‘I wouldn’t like a theatre like a shopping mall’: jury evaluates projects for Kamal Theatre’s new building

Experts and judges of the competition considered eights options to renovate the theatre

The jury of the competition for the architectural concept of the Kamal Theatre was going to announce the results together with Kazan Mayor Ilsur Metshin yesterday. The winner will have to work to turn the competition project into reality for a long time because a two-day presentation had not only a lot of revelations but also raised many questions. Two of them key: who is this theatre for and what is the Tatar identity? Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent saw the jury work.

Terms of reference not an order

The winner will get prize money — 2,5 million rubles (second place will 1,5 million, third — a million). This is the end of the international competition that began last July. The selection of applications, choice of finalists, an orientation session with them are over: at the last stage, the architects in particular watched a play in which spectators who explained why the Kamal Theatre was important for them played.

Eight teams, consortiums where foreign, Russian and Kazan specialists recently presented their projects in the Public Offices. On 15 February, they told an expert council about their ideas. The event began at 10 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. So we can just sympathise with, for instance, Chief Director of the theatre Farid Bikchantayev, Director Ilfir Yakypov, Aide to the Tatarstan president Natalia Fishman-Bikmambetova, Director of Centre strategic development agency and moderator Sergey Georgiyevsky as well as brigades that provided the live transmission: they had to participate in an audition as jury on 16 February, then discuss and choose a winner.

It is noteworthy there was more criticism. Particularly, it was indicated that the authors omitted the terms of reference the theatre provided. The case is that the possible move of the Kamal Theatre from the building that was built with great difficulty in 1986 on the bank of Lake Lower Kaban happened because of numerous complaints of workers for tiny changing rooms, strange logistics of technical shops, an absence of a big rehearsal hall and public spaces. As a result, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov unexpectedly offered to build a new building, not reconstruct it, somewhere on Khadi Taktash and Nazabrayev Streets.

The designers sometimes changed the size of the facility, added new areas.

Nature, rockets and shawl

On the one hand, there is Lake Kaban, trees, water, plants. On the other hand, there are austere panel houses and other blocks of flats of the Archangel Settlement — this is what “inspired” the architects. The first project chaired by the management of Megabudka from Moscow set certain trends: there is a lot of information about the importance of the theatre and sources of inspiration without which it is often hard to understand what the buildings will be about. The designers had several problems. They made up an impressive but convenient building for actors. It is beautiful but quite inexpensive.

They needed to demonstrate the Tatar identity in the art where the question if there is Tatar architecture is still topical. Then any discussion on the identity seems reasonable, though it doesn’t even has a physical personification in the present.

Megabudka solved this problem by turning the Blue Shawl into a general appearance of the building, stones in a Tatar breast accessory into main volumes, while the curtain was the administrative area, which separates the theatre from Nazarbayev Street. For instance, for architect Sergey Sanachin, this wall became the main reason why he didn’t accept the project. While Nikolay Vasilyev, adviser to the Tatarstan minister of construction, architecture and housing and utilities, advised every speaker to tell them how to clean the snow from the building.

The mayor of the city had a lot of questions for the authors. For instance, the second team led by Kazan State Construction and Architecture University, he thinks, had “little truly Kazan things.” At the same time, the architects called the project the Green Shawl imitating the natural landscape. But on the one hand, a language learning centre made the experts happy. On the other hand, it made them sad because the task didn’t have it. By the way, the designers showed figures too. For instance, the theatre of the architecture university would cost 12 billion rubles. Maintenance expenses would be 800 million a year.

A consortium chaired by Rozhdestvenka bureau presented probably the most traditional project. Narine Tyutcheva actively develops the concept of an area in front of the theatre — the Old Tatar Settlement in its industrial part. As Sergey Sanachin indicated, “this facility is 50 years late.”

A consortium of Wowhouse consisting of Kengo Kuma & Associates (Tokyo), Werner Sobek AG (Stuttgart) and German Bakulin who worked on the current building of the theatre on the team was a favourite presenting a project whose sharp glass roof was compared to rockets by somebody, others compared it with a heap of snow, somebody seemed to see “UNO with Tatars.” Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova called it “aggressive, militarist.” The authors themselves were inspired by the roof of today’s theatre and simply multiplies and changed its look. Moreover, the interior of the theatre attracts and terrified with its excessive use of ornaments, not of which turned out to be Tatar.

“And how to wash this glass roof?” Yevgeny Mironov, art director of the Theatre of Nations, wondered.

“Where’s your identity...”

The participation of London’s Zaha Hadid Architects whose style was instantaneously recognised was the most interesting in the consortium of PRIDE production association from Moscow: a futuristic design inspired by a natural landscape but with a very impressive interior.

Ilsur Metshin followed his line: he said that he had seen works of companies in Kazakhstan, Baku, Abu Dhabi, at their office in London, he asked:

“Where’s your identity?”

“Where is our identity?”

The speaker thoughtfully pronounced first:

“Where’s your identity...”

And this looked at least dramatic, a play can be written.

Not only the project itself but also the person presenting it matters (with Coop Himmelb(l)au Brix & Wolf from Vienna and Miriada group from Kazan). It seemed a new iPhone was presented: here, they even joked unlike others. The designers were inspired by Tatar tales making an image of a dense forest. The mayor thanked them for studying “the history of the city, history of the Tatars” deeply. The theatre itself appreciated the logistics.

Nikolay Novikov’s workshop (with colleagues from Barcelona and Paris) turned out the largest at the presentation. They also continued the trend for a merger with nature but placed a lighthouse on the theatre. Ksenia Shachneva was one of the speakers here: she was one of the directors of the play on behalf of spectators. Here, as an architect she answered the question about the identity once again:

“When this issue is resolved through decorative elements, it is a look at small peoples. We wanted to make the layout of the building with its interior an identity. For instance, we used the theme when a Tatar house was divided into two parts, and one part of the house was private.”

Canvas or factory?

The eighth project is obviously the leader. Kazan’s Bespoke managed by Elina Safarova, a sister of one of the co-founders of the fund Living City Diana Safarova and a daughter of head of the Tatarstan president’s administration Asgat Safarov. However, she herself told them she lived in the Tatar environment since her childhood.

Architect Asif Khan is the trump card of the project. He admitted that he watched the Kamal Theatre’s plays for a week when preparing for the project. The authors presented the project to Ilkham Shakirov’s song Nightingale, don’t go. It turned out to be a poetic expression how a piece of paper transforms into Kremlin walls, then it becomes a new theatre, an absolutely white building. The idea is that the theatre is a canvas.

Somebody considered Bespoke’s project a thing in itself. The theatre started to doubt how to keep it white. It was not so metaphorical but funny: the author of the blackest building in the world, a pavilion of the 23rd Winter Olympics in South Korea is on the white side.

Poet Razil Valeyev expressed an opinion on behalf of the jury. Instead of a question he recalled he went to Japan and was shown a building that turned out to be a waste incineration plant.

“Won’t the Japanese think it is a waste incineration plant when they come to Kazan?” Valeyev asked and offered to adorn it with an ornament (we’re already waiting for memes about this theme). Vasilyev supported his colleague:

“The people are already fed up with silica brick and plastering.

“It is a masterpiece,” Metshin couldn’t help himself.

And he attacked Vasilyev saying that so many brick buildings appeared under him and recommended not to criticise but ask questions if something the foreign architects made was unclear.

Here the public part ended. While we end the article with two quotes. Actor and director Radik Bariyev noted he wouldn’t like to see a building of the theatre looking like a shopping mall: it must be an art object.

While Chief Director Farid Bikchantayev reminded the audience that actors were key in the theatre:

“If actors enter and say they feel bad here, it will be tough.”

Radif Kashapov

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