Founded by Oleg Shapiro and Dmitry Likin in 2007, Wowhaus lost no time in tackling an issue that years later was to become central to architecture: that is how to organize the urban environment. We put into question the traditional Russian approach to the urban environment, that interprets this environment as a collection of buildings (arranged as urban facades) and squares, and treats them as separate design elements.
Wowhaus proposes a radically different approach, that in 2007 was already emerging in contemporary world architecture and has by now become absolutely central. Our approach treats the urban environment as a kind of spatial liquid in which the city is immersed.
In order for new site-specific structures to crystallize organically in this liquid, the solution must be concentrated; and to create diversity the mixture must be complex. “We care about our living environment; our aim is to make it friendly and habitable. We believe that the approach to architectural design which focuses on making maximally expressive “boxes” is now obsolete. What is important to us is not merely the architecture of the buildings, but, first and foremost, the space between them,” say Dmitry Likin and Oleg Shapiro, the founders of Wowhaus.
Such is the approach Wowhaus is systematically applying in its projects. The firm covers all fields of architectural design, but over the last few years has focused on the architecture and design of public spaces. At present Wowhaus is best known for creating the vibrant public space at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design – the first example of this kind of spatial layout planning in Moscow. Strelka’s very name (in Russian Strelka means “tip” or “spit”) suggests diversity in a relatively small environment, that is nonetheless extremely important for Moscow. The design combines open public zones (an atrium and square) and closed spaces with varying degrees of publicity. They are linked both in terms of layout and logistics on the one hand and in terms of design on the other. In this project Wowhaus also paid a lot of attention to maximizing efficiency of financial expenditure and use of materials. Its design for Strelka won them the title “Place of the Year” at Arch Moscow, Russia’s principal architecture exhibition (it is worth noting that the award was created especially for this project –a sign of how much importance the jury attributed to it).
Another well-known project by Wowhaus – and one which has created a considerable stir among the general public – is its reorganization of Gorky Park. As part of the programme to reconstruct the park, in a short period of time (time being a crucial factor in their concept) Wowhaus created several key structures which have fundamentally changed the style of the park and set parameters for its further development. The structures include a wooden beach, an open-air cinema, a skating rink, multi-functional pavilions, temporary and permanent installations, to mention juts a few. The brief given to Wowhaus when reconstructing the Bauman Garden was quite different. Here the architects were required to reanimate already existing structures (the legendary chess club and a small square adjacent to the 50’s open-air stage). Changes were made based on present-day needs and on predicted future uses of these urban gardens; as a result, these structures are now coming back to life. These are just a few examples of the numerous projects Wowhaus has managed to realize in its first five years. Wowhaus has reconstructed the Pioneer Cinema and given it a second life; renewed both the Praktika Theater and the space in front of it; designed urban recreation zones, exhibition halls, shops, restaurants and offices; devised a number of art objects; and has thereby played a role as a positive force in urban activism, not least by proposing several urban-planning concepts ( such as its concept of “low-level embankments”).
In its work Wowhaus follows the following principles:
● We respect the brief set by the client. Wowhaus does not try to impose its own views on how to organize life in a particular space. Instead, we provide an impulse which will allow life to develop according to its own laws. This approach makes it possible to quickly introduce corrections into already existing spaces and, when creating new projects, to take account of changes that are dictated by life.
● Wowhaus proposes both strategic solutions and tactical ones which can produce visible changes in the shortest period of time. The tactic of “quick solutions” makes it possible to achieve rapid, publicly visible results with minimal changes to a space (as in Gorky Park). Nevertheless, priority is always given to strategic “long-acting” solutions employed to launch mechanisms that will make a space habitable for many years to come.