A unique phenomenon in Russia's design, the ARCH4 studio is sure to have its works placed as cornerstones by Russian architecture historians who cover the turn of the century. Had someone invested in the studio's promotion, it would easily become a world star. I am convinced this someone will turn up really soon.
As matter of fact, Russian design comprises two strictly opposite themes. Number one is Western quality, so that upon seeing the architectural piece anyone could say "Oh, it's really foreign!" This theme is very important, as it seems outrageous to drive a Mercedes and live in a tractor cabin at the same time. Life drowns in discomfort, and you choose to sleep over in the car. As a result, there are plenty of orders for structural design of this quality level. Actually, orders come nonstop. And there are a lot of firms able to provide the Mercedes-class quality. At least ten, I believe.
Theme number two is preservation of Russian identity. Our land is really fascinating. So why should we make it foreign? Imagine a deserted military facility in the countryside. Concrete walls, barbed wire around the perimeter, blind security cameras, a surface-to-air missile guidance gadget covered with tar paper, and the keeper's log cabin with hens around bred for food. Visualize the picture? The Russian environment is unmatched. It offers captivating pieces of installation art, which make Russian artists welcome at the world's best exhibitions. And there are a lot of such artists in Russia. At least three, I believe.
But nobody knows how to combine the two themes. Actually, it is the other way round. The two poles generate exhaustive emotions along parallel lines. Had our landscape been different, who would like to have his apartment look foreign? Why crave for the overseas niceties? Had we been deprived of the foreign space, how could we perceive our motherland as an avant-garde installation?
The two topics seem incompatible, by anyone but the ARCH4 team. These guys just can do things right. Take the maple apartment by Ivan Chuvelev and Natalie Lobanova. In terms of accomplishment, the space looks somewhat implicit since the Russian reality does not contain such ideal surfaces, lines and components. Technologically, it is a spaceship. At the same time, you have the natural texture of maple, brick and stone, a regular space and natural light. Just to indicate that it is real and you are still on the Earth. Foreign, in fact.
And there is no other Russian company to offer a similarly foreign product. Apart from Russian architects - Ivan Chuvelev, Mikhail Taichenachev and Natalie Lobanova - there is also Mathias Hinselmann, a Swiss master. The depth of embedment into Western design is seen in their projects - Ferragamo, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Cartier Escada boutiques in the Stoleshnikov Lane, Moscow's new luxury street. For Hermes, the ARCH4 have also decorated a boutique in Basel, an extraordinary thing for Russian designers to be hired by a Western fashion house for a job out of Russia. Parallel with embedment in the European style and the ability to live up to their standards, the ARCH4 offer something absolutely opposite. They work with plots, textures and materials that have nothing in common with Europe.
Take Mr. D's apartment, with its gallery of steel posts in opal-glass coating. Classy, as it happens. There are miles of such channel bars in Russia. They are everywhere - from pigsties built in the 1960s to any power station. The rusty pitted black metal is all in fuel oil. Never come by without overalls on. Brush against it with your shoulder and dump the jacket. And the shoulder will ache three days too. This is our land, the land we live in and adore. The heart of the matter is in the manner you adore. Is there a way to convert the channel bars into a civilized space? Sure there is. Each bar has been clad in glass, good enough for showcasing diamonds. Each bar is a display case with a Russian-made channel bar inside, a pure masterpiece to be proud of.
The airplane apartment's door is a bomb chute hatch and bathroom - a section of the fuselage. The door slides upwards, just like the hatch. The glass ladder above the bed takes you to the winter garden. And there are remote controls to operate the gadgetry. Everything is sliding and moving under close computer watch. Living in flight is the today's modus vivendi. Designers all over the world aspire to make it real by hanging chairs from the ceiling, making glass floors and turning walls into enormous monitors. Just to make you fly and sense clouds all over your living space. The theme is exceptionally fashionable. And here we also have the theme of the flight, the Russian-style flight. The airplane disassembled, the fuselage turned into a bathroom, the bomb chute hatch into a door, and the night viewer into the lighting control panel. Everything is genuine, riveted and coated, high-tech alloys and so forth. Really something to respect - just reassemble the pieces and take off.
Actually, I can imagine Russian airmen at a secret airfield convert the discarded MIG fighter into a lavatory to fill an opening on the edge of the aerial field. That would be a ruthless sanitary machine to remind the user of the whining wind, icing metal and the spittle freezing in high sky. A place for real men. But the ARCH4 offer a high-tech chic affair. They proffer the style combining Western quality with the magnificent Soviet technology machine.
The truth lies in comprehending the ARCH4 profoundness. They do find ways to present our space as a positive value. We keep trying to invent the Russian style but search in the wrong place. It is not the nonexistent idyllic village or the Kremlin towers, since we no longer wear bast shoes or hide from Mongol invaders behind the Kremlin walls. We exist in an urbanized space created by the Soviet technologies. And the ARCH4 pick up the theme to convert the reality into another plane, i.e. translating the perceptible technological ruins into flawless quality of life. This is the genuine Russian style that is by no means inferior to any Western technique - more daring than Italian, more technological than British, and more solid than German. I wish the ARCH4 were in car manufacturing. They would definitely come out with a Russian-made Mercedes.