by Jerry ElengicalMay 26, 2021
In a show of solidarity that transcends borders, financial incentives, and other allegiances, numerous high-profile architecture firms and design practices have suspended ongoing projects and operations in Russia in the wake of the devastation caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The state-sanctioned military intervention is indiscriminately ravaging parts of the Eastern European nation and laying waste to its cities, forcing residents to flee from their homes or take refuge in underground shelters. In response, the Ukrainian armed forces have mounted a dogged resistance, buoyed by the support of everyday citizens striving to defend and preserve what remains of their homeland. To demonstrate their support for this valiant effort against tyranny, Zaha Hadid Architects, UNStudio, MVRDV, Bjarke Ingels Group, David Chipperfield Architects, and a number of other firms have issued statements about the suspension of their operations within the country while condemning Russia’s aggression in sparking what is said to be the largest armed conflict of its kind in Europe since the Second World War.
Among the cohort of architectural practices participating in this boycott, MVRDV - based in The Netherlands, was among the earliest to issue an official statement on February 28, four days after the start of the invasion. Expressing sympathy for the plight of Ukraine’s citizens in the announcement shared on their website, the Dutch architecture practice pledged to immediately halt their involvement in projects based in Russia. Most notably, the firm was undertaking the construction of a 52,000 sqm mixed-use luxury housing complex in the heart of Moscow named 'Red7' - a project that had been in the works since 2018.
This declaration was swiftly followed by statements from other firms including UNStudio, who issued a statement condemning the Russian military offensive on March 1 - the fifth day of hostilities between the two states. “UNStudio is deeply saddened by the Russian government’s violent invasion of Ukraine, and we strongly condemn these inhumane actions,” added the practice in the press release. At the time, the firm had been involved in several projects within the country, including the hotly anticipated JetBrains campus in St. Petersburg, and the K31 Courtyard residential complex in Moscow.
A wave of further condemnations soon cropped up in succeeding days, from firms such as Denmark-based Bjarke Ingels Group - who are presently not involved in any Russian projects, alongside the likes of Swiss architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron, who released a public statement on their website on March 3, sharing that they have paused their Russian operations. In a strong assertion of their position on the war, the firm stated: “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as well as the citizens of Russia who reject this violent takeover.” These sentiments were also echoed by spokespersons from firms such as Snøhetta, OMA, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, many of whom have ceased their involvement in Russian projects.
More recently, UK-based firms Foster + Partner, Zaha Hadid Architects, and David Chipperfield Architects followed suit in making similar declarations about the shutdown of their Russian projects. The former practice, headed by Patrik Schumacher, expressed shock at the actions of the Russian military in the statement, and have placed two projects in Russia on hold - including the Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye smart city venture towards the west of Russia’s capital. Additionally, the firm had also just commenced construction on a trio of new metro stations for the Ukrainian city of Dnipro - a venture that may not see the light of day until hostilities are brought to a close.
On the other hand, David Chipperfield Architects posted their statement on their official Instagram account, declaring the suspension of their work in Russia while expressing their sympathy for Ukrainians as well as their vehement opposition to the invasion. The practice - which has offices in London, Berlin, Shanghai, and Milan, had been engaged in the renovation of a prominent Moscow landmark in the Central Telegraph Building, which was completed in 1927. The Royal Institute of British Architects also joined in on the outpouring of support from the UK, through a press declaration on the organisation website in which President Simon Allford said: "Our thoughts are with all those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has exposed the horrific effects of conflict on communities, and put the role that architecture plays in building resilient, collaborative and inclusive societies into sharp relief." Finally, a collection of Russian architects and urban planners have published an open letter with over 6,500 signatures in opposition to their government’s intrusion into Ukraine.
Besides this mass withdrawal from the landscape of Russian architecture, several global luxury design houses such as Hermès, Chanel, LVMH, and Kering have also closed stores across Russia. On a similar note, Nike, Apple, IKEA, and Google have either suspended Russian operations or limited online sales in the country. US-based streaming giant Netflix has also put all of its acquisitions and future projects in Russia on hold indefinitely. This move by major players across technology and design fields could be viewed as another part of the global effort to isolate Russia and cripple its economy beyond a point where it can continue to support an unprovoked military intervention into a sovereign, democratic nation. In spite of the harrowing tragedy of Ukraine’s present circumstances, it is somewhat heartening to see the architecture and design industry look past economic or political motives to band together in support of Ukraine during this dark chapter in its contemporary history.