The recent exhibition “Arch Moscow” prompted architectural expert Grigory Revzin sound the death knell for the Moscow style of architecture, with its towers and excessive decoration. “…It has finally withered and died,” Revzin wrote. “A new elite is now on the scene … It took ten years to bring this elite into being. When winners win, it takes them some time to realize what comes next ... It is still too soon to say what these people will do, but we do know who they are.” One of these new architects, Timur Bashkaev, 35, knows what he wants to do.
A graduate of the Moscow Institute of Architecture (MARKhI), Bashkaev heads a young team of designers and architects who have been working together since 1991.
A fan of architect I.M. Pei, Bashkaev calls himself a Russian “yuppie” who tries to do everything in moderation. Drinking is never more than “just a good glass of red wine,” and work never devolves into workaholism. Instead, he prefers to spend time with his wife Yulia and his two sons, Maxim and Anton. “This is my position in principle, and my colleagues agree with me. If we had more orders, we would have more money, but there is enough as is. I have a car I like, an apartment I like—which I designed myself—and I can afford to spend holidays where I like.”
Bashkaev has designed houses for foreign oil and gas businesses in Kazakhstan, for Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev, a residential complex in Syktyvkar, an office building on Moscow’s Bolshaya Spasskaya street, and the trade center at the intersection of the Moscow Ring Road and Varshavskoye highway (owned, incidentally, by the same company which owns the rights to the first Russian film version of The Master and Margarita).
Other projects Bashkaev designed are a bit harder to see and touch, insofar as they are homes of Russia’s rich. Like that of the rich businessman who did not flinch at Bashkaev’s $30,000 design fee for a dacha in Peredelkino. “He was not looking for just any house—he wanted something out of this house ... none of that red brick stuff, no little towers, no high tech, no stylization a la ancient times,” Bashkaev said.
In another project, the young architect contracted to redesign the former dacha of Russia’s controversial ex-defense minister, Pavel Grachev (the order came from “a very serious Russian oil magnate,” Bashkaev said). Among other requests, the work involved construction of a swimming pool crowned with an Olympic-style pedestal.
Meeting and exceeding such extraordinary customer demands is what Bashkaev says makes his profession interesting. “We are the ones who reflect the ideals of the masses,” he said. “...The architect should also be ahead of his time—but no more than one or two steps, so that the customers will say: ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that, but I like it.’”
Bashkaev readily admits that some of his clients have been associated with the criminal world. “You can feel it by their manners and their habits,” he said. “But these people, when they turn to an architect, regard him as a god. For them, he represents a different, creative world. So by no means do they want to show their low-culture. They treat you with respect. Besides, today those in Russia who employ architects privately are not just rich but very rich people. This makes a difference. Our services are expensive, because we are not numerous and because the market is not well developed. And these rich who maybe had some ties with the criminal world, are now quitting it and conducting their business in different, civilized ways.”
In all, Bashkaev is optimistic about the future of his profession in Russia. “We live at an extraordinary time,” he said. “It’s a good era for young Russian architects. Each is now getting a feeling for his own style, his own perception, and this is great. Of course, we will be seeing the hiccups of [Moscow Mayor Yuri] Luzhkov’s style for quite some time, that stylization a la the past century. Or the hiccups of what I call ‘pseudo-Stalinist style’ that is now being imitated. But in our circles these things are considered tasteless ... True professionals who are smart are developing their own concepts. On the one hand, it means more freedom, more fantasy, more relaxed forms. On the other hand, we are seeing more professionalism, more aristocraticism, if you will. I think our architecture is developing along these two vectors.”
Bashkaev dreams one day of building a stadium, a theater and a modern skyscraper. Part of this dream will shortly come true, as his team is now designing a multi-purpose office building to be located at the end of Moscow’s Novy Arbat street.
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