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Each year, The European Prize for Architecture is awarded jointly by The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design to architects who have made a commitment to forward the principles of European humanism and the art of architecture. The European Prize for Architecture is not a “lifetime of achievement award,” but rather serves as an impetus to support new ideas, to encourage and foster more challenge-making and forward-thinking about buildings and the environment, and to prompt the pushing of the envelope to obtain an even greater, more profound result.
The Prize also honors the commitment and achievements of the best European architects who have determined a more critical, intellectual, and artistic approach to the design of buildings and cities. Previous Laureates include: Bjarke Ingels (Denmark), Graft Architects (Germany), TYIN Architects (Norway), Marco Casagrande (Finland), Alessandro Mendini (Italy), Santiago Calatrava (Spain/Switzerland), LAVA Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (Germany), and Manuelle Gautrand (France).
The Russian/German visionary architect, Sergei Tchoban, has been selected as this year’s Laureate of The European Prize for Architecture for his powerful designs and a unique design vision that celebrates the best of modernist buildings that are internationally iconic, complex, enigmatic, provocative, and profoundly artistic.His architecture encompasses an endless variety of forms, surfaces, colors, poetry, using the most contemporary methods of planning and sustainable solutions, in a variety of areas, ranging from cultural facilities to commercial, office, and religious buildings—all with the purposes of achieving the highest intellect and, ultimately, a complex cultural content.
Moreover, Tchoban is also an extremely skilled draftsman who produces highly charged and emotional renderings that reminisce the high aesthetic of Boullée and Ledoux in their mystical overtones, combined with the energy and revolutionary zeal of the Russian Constructivists. His artworks go beyond draughtsmanship by using all kinds of materials like watercolour, red chalk, charcoal, and pastel chalk to express fictional spaces reminiscent of classical capriccio. Throughout his career, Tchoban has developed a public, commercial, and civic architecture with a deep sentiment that celebrates ordinary life in our complex urban cities and our diverse cultural situations. His work demonstrates an unyielding commitment to create an architecture that is as richly profound as it is inspiring. His is a most rare, thought-provoking, and profound approach to architecture, extensions of his life, his philosophy, and his intellect, that fuse the power of imagination into the final end product—the building.
And despite vigorous activities in new architectural development, Sergei Tchoban is strongly influenced by his origins, and his fondness for historical construction and traditional European cities.His most famous projects to date include the Federation Tower in Moscow, the DomAquarée CityQuartier in Berlin; ExpoForum and Nevskaya City Hall, St. Petersburg (together with Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners); Water Sports Palace in Kazan; Cubix Cinema, Berlin; the Jewish Cultural Center and Synagogue Chabad Lubavitch, Berlin; the Music and Lifestyle Hotel nhow, Berlin; Russia’s Pavilion at EXPO 15 in Milan; and the building of the Museum of Architectural Drawing (with Sergey Kuznetsov), Berlin.
He was born in 1962 in Leningrad, Soviet Union (now St. Petersburg, Russia) into a family of scientists. His father, Enver Abdurakhmanovich Tchoban, was a theoretical physicist, and a professor at the Polytechnic University; his mother, Irina Solomonovna Tchoban, worked there as an engineer for the turbines; his grandfather, Solomon Abramovich Kantor, was also a professor at the Polytechnic University.
In 1974-1980 he attended the Leningrad Secondary Art School. From 1980-1986, he studied at the Architectural Department of the Imperial Academy of Arts, formerly known as the “Ilya Repin Institute of the Russian Academy of Arts.” From 1986 to 1990 he was involved in practical work as a graduate architect in Russia.
In 1991, Tchoban relocated to Hamburg, Germany for an exhibition project. In 1992, he started work at nps Nietz-Prasch-Sigl in Hamburg; and in 1995, he became the firm’s managing partner, which now trades as Tchoban Voss Architeken, together with his partner, Ekkerhard Voss, and with offices in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden. Simultaneously, in 2006, he also formed SPEECH architectural office in Moscow together with Serkey Kuznetsov. Initially the bureau was called SPEECH Tchoban/Kuznetsov; but after Sergey Kuznetsov was appointed Chief Architect of Moscow in 2012 and left the company, Tchoban became the sole architect and managing partner, and the name of the office was shortened to SPEECH. The office has specialized in designing buildings and complexes with various functional purposes, developing urban concepts, as well as designing interiors.
Projects by SPEECH have been implemented in numerous cities in Russia (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, and others), as well as abroad (Berlin, Milan, Venice, Minsk). In 2009, he also founded the Tchoban Foundation – Museum for Architectural Drawing in Berlin with the aim to foster the drawing skills of talented young architects and to make the founder’s collection accessible for study.The Foundation also promotes the validity of draughtsmanship to both the profession and the public at a time when computer generated imagery has become virtually ubiquitous.
More specifically, the Foundation reasons that drawing is essential to architecture because “development and training of formal and proportional inventiveness still proceeds via ideas which flow through the drawing hand.” The Museum features exhibitions of drawings on site, as well as in other museums worldwide. Together with founder Tchoban, Dr. h. c. Kristin Feireiss and Dr. Eva-Maria Barkhofen form the Museum’s curatorship. Tchoban works in a modernist-inspired idiom; while the style is not currently popular among U.S. architects, the best modernist buildings are internationally iconic and the style that built New York City and Chicago remains extremely popular with the public. Tchoban’s focus is on finding a modernist-influenced vocabulary that is highly buildable now and reads as clean and contemporary, while preserving a focus on materials (stone, tile, brick, bronze), facades with windows, architectural detail, and modernism’s mix of strong blocks and sensuous curves. One of his most prominent works is the Museum for Architectural Drawing, completed in 2013 by the Moscow office of SPEECH, together with his Berlin office, Tchoban Voss Architekten.
The four-story solid corpus features a glass floor stacked on top. The profile of the four floors is reminiscent of casually piled up blocks. Its closed surface is detailed with strong magnified fragments of architectonic sketches in relief form. The line drawings (original drawings by Pietro Gonzaga and Angelo Toselli were used) and the colour of the cast concrete refer to the purpose of the building as a place for exhibiting architectural drawings. Equally poetic is the Museum for Rural Labor, which was designed with Agniya Sterligova for the village of Zvizzhi in the Kaluzhskaya Region of Russia. This small structure sits remote in the landscape and becomes a powerful symbol: an eight-meter high Doric architectural column.
The Museum was designed to preserve the cultural memory of this settlement, while fitting naturally into the existing rural context. Due to its small size, the museum has only one room, which contains a permanent exhibition opened to the public. Both museums were awarded with the International Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre. Among the celebrated German Buildings by Tchoban is the DomAquarée CityQuartier, built in 2004, which combines shopping with tourist attractions and urban living. The building complex with its elegant apartments, flexible office spaces, and the four-star Radisson Blu Hotel, and also the SeaLife Center and a GDR museum, illustrates the architect’s visionary urban ethos.
Another commercial project, The Music and Lifestyle Hotel nhow, the structure of the building and the façade design refer to the situation of the building. A huge cantilevered cube cites the motif of a crane cabin, whereas the façade’s surface mingles into the ubiquitous brown brick materiality at the formerly important city harbor of Osthafen. Divided into two blocks the volume accommodates seven floors each forming an open U-shape onto the water and connected via glass interstice. The western block is topped by four additional floors in a separate volume over-peering the banks. Here the exclusive nhow suite gives access to the roof terrace and has an optional connection to an in-house sound studio, cantilevered on about 70 feet and hovering 80 feet above the water.
In the 2010 renovation and adaptive reuse of Hamburger Hof, originally built in 1828, Tchoban’s office, in close collaboration with preservation authorities, expanded the building solely removing two small sheds from the 1960s. Generously glazed attics were sensibly added, partly resuming again the droop volume of the roofs, which had been destroyed during World War II. The only completely new building within the ensemble is a five-story construction abutting an existing fire wall.
“Historical architecture is more complex in terms of its surfaces,” states Tchoban. “Buildings are perceived from different perspectives. From afar, they are recognized as silhouettes and forms. From history, we know cupolas, spires, minarets, and other prominent features that assumed special roles in the structure of a city. But a city is not just a panorama.” In Berlin, Tuchfabrik of 2016 is another renovation where the architect applied a new façade with printed panels with patterns of yarn bundles as a reminiscence of the original building’s utilization. Tightly interwoven threads are shimmering in different colours on the grey-black background like an oversized tribute to the history of this place. Also in Berlin, Coca Cola Headquarters of 2013, located on the site of the former Osthafen (“East Port”) along the River Spree, features rough shape is a box with three similar façades and one open, structured side toward the River Spree. The water façade to the south is fully glazed; in front is a gallery-like balcony spanning the width of the building and faced with a structure that serves as a fixed sunscreen, comprising slim, vertically S-shaped profiles and horizontal beams at different spacing. The three other façades are divided by short strip windows, switching positions at each level, and are clad in glazed ceramic elements in various red tones. The supporting structure is reinforced concrete with internal pillars and bracing stairwell cores.
“In my projects, I try to go beyond the boundaries of the accustomed Modernist minimalism, which is based on producing a particular perfection of the architectural detail, but does not quite reach that atmospheric environment, which we admire in our favorite cities,” continues the architect. These and other key buildings represent Sergei Tchoban’s significant contributions to the City of Berlin for over the course of 20 years. Parallel to his work in Germany, Tchoban has been actively designing in Russia since 2003. One of the tallest building in Europe–the complex “Federation Tower– was built in MIBC “Moscow-City,” has been developed by Tchoban together with architect Peter Paul Schweger. The Russian Pavilion for the 13th Biennale in Venice, 2012, curated by Tchoban and Sergey Kuznetsov, together with Grigory Revzin and Valeria Kashirina, was covered in QR codes, which visitors decode using tablet computers to explore ideas for a new Russian city dedicated to science.
Downstairs, visitors peered through lenses to catch a glimpse of the gated and secretive science towns established under the Soviet Union, intended to provide a contrast with the open and collaborative vision presented upstairs. While globally acknowledged for his architectural designs, Tchoban is equally celebrated for his weighty and insightful architectural drawings, many of which have been exhibited around the world. The architectural drawing seems to be the vigor and dynamism behind his intense creativity.
“In my passion for architecture,” states the architect, “I am guided primarily by cities and urban mise-en-scène situations that I enjoy most, and the ones that I really like, I immediately try to capture on paper.
“More so, my drawings typically are finished compositions, unlike quick sketches that most architects do on their trips.”
“I have a very straightforward attitude toward architecture. I always ask one simple question – would I want to draw one of my own projects or my colleagues’ projects? This criterion may be frivolous, but, in fact, it is quite rigorous.”
The architectural drawing plays a huge role in this architect’s study on the identity of modern architecture: unconstrained by the parameters of real sites and the requirements of clients, and he pursues drawing with unrestrained passion and conviction. Before any building arrives at a physical manifestation of its reality, it exists in various forms, firstly as a line drawing or sketch, a raw vision on paper of what the architect has visualized, followed by more intricate drawings and elaborate architectural models.
Tchoban refers to the drawings as “free architectural fantasies,” acknowledging them at their conception as ideas that will never be built, yet somehow retaining an ideological essence. In his drawings, Tchoban maximally focuses thought on how much more contrasting and less harmonious in the historical sense of the word the surrounding urban environment has become.
Tchoban is far from criticizing the buildings that seek to stand out and make an impression on the historical context with their exaggerated distinctive forms, materials, and volumes. On the contrary, in such diversity, in the variety of urban layers and their constant mixing, the architect sees the “contrasting harmony” which, in his opinion, is the key to understanding the nature of the 21st century metropolis and the main direction of its development. For this architect, the drawing is able to transmit artistic visions with the right balance of clarity and interpretation, and engage the wildest imaginations that help to envision new ideas and dreams in architecture. His architectural drawings are in the collection of Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Akademie der Künste in Berlin, The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and various private collections.