Heavy decoration casts deep shadows, so you cannot see the mistakes …
Back to the USSR
Until the Gorbachev reforms, the Ministry of Building and the construction industry in the Soviet Union were one and the same - client, architect, engineer and contractor all under the same roof.
In this pre-perestroika system architect Leonid Kouderov worked as one of 600 employees in a huge design/engineering enterprise in his home town of Kuybishev, producing factories, houses, shop, offices and leisure facilities. In this offshoot of the ministry, everyone works as equals, and engineers and contractors have the right to change an architect's designs.
"Sometimes I don't even recognise my own buildings," says Kouderov, only half joking. "It was only two years ago that a rule was made allowing architects to stop work on site if they didn't agree with what the contractor was doing."
Kouderov continues to work for the state but now he received additional income from his private work. He says he lived for many years on the standard pay of 220 roubles a month (about £220) but his state salary now brings in 500 roubles a month.
"The main problem to overcome under the old regime was to make things as cheap and as early as possible. And who can do this? It is the engineer and not the architect. Architects only make things more expensive. But it is now a question of investment in design, which still only forms about 4% of the cost."
He says one of the biggest problems he faces is the appalling construction standards of Soviet builders, which can dictate style.
"I would describe the prevailing style in the USSR as ‘neoprimitivism' - make things simple so the builders can cope. On the surface there are the same movements as here. And, same as here, they all hate each other. But all are dominated by the standards of the building. For example, some architects choose to work with heavy decoration. This does not depend on any aesthetic values. It is done to cast deep shadows on the facade so you cannot see the mistakes."
But after three months in England he believes that commercial pressures have the same depressing effect on design as the worst excesses of standardisation.
"We made a great historical mistake during industrialisation in choosing standardisation. Houses, schools, factories are built the same easy way so there is no reason to develop new materials. But your post moderns are playing an easy commercial game. It is not difficult for professionals to follow traditional views and make use of them in new materials, making them as curious as possible to sell them."
But it was our attention to detail that fascinated him. "Every detail in buildings is linked to the community and each individual, not the crowd, because you are fond of personality and private life."