Nickolai Shumakov: If we attract more young architects, the Russian Architects’ Union will be revitalized

Nickolai Shumakov: If we attract more young architects, the Russian Architects’ Union will be revitalized
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Why the new President of the Russian Architects’ Union thinks that the profession of an architect should be reanimated

Recently, President of the Moscow Architects’ Union, Nickolai SHUMAKOV, was elected new President of the Russian Architects’ Union. Everybody is anticipating where the new captain will lead the architectural ship. Nickolai Shumakov spoke to “Construction.RU” on how he is going to reorganize the work of the Union, and on the role of architecture in modern society, in his exclusive interview.

— Mr Shumakov, do you intend to retain the position of the President of the Moscow Architects’ Union or will you fully concentrate on the new position — President of the Russian Architects’ Union?

— I was asked about it at the Union Congress, and in such an elegant manner: if you simultaneously train a club football team and the Russian national team, time will come to choose. So what will you choose then? I will answer directly: I will choose the national team, of course, if it refers to the national team of architects.

— It is quite clear with the Moscow Union, but how does the position of Metrogyprotrans’s chief architect help you?

— A union is a public organization; it lives at the expense of their members’ dues. But it is necessary to maintain buildings and pay a salary to the administration, plus money is needed to organize events. 

A lot of different companies – construction organizations, deliverers, finishers, etc.  – work for the Metro. I try to attract them as partners of the Union’s different events. We even have a club of partners, including a lot of different outside organizations.

— What strands of work of the former Russian Architects’ Union do you think necessary to keep focusing on, and what new aspects will appear in its work?

— There used to be many commissions and councils in the former Union; on cultural heritage conservation, on urban development and land planning, on architectural education. Commissions on legal and ethical issues – all these should be kept because they proved their feasibility. 

It is necessary to focus on the main strands of work, and one of them is, of course, work with young architects. The Union is getting older: half of its members are pensioners. They are famous architects, but unless we attract young people, the Union’s prospects will be grey. 

The situation has been corrected in Moscow during the last few years. We organize a great number of useful and interesting events for young architects. And they have begun to understand that the Union is a good starting point for professionals. Taking into account our Moscow experience, we should work with younger people all over Russia, and we actively take to this.

The second important item concerns enhancing work in other regions. The key word in the title of our organization is Russia, and the task of the Russian Union is to deal with all Russia, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Kaliningrad.


Shumakov: «The task of the Russian Union is to deal with all Russia, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Kaliningrad»


If I do not have enough time, Vice-Presidents will go to the regions. Staying in Moscow all the time it is impossible to understand how things are in Voronezh, Saratov and Khabarovsk…

— This year, with the help of mass media, including our journal, the problem of the chief architect’s status enhancement has been driven from a deadlock on the governmental level.  Is RAU going to initiate some legislation to reinforce the chief architects’ position in all the regions? We have often asked this question at Public councils affiliated with the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities. Are there any changes?

— We have been dealing with this issue for several years. There is some prospect, but I do not clearly see how it will be implemented. It is very difficult to gain subordination to the chief executive — deputy chief executives on construction and other officials always appear in between.

But still the Union has always raised these issues and tried to solve them. Any laws applying to the development of architecture and architectural activity in Russia will be developed with the direct participation of the Architects’ Union. And we shall always adhere to this.

— Are you going to discuss the problem of the architect’s status in other regions publicly?

— All these issues are interconnected and the role of the press is high. Of course, any issue, even if it seems not very important to a professional but interesting to a common user, should be publicly debated. 

And there is no use in our sitting and talking quietly among ourselves.

Nickolai Shumakov: If we attract more young architects, the Russian Architects’ Union will be revitalized

The "Bitsevsky park" metro station, architect N. Shumakov


— And, again , what is the right position of the chief architect in a region, in your opinion? Should he be subordinate to the governor, his deputy for construction or the minister of construction?

— Directly to the first official. It won’t be good if he is subordinate to the deputy on construction.

— By the way, in the list of the President’s charges after the May State Council it is said: «To recommend executive bodies of the RF regions to establish direct subordination of the chief architect of a region of the RF to the highest official of the region»…

— Until there is a Law on architectural activity, nothing will change. Next year we shall enter the draft law to the State Duma, pass all hearings, adopt it and then speak about it publicly with your assistance.

Who thought the “Ukraine” hotel an architectural excess?

— There is an opinion in the architectural community that architects’ labour is less and less demanded. What do you think about it? 

— Unfortunately, it is a long historical process. On November 4th, 1955, the Resolution of the CPSU Central Committee and council of Ministers of the USSR issued “On elimination of excessiveness in architecture and construction”. The document turned everything upside down. 

— …after Khruschev’s visit to the “Ukraine” hotel?

— This is one thing. The entire story has been described in literature. Since then, a constructor became the head of a project and money and cheapness became a standard.

The trend caught on with Khruschev-era five-storey buildings, then they grew a little to nine-storey and twelve-storey ones, but the point did not change.

— So, we receive such thinking as a heritage of that time?

— Absolutely right wording. The words “architect” and “architecture” have been practically forgotten. People neither understand the word nor what architects deal with: why should anything be designed if a constructor has come to build…

One of the main tasks of the Union is to struggle for the profession’s existence, to return the proper status to architecture.

— One more question: why are Russian developers afraid of world level architecture? What prevents them from perceiving and implementing it in Russia on a full scale? Why are foreign architects seldom invited? Do we not want to learn from them? Or do we have no money or courage? What are we lacking?  

— We do not have an architectural policy – and that’s all. I shall not speak in general about the culture in our society – it has been reduced to a ballet. All Russia’s vastness is represented by the Bolshoi theatre. And it is only for the exclusive, and for everybody else there’s close-minded pop music, bald variety art, tenth-rate soap operas, etc. Society has degraded. But it is not right! 

And one of the main missions of our Union is to raise the cultural level of the country. We must achieve production of world-class architecture, the more so that we have architects of a world level. And we need not hope for foreign architects.


Shumakov: «We do not have an architectural policy All culture has been reduced to ballet. Russia’s vastness is represented by the Bolshoi theatre. But it is not right!»


— The future law on architectural activity may include the notion of what architecture must be like in all regions… Sometimes driving in the Moscow region…

— … you are crying.

— …and in a German or Czech land it is a sight for sore eyes, and you want to stay there for a longer time.

— Yes, it is so.

Nickolai Shumakov: If we attract more young architects, the Russian Architects’ Union will be revitalized

A bridge across the Moskva-river, architect N. Shumakov


— What should be done for us to admire the Russian regions’ sights?

— Until the government changes its attitude towards architecture, and how architecture “sounds” in society, nothing will change. And we shall build miserable hovels and envy Europe. 

When will our architects build in Italy and Germany?

— The way architects are taught in Russian universities has been reprimanded more than once. What can be done for Russian architects to be appreciated in Italy, Germany, etc.?

— While Russia has oil we shall not deliver architecture to Italy or Germany. They are not interested in it. If architecture is not demanded in the native country, how can we speak about its export?


Shumakov: «In Russia, we have very few architects per thousand people when compared with Germany, France, England and America. Not two or three-fold, but rather less.»


As far as architectural education is concerned, we have very good universities - the Moscow Institute of Architecture, Strelka, Moscow Architecture School, etc.  In April, the Moscow Institute of Architecture was granted the status of  a “Russian cultural asset” by Presidential Decree – alongside the Bolshoi theatre and the Trtyakov Gallery. It may be the first step in society to architecture. 

In Russia, we have very few architects per thousand people when compared with Germany, France, England and America. Not two or three-fold, but rather less…

— By the way, in America 89,000 architects are included in the Institute of Architecture, a professional union. How many are there in Russia?

— The Russian Architects’ Union includes 12,000 people.

— Only…?

— It is a symptom. The Moscow Architects’ Union numbers 4,500 architects and half of them are senior citizens. There is low demand for the profession irrespective of the level of education. 

— In the 20th century, architecture survived many stylistic shocks: constructivism, modernism, post-modernism, deconstructivism… What architectural style are we in, from your standpoint, and where are we moving?

— I’d rather speak not of the great style but of the reanimation of the profession. Unfortunately…

The “Zodchestvo” festival got fresh young breath

— Until recently, I had the impression that the “Zodchestvo” festival was declining, but this year it revived the spirit. Will the festival develop, do you think? 

— Of course it will continue. The festival used to be based on a general competition: artworks and projects were brought from all the regions and architects showed their achievements. This has all remained in the new “Zodchestvo”, which took place in “Tryokhgorka”.

But young architects implemented an absolutely new trend whereby there was a special space for an architectural forum of workshops, round tables, public presentations, master-classes, lectures and seminars.

Young architects organized and held a festival for themselves, and the number of the festival visitors grew two-fold when compared with last year. So, we shall develop it.

And see how nice the «Zodchestvo-2017” young supervisors’ statement sounds:

«In the modern world, when quality has already been achieved, quality is the necessary factor for winning the competition.

We know that quality must be paid with effort, money and time. And professional quality architecture may bring significant profit both to a customer and the city in the long-term prospect, making expenses for maintenance and repair optimal, and the city space comfortable and attractive for citizens and investors…».

It sounds very promising, to my mind.

— I have always been convinced that an architect belongs to the intellectual elite. If everything is put properly, do you think an architect will become the elite of the construction complex? 

— Very simply, an architect is the main constructor. We want to believe that, but it is difficult in Russia. We should ask ourselves if there is an intellectual elite in society? It will be difficult to answer. The elite in a world of pop – is it possible?


Shumakov: «An architect has to overcome a multistage system of endless coordinations and approvals at all stages – starting with concluding an agreement and making first drafts and up to getting construction permission and hammering the last nail»


But, as you say, “if everything is put properly”, of course, an architect is part of the elite. We have a very good comprehensive complex education, close to culture, and we work with our head and hands. And if we constantly read good books, master brush and pen, know art, and if men wear a hat and moustache, and women lacy parasols… Wonderful! 


— Will the renovated Russian Architects’ Union hold festivals and competitions besides “Zodchestvo”? 

— We are going to organise some in the regions for architects to compete locally first and then gather in Moscow. 

Besides, three youth forums are planned to be held. So, you see, that the main things are youth and regions.

Nickolai Shumakov: If we attract more young architects, the Russian Architects’ Union will be revitalized

N. Shumakov. The portrait of Sveta Sebiakina


Why are foreigners interested in Russia, yet it is difficult for them to adopt projects? 

— At the 100+Forum in Yekaterinburg our online journal managed to interview Associate Director at the famous architectural bureau — Zaha Hadid Architects – Christos Passas. And he mentioned, in particular, that it is interesting to work in Russia but it is complicated to adopt architectural projects. Is it really so? And why so? 


— Unfortunately, everything in Russia is extremely bureaucratized, including construction and architecture. An architect has to overcome a multistage system of endless coordinations and approvals at all stages, starting with concluding an agreement and making first drafts and up to getting construction permission and hammering the last nail… 

Every time we say, let’s make it simpler but do not manage. We can do more complicated – but not simpler…


— And our traditional question. You have little free time, but I’m sure you have a hobby? What is it?

— I start my working day at 8.15 a.m. at “Metrogyprotrans” and finish at 9.30 p.m. at the Architects’ Union. I do not get home before 10 p.m., so I have forgotten all my hobbies. But, actually, I’m a well-known painter – I paint portraits and nub figures, but I have no time for painting now and it is a catastrophe…


— What would you like to wish young architects who start working or only dream of becoming an architect?

— They must understand one thing: architecture engrosses a man fully. A practicing architect has no time for personal life: all 24 hours of the day he is busy with architecture. 


If young people are ready to sacrifice for the sake of their favourite profession, they may enter it. And those who have already got the profession should understand that nobody will help them in the profession. Only they themselves should work, build their career, find customers, work on quality architecture, show it everywhere and receive good marks.


— That is, they should work and work and work …

— Exactly. And this is the only way.



Alexander GUSEV, Elena MATSEIKO