Alexey Komov: the chief architect in the Crimea is an extreme sport

Alexey Komov: the chief architect in the Crimea is an extreme sport
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The Crimea is far from being solely a seasonal resort, as many people on the mainland might think. There are people living here! Residents of the Peninsula, like inhabitants of any other region, need a convenient infrastructure, modern comfort, reasonable town-planning solutions. Apart from that, the Crimea has a unique environment, both natural and cultural, which urgently needs protection.

Challenges that the Crimean towns have to deal with today was the topic of our conversation with a former chief architect and now an adviser to the head of Evpatoria administration, a founder of the Urbotech scientific and educational center at the Sevastopol State University, and a member of the Board of the Russian Union of Architects, Alexey Komov.

Back to the future

— Alexey, what kind of urban layout has Russia inherited in the Crimea?

— If you want to see who we were and who we have become, welcome to the Crimea. Without any return ticket. At present, the Crimea is our magnifying mirror. This is a tangle of problems stemming from the post-Soviet era, compressed in one location.

Remember, it took a record five years to restore the post-war Sevastopol. The Crimea has been part of Russia for four years. When compared with the “bloody Stalin’s regime”, in a year, there should be renewed cities. However, this will not happen. Sure, everything will be done but it's a pity that a lot of time and resources were unjustifiably wasted at the start when people were ready for decisive actions on the part of the center.

Judge for yourself, the Crimean cities still do not have master plans! The only city that has a town-planning concept and where the situation will still be adjusted is Simferopol. The rest of the cities, perhaps, only by the end of this year — in an emergency mode — will agree on their master plans, and somewhere land use and development rules as well.

The development of the Great Sevastopol Trail tourist routes

— In the Soviet era, the Crimea had a well-developed economic pattern...

— Following the collapse of the USSR, the Crimean economy has been completely destroyed. In Evpatoria alone — taking into account its 70 sanatoriums — the recreational and sanatorium component accounted just for 25%, the rest fell on the industry. A children's health resort, after all! This is about an aircraft repair plant and Vympel electronics plant, etc. As you understand, a hundred thousand people were not just nurses and physical training instructors from children's health centers but employees of enterprises as well.

At present, the industry is ruined. The Crimean economy functions exclusively seasonally. There are no large private investments into the Crimea because the region is under sanctions. There are only two possible channels in the Crimea: either piggy banks’ micro-money that people earned in the season with the help of buying and selling, or funds from federal targeted programs that are not available since they go to the implementation of major federal projects. Moreover, their disbursement is a great responsibility, every penny is controlled with a fine-tooth comb.

The problem is that in the Crimea, there is no so-called average money that can be invested in the construction of facilities, including infrastructure, “here and now”. There is no operative money supply. And in such a situation, there could hardly be any kind of a breakthrough.

When watching TV, one sees the under-construction Crimean bridge, Simferopol airport, Tavrida federal highway, everything is fine and beautiful! But these are federal facilities, they are being built by the federal authorities. Regional construction is being stalled and for many reasons. In particular, the reason is that tenders are won by developers who offer cheap and “feasible” work.

The mega-bench Evpatoria

— And what is under construction today in the Crimean regions? Hotels, resorts?

— Bless you! First of all, utility networks must be reinstalled here! There could be no question of any resort infrastructure construction while the loss of water in Evpatoria’s pipeline amounts to more than 50%! You see, for many years, there have been almost no major repairs in the Crimea.

Some Crimean cities are a real disaster zone. In Koktebel, for example, there are still no purification facilities and all wastes are dumped directly into the sea. We have got, in fact, a half-dead region. And it is impossible to revive it with a wave of a wand. The federal authorities have entrusted the local elites to “provide treatment”, however, they often are physically unable to cope with the problems.

Small architectural forms in the Dinopark of Sevastopol

— Is the situation better in Sevastopol?

— Sevastopol cannot be compared with the Republic — this is another story, other problems. There is another government, another governor, another region. Sevastopol is a city of federal significance. City of Russian glory. The city of Russian architectural glory. After World War II, it was restored by the best architects of the Stalin’s era, given that during the war it was leveled to the ground. Buildings were being constructed on old footings and networks, so urban morphotypes have been preserved.

— What is the architectural heritage of the city?

— The fact is that in Sevastopol, there are not one or several buildings but rather a whole ensemble. I am often asked, what is my understanding of the Crimean style? So, the Crimean style for me is most fully realized in Sevastopol, in the city in general. Not Livadia Palace, not some kind of fancy building or detail but a city in which people live and which conforms to a complex landscape.

— It was in Sevastopol that a new educational base for architects was decided to be set up, wasn’t it?

— Yes, My young Sevastopol colleagues and I decided to start with a decent architectural and design education, with the support of the administration of the Sevastopol State University. A year ago, the Urbotech scientific and educational center was launched under the University, which, I hope, will turn into a full-fledged educational unit. Licenses of the Ministry of Education have been received. Academic activity will begin in 2019.

This year, Urbotech has been assisting the city and the university by engaging in scientific and practical work. Under the agreement with the Department of Urban Development of Sevastopol, they made regulations, developed archetypes — from beaches to the improvement of Sevastopol suburbs — Balaklava. They were building up the reputation of the University of Sevastopol as a center of architecture and design. Today we have reformatted the structure a bit, strengthening the educational core. I have already performed my startup function. I am convinced that we should neither criticise, nor play too much with our youth, we just have to work with them!

The bench Crimea

What is the need for a “direct action” architecture?

— You said that most of the Crimean cities did not have master plans. So why don’t local administrations take care about finding funds for this?

— Well, where the money is? Do poverty-ridden municipalities have them? Do small businesses have them? Do sellers of panties and cakes have them? With their last piggy bank taken away, a social upheaval is guaranteed for sure. Look, a master plan is a visual representation of budget obligations of the municipalities. These are the rules for spending money, but as you know: “No money, but grin and bear it.” This is a vicious circle, which can be broken only by the political will and reason.

A few years ago I had to take on the role of a Crimean official, by working as the chief architect of Evpatoria. What did I, the chief architect, could do in conditions of shortage of funds? Look, one does not have a master plan but the city needs to be prepared for the season. In the season, people make money to survive: buy a school uniform for their children, medicines for elderly parents, food, after all. They have no other way to get these funds. And the task was, on the one hand, to demolish the terrible shalms and tents, and on the other hand, to offer something new and real, so as not to leave people holding an empty bag, without a job and means of subsistence.

Evpatorian Cultural and Ethnographic Center “The Lesser Jerusalem”

While Moscow is being developed because of too much money, this is the only thing that can be done in Evpatoria. We adopted the rules of improvement since it was the only thing that the city could do in the absence of a master plan. Instead of shalms, we have developed various archetypes of trade pavilions, small architectural forms. Moreover, they were manufactured in the city, with the relevant production being established. The improvement of beaches in a single style was also carried out at the expense of internal modernization.

For myself, I called it the architecture of direct action, which means the ability to influence locally, “here and now”. Being an official in the Crimea is an extreme sport. But this extreme is a compulsive work, in case one knows how and what to do. Today, based on the Crimean experience, we have done a textbook for mayors on different types of “packaging” of the urban environment, from souvenir stalls, summer playgrounds, beaches to non-stationary buildings for selling melons and gourds, etc. This manual is called “Gorkon” — a city constructor.

The development of tourist routes “The Grand Sevastopol Trail”

Only big companies can afford to have their own resort

— Alexey, in your opinion, what influences the resort architecture — climate, cultural traditions, local materials and technologies, infrastructure? And what is the peculiarity of the Crimean architecture?

— What distinguishes the Crimea from Sochi is the importance of the environment and conditions. There are so subtle combinations, unlike the monumental and brutal natural landscape of the Caucasus, that it is impossible simply to turn around and adapt to the architecture of Sochi, for example, the way it was done with Yalta Intourist hotel in the 1970s. This, by the way, was the first invasion of Sochi style into the Crimea. Having “dropped” that cabinet there, without much piety to a fine Crimean environment, those who made the decision actually opened a Pandora's box. Now we are reaping the fruits in the form of a hopelessly ruined sea facade of the city.

The Friendship sanatorium near Yalta

The main thing in the Crimea is nature. And the architect's task is not to cause damage. Why is the famous Friendship recreational compound by architect Vasilevsky — a so-called “gear-wheel” on the leg — was invented that way? In order not to destroy the surrounding landscape, but rather to ascend above it. That beautiful solution was dictated by the knowledge and understanding of the environment. You know, the Crimea taught me humility. The best architecture is one that is “unnoticeable,” truth be told.

Well, on the question of what affects the resort architecture as a whole, this is, of course, the climate and functionality. This is a whole science, the knowledge about the resort architecture! We should know it, study and apply. For example, pergolas and tents on the beach. If you unaware of the sun's way of motion, you will not design them properly. According to science, even the loggia depth influences the daytime sleep of the holidaymaker!

Regulations for the improvement of Evpatoria beaches

— Until recently, even small enterprises had their own sanatoriums and health and recreation resorts. And architects had a job. Today, only large companies can afford to have their own resort. In your opinion, is there a chance for a specialized resort design to survive in conditions of the lack of orders?

— In the Soviet era, there was a system of design institutes. Everyone was engaged either in railway stations, or industry, or resorts. On the Peninsula, KrymNIIproekt united everyone, from geologists and researchers to engineers and architects. In the past, while studying at an architectural institute, one did not have to bother about orders, since graduates worked under the assignment. The architect should not even have it on his or her mind and think about how to survive. The architect did not have to throw the hooks and lick the dust. Now there is no such system anymore.

When we “happily” entered into capitalism, it became a universal norm to compromise with one's conscience in order just to maintain a family. This, of course, has humiliated and broken the spirit of professionals. Now, instead of professionals, we have got solely effective managers. In my opinion, without the revival of the architectural design system, any hopes for a breakthrough are empty dreams today.

The reconstruction of a square on Kornilov embankment, Sevastopol

Why therapy is more useful than repression

— It's no secret that in recent years, many southern cities have been built up spontaneously and often without authorization. How is the fight against squatter developments is going on in the Crimea?

— On the one hand, everyone understands that there is the need to fight. A couple of years ago, a multi-story building was blown up in Sevastopol in plain view of the public. However, the process of its demolition was a problematic one — the building had not been falling for a long time. After that, a lot of garbage had remained on the site for a long time.

But look, demolition is always expensive. Actually, with what money? There must be a well-thought-out system, rather than a show-off. Let’s look at the example of Moscow: All the light constructions near metro stations were demolished for one night in the capital city, and this was done at the expense of the city funds.

In addition, there is one more matter that should be kept in mind — a mutual responsibility. In the Crimea, its is especially strong: “... I knew his father, well, how will I demolish it?”, “... I will demolish it, whereas he is a relative of Ivan Ivanych, Zinaida Evgenievna”, etc.... Municipalities are small, everyone knows everyone, therefore, any aggressive move is perceived as a personal insult.

One can see the point of municipalities as well. With a certain area “on hand,” where all production facilities have been eliminated long ago and people are solely preoccupied exclusively with the problem of seasonal survival, it is important to act very carefully. For many, their small cafe by the sea or a temporary pavilion on a busy street is a matter of life and death. Therefore, I am ambivalent about squatter developments. There should be social therapy carried out simultaneously with well-weighted urban development repressions.

Small architectural forms, Yalta

Are we able to reach the world-class resort?

— Do you believe that in Crimea, a modern resort comparable to foreign ones can be established?

— Yes, I do. The Crimean main resource is the Crimea itself. The one who will take a comprehensive approach to the development of this region will benefit. There are so many unique places in the Crimea! There is no need to lay the tile or something else there, they just need to be maintained in good order. And if you promote the history of the place a bit — natural routes, Crimean style, etc. — we will get that very commercial component we need.

A world-class resort is no longer up to the Crimean authorities but is rather up to the federal ones. A clearly articulated doctrine is required. Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that there is no reason to talk about quality architecture, global improvement until we address the challenge with linear objects, water supply networks, purification facilities, sewerage, etc.

At present, unfortunately, we try to powder and spruce up a patient in every possible way, instead of treating him. Hence the unrestrained and often merciless boom of the development activity. Whereas the time for real complex work is slipping away irrevocably and hopelessly.

Interviewed by Elena Matseiko