As if taking a cue from IKEA, some Russians have turned to Scandinavia to find a solution to ongoing housing challenges of quality versus affordability – but hopefully without the frustration of having to self-assemble their new home!
At the recent Russian Investment Forum in Sochi a discussion session was held on the future of housing in the country. Amidst a major state program to build upwards of 800 million square meters of new housing, Russia has looked to, among other places, Scandinavia for inspiration.
While the existing layout of Russian cities is still dominated by a cold, logical and utilitarian approach to urban development, where housing is made up predominantly of monolithic, uniform residential buildings, this approach has been challenged. Scandinavian architecture firms have set out to develop ideas for how future Russian residential areas can take into consideration the human, “irrational,” “emotional” needs of the residents, not only a solution to the immediate need of housing.
Helle Juul, founding partner of Juul Frost Arkitekter, and jury member for a competition on the selection of new housing designs suggests that something crucial for the well-being of people living in an urban environment is a sense of community. People need to be able to always look out and have an “eye on the street,” to be able to feel as though they are a part of what’s going on around them, the Danish architect told Sputnik.
Another Scandinavian architect participating in the forum, Magnus Månsson, Swedish CEO of the Semrén & Månsson architecture design firm, echoed Juul’s sentiment for the need to put community at the center of modern residential areas. One major way for this to be done is to allow for small streets, devoid of cars and other vehicles, to intersect the residential buildings. The buildings themselves could then be used for a variety of purposes, such as having smaller cafés and shops at the lower levels, and other buildings in the center of the residential areas being available as offices or for community events.
The sense of community is essential, in their view, for the well-being of the individual in a modern urban environment. In a densely populated city residential area, you are always surrounded by others. Helle Juul believes that in such a context, people should feel like they are looking out for each other.
“You are taking care of each other because you can see each other. You hear when [they’re] coming home and you can put out a bottle of beer to say ‘welcome home,’ it’s 4 o’clock in the night. Because you’re so close,” jokes Juul about how urban living, properly done, can assist in fostering community development.
While both Juul and Månsson agree that any inspiration from the Scandinavian approach to community-focused modern housing is bound to be modified to fit Russian culture and desires. “You should be focused on your own culture and your own standards,” Månsson said, before adding that he did not think there was any risk of “Scandinavian minimalism” taking hold in Russia.
By 2025, Russia hopes to build some 800 million square meters of new housing for 25 million residents of the country. The ambition is create modern housing that is both affordable and raises the living standards of the inhabitants, with a special eye to be attractive for young families and professionals.
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