I am still enjoying this surfing on this very wild wave

Hiroki Matsuura – CEO of MADMA urbanism + landscape, MASA architects, speaks about his experience in Russia, evolution of architecture in the urban environment and on how to extend life cycle of modern architecture. Exclusive interview for the 100+ Forum Russia.

1. In multiple publications you are represented as an architect, urban planner, designer, businessman, teacher – which of these roles is the most important for you today?

The most fascinating role for me is “Designing the environment around us”. Whether architecture, interior, object, landscape, or urban space is not so relevant for me. Difference among them is just a matter of scales and methods.

2. In one of your interviews, you said that you rely on a single principle in all your projects: in architecture, urban planning and landscape design. What is this principle? How did it appear in different projects?

Inevitably, there is a necessity of “solving the problems” functionally no matter what is the category of the projects in regard with my profession. To be able to do it, first we need to understand precisely what are the problems that are often not so evident in the first place. However, that is a minimum duty of this profession. My goal for all the projects is creating added values beyond the requirements of the projects. How that appears on each project is diverse as a result of unique circumstance of every project.

3. Once you told a story of your professional practice when a very large developer asked you to build a huge shopping center in a residential quarter. And you spent a lot of time explaining him that such a building is not efficient and also harmful, from a professional point of view. How did this story end? Had you convinced? And what principles do you follow in your work as an architect?

I must say I am not dogmatic to denying the big shopping center since, under certain circumstance, such a shopping center is vital. But in principle, I am often advising my clients to be careful and sensitive about big shopping center because of its nature – diminishing the power of diverse small local commercial activities and demotivating to create walkable/cyclable urban environment. However, allowance of having big shopping center in the city is not depending on developers and investors. This is a matter of governance of local authorities. They should set a proper regulations and guidelines for such facilities.

4. What criteria should a high-quality designed public space meet for you personally?

Functional, environmentally friendly, mysterious. But for me the most important criteria is “inspirational”.

5. You have an experience of working in Russia, how do you like it? What are the main disadvantages and main advantages?

I would say it is impossible to work in Russia if you do not have a “elastic mind” due to frequent surprises and unexpected changes of the situation around the project even small daily events such as the appointments of the meetings. However, I am still enjoying this surfing on this very wild wave. The disadvantage is often un-transparent process and shortage of the time for both design and construction. The advantage is the fast and simple decision making comparing to European one that is often over-democratic and slow.

6. Could you name examples of successful public spaces in Russia?

Excuse me that I only mention examples from Moscow.
Boulevard Ring, Patriarshye Ponds, Red Square, Alexander Garden, Gorky Park, Stanislavsky Factory.

7. In your opinion, should the author of some public space project (the urban planner) continue to monitor its fate? Take care of the life of the project after its completion?

Of course, it is ideal. But it is hardly happening simply because this cannot be achieved by the volunteering of the author. This role must be given/commissioned by the local authority to make this after-care role sustainable.

8. Do you look after the Skolkovo central park, which was made upon your project?

Because of above reason, I cannot take this role.

9. The theme of your lecture at the 100+ Forum Russia is "The shift of matters" – the evolution of the role of architecture in theurban environment. Could you briefly describe this evolution? And what is the role of an architect today?

It no longer makes sense to discuss architecture as an individual/independent object in the fashion of “beauty contest” in our era.  The architecture of our time and near future must have multiple tasks in our urban environment such as;

DENSITY – how to deal with massive migration to the urban area

ENVIRONMENT – how to make buildings environmentally positive

RENOVATION – how to deal with a large number of existing building assets

URBAN AMENITY – how the building, especially around its footprint, contributes to the city and society.

REGENERATION – how the building contributes to the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood.

10. Among modern architects, including Russian, there is an opinion that the lifespan of architecture has changed. Formerly, the architect, who saw the demolition of his building, was an exception. Now architects are taught that what they create must live, transform and die, that architecture must not be able to get old. Do you agree with this opinion?

The life span of the architecture became substantially shorter without doubt beyond our wish. And also, the diversity and the metabolism of the program - how the building is used - are accelerated. Both together tells us that the flexibility of the building as well thinking ahead of how the building will be dismantled should be a part of design agenda of the architecture nowadays. But we all know one of the most effective life extension devices for the architecture is a creation of beautiful architecture that people will spend their effort to preserve due to its high value. Of course, this device not always succeed to rescue the architecture from its death, but this is exactly where the architect’s hope and dream still lies.

11. You had the second place in several architectural competitions in Russia, where you presented joint projects. But you did not give up and did not leave Russia. Imagine, that many architects will read this interview, what would you advise them? How to pass through the mill and move on?

I have been active in Russian in the last 12 years, and indeed we had several 2nd prizes in the international competitions in Russia, by the way, several 1st prizes too). But these facts don’t mean so much to me. What is important for me is that there are amazing amounts of challenging opportunities and ambitious projects in Russia, and I still feel we are not giving our passion and contribution enough to this ground. I still feel very hungry to work in Russia. I have no time even to think about giving up. And I have no advises to others because I am simply just doing what I am believing in.