RPBW GES-2, V-A-C Foun­da­tion Moscow, Rus­sia

The in­sti­tu­tion de­voted to con­tem­po­rary Rus­sian art has com­mis­sioned the Renzo Pi­ano Build­ing Work­shop to con­vert a two-hectare ur­ban site into a cul­tural cen­tre. GES-2 is now an open-air build­ing site. Forty years af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Cen­tre Georges

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A build­ing site for in­ter­dis­ci­plinar­ity A con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the RPBW project di­rec­tor An­to­nio Belvedere and Paola Ni­colin

Paola Ni­colin What is GES-2? An­to­nio Belvedere It was a power sta­tion built be­tween 1904 and 1908 to sup­ply en­ergy for the new Moscow tram sys­tem. The build­ing orig­i­nally had four brick chim­neys, later dis­man­tled and re­built in steel when the power sta­tion switched from coal to gas. The chim­neys will be shifted to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion and given a new life and func­tion. We’re go­ing to turn them into 70-me­tre-high air in­takes to draw in air that’s fresher and cleaner, since the city’s con­tam­i­nated air layer rises 15 or 20 me­tres above ground level. So in­stead of belch­ing out smog and ex­haust gases into the sky from the tur­bines, in fu­ture the com­plex will breathe through them. PN Here we are in the Red Oc­to­ber district, i.e. near the his­toric Krasny Ok­tyabr choco­late fac­tory, but also the city’s first pedes­trian precinct, with art gal­leries, res­tau­rants and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions such as Strelka. This is an is­land of cul­tural cap­i­tal — re­dis­tributed and in­vested in teach­ing and ac­tiv­i­ties — for the pro­duc­tion of in­ter­dis­ci­plinary knowl­edge. Could it be called an is­land of hy­brid ed­u­ca­tion? AB It per­pet­u­ates the power sta­tion’s func­tion of pro­duc­ing en­ergy, though now it’s the en­ergy of ideas and no longer elec­tric­ity. The project also de­vel­oped by em­body­ing the so­cial and cul­tural im­pli­ca­tions. But not merely in terms of aes­thetic im­pact or mak­ing great state­ments. Rather, it was based on an anal­y­sis of the so­cial and cul­tural fab­ric as well as the ur­ban fab­ric. In this ap­proach, the client played an im­por­tant part. PN Sev­eral ar­eas of the project are al­ready clearly leg­i­ble. AB It cov­ers a sur­face area of two hectares. And for a year we al­ways called it “two hectares of Moscow” to make it clear that the project was about a tract of the city and not just a build­ing. The area com­prises the GES-2 power sta­tion with its Cen­tral Nave [con­ceived as an in­ter­nal street with the po­ten­tial to be trans­formed into a mon­u­men­tal ex­hi­bi­tion space mea­sur­ing 100 me­tres long and 23 me­tres high]. The front build­ing, lined by a gen­er­ous sys­tem of por­tals, be­comes an in­te­gral part of a true en­trance pi­azza ori­ented to the east and fac­ing the wa­ter. In the heart of this com­plex there ap­pears the “for­est” of birches, rest­ing on a new to­pog­ra­phy that re­de­fines the hori­zon on three sides. PN Does the project treat the in­sti­tu­tion as a place of tran­sit and con­stant re­cep­tion? AB In terms of flows and pro­vi­sion for the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, we have kept the Cen­tral Nave space clear and ar­ranged the ac­tiv­i­ties along the side aisles or in the base­ment level, with a large flex­i­ble space of 3,000 square me­tres and ceil­ing heights rang­ing from 5.5 to 10 me­tres. This was done to en­sure the nave is con­nected to the ur­ban fab­ric. Open the doors and it be­comes an in­ter­nal street en­abling peo­ple to tra­verse the in­te­rior with­out in­ter­fer­ing with the ac­tiv­i­ties pro­duc­ing cul­ture. The build­ing was de­signed to be per­me­able by rea­son­ing on its so­cial con­text. In this project, the Cen­tral Nave be­comes the com­plex’s cen­tre of grav­ity, with the theatre, teach­ing rooms, work­shops, ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces, etc. Ev­ery­thing hap­pens here. It’s con­ceived as a cen­tral space that cre­ates a link, but at the same time it’s a street. PN The foun­da­tion con­ducts its ac­tiv­i­ties free of charge. Was this a sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment in the de­sign of this space? AB We de­vel­oped the project through dis­cus­sions with a client who was in­ter­ested in re­think­ing and trans­form­ing a place. In this way, we also de­signed the spa­ces by con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing our ideas and mak­ing the changes nec­es­sary to achieve the ob­jec­tives that were set. PN What are the func­tions of the side build­ings? AB These low build­ings ar­ranged along the south side are called ‘The Vaults’ be­cause they’re made of brick vault­ing. This was the his­toric orig­i­nal Smirnoff vodka fac­tory. This area will be al­lo­cated to a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. It will house a se­ries of lab­o­ra­to­ries and work­shops for ro­bot­ics and 3D print­ing, with a re­hearsal room and record­ing room, to­gether with ma­chin­ery for wood­work­ing, ce­ram­ics, tex­tiles and met­als. The idea is for the lab­o­ra­to­ries to serve

the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity or artists in res­i­dence. This is a place that is meant to com­bine the whole pro­duc­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion cy­cle for artists, re­gard­less of their dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. There will even be an oven where the Mus­covites can buy the bread baked at GES-2. PN In­ter­weav­ing dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines in the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge is al­ways a fer­tile way of ap­proach­ing the de­vel­op­ment of in­sti­tu­tions. How can we de­sign in­sti­tu­tions to­day, when ed­u­ca­tion is so cru­cial? AB It’s in­creas­ingly an es­sen­tial pas­sage in­volv­ing a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach. In de­sign terms, the idea is to pro­vide an in­stru­ment for work­ing, ex­chang­ing ideas, fos­ter­ing trans­ver­sal art op­er­a­tions and pro­vid­ing shared liv­ing spa­ces for peo­ple ac­tive in the plas­tic arts, mul­ti­me­dia, mu­sic, pho­tog­ra­phy, per­for­mance and so forth. Transver­sal­ity is em­bod­ied in the dis­ci­plines, the spa­ces and even in the pub­lic. Transver­sal­ity is a sort of axis for ex­changes, the re­cip­ro­cal influences of ideas, the mon­tage of a cer­tainly richer and more highly ar­tic­u­lated un­der­stand­ing. PN I un­der­stand the project in­cludes a car park that changes func­tion. AB There is ac­tu­ally a car park un­der the For­est area, but then we asked our­selves what would hap­pen if all the cars dis­ap­peared one day. So we de­signed a level that is not limited to the func­tion of park­ing but could be used for other events. This is part of a strat­egy fo­cused on en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, which in­cludes 5,000 square me­tres of pho­to­voltaic pan­els and four wind tur­bines in­stalled on the chim­ney tops. PN How did you deal with the ma­te­ri­als and struc­ture of the his­toric build­ing? AB We’re strength­en­ing the steel frame­work, a lengthy process that pre­serves its light­weight struc­ture. The power sta­tion had an outer cladding of brick­work and an ex­tremely light­weight steel frame in­side it. We couldn’t add more steel, which would have con­fused the leg­i­bil­ity of the his­tor­i­cal strat­i­fi­ca­tion. We ex­cluded tim­ber, be­cause it is too so­phis­ti­cated and in any case ex­tra­ne­ous to a power sta­tion, so we de­cided to work with 30-cen­time­tre-thick pre­fab­ri­cated con­crete floors that float in space. Con­crete is heavy by na­ture, so it lends it­self per­fectly to coun­ter­point­ing the steel, with each ma­te­rial re­spect­ing the other’s role. It is also true that by sus­pend­ing the pre­fab­ri­cated con­crete slabs they ac­quire a light­ness con­sis­tent with the whole spa­tial struc­ture.

The V-A-C Foun­da­tion was es­tab­lished in Moscow in 2009 by Leonid Mikhel­son. Work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, the in­sti­tu­tion pro­motes cul­tural pro­grammes out­side all dis­ci­plinary bound­aries. This method is ap­plied to all the ini­tia­tives tak­ing place at its site in Venice, through in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions, as well as in its fu­ture premises for art and cul­ture in Moscow at GES-2.

www.v-a-c.ru A project of so­cial ar­chi­tec­ture

If we look at Rus­sia’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem as a whole, I would say that it has suf­fered more than other sec­tors from the coun­try’s spas­modic de­vel­op­ment over the last 30 years. The fall of the Ber­lin Wall was fol­lowed by an avid and dis­or­derly open­ing that failed to al­low the as­sim­i­la­tion of con­tri­bu­tions ar­riv­ing from abroad, due to the con­ser­va­tive and im­per­me­able struc­ture of the sys­tem. As a re­sult, while some ar­eas and skills have crys­tallised in time and con­tinue to en­dure, other very ex­per­i­men­tal and avant-garde en­ti­ties have also de­vel­oped. This is why the GES-2 project has al­ways sought to dis­tance it­self from the idea of a “tra­di­tional mu­seum”. Its aim is to as­sert the con­cept of an open in­sti­tu­tion, far re­moved from lo­cal mu­se­ums — most of which are still places of study for spe­cial­ists — and from all in­sti­tu­tions that con­tinue to con­form to an aca­demic and ver­ti­cal ide­ol­ogy. For these rea­sons I like to de­fine GES-2 as a project of so­cial ar­chi­tec­ture more than a cul­tural ini­tia­tive, as it en­deav­ours to break away from the per­spec­tive of mere artis­tic pro­duc­tion and it does not just ad­dress spe­cial­ists. In­stead, it seeks to in­ter­vene in the so­cial fab­ric to re­gen­er­ate space.

Teresa Iarocci Mav­ica Di­rec­tor of V-A-C Foun­da­tion The dis­sem­i­na­tion of knowl­edge

The fun­da­men­tal mis­sion of art in­sti­tu­tions has al­ways been fo­cused on the dis­sem­i­na­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of knowl­edge and artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ences to the gen­eral pub­lic. How­ever, in the cur­rent cul­tural cli­mate I think it is very im­por­tant for this to be guided by ed­u­ca­tional prin­ci­ples and not mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions have to take the op­por­tu­nity to play a role in so­ci­ety that makes them not just dif­fusers of the knowl­edge pro­duced within them (like uni­ver­si­ties), but cre­ators of sit­u­a­tions of civil and cul­tural eman­ci­pa­tion. This can only hap­pen in in­sti­tu­tions that be­lieve firmly in the ne­go­ti­a­tion of knowl­edge and not in the trans­fer of knowl­edge from ex­perts to the unini­ti­ated. In this sense, an in­sti­tu­tion’s ed­u­ca­tional set­ting must per­vade all its ac­tiv­i­ties — from its gen­eral pol­icy (and not just its ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme) to its staff struc­ture; from the role of artists to the in­volve­ment of the pub­lic in an in­no­va­tive model of lead­er­ship broadly dis­trib­uted and shared.

Francesco Mana­corda Artis­tic di­rec­tor of V-A-C Foun­da­tion

ON THE SHELF Richard Rogers, A Place for All Peo­ple: Life, Ar­chi­tec­ture and the Fair So­ci­ety, Canon­gate Books, Ed­in­burgh 2017 Re­view by Manuel Orazi

The first idea for the Beaubourg project by Richard Rogers, Gian­franco Fran­chini and Renzo Pi­ano en­vis­aged a build­ing raised high above the ground that would cre­ate a large cov­ered pi­azza in con­ti­nu­ity with the newly cre­ated square which is now Place Pom­pi­dou. Then it was found to con­tra­vene fire reg­u­la­tions, the bud­get was re­duced and Georges Pom­pi­dou died un­ex­pect­edly. This led, with the work al­ready in progress, to the aban­don­ment of the idea, which was closely bound up with the neo-avant­gardes of the day (Fun Palace, Walk­ing City, Ville Spa­tiale, etc.). The build­ing was there­fore made lower and more com­pact, but the large pub­lic space of the pi­azza re­mained, and it was this above all that won over the com­pe­ti­tion jury. The pi­azza and neon signs con­tin­u­ously re­lay­ing mes­sages em­bod­ied the spirit of 1968, in­volv­ing the pub­lic and trans­form­ing the pub­lic life of this de­cayed part of the in­ner city, for­merly an­i­mated by sex clubs and pros­ti­tu­tion. The guid­ing idea was to cre­ate a kind of mu­seum that had never been seen be­fore, one that would re­form the dusty idea of the out­worn re­stricted cul­ture of the time. In the pages of this au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Rogers re­calls: “Build­ings are the­atres for pub­lic life: the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre would al­low peo­ple to per­form freely in­side and out, with the stage ex­tended up through the build­ing’s fa­cade, so that their per­for­mance could be­come part of the ex­pres­sion of the build­ing.”

Cen­tro cul­tur­ale GES-2, V-A-C/ GES-2, V-A-C Cul­tural Cen­tre Moscow, Rus­sia

Project: Renzo Pi­ano Build­ing Work­shop in col­lab­o­razione in col­lab­o­ra­tion with APEX Project Bu­reau Project di­rec­tor: An­to­nio Belvedere (RPBW part­ner-in-charge) Client: V-A-C Foun­da­tion Site area: 2 et­tari/hec­tars To­tal floor area: 20,000 sq. m De­sign phase: 2015–2016 Con­struc­tion phase: 2016–2019

Pre­vi­ous spread: views of the GES-2 build­ing site in Moscow. Op­po­site page: study sketch by Renzo Pi­ano. The chim­neys of the old power sta­tion have been in­te­grated into the de­sign to act as in­takes for clean air; above: the in­dus­trial build­ing of 1904-1908 in a his­tor­i­cal photo

This page: stages of the build­ing site mainly fo­cused on the restora­tion and re­struc­tur­ing of the former power sta­tion. GES-2 is lo­cated on an is­land be­tween two branches of the Moskva River that flows through the Rus­sian cap­i­tal, near the Red Oc­to­ber district which is emerg­ing as one of the city’s most lively ar­eas from a so­cio-cul­tural per­spec­tive

Above (L-R): Peter Rice, Renzo Pi­ano and Richard Rogers astride a girder of the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, with Ruth Rogers look­ing on in the back­ground

All pho­tos of the works Gleb Leonov © V-A-C Foun­da­tion

Above: a study model show­ing el­e­ments of the ur­ban con­text. The de­sign in­cludes a large ex­te­rior pub­lic space with a square, lead­ing to the main build­ing’s en­trance Next page: the cen­tral hall dur­ing works

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