Architect Sergei Tchoban on his passion for the art of architectural drawings

Tchoban, a Russian and German architect, and the 2018 recipient of the European Prize for Architecture, speaks with STIR about his transcontinental practice.

by Devanshi Shah Published on : Jul 15, 2020

Contemporary architecture, when discussed outside the realm of the built environment, is often layered in nuance and speculation. Russia-born and Germany-based architect Sergei Tchoban’s body of work is a revelation in interdisciplinary practices, where he presents his ideas and the understanding of architecture through his capriccio drawings. The 2018 recipient of the European Prize for Architecture oversees two firms across two countries; SPEECH in Russia, and TchobanVoss in Germany. And like a lot of contemporaries, his architectural portfolio includes a wide range of programmes such as galleries, cinemas, offices, apartment complexes and hotels. However, what truly captivates one’s interest in Tchoban’s work are his architectural fantasy drawings. These sketches, in many ways, illustrate his design and decrypt the architectural process. STIR speaks with Sergei Tchoban to gain a better understanding of his design oeuvre.

Saint Petersburg dream II, 2005. Medium watercolour and black chalk on paper | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Saint Petersburg dream II, 2005. Medium watercolour and black chalk on paper Image Credit: Sergei Tchoban

On Drawing

Tchoban, who studied at the Leningrad Secondary Art School prior to his studies at the architectural department of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Russia, expresses his primal interest in drawing old cities saying, I was always very interested in drawing, especially for graphic art. I was going to different towns, to old towns like St. Petersburg itself and drawing them. I was very interested in drawing their architecture. So that is why I chose to study architecture”.

His drawing, known as capriccio, explores not only the built environment but also exposes an imagined version of spaces that could be. There is a very intimate connection between an architect’s first sketch, and the realisation of an actual structure. This inherent connection of drawing and building reveals the design’s core concepts and binds it to the final product.

Imprint of the future, after Giovanni Battista Piranesi's
Imprint of the future, after Giovanni Battista Piranesi's "Veduta della Piazza della Rotonda", 2019. Medium pastel on paper Image Credit: Sergei Tchoban

“When it becomes a possibility for me to collect drawings, I start to collect them, which for me was in 2000. And then in 2009, this translated to creating the foundation and the Museum for Architectural Drawing (in Berlin). At first there was no building, we had many exhibitions at different locations. I and the Museum Director noticed that these exhibitions were quite popular. After seeing that we decided to acquire a building for the foundation. In 2010, we got the permission to build, and since 2013 we have had our own building, to house not only our collection but also to host the drawings of other collections too," says Tchoban.

Architectural fantasy, Piazza Venezia in Rome, or Two worlds No. 2, film stage design project, Saint Petersburg, 2013. Medium Watercolour, pen and Indian ink on watercolour paper over a stretcher | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Architectural fantasy, Piazza Venezia in Rome, or Two worlds No. 2, film stage design project, Saint Petersburg, 2013. Medium Watercolour, pen and Indian ink on watercolour paper over a stretcher Image Credit: Sergei Tchoban

Tchoban’s drawings have gained international recognition as well. In 2015, he received the Award of Excellence in the category Drawing from Nature and the Informal Category Award for the best fantasy-sketch by the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI), and then again in 2018, ASAI awarded him the Best Informal Drawing and Observational Best in Show prize.

Fantasy drawing for the project of the Museum for Architectural Drawing, 2010. Medium charcoal and pencil on paper | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Fantasy drawing for the project of the Museum for Architectural Drawing, 2010. Medium charcoal and pencil on paper Image Credit: Sergei Tchoban

On Building

The architectural diagram as always stands the testament of time when it comes to examining, articulating, and explaining the intention of the architect. Tchoban has often stated publicly that drawings are the key to understanding architecture. This is visible when one sees his initial sketch for his Museum for Architectural Drawing. Design by Tchoban’s Moscow office SPEECH, alongside architect and named partner, Sergey Kuznetsov, the concrete facade of this building features a series of intricately etched architectural drawings.

Front façade of the Museum of Architectural Drawing, Berlin | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Front façade of the Museum of Architectural Drawing, Berlin Image Credit: Courtesy of Roland Halbe

Elaborating this specific detail, Tchoban mentions its importance to him. “For me it is important that the façade gives more the closer you get to the building. I believe that many of the buildings of the town have a pragmatic form. This may come from the decision of the client, that the building shouldn’t have, or couldn’t have a very complicated form and is just a block. But the main façade, the one facing the street, is important to work on. It is how the building can be integrated into the texture of the city. For this building I believed that the façade should not be flat, it should be a relief, an ornament, something that reveals more and more the closer you come to the building.”

Detailed relief on the façade of the Museum of Architectural Drawing, Berlin  | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Detailed relief on the façade of the Museum of Architectural Drawing, Berlin Image Credit: Courtesy of Roland Halbe

Another important aspect that one should not forget with contemporary architecture is the growing practise of revitalisation projects. One such project is the re-imagining of the Hamburger Hof area in Berlin. The courtyard space of this project was almost home to the Museum of Architectural Drawing. While discussing this project and its façade, Tchoban highlights the importance of materiality and contrast: “In a revitalisation project, it is one of the situations where we discussed contrast. I believe contemporary architecture is the best language to express contrast, because you have new material next to an older one. And you can only see the details when you are closer to the building. So, this language of contrast makes a lot of sense, in this case.”

Contrasting materiality | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Contrasting materiality Image Credit: Courtesy of Roland Halbe

On Exhibitions

Tchoban was the curator of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale twice. The first time was in 2010, along with Sergey Kuznetsov, Pavel Khoroshilov, Grigory Revzin for the project titled Russia Factory. In 2012, Tchoban’s project i-city/i-land, along with commissary of the pavilion, Grigory Revzin, and co-curator Sergey Kuznetsov and Valery Kashirina, was awarded with a Special Mention; it was the first time that Russia won an award at the architectural biennale.

2012 Russian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
2012 Russian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale Image Credit: Courtesy Patricia Parinejad

The 2012 Russian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale was a two-part narrative that revealed stories of a scientific town of the past and the future in an immersive experience that relied on using QR codes and archival material. Tchoban elaborates on the narrative that drove the installation as, “Skolkovo was a town for scientist in the south west of Moscow. During the Soviet era it was a gated community and a secret town, it was very secure and nobody could enter”. In this case one sees the archival images and data via a peephole. The second part, however, refers to the current situation. “Now it is very open, and Skolkovo has public use structures, and an engaging masterplan. So, the exhibition was to show this new town planning, a new message of this scientist town,” he says. The QR codes become a new form of architectural drawing, where every pixelated square implies a physical space once de-crypted.

Architectural rendering of the hybrid wood-concrete structure | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Architectural rendering of the hybrid wood-concrete structure Image Credit: Courtesy of TchobanVoss

On the Future

In addition to various new construction projects, Tchoban has also fore-fronted The Russian Youth Architecture Biennale. Now in its second iteration (the first one was in 2017, the second 2019), the biennale has a very clear objective - it aims to enhance the visibility of young Russian architects. In his own words, Tchoban explains, “The Youth Architecture Biennale was initialised because many of the young architects of Russia had very few possibilities to be known. I started curating this as a way to make them acquainted with a big stock of clients. This is an important message of this biennale. I am very grateful to the Tatarstan government and Natalia Fishman, who is the Director and organiser for all of this. We are already in our second year and it was a big success. I know a few young architects who got commissioned, and had the possibility to start their own office. It is a good way to establish them in the world of big architecture”.

Architectural rendering of the skyscraper in Moscow | Russian and German architect Sergei Tchoban | STIRworld
Architectural rendering of the skyscraper in Moscow Image Credit: Courtesy of TchobanVoss

When discussing the future of his own practice, Tchoban says, “Frankly, I am very intrigued with this new ecological way of constructing buildings. One of our upcoming projects in south Berlin will feature a hybrid wood-concrete structure, using renewable material”. He also shared the schematics for a new skyscraper that will be constructed at the Centre of Trade, in Moscow. The façade is sculpted to extenuate its sharp edges and is sure to reveal more once viewed from a closer distance.

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About Author

Devanshi Shah

Devanshi Shah

A writer, educator, curator and an architect, Shah has a Master’s degree in History and Critical Thinking from the Architectural Association, and a Bachelors in Architecture from KRVIA, Mumbai. Currently she is working on a Diploma in Indian Aesthetics. She has a certificate in Curatorial Studies, and co-curated an exhibition at ApluA Gallery, Venice. She has been an educator for the past three years.

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