The interview has been published in 2A Magazine issue #38 (Last Edition)
Sergei Tchoban: The relationship between both is
really important for me. Though I would never call
myself an artist, I would rather say I am a draftsman.
The focus of my studies at the university lied in the
mixture of art and architecture. Actually I have studied
art since I was a young boy. It was a kind of special
school in the former Soviet Union – at that time a lot of
special schools were related to professions like ballet,
music and drawing. This kind of education began
very early, from eleven or twelve on I guess. I early
became acquainted with drawing and painting.
Step by step I figured out that to draw architecture
was for me probably the most interesting thing. I
began to ask myself continuously why I was drawing
all this architecture. At the same time I found out in
which kind of architecture attracted me the most: it
was about interesting surfaces, textures, details.
Many of the buildings today will never really become
older but always appear as highlights on pictures
– they rather will be demolished in twenty years.
In terms of investments the contemporary urban
development situation is not very forward planning.
After some 20 or 30 years nobody will ever know why
a building has been planned and built. If a building
though is made with a good quality it could be reused
after a longer period.
I think I like the most to draw buildings as a part of
the history and culture. The surfaces of buildings
can be regarded as different historical layers. In a
city like Berlin one can fully fully recognize this multi-
layered surrounding by looking at the mix of different
centuries. In Moscow for example you also can find
buildings from the 12th century surrounded by 18th
century buildings or construction from the Soviet
period or present time. This produces layers and I think
that contemporary architecture should take all them
into account. It is very exciting to see how modern and ancient architecture are complementing
and engaging each other. The main interest of my
drawings lies in these strong contrasts. So many times
I was sitting somewhere and watching urban scenery
of our modern cities – all this different architecture like
during a play on a theatre stage. I think this play of
surfaces and sculptural forms interfering with each
other is one of the most important aspects of modern
Zohadi: When people come to your museum in Berlin
and watch the exhibitions, how do you think they
feel? Could it be compared to emotions which come
during the perception of the architectural spaces
Tchoban: Well, why did I design this museum? Long
ago I understood that it is not only me who is interested
in drawing and considering architecture amongst
others like a layer of culture and history. Look, when
you draw somewhere outside, a lot of people come
and look, not because they are interested in the
content of the drawing or the way you draw. They
are interested in the object itself. People are often
very uncertain in their taste. If they see somebody
drawing a building or an ensemble from a particular
perspective they automatically think that it is a good
position and then later they will make pictures from
this point. I understood that it is not only for me very
interesting to find a good point of view but also for
all these people staying behind me. This is how the
idea of a museum came to me: building a space
where people can see architectural drawings and
afterwards probably become interested in going to
different cities to experience them. Or even to go
to Berlin in order to have a better understanding of
architecture by studying the drawings in the museum
and looking at architecture through the eyes of the
It can be very interesting to discuss architecture
on the basis of drawings and thus on the basis of
someone’s experience. This is how the idea of an
exhibition place grew stronger. With our exhibitions
we also show different positions in architecture. We
have exhibitions focusing on the 14th or the 15th
centuries, Gothic or the 21st century. Then again we
show Japanese anime drawings, modern or utopian
drawings. Also we focus on drawings of famous
contemporary architects who at the same time are
very good draftsmen. We notice that people are
coming to the museum to see architecture through
the eyes of somebody who is talented, who is an
architect or an artist, who explains to us the different
aspects of architecture. I assume that from the
educational point of view people need more than
just books in order to understand architecture. You
can understand a lot by looking at a drawing of
somebody and this is also the case when people are
standing behind me looking at my drawings. At this
moment drawings are also working as mediators.
Zohadi: If I understand you correctly your priority is
culture and cultural identity. While designing a project
you focus on cultural identity of the specific location,
therefore developing different designs depending on
the city or country.
Tchoban: Absolutely. I think that cultural identity is
a very important issue and that architecture is very
depending on cultural identity of different countries.
This makes all discussions about international styles
also dependent to a certain point – until we see that
this so called international style has identification
features of a nation or a tradition. You will find these
differences in materials, ornaments, in the play of
shadow and light, in the size of the openings. All these
details are very different from country to country
and make architecture more recognizable. On the
other hand we already have plenty of examples for
identical buildings all over the world and to be honest
I don’t see any interest in having everywhere the
same architecture. Because if you travel to Japan
you find neoclassic from the twenties, if you are in the
US you’ll see neoclassic from the twenties, if you go
to Russia you see neoclassic from the twenties and
so on. Why should you travel at all if everything looks
everywhere the same?
Zohadi: I completely agree with you. It is also the
vision of the Asian Architecture Award. Because
there are three to four major civilizations in Asia as
Tchoban: Of course, let us think of the Middle East
architecture, Persian, Indian, Chinese or Japanese
architecture. And every direction had a huge
influence on the architecture all over the world.
Without Japan you could not imagine nor Art Deco
neither Art Nouveau or Modernism. The modernism
structures of Japan pushed modernistic and
geometrical styles of the twentieth century. Otherwise
we probably would still have neoclassic today. But
there has been America or the Middle Asia and
Japan with their completely different styles.
Zohadi: I fully respect and share your vision. Your
thinking is very close to our vision regarding Asia.
Tchoban: Often if somebody speaks about identities,
they mean just some little decoration here and there.
But it has nothing to do with identity. If you would
like to speak about identity you have to mention
materials, structures, behaviour of people related
to buildings. I suppose that only this kind of thinking
leads us to a good quality of architecture. I can
agree with the fact that a building by Frank Gehry
like Guggenheim looks exactly the same way in Los
Angeles or in Bilbao. But I could not be happy when
the whole urban surrounding looked this way. These
special buildings have to be brilliant in their own way
and not looking all the same.
Zohadi: You have been in Tehran recently. Which
specific ideas have you got about this city, about the
urban planning and architecture?
Tchoban: The climate and the sun in your city are
really sharp! It is important for different architectural
approaches to respect different climatic conditions.
In Russia for example the climate has a very strong
influence on architecture, not only in terms of shadow
or light. Concerning the urban planning you are of
course much more open for experiments compared
to us in the European area. The Western Europe has
from the historical point of view very dense, organized
spaces. You however have more landscaping
architecture with open and closed elements as
well as big and small spaces, like on a painting. You
have a bigger freedom in your understanding of a
development of a space and the strong sun allows
also very narrow spaces. And all this interesting work
with materials and colours! Many Iranian buildings
have beautiful travertine or natural stone or brick
surfaces. Recently you could see it at the Biennale but
also on many old pictures of the Iranian architecture.
Zohadi: Did you have an exhibition there this year?
Tchoban: No, this time I was just a visitor in Venice.
Twice I was curator of The Russian Pavilion at the
Biennale. In 2012 the Russian Pavilion had a special
mention for the first time at all for the “i-city/i-land”
Zohadi: Yes, I published it in 2A!
Tchoban: Yes, it has been on covers of many
architecture or urban magazines, or interior design
issues. We then got an interior design award from
the US. It was quite a success. But this year I was just
a visitor. I was very glad to see Iranian examples of
very nice and often very complex surfaces, made
of bricks or other quality materials. I think that Tehran and also other Iranian cities like Esfahan have a very
Zohadi: Do you have any future plans in regard to
Tehran and Esfahan?
Tchoban: At this point I would like to pass on to Mr.
Rashidi. He asked me to work together and I think it
is a big opportunity for me because Mr Rashidi is very
experienced and has a very good understanding of
the Iranian architecture, since he is from Iran and also
has worked during many years in Germany. So he
knows well what kind of quality and know-how could
be exported to Iran. I’m really glad that Mr. Rashidi
asked me to cooperate.
Siamak Rashidi: As Mr. Tchoban said, our vision is
to produce high quality architecture which has a
balanced mix of German engineering and European
know-how with the Iranian approach. As Mr. Tchoban
said, we have a strong architectural identity in Iran. But
we also have to implement modern skills. It is also my
responsibility to establish a bridge between our offices
in Berlin. Mr. Tchoban is an expert in terms of detailed
design and ornaments. We would like to connect
these skills for our future projects, especially for the
new project we are working on at the moment in
Tehran. I also hope that we will be working on another
project in Esfahan, since the Iranian architecture has
its origins in this old town. It is our aim to develop good
ideas in terms of all aspects of architecture.
Zohadi: Did you also have conversations with any
responsible persons in the government from Tehran or
with any clients about your ideas?
Rashidi: Yes, actually our private client also follows
our visions. On the other hand the next project in
Esfahan is depended on political issues. But still
there is space for ideas also in the government
projects concerning the urban planning.
Zohadi: I think it would be a good idea if you could have
a conference in Tehran or Esfahan in order to share your
points of view regarding cultural identity. This would
be a subject, which everybody would like to hear.
Rashidi: That is exactly our aim for the future. If you start
working on this project you might also need a bigger
public activity. So we also thought about arranging
events. You, being a very important architecture
media in Iran, also could help us!
Mr. Tchoban, we saw different exhibition and opening
images as well as the architecture of the museum. What
kind of art is considered to be displayed in the future?
Tchoban: We display only architectural drawings from
different time periods and from very different origins
Zohadi: Do you put the focus on famous or well known
Tchoban: Mainly on well-known architects but
also not very well known once, or rather unknown
draftsmen like in the case of the current exhibition
“Anime Architecture”, where we show the drawings
for the Japanese animated movies.
Zohadi: What is the average period of the exhibition?
Tchoban: Every exhibition continues three months,
due to conservation reasons of the drawings.
Zohadi: Do you have any special message to be
published in our magazine?
Tchoban: I think that my most important message is
about the quality of architecture today. As I already
said, we were quite good at the beginning of the
20th century and many of the architects are still
quite good in designing iconic buildings. These are
predominantly sculptural buildings which produce a
contrast to historical surrounding. But I question rather
the surrounding itself: what happens if you have first
to build one? In this case it is important to underline
the buildings by details, small elements on the surface
like window frames or doors, columns or pilasters,
ornaments and so on. Because a city consists of 70
to 80 percent of such “surrounding”. I believe that
an important aim of architects, especially young
ones, should be to achieve a modest surrounding
by having in mind that these buildings are standing
more than 20-30 years. When I ask myself whether our
contemporary buildings would once become old and
maybe listed I really have some doubts. And I think
that if buildings have all these qualities I mentioned
above, they won’t be demolished so easily. It is very
important to work on the urban surrounding, which
we don’t want to demolish after some 20-30 years.
Rashidi: You are speaking from the heart of our
country too. Since all buildings from the last twenty
years are damaged now. So we start again with new
buildings because of the bad quality.
Tchoban: Moreover I think it is also about the soul of a
building, of the surface which in most cases does not
exist too. You don’t want to draw this kind of buildings.
Zohadi: Because it is about hundred percent being a
form. Thank you very much, Mr. Tchoban, Mr. Rashidi.
I think it was a great interview.