Mariapaola Michelotto investigates the possible role of architecture in the transformation of the Russian industrial city of Togliatti into a knowledge city.
Can you briefly explain your choice of subject?
During my first year of master I went to Chicago with my design studio. There I had the chance to visit and study one of the earliest examples of American corporate town, the town of Pullman, which was established in 1880 by George Pullman to house the employees of his railroad company. The history of the town led me to draw a comparison with the current organisation of corporate campuses (Google, Apple, Facebook), which are still constructed on a system that aims to take control over the everyday life of workers.
Through this initial study I became interested in understanding how architecture can become an instrument of control, which doesn’t limit its powers to the working environment, but colonizes one’s own private life. Especially in the context of the capitalistic market, production is becoming ubiquitous, blurring the borders between life and work, and therefore establishing unwritten set of rules and routines that condition our behaviours.
From this reflections originated the will to further investigate the possibility of counteracting these established routines with the introduction of new rituals of resistance through architectural devices, which could allow us to retrieve control over own production and way of living.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you explain this briefly?
I have always been fascinated by the work of Superstudio and Archizoom. For them the architectural project was never an end to itself, and was instead considered as a tool to engage reflection and discussion. In the same way, the thesis work of Rem Koolhas (Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture), the projects of Ivan Leonidov and the VKhUTEMAS, and the work of the architectural practice Dogma played a key role in shaping my ideas and vision.
Appoint (and describe briefly) the key moment in your graduation project?
One of the most important steps of the research was being able to find a location where to experiment with my ideas. The town of Togliatti in Russia clearly represented the struggle of the architecture of control, inevitably doomed to failure and decay. At the same time, its current state of crisis also highlighted the necessity of finding alternative solutions to the overwhelming standardisation operated by capitalism.
With the first Five Year Plan of 1928 Stalin initiated a period of massive industrialisation of remote zones of Russia. This lead to the creation of several monotowns, newly built industrial settlements based on one economical source or industry. The project takes as a study case the town of Togliatti, the largest built in Soviet Union as an industrial complex for FIAT car manufacturing. The plan of the city, designed by the Soviet architect Boris Rubanenko, was inspired by Ivan Leonidov’s project for Magnitogorsk, and was based on a grid of squares of one kilometre per side, each of which contained the fundamental facilities for living. The fixed urban layout was planned in order to facilitate citizen’s movements, minimising what was considered as an unproductive time expenditure.
Nowadays, the economic stagnation in Russia and the slowing down of the production, have lead the monotowns to a state of inactivity, proving the need of finding alternative productive sources. Relating to the contemporary debate on the productive means of the capitalist system, the project deals with the current transformation of the concept of production, that is gradually shifting from production of goods to production of knowledge. While blurring the border between life and work, architecture turns into an instrument of control that imposes hierarchical systems over everyday life.
The project aims to question the common way we perceive architecture, working places and educational institutions, highlighting the need of a transformation in the design processes and goals, considering architecture not as a problem solving practice or a profit maker tool, but rather as a tool to investigate new ways of working and living. At the same time, the design explores the possibility of liberating production from pre-imposed economical constraints, therefore challenging the necessity of accumulation, classification and private property.
The scale of the project seeks to represent this vision and therefore surpasses the limits of traditional planning to put forward an alternative that doesn’t want to be a solution but a starting point for further reflection. In the same way, every aspect of the design is conceived to be able to be appropriated and re-proposed in a different scale and condition, therefore allowing the project to be not only a site specific intervention but a trigger for new ideas, questioning the way we design contemporary architecture.
When started graduating
When finished with graduation
Technische Universiteit Delft / Faculteit Bouwkunde
What are you doing now?
I am currently living in Brussels and collaborating with the architecture office Dogma.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or in the distant future?
I believe in the power of architecture as an instrument to raise awareness and generate discussion. In my opinion, the work of the architect should not be limited to one’s own time and space and should encompass form and functionality to become a social and political instrument. Especially nowadays I think it is fundamental to recognize this necessity and push academic and working environments to experiment more with these ideals, putting aside the limits of the built environment to experiment with concepts able to subvert our habits and beliefs.