Reconstruction architect Alexey Krotov: It is time to leave humans' nests

Reconstruction architect Alexey Krotov: It is time to leave humans' nests
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A project for Moscow housing stock renovation envisages the demolition of obsolete five-story buildings and construction of new high-rises in their place. However, there is another solution — to reconstruct Khrushchev's five-story housing stock. This is what a Moscow architect Alexey Krotov is engaged in now. To find out details about his method, we have met in a reconstructed five-story building on Khimkinskiy Boulevard, where Alexey Vladimirovich lives.

Breaking is not making

— Alexey Vladimirovich, once inside your apartment, one would wonder how such a thing could be done in an ordinary Khrushchev's five-story building! Two-level apartments, free layout, a huge floor space — quite modern housing, even by Western standards...

— Indeed. But believe it or not, officials at all levels of government say that the reconstruction of houses of Khrushchev's era is unfeasible.

— Renovation advocates claim that the houses are so obsolete that there is no point in reconstructing them. Others believe that the five-story building is still a very strong housing stock. What do you think about the lifetime of the existing five-story buildings?

— You know, once I attended a conference on the renovation program. All the federal mass media gathered there. And a speaker, a fairly respected official, was saying that these houses were terribly old, with old wiring and useless communications. So, in order to replace all this, it was necessary to demolish... Journalists were listening and nodding. I could not help but speak out. But what about, I say, Academician Bocharov from Zhilishche Central Research Institute of Engineering Design, who has been designing and building these houses throughout his life, stating categorically that they are just 20% amortized? That is, these are quite strong buildings, which will stand for many more years!

— How did you manage to convince the local authorities and receive a permit for a pilot project for the reconstruction of the five-story building on Khimkinskiy Boulevard?

— The house where we are now used to be an unfit building — a household gas explosion occurred there. Just imagine, what it looked like when we saw it for the first time — as if after bombing! And we were allowed to experiment. We managed to begin reconstruction in less stringent conditions, with the resettlement of inhabitants. This reduced the work period to 8-9 months. We have cleaned out all old layouts. While earlier there were one-room and two-room apartments, now there are four-room and five-room ones, as well as three-room and four-room apartments on two levels. That is, we have completely changed the apartment floor plans. We have convinced an investor — the investment company — that it would benefit. And we have obtained a good result.

— What is the point of the project, in a technical sense?

— 4 floors have been added to the building but on their own footings. We have built up new structural elements, upon which four additional floors were laid. Along the perimeter, a monolithic bored piling platform will be formed 8-9 meters deep. And then, the pylons were built, spaced at certain intervals. Through these pylons, wall beams, which were one floor high, were laid along the entire depth of the building. Together with the floors, they create a rigid structure. These pylons are the bearing base for all four floors — they do not put pressure on the old part of the building. Moreover, we took away the weight of a wind and snow load. I'm sure it will stay up for another 100-200 years.

— Eventually, the building has obtained all the “options” inherent in a modern dwelling...

— Quite right, an elevator, garbage disposal, as well as beautiful and spacious lobby areas in the entrances have appeared here. Engineering communications, electricity systems have been completely replaced. The appearance of the house has changed — due to spectacular facade systems. That is, the building has acquired a completely modern look.

— In short, in your opinion, what is the advantage of reconstruction over renovation?

— It is cheaper. First, we considerably save on recycling. Secondly, we do not buy the land, we already have it. We already have half of the building’s structures: footings, walls, floors, staircases — all this we preserve. Service lines have already been brought to the house. We just clear the area inside, change the non-load-bearing partition walls and engineering systems.

As a result, there is a substantial saving. A few years ago we made a calculation: the cost of a reconstructed square meter was 13,600 rubles. It is very cheap. Total savings, compared to new construction, amounted to somewhere 30%. While in the current conditions, it will be even more — 40% because of an increased cost of recycling. In case people made a decision to carry out reconstruction under the program Zhilishche, the investor will benefit as well since he does not have to deal with the city. There will be no apartments to be transferred to the city.

Who is interested in building humans' nests

— Alexey Vladimirovich, so, when the city authorities have got acquainted with such obvious advantages, the logic goes, they should seek to obtain this project...

— That’s what it is, they are not seeking it. I'll explain why. All the years, since the 1950's there has been a brisk growth of housing. We have been building up the pace of construction to provide half of the country with housing. We have built houses. Let's ask ourselves the question: who was building them? Large industrial housing construction. Integrated homebuilding factories.

Now, the territories are built up, we do not have them anymore. Today, all these house-building monsters have to leave Moscow. There is no place for construction! Now, in theory, other cities and other territories should be developed. But here in Moscow, they are sold at a high price, whereas there they are sold at a low price. Therefore, the whole business remained here. And the city authorities, in a sense, are committed to this business. Therefore, everyone is interested in demolishing low-rise buildings and building high-rises — human’s nests — in their place!

In my opinion, renovation is a purely commercial project. The project that is conceived in the interests of large industrial housing construction, which has been designing and building millions of square meters of housing throughout the life.

— But we are told that the launch of the renovation program will improve the housing conditions of thousands of Moscow families...

— I doubt it. Look, under the renovation program, people are resettled on the “meter per meter” principle. That is, they get as many square meters as they had. We produce the same housing that was constructed in the 1960s. The same small apartments. At present, the solvency of the population is low, so people buy just small apartments. However, one cannot start a family in such a dwelling. One cannot raise children there.

In the 1960s most of the apartments that were built were two-room apartments. There, at least, a full-fledged family with two children can be started. Well, what now? We produce studio apartments, where a family of two would crowd, let alone families with children. This is the way we are stalemating our demographic problem.

Next. We use age-old solutions in new construction. New cheap housing is constructed in the same way as it was built in the 19th century. Basic distribution: water, sewage, electric, and the most primitive ventilation — an exhaust system.

Meanwhile, abroad builders are trying to reconstruct a housing stock using the latest technology — for example, recuperation technology when the warm air that is exhausted from the premises “heats” the one that comes from the street.

The authorities’ commitment to business undermines our ability to make reasonable decisions. It would seem, just take the old housing and reconstruct it, like this. There will be an elevator, a garbage disposer, and new engineering systems. Apartments will be larger, the house will become individual in appearance. But no! The business is not interested. Because the business wants to do five times more in this territory and sell it. That is the task of the business!

— As far as is known, 5,000 houses are included in the renovation program by now, while 4,000 houses aren’t, they are out of the picture. Meanwhile, they are in poor condition, some are in a critical condition. Your idea could be applied at least to these houses...

Therein lies the rub, they do not permit. They place obstacles. They put sand in the wheels. By the way, the residents united in a housing association have the right to reconstruct their house. With or without resettlement — this is a technicality. In this case, the city authorities must issue an initial planning permit for the construction. But the city does not do it.

Several dozens of cooperatives have already been established in Moscow, with the residents united and willing to reconstruct their houses. So, they appeal to the department of urban construction policy: Come on! Give us the permission documentation. But those officials, having considered the appeal, say: it is unfeasible.

People, owners of apartments and land under the house, owners of the city do not have the right to choose what is best for them. Well, what can I say? By the way, it could be beneficial to investors as well. It is possible, at the expense of attracted funds, to reconstruct what already exists, adding several floors. And then sell the built-up apartments on the market.

Project for a five-story building reconstruction, 50, Shchelkovskoe Shosse

Project for reconstruction of a housing group, Cherepovets

Individual approach

— Alexey Vladimirovich, could you please tell us about the work, if any, on the creation of standard reconstruction projects?

— That is what so great about reconstruction, all solutions here are individual. After all, customers — I mean the owners of apartments in these houses — are different people. And they have different requirements. And the urban situation in each case is different.

The reconstruction project cannot be standard, it can only be individual. With the help of reconstruction, it is possible to change the standard building for the better, giving the facades an individual appearance. Such kind of work is carried out in our architectural workshop for a number of appeals of residents of the old housing stock, which was not included in the renovation program.

— What achievements in terms of planning solutions and modern materials used in reconstruction do you see today in Western countries?

— In other countries — the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Finland — unlike us, the housing stock is kept orderly. Existing residential buildings, including the five-story ones, are being repaired, modernized and reconstructed on time. Even in some Baltic countries, when retrofitting old houses, inflow exhaust ventilation with heat recovery is applied. Such engineering systems significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reduce their energy consumption and operating costs.

In general, in the West, the latest technologies, construction products, and materials are used in the reconstruction of old buildings.

— I wonder what about the subject of reconstruction in the curriculum in architecture both abroad and in Russia?

— Abroad, the curriculum in architecture is not divided into new construction and reconstruction. There are design or building structures that give preference to one or the other in their activities. And a specialist who obtained the diploma should provide proof of his or her professional abilities by completing an internship in one or another company. Thus, they build up further specialization on their own.

— Alexey Vladimirovich, and yet, what major obstacles, in your opinion, are currently on the way to the reconstruction of Russia's housing stock?

— In Moscow, I suppose, the urban policy itself is the main obstacle to reconstruction. Moscow authorities have relied on new high-rise buildings. In their opinion, it is all right to erect a 25-story residential building on the site of a children's or sports grounds in the courtyard of a housing group. Whereas the residents’ intention to reconstruct their own house using non-budget funds is for some reason prohibited.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain an initial planning permit for reconstruction in Moscow. The Urban Planning and Land Commission has issued permits for new construction in Moscow for 5 years in advance, while the very few of them were issued for reconstruction. This the urban planning policy in the capital city we have — it is more for the sake of business than local residents.

Interviewed by Elena Matseiko

Editorial note: At present, there are as many as 29 housing construction co-operatives in Moscow wishing to reconstruct their houses. The Association of Urban Landowners has been established. More details about this issue we covered in an article titled A Renovation Architect vs A Reconstruction Architect.