XL_The Commercial Vernacular

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Architect, Colour, Section

XL_The Commercial Vernacular

Nowadays office

Design team: Anna Kopeina, Patrizio Sbarra, Lera Samovich, Nata Tatunashvili, Lera Choobara



A year ago an ambitious competition for the architectural renovation of 49 standardised cinema buildings, that, thanks to the planned economy and socialist urbanism, were evenly sprinkled all over the city in the course of the Soviet era, was held in Moscow. The competition task was to renovate a mass-produced movie theatre of unknown authorship set in the periphery. The ultimate goal was to create a model for reviving and reprogramming a standardised cinema that could be applied to the remaining buildings.


‘Voshod’ cinema is a classic representative of a ‘decorated shed’ typology: a square box made of cheap materials comprising mainly a screening hall and a foyer, with removable film adverts as the only decorative and communicative element. Such economy of means is accounted for the location in the very outskirts of Moscow, in a former workers’ neighbourhood. The commercial aesthetics of overgrown signs and inflated figures is native to peripheral and planting a refined and elegant piece of contemporary architecture into such an environment would be a baseless artificial gesture.


The principal idea of the renovation project was to create an expressive landmark in an unsightly environment completely stripped of any kind of attraction. The typology and the location of the building in question prompted us to remember the lessons taught by Las Vegas and let the commercial vernacular logic define the aesthetics of the new project.
A distant and deserted periphery needs landmarks of different quality and character, in comparison to what the city center would naturally accommodate. Something less disciplined and tasteful, more unruly and fauve.


And so, the plain brick box is getting encrusted with signs, lights, sculptures, posters and other advertising materials that are, without a doubt, kitschy yet carefully measured out to produce just the right amount of shock to cheer up the sleepy hollow of the Soviet era workers’ residential area. The insides of the buildings are turned into a flexible multi-use public space that, with a help of portable facilities can be transformed into a backdrop for a theatre a play, a cinema, a playground, an indoor beach or even a portal to another dimension. In other words, to create a completely different, nonordinary, uncommon place to give people rest from the mundane environment.



What defined the graphic language for the proposal?

Since the backdrop for the project was dull and uneventful periphery, we wanted to emphasize the playful and cheerful nature of our proposal. Нence the bright colours and the surreal vibe. Another defining moment is that subtlety, elegance, discipline and “good taste” in general had no place in that project. The environment was painfully homogenous and spare of landmarks, so a landmark that had to be placed there would, essentially, be a peripheral one, created in accordance with the principles of the “commercial vernacular”: something a little too big, too bright and too straightforward.

What is the effect and purpose of the circle format? How does it help as a framing device?

The standardised cinema “shed” — the very subject of the renovation project — was a square brick clad box that fitted well into the circle. Besides, the round shape usually adds certain light-heartedness to an illustration, giving it a somewhat cartoonish appeal.


How and to what extent did the format of a competition affect the way you reveal the proposal? Typology of drawings, quantity of these/format?

Our goal was to communicate both the design of the renovated building and the approach, the intonation we have chosen. Aso, the building was supposed to change in function and even in appearance throughout the day so we made sure to produce a sufficient amount of visual material to document it in different states.

Why the inclusion of a Jeff Koons?

We wanted the roof of the cinema building to become a display for oversize ‘curiosities’: public art, advertising signs, inflatable dancing sculptures. And, stylistically, Jeff Koons’s kitschy artwork perfectly matched the commercial vernacular paradigm that we have chosen.



How important is the section as a means to explore the activity of an interior?

Section was a perfect means to show what was happening inside the revived and reprogrammed cinema: different states of the interior space, change of atmosphere and various cultural, commercial, and recreational activities. We wanted those images to look like invitations into a magic, non-ordinary world that can be created in an old cinema box.



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