Dubai: Expo 2020 Dubai is not Sergei Tchoban’s first rendezvous with the World Expos. The prolific Russian-German architect and architectural draftsman represented Russia in the Milan 2015 exhibition with a sweeping 30-metre-long cantilever building, a bold angular design that now stands in sharp contrast to the domed Russia Pavilion in Dubai.
This time round, Tchoban envisions his country as a standalone planet – and there is little wonder why since Russia is the biggest country in the world, covering an area of 17 million square kilometres while straddling two continents.
“In Russia, we have more than 200 nationalities, many different religions, art trends and [various] relationships between cultures,” said Tchoban in an interview with Gulf News. “I wanted to show that it is all like a big planet, where the elements [of Russia] are going around, creating a new … world.”
In Russia, we have more than 200 nationalities, many different religions, art trends and [various] relationships between cultures. I wanted to show that it is all like a big planet, where the elements [of Russia] are going around, creating a new … world.
Dubai skyscrapers: A motion blur of progress
Indeed, the 27-metre-tall pavilion sitting whimsically in the Mobility District will be conspicuous with 25,000-plus metres of steel pipes enveloping it. Mimicking the linear motion blur of car headlights at night, the hundreds of colourful lines become a snapshot of speed in motion.
“Because of these thin lines, I believe the pavilion will look very different from day to night,” he added. A clever trick of light and shadows and the facade will appear dynamic thanks to the sun, like a celestial body rotating on an invisible axis.
Through its architecture, ‘Planet Russia’ is keenly aware of its presence in Dubai; after all, the exposition’s host city is home to soaring skyscrapers that have become the cornerstones of development. According to the architect, visitors will move vertically through the pavilion just as how the dizzying heights of high-rise buildings take people to the top.
“For me, it is very important to draw Dubai skyscrapers with colourful lines of lights and cars speeding through the streets,” said Tchoban, pointing out the sketches on his mobile screen of the Burj Khalifa and other towers. “Dubai’s architecture is [one] of movement and progress.”
Double-domed like matryoshka dolls
When two elements are nested within each other, they somewhat resemble Russia’s world-famous matryoshka dolls – a phenomenon apparent in the interior and exterior design of the Russia Pavilion.
“So you come into one space, then go into [another] of the same character but bigger,” said Tchoban, describing the visitor journey that begins when people enter through a seven-metre-high cupola or small dome, which is an imitation of the larger dome of the pavilion facade.
Escalators and elevators inside the pavilion will take the visitors to the second floor. Here, the exhibition hall takes advantage of the 15-metre-high curved ceiling of the bigger hemisphere. Under the rings of the planet, an outdoor terrace on the side of the building provides a resting place for people to mingle, where they will be shaded by the jutting metal tubes of the pavilion.
Long associated with the Russian folk tradition, the wooden nested dolls are often the go-to souvenirs for tourists to take home. Though their origins lie in the Japanese Kokeshi toys, the dolls became a symbol of fertility in Russia, where they were called a diminutive of a popular name for women – Matryona.
“I thought it would be nice if somebody would feel as though they were inside of the matryoshka, [moving] from a smaller space to a bigger one,” he added. “To move through the [pavilion] and understand that you are moving through a very traditional toy.”
I thought it would be nice if somebody would feel as though they were inside of the matryoshka, [moving] from a smaller space to a bigger one. To move through the [pavilion] and understand that you are moving through a very traditional toy.
Reviving the Russian avant-garde
The creative scene has long been a mouthpiece for the Russian identity, just as the arts continue to be an innate medium of expression for its people today. At Expo 2020 Dubai, the country pavilion harkens back to a time when it all began – when literary, cinematic, artistic and scientific ingenuity gifted us the works of, for instance, writer Leo Tolstoy and filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.
“The moveable [exterior] of the pavilion explains the traditions of Russian avant-garde,” said Tchoban, referencing abstract artist Kazimir Malevich and architect Yakov Chernikhov to paint a clearer picture. ‘Avant-garde’ comes from French meaning ‘vanguard’, which abandoned its military connotations over the years to refer to daring innovators in the field of arts.
From 1890 to 1930, there was a distinct moment in history when all rules were upended for four decades in rebellion against the Russian Empire. Unchecked creativity of underground artists grew bolder in style and message, birthing art movements across the country that still inspire architects such as Tchoban to this day.
“For example, if you see the paintings of Malevich, you will notice many lines overlapping each other. He tries to explain the possibility of moving across [Russia] with these lines,” he said.
Founder of the pure geometrical art form called Suprematism, Malevich superimposed multi-coloured squares, circles, rectangles onto a plain white background, depicting weight, speed and movement through the masses.
The architectural designs of Chernikhov, too, possess the same “speedy lines” apparent in Tchoban’s preliminary sketches for the Russia Pavilion. Dubbed as his favourite architect, Tchoban admires Chernikhov’s experimental choice of drawing architectural forms with lines using bright colours. The avant-garde artist drew wary glances for his bold designs under the Stalinist regime.
On sustainability and staying post-Expo
According to Tchoban, all construction elements of the pavilion can be reused, the majority of which comprises of metal tubes. When it comes to the question of retaining the building, the architect said that the future of the Russia Pavilion is still undecided.
“It’s being discussed if the pavilion will stay, [if so] then it will be reused as an office building. [If not], it will be recycled by many other construction works because all of the tubes can be removed and reused as an element of a facade.”
- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.