Strelka / Graduation 2013
Russian school explores urbanism through research and collaboration
Forty students from Russia and around the world gathered in Moscow last week to celebrate their graduation from Strelka, a post-graduate school established and funded by a group of trustees dedicated to improving urban environments, and developing Moscow in particular.
In October the students were introduced to the school, the Strelka experience and the four studios, which each focus on different aspects of urban research over the year. This year, the studios covered Another Place: Towards New Patterns of Co(Habitation); Education as a Project: Past, Present and Future of Learning; Foresight in Hindsight: A History of Predictions and (Re)Charge Information: How to Debrief the City.
Students are drawn from a wide range of disciplines, including architecture, design, and programming, with the aim of the diverse group collaborating to build an alternative approach to questions around how cities - and by implication - culture, health, education and other aspects of life should develop.
David Erixon, programming director at Strelka and co-founder of Hyper Island, explained: 'What is fantastic is that Strelka is saying that cities are no longer dictated by great architects. Urbanism is a complex topic where you need to be able to understand lots of different interests. You need to be able to understand culture, architecture, economics... so there's truly multidisciplinary thinking at the heart of it. And what goes with that is that the students have to learn to collaborate: to listen to each other and to work together.
After undertaking field trips to such far flung locations as South Africa, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and Tokyo, the students returned to focus on their individual research projects, with the conclusions published in a research report for each studio and presented in a public exhibition at the end of the year, which Contagious was lucky enough to attend last week.
Each studio is hosted by leading architects and educators: Erixon is joined by Anastassia Smirnova, founder of the SVESMI consultancy, OMA's Reinier de Graaf, Felix Madrazo, co-founder of think tank Supersudaca and writer and designer Brendan McGetrick, amongst others.
Erixon told Contagious: It's a different way of approaching urbanism, where research is at the centre. Strelka's starting point is this is actually a big unknown. So if we want to actually improve quality of life, we need to learn how to understand the unknown. It's based not only on interdisciplinary knowledge, but also research. We have very different studios with very different research, and that's celebrated here. You don't need to beat everyone into the same mould.'
This year, students' research topics spanned such diverse areas as disease, punishment, museums, new ecologies, transportation systems, conservation, mobility, energy, and education and technology.
Dmitry Likin, Strelka trustee and co-owner of architecture bureau Wowhaus, initially saw students coming to Strelka 'thinking more about shape than about function. Of course in any architectural school they are taught that form follows function, but this function could be programmed and reprogrammed, this function has to communicate with the consumer. All these things are obvious things for Western architectural practises. They are absolutely out of discussion in the typical way of Russian architectural study.'
He added: 'Our idealistic model was to make and design architecture, but our target was to create people who can shape the architectural and cultural landscape. But this aim was a trap, in some ways. To deal with the landscape in which Russia exists now, we didn't need proposals, we needed to form client demand. Ideally we wouldn't want to create these architects, we would to create government officials who would actually be enlightened enough to be the client.'
To encourage this Strelka hosts a series of workshops, talks and film screenings in its courtyard, and has a consultancy arm that has been working with Moscow City government to run its Urban Forum. And, Strelka's bar and restuarant overlooking the river, is a common pick in Moscow guidebooks, and a prime place to sit and discuss the city.
The school's aims have developed from training architects to opening up wider discussions and awareness in the city's planners and demand in its population. Linkin explained: 'We wanted to bring in a civilised process into architecture and urban planning in Moscow. In a way we're trying to make it fashionable, and trying to bring transparency to the competition process.'
Erixon said: 'The basic purpose of Strelka is to contribute to the transformation of urbanism in general, but specifically in Russia. Even though this is a small place and we are only taking forty students, the ripple effect is huge. The topic of urbanism wasn't a topic in Russia, full stop. Now everyone is talking about it. These days even the smallest city in Russia is asking what are we going to do with public space? We have a very very big impact on the psyche and the culture, which is incredible.'