Graduate Anna Shevchenko, 34, architect, Moscow

13.04.2012, 16:14
posted in

As part of the Preservation theme, headed by Rem Koolhaas, Anna Shevchenkoresearched the Jewish Autonomous Oblast’. In her project, she analysed how an alien not only managed to acclimate in an absolutely unusual environment, but also become a pillar of the society

“I was working at the Moscow City Master Plan Institute when I saw a video of Rem at a Strelka presentation. Straight away I realized that that moment would change many things for me. Rem’s interest in Russia coincided with my desire to finally get a Western-style education that I could never afford.”

I am happy with the results of my studies: I had an opportunity to study the map of Russia, visit a distant but very interesting corner of our country (Birobidzhan) and even make a small documentary. My research turned out to be anthropologic in a way, because after examining and closely comparing maps, I delved into something real — life, culture, conversations with people. I really wanted to describe the mechanism of culture while avoiding clichés.

My task was to find places that lacked heritage in the traditional, architectural sense and attempt to find some intangible heritage. It was only possible to achieve this by directly engaging with the environment.

I discovered an interesting fact: an almost complete disappearance of culture and a simultaneous desire by the remaining bearers of that culture to somehow reactivate and invigorate its elements. I realized that culture might serve as the only possibility of survival in tough economic conditions and might be ingeniously used by all peoples, irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds.

For example, communities may be financed by funds issuing grants for the development of culture, irrespective of whether these grants go to bearers of culture who are directly engaged in its preservation, or ordinary people who feel that they are part of a certain culture.

Naturally, one semester is not enough to fully examine a problem, to say nothing of proposing certain scenarios. Our country is large and understudied. There is only a perception that somewhere there is a ministry that knows everything about its region. This is far from the truth. Full information is never available, and the information that is available is not being used or systematized. I feel that an archeological approach is needed here. And, of course, interpretation is important.

Studying was mostly an independent process, but you had to manoeuver between the views of Koolhaas, recommendations of the studio supervisors and your own interests. Rem Koolhaas is a very interesting person with a unique sense of humour. He asks the right questions, is straight to the point and makes you think.

Strelka has helped me realize that I wasn’t really enjoying being an architect. What I really like is working as an urban studies researcher.