Building connection one heart at a time
Building connection one heart at a time

Uniqueness of Districts On the City’s Outskirts

Architect Anastasia Petrova on local identity
06.26.2020
Uniqueness of Districts On the City’s Outskirts

Anastasia Petrova is an architect with more than 15 years of working experience. Throughout her work, she has designed upwards of 200 thousand sq. m. of real estate. Today, the expert combines such positions as Chief Architect at an investment and construction holding company with Dean of Architecture College of MKIK. Fulfilment of social projects is an important part of her activities. For several years already, Ms. Petrova has been researching and popularizing the architectural heritage of Izmaylovo, which is her home district in Moscow.

Петрова1_T.jpg Anastasia Petrova
Chief Architect of the TZAM Group investment and construction holding company, Dean of Architecture College of MKIK

Each city and district is unique and interesting in its own way and has truly valuable cultural and architectural heritage. This is what Anastasia Petrova seeks to demonstrate through her social projects. For several years, she has been developing the Izmaylovo Architecture blog, giving tours of the district, taking initiatives to preserve architectural objects, and being one of the curators of the students’ project dedicated to studying the architecture of Soviet modernism. 

– Why is it important for you to pay so much attention to social projects? 

– There is a misunderstanding in society all interesting objects our city has is concentrated in the centre of Moscow. Indeed, the most important historical objects and monuments of the past that are officially considered part of the country’s cultural heritage are located there. However, that does not mean that the appearance of architecture should be preserved and maintained only when its value is confirmed by experts and the state.

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There are also residential districts of Moscow. They are no less interesting to study. Moscow is a large city, different parts of which were built at different times. There are both old districts and those that appeared recently. 

As practice shows, the local identity of the district can be formed during 50-60 years of its development. Interesting spaces and architectural objects appear and create a special unique atmosphere within that time.

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It is important to understand that architectural monuments not included in cultural heritage officially are valuable to the residents of the district and no less important in general. They form the ‘face’ of the district and are likely to become an important part of history in the future. 

As a professional in the field of architecture, I see my social mission in contributing to the identification and preservation of the local identity of Izmaylovo, my home district.

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– Why do you like Izmaylovo so much? What is its identity? 

– I love this district primarily because it links together four generations of my family. This is where my grandparents lived, where my parents, me, and my child were born. We walked and spent our childhood and youth in the same places at different times. That unity is extremely valuable for me. 

I consider many places in Izmaylovo very valuable and important. If someone decides to rebuild them, I will probably feel the same pain as if they were destroying a cultural heritage monument. I believe, other residents of the Izmaylovo district would feel the same pain.

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Architecture can’t exist without people and their personal stories. A building or a space connected to the memories of a person or entire generations is especially valued in society. The more people in a district are interested in architecture, the more likely it is that the local identity will be preserved. 

Izmaylovo is a historically rich district. There is an estate of the 17th century located in it. The beginning of shipbuilding in Russia is historically linked to this place. In one of the ponds of Izmaylovo, Peter the Great known as ‘the grandfather of the Russian fleet’ found that very English boot. That boot is now stored in the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. That makes Izmaylovo one of those districts that are of great importance in terms of Russia’s history. However, after the reign of Peter the Great, this place was almost forgotten and turned into an ordinary working suburb.

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The authorities and society paid their attention to the district only in 1935 when it became part of Moscow. Today, the majority of its architecture belongs to the Soviet times, the postwar Stalin period, and the so-called modernist architecture. 

So, what is the peculiarity of the district if most of its buildings is similar to architecture in many Russian cities? It may seem absurd but that is its uniqueness. 

Today, this architecture is young and it seems that there is no point in treating it with special care because it has no historical value. However, it will acquire a completely different status in a few decades. If we don’t pay attention to objects that may become cultural heritage monuments in the future, we risk being left without our past.

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– Most of the Izmaylovo district’s architecture is made up of Soviet modernism buildings. Today, society’s attitudes towards them are quite controversial. In your expert opinion, what is Soviet modernism interesting for? 

– Soviet modernism is one of the participants in a long chain of the historical development of domestic architecture. I sometimes cite a rather crude but at the same time very illustrative metaphor as an example. A person has jaws and if you knock out at least one tooth, the overall appearance of that person will not be so holistic and attractive. Our domestic architecture has been developing since the 10th century with many successive styles. Soviet modernism was one of them, one of the ‘teeth’. We can’t erase it from the overall picture. 

Of course, architecture can be very different in any style. Everything depends on the author of the project, the architect, the type of building, and its historical significance. If we compare it on a city or country scale, there are not many advanced examples of architecture in Izmaylovo. However, it is much more important to assess it from the perspective of local identity, which we have already discussed.

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One should determine status in the history of the district for each building. When we begin to study architecture linked to some stories of the district’s residents and our own feelings, even those objects that are not included in textbooks or brochures become significant. And this is not about external beauty. 

I always call upon people to study the history of their districts. It is really very interesting. Moreover, it extends the worldview of people. I tell about the features and identity of our district in my social media group called Izmaylovo Architecture. I regularly publish my research about buildings regardless of their cultural and historical value and provide my followers with a lot of unique and curious information. 

In my opinion, we do not need expert recognition and official confirmation of the value of that architecture to reveal our feelings towards it as residents of our district.

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Izmaylovo has very high-level buildings of Soviet modernism. For example, the Pervomaysky department store, It was in danger of being demolished not so long ago. When learning about that, I wrote a letter, in which I advocated the preservation of the architectural monument. The document was signed by about 20 experts including countrywide known specialists. The publication of the letter on social media caused a huge response from the residents of Izmaylovo. I was very pleased that people felt the value of that building and understood the importance of preserving such architectural objects. 

By the way, demolition of buildings is a process exposing a number of pressing issues not only in terms of heritage preservation but also in terms of ecology and economy. Firstly, construction of the most of architecture was funded from the taxes of the city residents. In other words, the buildings of Soviet modernism were often built with the money of our grandparents. That is why it is always important to analyse whether it will be more profitable to restore the object before demolishing it. Secondly, any particular building is thousands of cubic meters of building material. That demolition waste must be taken out of town and properly buried. Is the destruction of those buildings worth of such difficulties and costs?

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– Today, people often talk about the importance to keep positive in the information space and to take care of the environment because all that affects people. However, we do not think much about public people influence people. As an architect, what do you think about that? 

– Public spaces and architecture in general have a very big impact on people. In their turn, people have a big impact on the spaces they are in. That’s a very important and valuable relationship. 

Architecture makes it possible to create comfort and special atmosphere, to create places that bring people together and become points of attraction. The architectural environment can influence a person’s mood.

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However, a special atmosphere in any place is created by not only the architectural environment but also people themselves. They are also an important part of the local identity of the district. 

Decisions on demolishing or reorganising public spaces are often taken without considering the opinions of the district’s residents. I believe, that’s one of the pressing problems today. Such an approach has harms the development of the urban environment. The residents may have their own ideas about what must be around them. Moreover, there may be an entire microenvironment in the district. Reconstruction of familiar spaces can easily destroy it. 

For example, there is one place in Izmaylovo Park where elderly people of several successive generations have been gathering. There they listen to music, play guitars or garmons, communicate, and dance. Now just imagine that someone decides to reorganise the Izmaylovo forest and build a fountain in the centre of that site. The goal is positive and no one wants to do anything bad. However, that would destroy the existing microenvironment, which was so valuable to the residents.

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It is necessary to work on public spaces properly to let them have such a positive impact on people, to form and develop such microenvironments of social interaction, solidarity, and humanity. 

– How to bring up people’s love for what surrounds them, for their home district? 

– Bringing up the love for their home district is possible, first of all, through interest and education. When I was a young girl, I thought that I lived on the outskirts of the city having nothing interesting here. Everything changed when I started reading more about different buildings in our district and discovered a lot of new exciting things. 

Now I am giving tours of Izmaylovo for many people. Once we organised a tour jointly with our local gallery. There were so many participants that our group did not fit in a section of the street between the traffic lights. It seems, there were more than 100 visitors of that tour. That demonstrates that people are interested in learning more about their district, exploring the space in which they live. The main thing is to maintain that interest.

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It is possible to cultivate a love for your homeland through art. Artists have a subtle sense of beauty and can convey it to others through their works. 

Together with my like-minders, I always try to keep society’s interest in our district alive. We are currently working out of the guidebook on Izmaylovo. We continue to give tours of the district and initiate various activities. 

There is constantly functioning project titled ‘Soviet Modernism. From: and To:’ within the college where I work as a dean. It is dedicated to the domestic architecture of the 1960s and is a great study, the intermediate results of which are presented in the form of exhibitions. One of the first exhibitions took place at the Izmaylovo Mimic and Gesture Theatre. 

This time, the exhibition will take place in the building of the Institute for the Humanities and Information Technologies. It will be open to everyone throughout the summer. I believe, the exhibition will be interesting to every viewer no matter what district or city he or she lives in. 

Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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