Interviewed in Vienna, 29 June 2011
Alexander Brodsky achieved international reputation with his works within the non-formal movement Paper Architects. From the mid 70s until early 90s, he participated in a number of international competitions with Ilya Utkin with their contributions in the form of imaginative and visionary etchings. It was a kind of spiritual exile and silent resistance to the machinery of the Soviet system of architectural production. He dealt with graphic art, sculptures, and installation, from 1996 to 2000 in New York as well. Brodsky’s work is manifested as a crossover between architecture and art and here, he crosses the boundaries all the time. He is an artist who thinks that intuition and memory are important instruments of the creative process within which the insignificant, everyday, discarded is refined.
ORIS: Regarding your work, we can see your position on the borderline between architecture and art. Could we say that art movements like object art or conceptual art, even also arte povera, have more importance for your work than contemporary trends; so as to say that Louise Bourgeois is more important for you than Rem Koolhaas.
Alexander Brodsky: Some works of Rem Koolhaas are very important for me and Louise Bourgeois is a very important person too, but I understand what you mean. Fashion is less important for me than something that I really feel and what inspires me. If you mean just fashion or current trends, of course I’m trying to avoid them.
ORIS: It seems that arte povera has had an impact on your work. You used everyday objects, used things and gave them a new nobility.
Alexander Brodsky: I like to use simple things that I find. That is also something a lot of artists have done before me, and are doing right now, and will be doing after me. It’s not like I’m inventing something new, but I like cheap materials, I love found objects, I like to give new life to something that was thrown away in the garbage. I find some of these things beautiful, so if I can use them in my art, I like to do it, or even use them sometimes in architectural pieces.
ORIS: Like in the Rotunda Pavilions in Kaluga District and in the Tuileries Garden.
Alexander Brodsky: Like in the Rotundas, where I used old windows, old doors, before that I used old metal to make some sculptures.
ORIS: Is there a measure of irony in your work? For example, the Rotunda that you made in the Tuileries Gardens, where you made this cornice, and I think perhaps it is a bit ironic in the face of this very brilliant baroque Louvre scenery.
Alexander Brodsky: I don’t think it was ironic; it was for me a sign of respect to classical architecture on a very low technical level, the level we could achieve with those workers, using these materials, but I wanted to demonstrate this respect. For me, it’s not irony.
ORIS: Since you prefer used things in your installations, is it because used things have a story?
Alexander Brodsky: Of course. For many years, a very painful thing for me was the demolition of old houses in Moscow. I saw it every day. It happened all the time, but I did not notice that process when I was younger, I just wasn’t paying attention. I started paying attention somewhere in the 80s, when I was already a graduated architect. Suddenly I saw that something terrible was going on in the city, that beautiful buildings were disappearing one by one, and this became a very important thing for me. Thinking about this, I made some conceptual projects about it, so these old windows are a part of this story, they are something that was thrown away. It’s a part of the total demolition of these historical treasures of the city. So it’s not like that I just like old things, it’s something bigger. It’s a very sad thing. Once I could save some part of an old building and make a new life for it, to show how beautiful it was before, I used this possibility.
ORIS: Is your installation Windows and Factories also in some way dedicated to the Moscow that is vanishing?
Alexander Brodsky: As the name of the installation says, it consists of two parts, windows and factories. The windows were not just windows, that were the kind of windows I made, new pieces of art, and the factories were just clay sculptures. But these windows were about one very important thing from my childhood. This is still going on sometimes, a kind of art made on windows painted white, so it was either the decoration of some space or the workers would come and paint them white, or while it’s still wet, they would draw something or write something. Usually it’s very unpredictable and a very beautiful thing. That is one part of it, and the other part is this kind of engraving on painted glass. Schoolboys in the toilet, or some people in the old hospitals, they want to look outside and so they make these drawings, and the technique is different so they look more like engravings or etchings on the glass. It is similar to the first carriage of the metro train. The window by the driver was always painted white, discouraging the kids from looking into the tunnel. These are things that inspired me a lot for many years, until finally I decided to use this for a big exhibition I made in Vinzavod Arts Centre of these windows, making some drawings on the wet paint and some drawings scratched on the dry paint. Another very important thing in Moscow in my youth and childhood were the old factories in the centre of the city. There are almost no working factories in the city any more.
ORIS: For the installation Windows and Factories you used clay like in the former installation Grey Matter when you were linking small objects, but this clay was not fired, wasn’t it so?
Alexander Brodsky: It was unfired clay, which is a very important thing for me; I didn’t want to make real ceramic pieces, to fire them. These objects can also live forever if you don’t put water on them, or drop them, but at the same time they are very fragile. It’s like making sculptures of dust. Any moment they can turn back to dust and I love this feeling.
ORIS: Have you been thinking a lot about the transitory? As a symbol for it we could put perhaps this Ice Pavilion which melts with the coming of spring? It’s very poetic.
Alexander Brodsky: It was made of ice, made of water, and it went back to water. It’s the same with clay. The first big work was the Grey Matter installation where I made several hundred objects – everyday objects, childhood mementos.
ORIS: So you must be sad that the 95 Degrees Restaurant lasted over 10 Russian winters.
Alexander Brodsky: This was supposed to stay for a few years. The bar was made for a couple of months only, but it is strange that the restaurant is still standing. It was made so fast and so cheaply. The client thought that it is probably for two or three years, but now it is almost ten years, it’s still working and I’m not sad about it at all.
ORIS: It is interesting that in the Moscow region where your first architectural project was built, the restaurant we just mentioned, you continued on building projects, whether with short-term expectation like the Cloud Café, or even the Pavilion for Vodka Ceremony, in the same region, the Klyazminskoe Reservoir Rest Area.
Alexander Brodsky: Some of them are houses where people live, so they expected a longer life for them, but some things, like the Cloud Café, were also a temporary thing. I thought it was going to stay there longer, but the master plan of the whole area was changed, so they took it apart since they didn’t need it any longer. This looked like a temporary thing. The Vodka Pavilion was not even made through a commission; it was made for an art festival. And it’s still there, which is a surprise. We have made four houses for everyday life there, one is still in progress, and three others are completed, people live there, and I hope they will stand for a long time.
ORIS: What is important to mention is that the Vodka Pavilion was built strictly from found objects, ready-made windows from an old factory, and that the roof of the Cloud Café was built from 1000 plastic bags, and opposed to the clay material, or the ice that is melting, what happened to the plastic bags?
Alexander Brodsky: It was not made just of plastic bags, they couldn’t really protect from the rain. The main roof was made of thick transparent plastic, and then we fixed all these hundreds of plastic bags underneath and on the top. This was done for the sound, because the wind is always blowing from the lake, and there was very beautiful sound of these hundreds of bags, so that was the reason.
ORIS: This polycarbonate roof was used in some parts of the 95 Degrees Restaurant and also the house in Tarusa.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, it’s a very cheap material and easy to get and it can be very beautiful.
ORIS: Usually you work on a low budget structures, but the commissioners and investors are from the bourgeois circle of Russia and Moscow. How is it possible that they’re interested in this sort of art and architecture?
Alexander Brodsky: Of course, when they commission their own house, they don’t want it to be built from garbage, they want really nice materials. This is not always easy for me. For example, the last building (House at the 5th Green) that we built in the Pirogovo Resort area was quite a big house and quite expensive, it was not a low budget thing. It was quite difficult for me to make this project. It was an unusual thing for me. After we started I had a lot of problems with it. First of all, it was too big.
ORIS: You couldn’t put your intentions in so directly.
Alexander Brodsky: It wasn’t easy to use something I wanted to, basically there was no client that was supposed to live there. The client was the owner of the land, and he wanted to sell the house with the land. It wasn’t a personal thing so that was a problem, the size was a problem, everything was a problem, so I still have some doubts about this building, although we solved most of the problems there.
ORIS: But the interior space in this unfinished situation looks quite beautiful, like in this old factory, but the problem is the cladding outside, because the wood looks just plasticized.
Alexander Brodsky: We wanted to leave it unpainted, but the client really wanted it to be painted, so it does not change much afterwards. We had a lot of disputes and arguments about it. That was a kind of compromise which was not good, of course. It was painted, and you are right, it would be better unpainted.
ORIS: This kind of client was not educated enough to understand that they’re getting a real Brodsky.
Alexander Brodsky: Maybe. They are invited to see the building, and they say ‘Yes, it’s all nice, but I don’t like this old wood and this grey colour, why didn’t you paint this,’ and so on.
ORIS: Speaking about interior spaces, we’ve seen these wonderful pictures of Yuri Palmin of OGI Ulitsa Café or the Apshu Restaurant. There is not just only the atmosphere you manage to give to these interiors, but it is almost illustrating a state of mind, so I could imagine Raskolnikov and Marmeladov drinking in this space.
Alexander Brodsky: Well, I don’t know about that, but why not? A contemporary Raskolnikov and Marmeladov. These clubs were very special things. Both of them were made for very good friends that were running the clubs and did not have much money, but they were very nice guys. They could afford to pay the rent for small basements. These were the only things they could rent or buy. They asked me to come to this terrible basement and make something very nice with almost no money. But that was a kind of game that I liked very much, something really interesting for me, to use almost nothing, to make a few movements and to make this space alive. In both cases they were very successful, a lot of people came there, they became very popular.
ORIS: They don’t exist anymore.
Alexander Brodsky: Unfortunately, it was there for five or six years, but then the lease was finished, and they couldn’t renew it, so they had to leave the space. And now there’s another café, one of this chain cafés in Moscow.
ORIS: Maybe we can’t avoid the fact that you are a prominent name of avant-garde Russian architecture, but in Croatia it is not so well known what contemporary Russian architecture is, especially nowadays, after the building boom different from the past Soviet official architecture. Can you share your insight on this subject with us?
Alexander Brodsky: I never thought about fighting or resisting something, I just wanted to do something that doesn’t disturb me afterwards. I’m trying to do something that I like and not to make compromises, because the most terrible thing is to build something that you don’t like at all. It’s a simple thing. If you’re an artist and you make a painting or a drawing you don’t like, you just burn it. You are not able to destroy a house, it’s beyond your reach. You would have to avoid the street and never appear in the district. That’s something really scary for me.
ORIS: The question was about the situation of Russian architecture today, apart from your artistic things, is it banal, or following some trends from abroad in making these commercial things?
Alexander Brodsky: Looking at the things that are done there in Moscow, anywhere in the country, in the magazines and big exhibitions like ArchMoscow, which shows for the most part new, contemporary architecture, I always thought, and I was probably wrong, but it seemed to me many times that the main thing for many architects was to reach some level of western architecture. For many, many years, it was absolutely impossible. Millions of architects were looking at beautiful magazines from Japan, England, the United States and other countries, beautiful photographs, and very nice, mostly beautiful buildings. And we were dreaming about this quality of construction, of building materials that we didn’t have. It was so deep in people’s brains that it became a kind of main goal. I was looking at these exhibitions, and year by year I saw how closer and closer this level was coming to the original thing. At some moment, I saw that there was no difference at all, that this could just as well be an exhibition in Berlin, Vienna or London. This was not about the quality of the project or architecture, it was normal western, European or American architecture, built really nicely. The photographs are really nice, printed on nice paper and put on a nice panel. Everything was absolutely nice, and this was the end of a very long period. They were running and running, and suddenly they reached their goal. This was strange and scary at the same time because I was thinking what the next step would be, because now, we were there.
ORIS: I visited two very good architectural offices in Moscow, with very young architects doing very good projects, but both of them, maybe it’s chance, but both of them have commissioned two offices in Berlin to do technical drawings. Is it because they don’t have the technical knowledge in their own office but imported it from Berlin? We have looked a lot in the past years at Russian architectural projects, publications and books, so I think that there is a tendency in Russia of some very talented architects to find the roots of Russian architecture, and try to continue this kind of special traditional Russian architecture. Is Russian constructivism a part of this tradition?
Alexander Brodsky: In some way, of course. Some people just became too fashionable, and a lot of architects followed this just because of fashion. Many of them just take it as a kind of foundation into their own direction using this tradition.
ORIS: I saw more in the vernacular tradition of Russian architecture. Following the constructivist tradition, it ends up in a kind of a postmodern pop architecture, more or less.
Alexander Brodsky: The more I look at the magazines right now, the more good architects I see. They have problems with a lot of things, with clients, with the city. Building in Moscow is a very special thing, so they have a lot of problems that I avoid because I don’t build there, so it’s much simpler for me, but they take this responsibility trying to build there. Sometimes it’s nice, something it’s not so nice, but for sure, there are a lot of talented young architects that are coming, who have just graduated. I have seen some very beautiful interiors made by them.
ORIS: When we speak about Russian architectural tradition, we can look back at the Paper Architects movement. What were the circumstances of birth of such a movement, and what might be the Russian authenticity, or what part of the Russian identity can be seen in the Paper Architects movement?
Alexander Brodsky: It was not a movement; it was just a company of young people who were able to take part in international competitions for several years. When it was finished, it became a movement. That was just a very nice time for all of us, we were young and we were allowed to send these projects to Japan or England or wherever. We were so happy to have this possibility.
ORIS: Earlier you said that you don’t resist, but was this not also some sort of a spiritual state of exile, a resistance to this Soviet system.
Alexander Brodsky: In some way, it was resistance as we know. At that time, it was just easier to live like this than to work in any of these state architectural offices with two thousand other people. That was a very personal thing, but I personally didn’t want to work there. I spent three years in such an office and it was enough. It was not really interesting for me. I left, and some of my friends didn’t work there at all. Some of us combined both things. They would work in a big office, but in the evening they would make these competitions. They did some nice works, but my friend Ilya Utkin and I couldn’t live like this. We were making art, and doing these competitions. And of course, in some way it was resistance, another kind of life. At that time it was just a natural thing for us to do, we didn’t think about it as a kind of manifesto of resistance.
ORIS: During that period, you were collaborating with Ilya Utkin and you were producing an excessively large amount of etchings that were filled with provocative visions, dystopian fantasies against the regime and so on. I found one especially interesting, Columbarium Habitabile, which was like a tomb or a mausoleum.
Alexander Brodsky: A mausoleum for demolished buildings. This was the second version of this idea. The first version of this project was made for some Moscow competition, and the second version was for Japan. The idea was the same. The first version was a kind of a museum of demolished old buildings, where you put models of them into the niches. The second one was made on a huge scale, where you put the real buildings into the niches, instead of pulling them down. The story told that the people that lived in the building could choose. Either they allowed the building to be destroyed and moved to another place, or they wanted to live in it saved, but then they had to live in these niches on a shelf.
ORIS: There are also visionary projects like Wandering Turtle – city visions, almost organic conglomerates. It was pointed out that these things recall works by Lebeus Woods or Raimund Abraham. I can say that it reminds me of visionary drawings by Serbian architect Bogdan Bogdanović.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, maybe there’s something similar.
ORIS: The similarity is in creating spaces and ideas.
Alexander Brodsky: This picture – Wandering Turtle was very much inspired by Fellini. That’s what we love so much.
ORIS: In an interview you pointed out that intuition is very important for you, that you are listening to these secret voices in your head.
Alexander Brodsky: That means that in many cases I’m not trying to figure out why I’m doing it like this or like that. I just have this feeling I’ve always explained by the example of a cat. There’s a Russian tradition when people buy a new apartment that the first time they enter it, they bring a cat. The first being that enters the apartment is a cat. They look where the cat lies down, and that is a good place for a bed. You can never explain why the cat chose this corner. In some way, I believe the architect is this cat. I simplify things, of course, but I say where they should put the bed, the table, the cupboard. And they don’t ask me why. Sometimes they say they don’t like it, but sometimes they trust me and say that it’s perfect. They ask me how I do it, and I don’t know. That is how I would make the room for myself. I put furniture according to some secret force.
ORIS: But actually it’s quite dangerous to follow a cat’s opinion as to what apartment should be good, because if you remember, cats love falling asleep on TVs and other sources of radiation. Cats can’t sleep on TVs anymore, they’re flatscreens now. Anyway, what I wanted to ask you is that the metropolis was an ongoing theme in the etchings and, of course, Moscow as your muse, but still you have constructed little architectural works besides interiors. And I remember once that you said that to build in Moscow is to destroy. Is there an alternative way of making no harm and building in the city?
Alexander Brodsky: Of course, there’s a lot of space in the city where you can build without disturbing the historical part. I don’t get any commissions to build in either kind of place, so I don’t have this problem, but usually architects want to go closer and closer to the centre. The big dream is to build in the very centre of something. This is of course what I mean is connected to the destroying; this is what I’m avoiding. Moscow is huge, so there is space for thousands of architects to express themselves, but the problem is that they don’t want to build there; they want to build in the very middle, that’s the problem.
ORIS: Two of your installation works, especially the Coma is a critique of the present-day metropolis, and refers to Moscow, you show the model of the city made out of clay lying on a surgical table with black oil dripping on it.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, that’s what I thought about this whole as a surgical table and some energetic doctors cutting into city.
ORIS: You also use this reflecting oil surface in your AZW exhibition installation (July till October 2011), can you tell us a little bit more about that. The concept started twenty years ago when you were collaborating with Ilya Utkin on the installation Untitled.
Alexander Brodsky: This surface was fascinating me for a long time, ever since I saw it somewhere. The reflection was so beautiful, and the smell was nice. I was thinking about using it, and once I saw it in a very beautiful installation, I don’t remember if it was before or after we made our installation, it was a very famous work by Richard Wilson in the Saatchi Gallery, where the room was filled up with this black oil, with a beautiful reflection and a pathway in the middle. I think I saw it many years after we made the first version of our one. But it already existed.
I think that oil has been used by many artists for reflection. It’s the perfect thing, it’s better than a mirror, better than water, it’s an ideal thing because it sucks all the dust and it’s always shiny and it has an absolutely mysterious mood.
ORIS: For the AZW Exhibition some tests were done with other materials and surfaces, but none of them had the same power of reflection and stability while also avoiding the dust, which is not the case if you have only water. It’s really the best material.
Alexander Brodsky: It’s something really alive. But it’s dangerous if people step in it, or put their hands on it.
ORIS: Looking at your installation at the Venice Biennale 2006, it was about a city, in fact Moscow, it was sort of ironic but also a rather romantic picture of a sleeping town. What was the idea behind this installation, in relation to the theme of that year’s Biennale, which was: ‘Cities, Architecture and Society’.
Alexander Brodsky: This was about these sad districts, all around Moscow. It was a very deep feeling of being in these endless districts in winter, when it’s absolutely hopeless and dark and there’s no one around. There is something very sad and very nice in these memories, which is hard to explain, so I just wanted to express it like that. A friend of mine who came to this show was standing and watching and listening for a long time, and then he said: ‘Yes, I remember. The party is over, the subway is closed, everything is covered with snow, you have to go far away and you will probably be badly beaten by the local guys’... That was the feeling of the piece.
ORIS: You’re an artist and also an architect by training. What was the turning point in your life when you decided that you wanted to practise, that you want to build architecture?
Alexander Brodsky: I was thinking about this from the very beginning when I was studying at architectural school, but I realized that it was not possible to do it the way that I would like to do it. And so, I was quite happy doing only art and I was almost sure that this would be forever, that I would never be able to build. I was almost absolutely quiet about it, but of course somewhere deep in my mind I was always thinking that maybe sometime there would be a possibility to make something, even a small thing, just to check the feeling of getting inside a building that you’ve designed. This is a very important thing that you can step inside the space that you’ve created and to see what the drawing was and how it looks in real life. It’s a very strong and strange feeling. Of course, I was thinking about this, and at some moment I understood that this is the day when I can try, regardless if I’m ready or not.
ORIS: After the end of the Soviet Union, you had the possibility to start an architectural office, but you went to the United States.
Alexander Brodsky: I didn’t have any commissions, even in art or, of course, in architecture. That was the time when some of my friends started their offices, but they were lucky they had commissions. I didn’t, so I went for a couple of months to the States, and during these two months, I received ten different offers to make art installations, sculptures, to make something for museums and galleries. I spent four years living in New York with my family. I got my first architectural commissions when we came back in 2000.
ORIS: The tools you use in architecture are also tools of art, modern art, like collage and so on.
Alexander Brodsky: Mostly I use drawings.
ORIS: When we talk about installations, there is this interesting one, Twenty Garbage Cans, which reminds one of containers to put things in, boxes similar to works by Louise Bourgeois. You put in some crystal-like objects in total contrast to the rusty garbage cans, so which issues were you following there, just contrast or is there some story.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, there is a story from my childhood. There was a big yard where I lived in Moscow, and the main place where children hang out was a junkyard in the middle of a huge area with garbage cans and many different things that could be found there. We spent a lot of time there in the late 50s and the early 60s. There was nothing more interesting to do outside but to search for different nice things in the garbage. I spent some time in New York where the garbage in the streets is an amazing thing. You can find everything there. Everything in the space where we lived, I found in the street garbage: all the furniture, even a TV, an old VCR, everything. That was one of the things that I wanted to show in the installation: if one looks, there can be lots of surprises; one never knows what can be found in a garbage can...
ORIS: Today, you live in a residential settlement that was built in the 30s for Soviet officers.
Alexander Brodsky: The building was built in 1936, to a high standard, it was built for the generals. Today, it is an old building and I am always afraid that they will tear it down, but fortunately it’s not happening. I live there because my father had a studio in the attic there. He built this studio in 1959, so this place was always the most important place for me and I live there with my family.
It’s not a high standard now, but it’s wonderful because it’s so quiet and it’s so unusual. I cannot live in another place. I specially love the sound of rain, falling down on the roof. This is something really important for me.
ORIS: How did it happen that you have your studio in such a special place as the Museum of Architecture?
Alexander Brodsky: It happened because the director of the museum, David Sarkissyan, had this idea. He was the director of the museum for ten years. He became a very good friend of mine, and he was a really bright and wonderful person. Once he said that he wanted to establish a new institution - ‘architect in residence’. He showed me this small room full of garbage, without heating, unused for many years. It had only two windows, but I liked it, I was happy. He said, ‘If you do a little renovation here and clean it, you can be the first guest.’ We are still there. So it was good luck.
ORIS: You mentioned before Fellini’s movies as one of your sources of inspiration, but I was thinking about Tarkovsky more.
Alexander Brodsky: I like Tarkovsky very much, some of his movies especially, he’s an absolute genius, but in some way Fellini is much more a part of me than Tarkovsky.
ORIS: Do you remember the scene from Tarkovsky’s Ivan Rubljov when the rain is falling on the boy who is crying and had just made a beautiful bell, but before he didn’t know how to make bells?
Alexander Brodsky: This is a really a film of genius, every moment of it, especially that scene, it’s my favourite.
ORIS: It’s about creation.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, it is about you going somewhere, you don’t know where.
ORIS: Yes, but you arrive in the end.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, I recalled this scene many, many times when I start to do something, and I pretend I know where I’m going and I don’t, and I just have hope. It’s a very strong feeling.
ORIS: Perhaps you prefer Fellini because there are so many details, details of everyday life which are leading to a Comedia dell’arte in the end.
Alexander Brodsky: Yes, but there are many other things there that I love. I would have to say that my favourite director is Pasolini. In my opinion, he’s the strongest of the strong, his films are truly amazing.
ORIS: A certain American architectural critic compared your work to the work by Swiss architects like Zumthor or Peter Märkli. Do you agree?
Alexander Brodsky: They are two of my very favourite architects; I have such great respect for them. I’m probably trying to follow them somehow, but I don’t think there is anything in common there. They are really great. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of Zumthor’s buildings in real life yet, only photographs. But I’ve seen the amazing, genius museum La Congiunta by Peter Märkli, this concrete museum for sculptures. I was in Switzerland for several days with my wife, and we didn’t have that much time to see everything, so this building in this small village of Giornico was one of the very few contemporary buildings we saw. And it was absolutely unforgettable, it was really something very important for me. I knew before that it was a beautiful building, but in real life it was even more, which is rare. After I see something in a magazine, I am often disappointed when I see it in real life, but this one was amazing.
ORIS: Perhaps this relation is due to the fact that these elementary things like sound or smell are important to you.
Alexander Brodsky: Maybe, but I don’t know. I think that I’m a kind of a follower of these architects, their works inspire me a lot.
ORIS: I don’t know if Brodsky’s work is related to Zumthor and Märkli, but I think there’s more relation in thinking with Märkli than with Zumthor. I know Märkli very well, and I think in some cases he also sometimes tries to combine things that really don’t fit together. It’s not a collage; it’s really a bricolage, of combining together things which don’t fit together, but bringing a new meaning to a situation or space. What also influenced you besides Fellini’s movies and Swiss architects? It’s interesting that everyday objects have significance for your work, whether you are bricolaging or making statements with them. Your ability to assimilate traditional elements or even maybe some vernacular elements and materials, and even building techniques is both, architectural and artistic. Where do you see influences for your work?
Alexander Brodsky: Everywhere, that really can be everything, and you can’t predict what will inspire you suddenly. There are a lot of things in everyday life that can suddenly show some strange side. Perhaps you look through some door, and suddenly you see something strange. There are a lot of strange things in and around Moscow, like this strange ‘handmade’ settlement that I showed several times. I made a series of slides of this ‘handmade’ village made of garbage. It was a big source of inspiration for me, and still is. I visit it every summer or autumn and take some new pictures. The village is quite near my dacha, some fifty kilometres from Moscow. This is an amazing place, a little dead city made in the 1960s, where they always have something new when something else is gone. It remains the same size, but its insides are changing all the time.
ORIS: In your lecture you talked about this site where they built the ‘handmade’ village, they had to leave their houses and go to new apartments, but then they came back.
Alexander Brodsky: They had to live in these five-storey concrete buildings, but they needed a connection with the land, with the ground, so they built this on a piece of land illegally, a little vegetable garden with a couple of animals, just to continue this way of life that they were used to. That was a very strong and sad theme, because it was the only way for them to go back to this normal life, to have this small village. It’s across the road. They go there on Sunday, do something, hide something in these little buildings. This is a very important place for me.
ORIS: Does contemporary Russian literature have any importance for you, like for example the book Moscow–Petushki by Venedikt Erofeev.
Alexander Brodsky: This is not contemporary; it was written in the 1970s. But that’s classic Soviet underground literature, it’s a genius piece. It’s a very famous book. It’s basically the story of a man who lived outside Moscow, and for many years wanted to go to the city, but he was drinking so hard on the train that he could never get there. And there are these stories how he was trying to reach the centre of Moscow, but he couldn’t. It’s a very, very good book. Talking about contemporary Russian literature, I don’t know it very well; I don’t read many of the new books. I know that there are some very good contemporary writers, like Sorokin, and there are some very good contemporary Russian poets, like Gandlevsky, Kibirov, Rubinshtein, who are very good friends of mine.
ORIS: You always tried to avoid complete planning so you could change things during the building process.
Alexander Brodsky: No, we have to make a normal project, working drawings, technical drawings, that’s the law. You can’t start construction without it. I personally like to change things during the construction, which is terrible sometimes.
ORIS: Zumthor does that too. He said that if he can’t sleep during the night, he’s going through the whole house and then he discovers a mistake.
Alexander Brodsky: You’re always going back and forth through the building and thinking, ‘Oh no, this is a mistake.’ That is the most painful thing. You see the mistake and they say there is no way to change it, forget it, you should have thought about it at the beginning when you were working. And I’m pleading, ‘No, we need this small window here.’ Usually I find a way to do it, because I understood very fast it’s very important to explain to the workers and constructors why we want to do this. Architects are usually very important persons, so if they say ‘I want to do this’, you have just to do it. ‘I’m an architect and you’re a worker,’ and they hate this. I try to explain really carefully, like: ‘My friend, look here, this shadow is falling like this, but if we have a little opening here, we’ll be able to see this tree,’ something like that. And then they say, ‘Yes, no problem. It’s crazy but we’ll do it.’ I’ve used this technique many times. You just explain it and oversee what they’re doing. This is much easier.
ORIS: A few years ago, Oris magazine made an exhibition about hand drawings and we collected many drawings by many architects, Croatian and international. We staged this exhibition several times, also in Vienna, to stress the importance of drawing by hand which is vanishing. You have done this for a long time, and it is still something of importance for you.
Alexander Brodsky: This is the starting point of every project, the drawing. I don’t work on a computer, I make some drawings on a piece of paper, and some other guys do normal 3D pictures if the client needs them, they make them for me. Sometimes the 3D is very close to my drawing, sometimes not.
ORIS: We’ve been talking about your private commissions or art commissions. Do you think that your special language of art and architecture could be applied to public projects, larger scale projects, other countries?
Alexander Brodsky: To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I hope that if sometimes I get a commission to build something bigger than a small private house, I will do it well, but you never know before you try. I took part in some Russian big museum competition a couple of years ago and Peter Zumthor was in the jury. Someone told me that he looked at the project made by my bureau and said: ‘You can see immediately that this guy has never built any big building.’ And it was true.