Moscow Resistance

Wiel Arets & Wim van den Bergh, Wiederhall 1 (1986): 7-8.

There might always have been people attempting to find their own existences as individuals by means of resistance within supervised society. Always and everywhere people get aware of themselves as being independent individuals. They have got the powerful will to alter and improve their circumstances with a critical spirit. Situating this project for a tower villa hotel for Russian dissidents right in the Moscow centre might easily be misunderstood as single mindedness, when you would look upon it as an isolated project. In fact we listed the city of Moscow for quite another reason. If should give us an opportunity to investigate some architectural tower concepts, in particular those of the tower houses we also did in the Tokyo and Veneto projects published here. Our architectural research in these projects is a part of our fascination for the tower building type and especially for the dwelling tower.

Being probably just as old as the rustic hut that is said to be the nucleus of temple and villa, the tower type is expressing the same strange kind of tension between representation and repression that architecture is a materialization of. Tension between house and prison or, to keep it in tower terms, between donjon as a save keep and dungeon as an often underground cell. We read the tower at the same time as a defensive structure, a structure of resistance, and as an expression of individual or society into architectural form. It will open interesting comparisons between villa and tower or between temple and tower, showing similarities but also differences. Most striking of these differences will be between the horizontal dimensionality of the plane into which the villa is developing and the tower’s vertical one, showing how architecture reacts to the circumstances of an environmental situation the individual is placed in, like nature or society.

Resistance always indicates the existence of two different meanings about one thing. It is a difference expressed in the phenomenon of border. Borders we find in all kinds of strength and expression. In fact law, architecture and society as a whole are based on this phenomenon. Always present between individuals, between individual and community and between communities, this difference is one of the main reasons for architecture. As you may read the meaning of being a dissident in a positive or rather negative way, you also might read the meaning of a tower villa hotel in an either positive or negative way. Is an island a place, of banishment or is it a touristical paradise? Is the villa an expression of individual freedom or is it a prison? 

An architecture of resistance is always an architecture with two faces. It will be dialectic, in its contrasting ideas as well as in its mimetic ones. Considering architecture to be a spatial solution blending pro grammatical, situational and thematical qualities together into an idea becoming form, the idea central to a tower villa hotel is the idea of the two faces of resistance. It is an expression of the border phenomenon into the complexity of inside/outside relationships giving meaning to architectural form.

The theme of this project is called A Bulwark Of Resistance. It looks for a creative and critical architectural reaction against surrounding environment by designing a house. It might be read as a literal and phenomenal bulwark. It might be read as a wall or as a wall-like structure of dwelling towers, tower houses or tower villas, raised as a defensive fortification. The tower villa as a dwelling investigates the same wide range of interior/exterior relationships as the villa does. In contrast to the strong horizontality of the villa as a dwelling type the tower villa relationships get other valencies. We may think of those ancient tower types that had interior courts, such as the barbarcane, the broch or the shell keep. We might combine both villa and tower ideas, putting together horizontal and vertical in such a way that it will function as a dwelling, In our investigation we sought to transform the interconnections and relationships of the villa horizontal into the vertical tower layering by means of glass brick floors and vertical spaces. This idea was developed by Sergei Eisenstein once. He designed it on the level of a large community of individuals in his well known Glass Tower project, investigating the border phenomenon within society. For at that time architectural borderings and especially those involved with the visual were shifted towards the meta level of its social laws as being formulated for a socialist utopia. As a hotel type of dwelling and living the tower villa hotel will take up this level of society. It will investigate the inner/outer relationships of living in Moscow metropolis. It mirrors those bulwarks and towers developed at Moscow during its urban history. They actualize the idea of interior and community as opposed to the exploding individualism of metropolis anarchic, thus showing that the meta level of social utopia still seeks for expression into the interior/exterior of architectural form. Like at prison or at paradise, a bulwark's most important points are its gates. They are the places where you are able to cross the border. In the metropolis however these gates have changed image. Now they have become metro and railway stations, airports, bridges and main land- and waterways. They welcome the traveller right into the middle of a surrounding metropolis. In the tower villa hotel there are three of these gates. A bridge, a harbor and a helicopter platform make it possible for the dissidents to come and go, into and from the center of Moscow.

The tower villa hotel has been situated on the most southern part of an island in the Moskva river left over after a canal was dug. To its north it is overlooked by the towered Kremlin bulwark. To its north-east stands the first realization of the living combine concept, at the Serafimowicha Polanka Bolshoi, built 1928-1931, spanning the whole island width. It has three interconnecting courtyards of mainly ten stories concrete framed and concrete piled housing. Five hundred family apartments are supplied a full range of services like kindergartens, laundry, library, sports-hall, restaurant, post office, a club theatre on the river embankment and a cinema on the canal side, department store and gardens and playgrounds in the courtyards.To the north-west it overlooks the Moscow swimming pool raised from the foundation circle of what should have become one of the world’s highest towers, the Palace of Soviets by Jofan who actually built the above mentioned first living combine. But as often happens with Babylonian ideas like this one or those of the Tatlin and Leonidow monumental towers or those of the Wolkenbügel by Lissitzky, only derivates are supposed to be realistic enough to be executed The skyscrapers of the forties and fifties now form a new kind of metropolitan bulwark on a boulevard thus named after it around the Moscow center. We must observe too that the tower building phenomenon always has been accompanied by catacomb building of underground halls and tunnels, from the middle ages until our times. Like other metropolises Moscow established its impressive metro network with a kind of underground palace halls like museums and gigantic moving stairways that seem to control the rhythm of, communal life. In the tower villa hotel this underground world also becomes an underwater level. It is a kind of island for communal recreation and interrogation. It seems to float, carrying the individual tower villas.

In those impressive building acts as the Moscow skyscrapers and metro we might read the same Janus face of representation and repression as can be read in the ideas of villa and tower. But at the same moment we may read them as a will to build and change environment, improving it. Whether this environment is metropolitan or rural or either of these, the individual always seems to be confronted with the paradox of society and life and hence with that of metropolis and tower. It is the paradox of entering from within. But this paradox is just the place where dwelling and architecture begin. Architecture as a fragile hope to be able to blend the cracks of reality which are the materials of life.