Archive for August, 2012

Stalin for (all) Time

Friday, August 24th, 2012

In the post war Soviet Union, Stalin was looking for something to spruce up the relatively droll skyline of Moscow. According to Wikipedia, Khrushchev later recalled Stalin’s words, “We won the war … foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there’s no skyscrapers. If they compare Moscow to capitalist cities, it’s a moral blow to us”

In an effort to avoid this moral affront, Stalin commissioned a series to modest towers between 1947 and 1956 to be constructed in various sites around central Moscow. All seven of the towers are still in use and still provide dramatic silhouettes in the Moscow skyline, despite the recent influx of modern towers.

I was keen to get out and capture some of the faded grandeur of these impressive gems. The brooding Moscow skies brought some dramatic lighting to highlight the monumental facades.

The Hotel Ukraina (below) is now the Radisson Royal Hotel. At the time of its completion in 1949, it was the tallest hotel in the world and remained that way until 1975


Kotelnicheskay Embankment Building was originally intended as an elite housing building but shortly after construction, the apartments were converted to accommodate multi-family tenants.


Kudrinskaya Square Building (below) was built predominantly for Soviet cultural leaders of the time. In the distance the tower of the Red Gates Administrative Building can be seen.


From a 2011 article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Tino Kyunstel writes

“The architects tried to guess what would appeal to Stalin, who was said to be fond of the Gothic style. However, they didn’t always manage to please him: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building was originally designed without a spire, but the dictator insisted on having one. So a special lightweight spire, made in the same colour as the skyscraper, had to be perched on top with supports descending five floors.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the architects asked the new First Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, for permission to undo this Stalinist act of despotism. But Khrushchev refused, wanting the spire on the Ministry to remain as a “monument to Stalin’s stupidity”.”

Ministry for Foreign Affairs (below)


Red Gates Administrative Building (below)


Hotel Leningradskaya (below) is now a Hilton hotel.


Moscow State University (below), inaugurated in 1953, was the tallest of all the towers at 240 meters (787 feet). Incredibly, it was the tallest building Europe until 1990 and remains one of the tallest educational buildings in the world.


Capital Idea

Monday, August 20th, 2012

It all started with the innocent query “I don’t suppose you’ve got plans to go through Moscow any time soon?”. I now suspect that my contact at NBBJ knew all to well that the idea of that scenario would be too tempting to pass up. “I’ll see what I can do” I responded cooly, not wanting to sound too eager.

City of Capitals (Moscow Tower) at 76 stories, was for a time, the tallest building in Europe. Though now surpassed by it’s near neighbor, the twin tower development remains a key project in the development of a new high rise district in Moscow, adjacent to the Moscow River. Comprised of retail, entertainment, office and luxury residential, the segmented towers were inspired by artist Vladimir Tatlin and Russian Constructivism.

After arriving in torrential downpours the night before, I was hugely relieved to wake up to perfectly clear blue skies. Hastening out across the Moscow River, the clouds starting bunching up right on cue to provide the perfect reflections needed to animate the various segments of the towers.


Parking Space

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Ogrydziak Prillinger have just completed their OURCADIA project in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

Raised garden beds envelope two seating areas, creating immersive green clearings in the hard-edged Post Street canyon. The organic forms offer a slice of ‘nature’ in contrast to the urban streetscape, while the sloping surfaces are open to interpretation with regard to use.

OURCADIA is part of a series of projects that OPA has been developing which use computational design to control the behavior of slopes. Within this context, OURCADIA was designed to optimize four types of desirable, objectively definable slopes: slopes for sitting, perching, lounging, and planting. OPA loosely defined geometric parameters for each of these conditions, then developed a growth simulation. The form emerges from a combination of programmatic goals and a little (natural!) randomness.


Rock Enrol

Monday, August 6th, 2012

We recently returned to CalPoly in San Luis Obispo for Cannon Design to capture the rock climbing facility that had been installed since our last visit a few months prior.The practice walls provide an excellent training program in preparation for more physical and challenging climbs in nearby Californian locations such as Yosemite National Park.

On Guard

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

The winning projects for the 2012 International Architecture Awards for the Best New Global Design have just been announced.

The awards, recognizing excellence in international architectural achievement and cutting-edge design, are selected by an international panel of distinguished architects and educators from a list of entries submitted from around the world. It is administered by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum.

Among the winners were two projects we recently photographed.

The Burj Khalifa Gatehouses in Dubai, designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

The OZ House in Silicon Valley, designed by Swatt I Miers Architects.

Balanced Outlook

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

The August issue of Architectural Record  features the stunning Denton Corker Marshall’s View Hill House. Surrounded by almost 80 acres of vines, the house sits atop a granite hill with views extending in every direction to the foothills and peaks of the Great Dividing Range.

To best capture the very graphic nature of the design, we took the air, skipping over the autumnal colors of the vineyards in the valley below. As the site fell away sharply to the east and with a tip of the headset to the great piloting, we were able to get level with the house for a perfect elevation.