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Home > Magazine > Issues > #39 May/Jun 2011 > Management school, Skolkovo
SKOLKOVO (RU) - Adjaye Associates' 80,000 m2 building is an all-in-one campus.
Skolkovo is a name that the European architecture audience will soon be quite familiar with, as the Russian government has chosen this village southwest of Moscow to host the country's new technology hub. The village itself will remain a village, but its surroundings will undergo drastic change. Several Western architectural practices will be involved in phased development of the area over the next few years. The Skolkovo School of Management not part of the technology hub itself, but of the area development is the first real sign that things are moving. The Management School is an unprecedented joint project by Russia's political and business elite and involves eighteen major companies and individuals. The project got under way in 2006 when the British practice Adjaye Associates won a three-way invited competition among non-Russian firms. Construction started in 2007, and in late 2010 the new building opened for business. The 27-hectare, so-called campus in fact the Management School is the only building of any size is located just outside the Moscow ring road. The school consists of a circular podium containing the public functions, including a conference centre, lecture theatre and a cafeteria, which can be used for a range of events. Above this drum are the student accommodation, the administrative offices, a sports and fitness centre with swimming pool, and a five-star hotel, which is intended to lure members of the business elite to come to the Moscow suburbs to lecture. The main justification for the all-in-one approach was the Russian climate: with one building housing all the campus functions there is no need to go outdoors. This design approach is also expected to encourage social interaction between the various people involved, providing opportunities for social networking and learning.
For the architects the Management School is important because of its social significance, scale and location; its 80,000 m2 make it the practice's largest project to date and its first in Russia. For Russia, its importance lies in its landmark status as the most expensive project so far in the field of education. But perhaps even more important is the fact that a foreign architectural practice was given the chance to realize its design in accordance with its own ideas and drawings. Foreign architects, apart from the big corporations, seldom get to realize their original projects in Russia today, which is a serious drawback for the development of the local professional world. The reasons vary, but mostly things get lost in local power struggles. This school is one of the first examples of a foreign-designed public building to be built as designed. It is rather unfortunate, therefore, that Adjaye has drawn inspiration from the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, turning the school's volumetric composition and elevation into an architectural interpretation of Malevich's masterpieces. He is not the first foreign architect to adopt this kind of approach in Russia, and it never seems to result in convincing architecture. There is a sense that it is an easy, lazy way out. The resulting building lacks elegance and, despite the pseudo-Russian references, does not relate to its context. If this were in the Netherlands, and a foreign practice came up with a design blatantly referencing Mondrian, there would no doubt be a heated discussion about its appropriateness.
However, it must be said that the building's interior, which is designed to promote social interaction, does appear to be well thought-out. The 'free flow' design has introduced a new standard in a field where a fresh approach is definitely needed. Local architects often find it difficult to be innovative because most clients do not appreciate the risks taken and are distrustful of their own peers' abilities. It is easier for a foreigner to overturn established but outdated ways of doing things. Development is continuing in Skolkovo. The French practice AREP recently beat OMA for the chance to masterplan the technology hub, which will kick off this year and should be completed by 2015. The project is government-sponsored and expectations are high that it will result in a well-designed urban environment. Within this larger context, the Skolkovo School of Management is of strategic importance and a symbol of change, regardless of its external appearance.
May | 2011 | Russia | Anton Eguerev Silva