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​Giovanna Carnevali: Urban architecture must be useful

, Cities

Photo: Natalya Budantseva / Strelka Institute

This July Strelka Institute organised a series of workshops under the title "Rethinking Europe – European experience in the city development." The participants were working on proposals for the development of Raushskaya embankment in Moscow. The programme was devised in collaboration with Fundació Mies van der Rohe that grants the prestigious EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture. met up with the Director of the Fundació Giovanna Carnevali and found out that these workshops are actually just as important for the Fundació as they are for Moscow, discussed the direction contemporary architecture is taking and concluded that Moscow traffic jams are not as hopeless as they seem.

Daria Golovina: Tell us about the main goals and aims of the Fundació Mies van der Rohe.

Giovanna Carnevali: One of our aims is to promote and reward some of the most promising projects in contemporary architecture. Our prize is granted every two years and there are no restrictions on the type of the project: it can be an office, a dwelling, a public space, a hospital or a school. Architects still find it difficult representing themselves independently so we work closely with many institutions and experts who help us select the best works. Every two years we look through 300-400 projects from 29 countries, so Fundació has also turned into one of the biggest archives of contemporary European architecture. Our main aim is to promote excellence, quality and social and economical stability in architecture.

D.G.: How do you choose the winners?

G.C.: The jury consists of seven architects and the majority of them are practicing professionals because we need people who understand how architecture works both on paper and in reality. Next year we also want to introduce the client as one of the members of the jury. As a result, it will consist of one critic, one client, one representative of the Foundation committee and four practicing architects. In addition to the main prize, since 2001 we also have a prize for emerging architects.

D.G.: You have mentioned that Fundació has turned into one of the biggest archives of contemporary European architecture. How do you think architecture has changed in the 25 years of foundation’s existence?

G.C.: Europe has really changed since 1988. In 1990s the main focus was on establishing the unity of Europe so there were a lot of public-funded projects for museums, art centers, public spaces – the kind of projects that contribute to the identity of the city and give it more character. I’m talking about such well-known examples as the Southbank in London, or Zaha Hadid’s Hoenheim-Nord Terminus and Car Park project, or the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium in San Sebastian, or the Agbar Tower in Barcelona. Big cities wanted to construct their identities with these really bright projects developed by well-known architects.

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Car park and Terminus, Zaha Hadid / foto:

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South Bank, London, photo: Matt Jp /

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Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, photo: Belannaer /

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Jean Nouvel Tower, photo: El Joven Aprendiz /

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Museum Mercedes Benz, photo: Paco Ct /

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Музей Porsche, photo: Thorsten Haustein /

In 2000s things had slightly changed and a new type of private client emerged — the kind that was also interested in star architecture and wanted to leave a mark on the city landscape. Along came such projects as the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, the Gherkin in London, the Unilever Haus in Hamburg.

From 2010-2011 we noticed another trend: now architects are not only developing new projects but also remodeling and restoring existing buildings. Three years ago we awarded the Prize to David Chipperfield’s project for re-building of the Neues Museum in Berlin and the second prize was given to the Collage House project in the city of Girona. Both projects were dedicated to the rehabilitation of buildings that already existed. A lot of projects that we receive also deal with the re-use of industrial heritage sites.

In 2013, despite the fact that we were still struggling with the consequences of the economic crisis, a lot of really expensive projects that were started before 2008 were still going and spending enormous amounts of money, while many young and talented emerging architects were experiencing difficulties with finding the right funding and facilities. This huge gap still remains today.

"I prefer to discuss opportunities, not problems"

D.G.: Should this gap be diminished? And, if yes, how?

G.C.: I believe that cities are still investing big money in starchitects. I don’t know how much Calatrava exceeded his budget for the Constitution Bridge in Venice, but I think this kind of practice must stop. It will only happen when the cities ran out of money — then they will have to invest in young architects. Cities should not just be about sightseeing: architecture must have an identity but primarily it must be useful.

D.G.: As far as I know this collaboration between Fundació Mies van der Rohe and Strelka Institute is the first project of this kind for the Foundation. Why is the Foundation interested in such collaborations?

G.C.: The Fundació and the Institute met at a very interesting point. The Foundation has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. And now that we have accumulated so much data on the economical state of European architecture, we turned to the discussion of quality, based on all the information that we have gathered during those years. Naturally, Strelka was interested in our vision and expertise. So we decided to organize this workshop to showcase the quality of European architecture using the experience of Amsterdam, London and Barcelona as examples, and also to work on a real case in Moscow with promoters and potential clients. Amsterdam, London and Barcelona underwent a lot of changes in the past 30 years and we wanted to share this experience and offer our vision of what can be done in Moscow.

''Architects have to move within the spiral-shaped dynamics of the city''

D.G.: How can the European ideas be integrated in Moscow?

G.C.: Of course, it’s true that we bring a particular mentality with us, but we don’t want to impose anything. We want to share our way of thinking, our way of looking at public spaces, dwellings, infrastructure, urban density and to see how it can be applied here in Moscow with regard to Russian culture.

D.G. You have worked on the proposal for development of Raushskaya embankment, what are some of the problems in this area?

G.C. That’s a good question. I actually prefer to discuss opportunities, not problems. There are so many opportunities in Moscow! The whole issue of traffic congestion is actually a starting point for new practices and for development of an alternative industry that would be servicing a lifestyle that is not dependant on cars anymore. Architects have to move within the spiral-shaped dynamics of the city and of the economy, and at the same time try to create a different vision. After talking to some of your city architects, I can say that there definitely is a vision for Moscow starting to emerge. I hope that these workshops will allow us to come up with strategies that will be useful in future.