Mixed Realism Meets Flatness and Symbolism

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Mixed Realism Meets Flatness and Symbolism 

Nowadays Office_Olena Grankina, Alena Kazaryan, Anna Kopeina, Natalya Mastalerzh, Nata Tatunashvili, Anastasia Tikhomiriva, Polina Philippova, Lera Choobara
Involving the work of Nadezhda Zlobina (3D rendering)


In May 2015, the 90000 sq m territory of the former vodka factory Kristall, built in the very beginning of the XX century, became a subject for the architectural competition. It had to be transformed into a vivid public space hosting various activities all year round. Russian architects Nowadays office in concortium with spanish architects ArenasBasabePalacios came up with an idea of progressive development in the course of several years and incorporation of storytelling into the design process.

The winning project was designed to simulate the process of gradual, stepwise development of the territory, based on its internal resources, to create a flexible system and the algorithm for future changes. An important part of the project was to create an inventory of mobile objects made of all kinds of industrial elements and materials found at the factory and, therefore, provide the territory with certain flexibility and variability of the occurring processes.
In order to emphasize the uniqueness of the place, we have proposed a number of spectacular, somewhat ‘theatrical’ spaces that produce diverse and memorable experiences. The essence of our suggestion was to concentrate on non-material and symbolic changes in the early stages which, in turn, would trigger the processes that attract resources for capital reconstruction.


Who influences you graphically?
Graphics are very important for us because we see architecture as a form of visual storytelling, so the graphic language of our representations is the language of the narration itself.
We prefer to speak in terms of ‘inspiration’ rather than ‘influence’. Any modern architect plugged to the Internet will see a lot of architectural images on a daily basis and things that we like unconsciously leave their mark on our graphics. That said, we also draw on a plethora of inspiration sources outside the official realm of architectural drawings.
We are intrigued by the flatness of an image much more than its spatial depth. In the history of visual art, simplification and flattening haven’t necessarily meant primitivisation. It has also meant a higher level of abstraction in that a ‘flat’, iconic image allows for more conceptual depth.
The power of a flat image was widely exploited by Soviet animation makers. We’ve been deeply inspired by ‘Boniface’s vacations’ LINK: http://www.nowadaysoffice.com/visualroutine001 for it’s strong colour pallette and two-dimensionality which refer both to African folk art and tapestry and Russian avant-garde paintings.
The works of Fra Angelico have also been a great source of inspiration due to their revolutionary minimalistic spaces, otherworldly colours and unique geometry.

You talk about the idea of storytelling, how could the formatting of this into a novel have reinforced the proposal? To what extent is the medium part of the message?

In the case of this particular project, storytelling was not a metaphor or a general concept. We presented the project as an ‘album’, namely a form of narration borrowed from the artists belonging to Moscow Conceptualist tradition (art movement of 1970–80s) — Victor Pivovarov. Accordingly, we arranged all the visual and written material as a set of scattered pages that could have been part of a graphic novel or an ethnographic diary like the one drawn by a Siberian artist and explorer M. Znamenskiy LINK: http://www.nowadaysoffice.com/visualroutine005 . It is a series of watercolors painted in the second half of the 19th century and based upon local legends and tales. All the drawings represented everyday scenes from Siberian towns and surroundings, assembled together with pieces of traditional clothing, jewelry and folk art details.
So the medium was, indeed, an integral part of the message, it even shaped the message in that the choice of colours and the particular naïvity of some of the scenes were a homage to the traditions of ‘Lubok’ —  a form of Russian popular print art, supposedly native to Moscow. It reminds a contemporary comic stripe: a short story told via simple (and somewhat naïve) images accompanied by text.

Your images are somewhat so surrealist and spectacular that the space in itself speaks of this idea of theatre, how relevant are people in the representation? What dictated the choice of normal people when compared to painted impressionist people?

The inclusion of people in architectural representations can serve as a powerful communication tool. Our eyes and brain are wired to distinguish human figures regardless of symbolism, and usually people are the first thing that catches our attention in a picture. So it is easy to make a statement about the character or atmosphere of the space through the choice of specific human figures. We used Renoir characters to emphasise the romantic (arguably too romantic) atmosphere of a particular location — The Rose Balcony. Clearly, if you have the guts to design something which is called The Rose Balcony, the next logical step would be to inhabit it with Renoir people.
A further example of the conveyance of inhabited space, in the case of Crystal factory renovation project, where we photoshopped a cat into every image. These were actual cats living on the factory’s territory that we shot during our expedition and imported into each drawing of the prospective Crystal to show how delicate our interventions would have been.
As for the choice of people (‘normal people’ vs ‘painted people’) we generally don’t have a fixed algorithm and we don’t need one. A part of our visual research is collecting references, but we also want to leave space for every member in our team to make individual creative choices.

The last image in particular is very strong, how did you develop it in terms of concept and atmosphere?

That is an image of a place called ‘Theatre Square’ so a certain spectacle is demanded by its very toponymy. The brick cladding on the ground, which is a projection of the façade, was the deepest and strongest intervention undertaken in the whole renovation project. Due to this, we decided to support it with a strong and ‘iconic’ representation which is built around a minimalistic yet powerful combination of two strong primary colours — red and blue.

You explore your proposal through both rendering and collage? What dictated this choice of language?

We often use this combination to mix realism and sense of space with flatness and symbolism. In this particular case, the choice of language was immanent to the nature of the project. Our approach was to make a collage of various elements: the old and the new, the high-tech and the low-tech, the people and the cats.


Theatre Square image by Anastasia Tikhomirova (Architect at Nowadays)


Workshop Corner image by Alena Kazaryan (Architect at Nowadays)


Gorokhovaya Square image by Polina Philippova (Architect at Nowadays)


Fountain Yard image by Anastasia Tikhomirova (Architect at Nowadays)


Three Amelanchier Trees image by Polina Philippova (Architect at Nowadays)


The Alley image by Anna Kopeina (Architect at Nowadays)


Rose Balcony image by Anna Kopeina (Architect at Nowadays)


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