can say is “Hallelujah!”. That makes the year worthwhile. I think that we should try finding new solutions and new opportunities to solve the problems of today and the problems of tomorrow. I agree with Einstein, who said, “No problem can be solved on the same level of consciousness that created it”.

Most of the projects can be applied tomorrow. But for me this isn’t the most important thing. ‘Strelka’ sees success from a long-term perspective. Some of our projects already have an impact: we can see the results in Moscow public spaces. But some of the ideas will take many years to materialize. I have been working in this sphere for many years. I often meet my students, some of them from 20 years ago, and I’m always glad when I find out about the incredible projects they are working on, it is very inspiring.

Photo: Gleb Leonov, Michael Goldenkov / Strelka Institute