Aleksandr Popov, one of the founders and director of the Arkhymatyka project bureau, speaks about the importance of proper organization of the surrounding space, explains that the crisis and innovation keep pace with creativity, and that an attempt to copy someone’s ideas in the world of designing usually ends with failure.
Why does this Arkhimatika make perfect projects? Because its work is based on the principle of complex approach, individual decision, expertise, continuous progress, profitability, as well as esthetics and functionality. This is not just a team of architectsinnovators, they are engineers who improve the environment, using the European, American experience of the world’s best architectural schools. For over 13 years of work, the company has designed more than 6 million sq.m of residential and public buildings. More than 1 million sq. m were built and put into operation. Aleksandr Popov, architect and successful manager of Arkhimatika, explains in the interview with LDaily that the architectural environment should be as comfortable as possible and form a close interconnection with the surroundings. Aleksandr is sure that such an approach to design allows us to organize the space better and improve the quality of life of Ukrainians. The dialogue with Aleksandr leaves confidence that perfection has no imits.
LDaily: Aleksandr, tell us, please, where the Arkhimatika began, what became the basis for the creation of your architectural bureau?
A. Popov: I met my good friend Dima Vasyliev around 13 years ago, we have been friends since my studies at the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture. Dima came for holidays from Dubai, where he worked as a creative architect in a large Dubai company. At that time I was involved in private architectural practice with an artist Kiril Protsenko. We were engaged in restaurant design which was our hobby, and the main work was designing modern villas, residences for a fairly small stratum of progressive and wealthy people. Besides earning money, they appreciated modern architecture as a great. That’s exactly when I met Dima in the city, which was much more neglected than today. We just touched upon this topic in our ordinary conversation.
LDaily: Just like old friends talk about life?
A. Popov: Yes. We met, and Dima told me how he created a top-class architecture for the Arab Sheikhs and their assistants.In my turn, I told him that I created projects for Ukrainian Sheikhs and their assistants. In such simple dialogue, we came up with a conclusion that us and our friends live in a city that we love, but we don’t spend our anergy on accomplishment when the city remains neglected. That’s where we realized that we have to think it through, try to change something, put our power in space and the city that we live in. That’s how Arkhimatika appeared (smiles).
We used to create architectural concepts for different companies during the year, rented a small office of 16 m2. There were four of us: Dima, 2 other architects and me. Together, we showed our projects to our customers, and after some time, we won the tender. This was our first project, on which we started tto work on.
LDaily: When did it happen?
A. Popov: In 2006. We registered the company in 2005, and we won the tender for the design of LC “Parkove misto” in 2006 by KAN Development company. Igor Nikonov turned out to be a very courageous and far ahead looking person who who noticed potential in our team of four young architects and believed that we were able to lead the project.
LDaily: How did customers come to you after that? Was it word of mouth marketing?
A. Popov: This is the law of our activity. The main thing in our work is taste and trust in this taste, and trust is passed only from person to person.
It is not enough to shoot bright videos or advertise on television to earn trust. Such information is passed only from person to person. For example, when you hear a phrase “these architects can be trusted, they do on a high quality level” — that’s where the trust is born. By the way, negative information is spreads the same way.
For example, if only one sentence sounds: “Yes, I worked with them, they were good, but they screwed up with me”, and this is always enough.
LDaily: What is cult in architecture?
A. Popov: Quality. This is a real cult for us. If an architect does not want to make the world better both in the global and local senses, looking at each particular object, then it simply does not make sense to get involved in this work at all, because it will be painful and senseless.
LDaily: How did Arkhimatika grow? How many people currently work in your company?
A. Popov: Now we are about 200, and to be precise — we had 194 people at the end of December, and a few more people joined us recently.
LDaily: So many.
A. Popov: Yes. Now that’s a lot. Though, in Soviet times, there were more people in such companies: there were more design institutes, because more was built. Therefore, I think this is far from the limit for us. In the world, by the way, there are companies with 6,000 architects, for example, the Shanghai Design Institute. There are many designers in China, who, respectively, create a lot of projects.
LDaily: How did your company survive crisis times?
A. Popov: Great (smiles). Crisis is the best of time for us.
LDaily: How can such a period be a better time, if there are less customers and orders?
О. Popov: The main point: we were initially tuned to an innovative approach, to new ideas. Once we came up with something new, we are no longer interested in it. See, we always try to transform and offer something new. Noone needs it during stable times. During the non-crisis times, everybody wants to continue building what goes well and what can be easily sold.
LDaily: For Ukraine or globally?
A. Popov: This is a general law of people’s behavior. That can be applied to Ukraine also. As soon as the crisis comes, people are forced to leave this zone of relative comfort and search for new solutions. At this time our customers listen to our suggestions. Our work becomes more in demand than the suggestions of our colleagues who are not inclined to look for something new. This is a chance for creative realization.
LDaily: Your orders are high-priced. Innovation is expensive. Aren’t developers not afraid to take risks during the crisis?
A. Popov: Everyone is afraid. But life forces you: either you take a risk, or you will see that there is no demand of your product neither today or tomorrow and especially the day after tomorrow. The crisis pushes to look for something new, look for ways to improve quality. That’s what happened in 2014. We have been constantly communicating with a few developers since 2011 who build a lot in Ukraine. We told them that they need to do
something different, they need a new qualitative product, because, firstly, what they did was obsolescent, and secondly, the market is stocked up with that product, which causes fall of demand and the product turns out to be illiquid. Our developers began to look for new solutions in 2014 where our innovation was needed.
LDaily: Have your ideas ever been stolen?
A. Popov: They were copied constantly.
LDaily: How do you react?
A. Popov: With humor (smiles). We do not sue. Thank God, it is not so critical to us to bother. I’ll tell you that it so not so easy to steal architectural ideas.
First, an idea can be stolen in our work only when it is already formulated, and if it is already formulated, this means that by that time a very long way has been taken. Accordingly, in order to copy the already formulated idea and then start using it in your company, one must understand what the authors generally meant, what was done and why, which things you can transform, and which you can not. In addition, if the idea is already implemented, then the person who wants to copy it has to find contractors who can do the same. This, believe me, is very, very difficult.
The result is like a Chinese fake.
LDaily: What are the most prominent projects for you personally and for your team?
A. Popov: RC “Parkove misto”. This was our first crisis in 2009. Then everything fell. No apartment has been sold for several months throughout the primary market. Including in the RC “Parkove misto”, but they did not stop and continued building. As a result, they accumulated confidence in their project against the background of a general distrust to all the others who had stopped. And, as soon as the signs of stabilization appeared, the first developer, who began to sell the apartments, was “Parkove misto”. And that’s why this RC was the first to get out of the crisis then.
We, as designers, had a task to build up the territory of the rubber generator plant. The challenge for us was that the economic situation changed: the solvency dropped by times, and we had to come up with a new product, which on the one hand would be more attractive, and on the other — to have a lower prime cost. This is our favorite task, because the contradiction, which, at first glance, has no solution, means only that we don’t know this decision. And this means that you have to go beyond the usual limits. We already had limits — 16 and 25 floors, and here we proposed a quarter-building. This is a project that was definitely symbolic. And the market supported it.
LDaily: What trends in architecture are gaining momentum?
A. Popov: We design schools and shopping centers, office centers and housing. If we talk about housing, our most programmatic project for today is the RC “Faina Town”. Here is a fight against the facades. Now Kyiv developers are competing for glass and tile, which means that in order to be different, one must look in a diametrically opposite direction. Here, for example, we make facades, but do them in the trend that everyone holds.
And we are making super apartments.
LDaily: Super apartments?
A. Popov: Yes. What is the difference between our apartments and western good apartments? First of all, our apartments are ranked in rooms, and all the world ranks them in bedrooms. Why? The word “dormitory” is still in our heads as an archetype of housing. And this is an option when several households can live together. It is good to settle the maximum number of people. But it is not quite good in order to simply live because the common space that is in each such apartment needs to be separated by partitions. It needs to be intelligently planned to reach comfort in such an apartment.
A large piece of space, that is, a larger apartment, is easier to assemble, there is freedom of action, but it is more difficult with smaller apartments. And we found a way out of this situation with RC “Faina Town”, having made the planning of apartments for each of the main types of households (we have separated 19 types of basic households). And so we made a project where one planning is suitable for several households. For example, a two-room apartment can be good for a couple with two children and with one child. It can also be good for a young couple with their elder father, because the elder father can live in the second bedroom. For each family type, we have thought over the arrangement of furniture and showed that each particular family buys an apartment for itself, taking into account their demography. Then, together with the sales team, we developed a new approach to demand. When asking the buyer “what is your family like?”, we got the answer. And, based on this, we offered appropriate planning.
LDaily: Kind of individual approach…
A. Popov: Yes. And it works. And we are absolutely not afraid of competitors, because noone else knows how to design an apartment like this for today. We’ll come up with something else before competitors learn to do this (smiling).
LDaily: Aleksandr, where do you take ideas from?
A. Popov: We design like for ourselves. This is our city. We live here. Many of our employees live in the residential complexes that we design. We design such an environment where we would like to live ourselves, and it is probably the strongest and most powerful engine.
LDaily: What would you like to wish Ukrainians and the country this year?
A. Popov: I think it’s insistence. Our people lack for insistence.
LDaily: How is this manifested?
A. Popov: For example, a talented and a good person starts work. And on the question, when it will be ready, you will hear the answer — in a week. Then he/she promises to do it in 2 days, then in another one day, and then he/she just does not answer the phone.
Another option is possible. Non-talented and unscrupulous person in terms of quality, but he/she is responsible in terms of time. And on the question, when it will be ready, you will hear the answer — in a week. A week later, his work is really ready. And when you ask, why the quality is poor, you will hear the answer, — you asked to do it in a week, so I did it in a week. And it is globally for our country. Our people choose politicians who behave this way, they create laws this year, return IMF loans this way and so on.
LDaily: If you could go to another country to live and build a similar business there, what country would you choose?
A. Popov: We now want to enter the global market. We do projects not only in Ukraine but also in other countries. We would wish ourselves to have success not only in one country, but in different countries. It is the most interesting for the architect.
But if you move your question to another plane, for example, in which city I would like to project, I would say that it is in a city that is not afraid to experiment. There are cities with a conservative spirit like Kyiv or Berlin, but there are cities with an experimental spirit like Dubai or New York. These cities are not afraid to go beyond the usual, to change traditions. This is the best and the most interesting space for us.