Author Archives for Shalum Shalumov

(or Is the Architecture a Fine Art?)

It appears nowadays that people no longer see architecture as a visual art form. Instead, it is often placed under the engineering category. Obviously, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Strictly speaking, the term “fine art” signifies a man-made aesthetically charged form. From this perspective, therefore, any kind of design, whether graphic, industrial or architectural, is a fine art, or at least contains a weighty component of this field.

Viewed in this context, architecture has not just been a fine art — I argue it is one of the most important and the most complicated of all fine arts. The massive, all-controlling scale of the finished works and numerous factors complicate the task, and contribute to this designation. Included are serious functional, economic and structural considerations, a complex of regulating rules and, finally, the client’s vision and demands. With these circumstances in mind, it is a challenging, even daunting, task to achieve a perfect solution. Moreover, of the three Vitruvian virtues — utility, solidity, and beauty (utilitas, firmitas, venustas), in most cases, we appreciate many architectural objects only by their visual appeal—their ”beauty”. While walking in a city street or passing a group of buildings while driving, one cannot judge as to how comfortable those building actually are in terms of function or how economical and solid they are, yet their appearance, without fail, affects the environment, and therefore one’s mood.

The creation of a picture, fashion style, or all manner of accessories usually takes a number of studies where the artist hones the aesthetic aspect of the future project. In architecture however, this detailed development often applies to functional and structural components only, while the visual component is totally subjugated to the former two and is often limited to purely decorative detailing of the resulting form. Well, this is a legitimate approach as well, but, regrettably, the result is not always satisfactory. Also, while we can always replace an old picture on the wall or a desk lamp, or discard clothes that are no longer in fashion, there is no way out from the ubiquitous architectural aesthetics.

I’d like to stress the fact that it is not just a created visual form that the term “fine art” defines, but rather the ancient art of beauty, with its rules and laws. Taking all of the above, as well as the enormity of scale, into account, it’s not enough to rely on the architect’s perfect aesthetic taste or rich, and canon-free, imagination. Professional methods of form development are of paramount importance. It takes years, as we all know, to become a professional artist or illustrator, industrial or fashion designer – years of studying the laws and secrets of the craft. Modern architects, on the other hand, unlike their old-school predecessors, have shifted away from the fine arts toward new technologies, new approaches and revolutionary solutions in the environmental field and other aggregate aspects of modernity. They also have had little chance to study art in detail: So many new subjects are now covered in architectural curriculum that in many cases an architect’s exposure to art may be limited to an art club in high school and a couple of basic drawing classes at college.

Indeed, the body of architecture today is very complex, with many different industries involved. The architect or “Master Builder” acts an orchestra conductor, creating a frozen music and managing a large orchestra which includes HVAC specialists and electricians, construction engineers, acoustic specialists and lighting designers. Someone works on details, one concentrates on solving functional problems, often a separate group of experts on finishing and interior decoration.

Is it not obvious that the question of styling and shape itself is no less difficult and no less important, to not have a team member, who would help specializing in matters of visual composition. Isn’t it obvious that the method of creating forms, from sketch to sketch, from the first visualization to a completed rendering is a versatile tool and works the same for creating garments, industrial design objects, small piece of jewelry, and the huge scale building with its contexts and peculiarities.

It is becoming clear that the architectural team should include a visual artist in addition to members specializing in a variety of other fields. The role of a visual artist shall not be limited to the Extrude button that raises up the developed and balanced functional plan in 3D imaging. He takes a pencil, and the artist’s hand, led by instinct, begins to draw lines and strokes to be eventually transformed into definitive architectural forms, specific materials, ledges and slopes, accents and the background.

Michael Graves makes this same case in his NYT article called Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing: “…Architecture cannot divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets. Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design…” (Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing)

Can we imagine the buildings designed by Saarinen, Frank Gehry, Calatrava or Zaha Hadid as completed architectural plans automatically extruded to 3d? Is it possible that Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Flagg or Cass Gilbert, or aforementioned Michael Graves first saw images of their creations only days before being presented to the client? Rather, they worked on the visual form from the very first days, while other project components, as mentioned above, were simultaneously addressed.

Architectural rendering is not just the visualization of hard-to-read plans, facades and reserves. Nor is it just a tool for successful presentation and promotion. Rather, it is an integral part of the very design process at its every stage, from the day the creative idea is formulated to the day the newly-built space receives its first visitors and begins an independent life of its own. It is a path to the result that will leave no place for the question if our architecture is indeed a fine art.



1. In reference to mastery of the language of fine arts: Adolf Loos, Chicago Tribune competition,1922 (a contemporary 3D model). Apart from many other things, the building is a witty expression of the immortality of architectural aesthetic values. This half-joking and half-serious anticipation of things to come has been confirmed in many future projects. It outlines a formula, as it were, that will be followed, intuitively or otherwise, by the authors of many famous sky-scrapers. When the project was rejected by jury Loos proclaimed: “If not in Chicago, in any other city. If not for the Chicago Tribune, for any other entity. If not by me, by any other architect.”

Columns and Skyscripers visual structure comparison

2. A close observation will show that most of the sky-scraper towers resemble classical columns in their structure: they have the foundation or the base, the shaft or the body, and finally, the capital. That is, the old, proven laws of beauty and composition are found in new architectural forms.

Saarinen Terminal Building Dulles International Airport

3. The significance of an architectural sketch that eventually develops into a huge functional/structural sculpture imparting its aesthetic stamp to the entire locality for years to come, is demonstrated by the fact that such sketches often embellish famous art collections. (Eero Saarinen – sketch of Terminal Building, Dulles International Airport, Sterling, Virginia, Exterior perspective – MoMA collection)


Saarinen Sketch of Yele Ingalls Rink

4. Eero Saarinen’s sketch of Yale’s Ingalls Rink, 1953. (Courtesy Yale)

art of architectural rendering Steve Coffer, sketch of Saarinen’s TWA Termina

5. Many architectural pearls are later studied and copied by artists as an example of perfection and elegance. (Steve Coffer, sketch of Saarinen’s TWA Terminal).

Art of thearchitectural rendering Steve Coffer, sketch of First Christian Church by Frank Lloyd Wright

6. Steve Coffer, sketch of First Christian Church by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rendering at early stages of architectural design. Shalumov mikvah sketches

7. Rendering at early stages of architectural design. First sketches to a Mikvah project ( Mikvah is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. It generally means a collection of rain water or water from a natural source. A complete withdrawal from the external, physical world, inner concentration and an orientation to the heavenly. Austerity, sacrality, lack of external appeal. The building for individual, even intimate, visits should be modest in appearance, of an abstract shape, unlike any other objects, yet imparting a sense of dependable refuge. The interior is less puritanical in nature, more like a luxury spa where the visiting female can feel relaxed. The pencil is trying to capture these qualities using an inventory of its own, “pencil” techniques. The texture of the drawing will dictate the texture of the future form (author’s drawing).

Mikvah elevation rendering photoshop shalumov

8. Photoshop helps to determine hues of tone and color. Mikvah’s final appearance. At a certain stage, the glass roof was, regrettably, rejected by the client’s expert consultant. It’s an overgrown, reliable refuge, hidden behind bushes. Drain pipes on the corners take rain water inside, instead of flushing it out. People who know will understand – this is Mikvah (author’s rendering).

Architectural Sketch on Photo Photoshop Shalumov

9. A conceptual sketch of a high-rise tower near Time Square. Combined use of the pencil, photography and Photoshop, in addition to showing the building in the context of the existing urban structure, allows one to actually feel this context while in search for possible solutions. Drawing a corner building in a mini square, the pencil is looking for solutions “all by itself”. It develops the building corner as the principal accent. The spirit of Time Square dictates a certain unpredictable irrationality which is typical of its general deconstructivism. This is one of the first sketches that aims at marking major milestones for further development (author’s drawing)

Architectural rendering design process Photoshop sketch Shalum Shalumoov

10. The transformation of a mid-Manhattan residential building into a medical facility. Searching for facade concept with Photoshop (author’s renderings).

Refinery Hotel Bar Photoshop Elevation rendering Shalum Shalumov

11. Refinery Hotel Bar. To arrive at the best possible solution, one can easily and quickly model versions of final details, material texture and color, lighting and furniture, using a pre-constructed Photoshop file (author’s renderings).

Z:PROJHighGateHotels63 West 38 Street21007-Couture HotelPre

November 25, 2016  |  Published by  |  Leave a comment

(Part 2. click to read part-1 ).

As it was mentioned in Part 1, rules of conceptual and composition principals are universal for all kinds of visual art, including design. Using the techniques of composition, the artist can manipulate the viewer’s eye, directing it to the important parts of the picture and creating the appropriate effect and mood.

Let’s look at a few more examples to help track how this technique has evolved in different styles and eras without diving too deeply into the actual content.

lt is fair to say that the search for visual techniques used for better identification of content of painting and psychological portraits began long before Leonardo. Strictly speaking. art critics count modern European art beginning not with Leonardo but from Giotto, who probably first began to grope for new methods of expressing space and composition two centuries before.

Giotto di Bondone, fresco "The Arrest of Christ" or "The Kiss of Judas"_ Concept and composition in design world

Giotto di Bondone, fresco “The Arrest of Christ” or “The Kiss of Judas”. (1304-06). Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Padua, Italy.

Here is a famous fresco “kiss of Judas” by Giotto di Bondone. ln the main action. as described in the mural and at a central location of the composition, can be seen the treacherous kiss. And literally all navigation arrows and the views of almost all or the characters, including the male standing on the right and making the pointing gesture, focus upon and are meant to manipulate the eye of the spectator and redirect it to the main point. In this case two faces, two worlds, two opposites, Judas and Christ.


Bellini Van Eyck Inspire by art

Speaking of portraits, here are the same principles used to identify the main issue in a picture: Linear and tonal accents are directing the viewer’s gaze to the most important areas of the canvas. On the left there is a portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan, by Bellini, painted two years before the Mona Lisa. Notice the shoulder line and the same folds, venetian red bands above and below the ochre face on a background of sky blue contrasting especially on the face. Or on the right, the male portrait by Van Eyck, painted in 1436, which came 67 years before Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (1503), where the composition gravitates toward the psychological portrait, and not just to the formal description of the object.

And look at the portrait of Giuliano de’Medici brushed by Botticelli with its framed picture of the face as if it were isolated in a separate frame. It looks more than just a revival, it looks almost like an avant-garde. We can also mention Hans Memling, who frequently put the landscape in the middle of the portrait and not to the side as done by many in the 15th century. Finally, the “Portrait of a Young Man” by Punterikkio (1481-83), that is 20 years before our Mona Lisa. Within these portraits are almost all of the applied techniques that Leonardo simply, definitively and clearly formulated.

Similarly, the reception of a Black Square is not entirely new. The famous artist, publicist and public figure, an eccentric philosopher and humorist, perhaps the first real avant-garde contemporary artist, Alphonse Allais, painted his “Negroes Fighting in a Cave, in the Nighttime,” in 1897 (the lost original came even earlier in 1882, about 30 or so years before Malevich).

But just as in the case of Bellini and Van Eyck, while the new forms can already be sensed here, they have not been finalized. Everything is presented as a magnificent joke. On the left- “Apoplectic Cardinals Harvesting Tomatoes by the Shore of the Red Sea”. And on the right- “Pale Young Girls Going to their First Communion in the Snow” 1883 (version 1897). With Malevich everything is made very serious. Especially the square, and especially because it is man-made, because in our world everything is a little bit shifted, because our perspective always has some distorted representation …

Caravaggio Lute Playe Inspired by art

Caravaggio Lute Player. (1596).

A perfect example of fluent technique to control the viewer’s eye: On the bottom left comer one’s view slides along the lines of notepaper to the bow and the violin, which then moves to the light line taking on a chord brush, and then to the face. Next, folds of the white shirt, the light spots of the hand brush and the same musical page do not allow the view to “go out of range”. Then the folds of the white shirt the light spots from the hand brush and the same note pages do not allow one’s view to “go outside the range”.


Ilya Repin - Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan Inspired by art

Ilya Repin – Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan (1885).

Here is another example of using this technique. The task of the artist is to rivet the viewer’s eye to the full horror of the father’s eyes and blood on his temple. The small circle-his father’s eyes, fingers and trickles of blood, the eyes of the dying son, his fingers and his father’s eyes. Large circle-his father’s eyes, fingers and trickles of blood, the left hand of the son, carpet patterns or thrown to the side a walking stick, folds of the next rug, Lines of light along the leg of the son, the hand of the father-the lineup, and again the eyes of the father. As far as this picture is concerned one could write a separate, extensive article. To start, at least, with the fact that the story is not quite clear, and in real life Ivan the Terrible’s son may be died under very different circumstances. We can also recall how people were seen to be weeping, standing at the canvas, as if spellbound. And once the picture was attacked by an onlooker with a knife … but that’s for another time.


Andrew Wyeth “Christina’s World” (1948)

Completion of the classical era does not mean the end of an era of using classical techniques. Simply these techniques have acquired a new resonance from the masters of the 20th century. How brilliantly the artist portrayed the world of the girl, Anna Christina Olson, suffering from polio. Here we see a little piece of heaven, a pair of shabby buildings, and the world of earth and grass, full with some kind of its own life. But in this case, the artist concentrates the viewer’s attention not on some important particular points on a canvas. Instead he spreads it over an extremely detailed and huge plane showing soil covered with busy grass. As a result, we, like the pictured girl, feel an enhanced gravitation of both the earth and the world of meadows next to her lonely native home. While looking at this, l recall the protagonist being played by actor Solonitsin in Tarkovsky’s movie “The Mirror” (1975), when he suddenly loses his footing, falls and begins to notice the life of some other world; the world of herbs, which was hitherto unknown to him.


Wassily Kandinsky. "Transverse Line", 1923. Dusseldorf. Germany.

Wassily Kandinsky. “Transverse Line”, 1923. Dusseldorf. Germany.

Talking about Malevich, we cannot forget another master of Russian avant-garde – Wassily Kandinsky. However, he acts in a diametrically opposite direction. In his compositions, sometimes it does not collect and forward, and as it were the other way around-artfully spray the viewer’s attention to force him to look around. But often, for the external chaos and spontaneity, it is a clever technique of ownership composition. By rejecting a narrative’s recognizable realities the artist manages to manipulate the viewer’s attention by abstract lines, spots and figures. He then reassembles their attention, but not on the languid face of a young boy nor the crazed eyes of the father, like it was on the Repin’s piece, we discussed above, but on the random abstracted element, like line in this case.


Frank Lloyd Wright, “Fallingwater” or Kaufmann Residence (1935).

And now, when we see that composition does not need a recognizable reality, I could not forget to include an example in architecture. We can see once again that classical aesthetic and compositional techniques work not only in painting and clothing design but are also universal for any type of aesthetic design. The vertical line of the tower, textured by horizontal lines of quarry stone and window mullions, is syncopated, interrupted by smooth horizontal lines of concrete parapets, and poured into a live flowing curve of rattling water. Moreover, all of this is three-dimensional, which adds an additional charm to its wonderful composition. The building, as it arises from nature, at the same time grows into nature. It is on the one hand the crown of this particular landscape and on the other hand-and on the contrary-its support and organic part.


To achieve the desired effect, Wright came up with a special design of a comer window, where the same corner is itself free of the massive supporting column and the comer window frame, which would have interrupted the horizontal orientation of the window mullions. In addition, he basically violated the safety issue, substantially underestimating the height of the parapets on the terraces themselves, to preserve the necessary proportions for the horizontal nature of the concrete interruptions. Bold, arguably, but with a very strong aesthetic technique, this piece emphasizes the main concept of the house-not to interrupt, not to ignore, but to enhance the beauty of the natural world.

Actually, the customer initially intended to build the house exactly at the place where one can now find a viewing platform, where this photograph was taken. He probably dreamed of sitting by the fireplace in a cozy room and admiring the wonderful waterfall. But Wright never learned to be a “servant of the client” On the contrary, he turned his customers into slaves of his revolutionary concepts, and often, customers gave up their guts. Instead of a cozy comer with a sweet view, he built a beautiful but harsh lair with low ceilings and open space; instead of traditional solid walls, glass walls and low ceilings squeeze people out into nature. People are pushed from the interior world to the exterior of nature. But the pleasant landscape was turned into such beauty that it has become a place of pilgrimage not only for architects, but also for ordinary tourists and appreciators of beauty from around the world.

The artist managed to come up with an interesting, profound and poignant melody in the frozen music of architecture, and executed it brilliantly.


Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1997).

Here is another shining example of the use of compositional techniques for the expression of interesting concepts. Curved ribbons of solid walls, as if in a free dance, visually gather the content (art) in a single bundle, and then seeming fireworks splash it out to the world. As we can see, there exist the same compositional techniques and tools such as rhythm, direction of the viewer’s gaze to where the artist intended, and thoughtful accents; but at the same time there is a whole new resonance of meaning, new rhythms, and a new character added to the melody.

Guggenheim-Museum-Bilbao-Arrows-analysis of the composition

There is another quality and in it is seen that something new is arising, but there is no “style” for this yet-new art, just like the “Black Square”-that is unclear, brutal, pointed and chaotic. All of these characteristics apply to the sculptural form of the building itself. The whole design of the building and its formative concept is “Inspired by Art”.

In conclusion, all of the described methods are common to all types of art. They are like the laws of nature operating regardless of time, style, technology and type of design. This can be in a sculpture or a painting, in clothing and home furnishings, or in gazebos or skyscrapers. These methods work independently; consciously or unconsciously they have been used by the artist, and it doesn’t matter if the artists or the viewers know about this natural law of composition. Because it is a natural Jaw, it exists anyway. And of course everything which we discussed today is also “Inspired by Art”.


Ironically one of Malevich’s paintings titled, “The composition with Mona Lisa” in which poor ladies were crossed out with bold headlines with red paint and overshadowed abstract geometric planes, also symbolized these new forms of art. And this picture, by the way, preceded the beginning of the period of his abstract Suprematism. At the same time, one of the last paintings by Malevich – a self-portrait, is performed in particular in the revival style, although in the lower right corner, instead of a signature is a black square.


Thus, the article could be the subtitle phrase-“From Leonardo to Malevich and back”.



October 17, 2016  |  Published by  |  1 Comment

Often working in a team with architects, one sooner or later begins the discussion of whether laws of beauty and composition apply to all forms of art– including all forms of design, from graphic design to interior and industrial design, to architecture as a whole.

Of course, the language of expression always differs from media to media. In painting, form takes shape in a brushstroke, line, or just a blotch of color. In architecture, a wall, column, arch, or window will compose the whole. It can be a functional or decorative element– structural or accessory. The units of composition create rhythm and character, manipulating with a system of accents and supporting elements, to keep the attention of the viewer’s eye.

In this context I’d like to share an interesting conceptual work in which I was fortunate to participate in a few years ago. The theme was surprisingly far from architecture. We worked on a competition to design a dress, entitled “Inspired Art,” announced by Threads Magazine.

I must confess when looking at a woman’s gown I always found myself more interested in the clothing’s content rather than its form… so we decided to make the dresses that highlight the personality of the gown wearer, using compositional techniques founded by iconic artists in their best known works. At the same time we were hoping to demonstrate the universality in the laws of beauty and composition, and how art influences design in general.

Our small team prepared two pieces: “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci and “Black Square” by Kazimir Malevich (accordingly –the first prize award and the finalist), Two iconic works of art, or rather their conceptual components, which are embedded in modern clothes.

The “Mona Lisa” – probably, most famous art piece of all time, actually marks the highest point of the Renaissance era where the lost secrets of the creation of classical form were revived, (the term ‘renaissance’ is derived from the French word meaning ‘rebirth’ or “revival”), and the first step forward from expressing just external shape to a deeper analysis of internal content or personality was taken.The landscape behind the Mona Lisa’s shoulders attracts the eyes of spectators, but instead, a cunning Leonardo blocks their views by an artless innocent female face, forcing the viewer to stare at the face, as he tries to see the beautiful scenery (or, in other words, the inner world). The play of light and shadow, the directing character of lines… Leonardo uses visual techniques to manipulate the viewer’s wandering gaze and guide it again and again to the most important area on a canvas – brings us to the face of our protagonist. In the end, the viewer looks at her as if spellbound. After all, and no wonder, so many incredible theories about her personality voiced for many centuries the life of this painting. In everyday life there is a popular expression: “enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa.”The same methods were used in the creation of our gown. Painted scenery of the hem of the dress focuses the eyes and use of vertical silky drapery folds directs them to open the upper part of the chest (just the place that covers the palm when talking about the soul), and then further scans along the neck to the face. When the path of the eye’s movement slides down the hair, it stops at the pleated satin capes, redirecting the viewer back to the chest and face. Each time escaping eyes will cling to the folds and the shiny and dark brushstrokes of the landscape, then back to the object of our attention: the person individuality, robed in the compositional game.

Mona Lisa gown Painting on silk by Yelena Akhumova

“Mona Lisa” gown. Painting on silk by Yelena Akhumova Click to Facebook page, photo by Galina Akhsanov.

“Black Square” is ostensibly the antithesis of the alleged Mona Lisa. There are no intriguing dynamics of line and color yet there is some hint of reality. There is no form at all, only the light absorbing, deep, gloomy emptiness… meaning that now is the time to no longer reflect on form and form alone but rather upon what is happening in that pitch darkness. That being said, Malevich is still an artist and he would never abandon form. By “Denying” the shape and shifting attention to the content, he simply made steps toward the search for new forms for transmission of the same content itself.

When the audience’s gaze finds nothing interesting it wants to slip out of the canvas, four clear of a square border, untied with the whole arsenal of tone and power lines that make one look back inside. Not finding anything again, the viewer wonders. And so there is another mystery, which causes no less controversy and rumor. But the question is no longer about a specific person, as it was with Leonardo’s piece-who is she? Mona Lisa de Gioconda, or some Pachifica Brandani, the mistress of Giuliano de’Medici (some parts of the landscape hint about that), or perhaps a portrait of a young student and lover of the artist? Or is it a coded self portrait of the great genius himself? Rather the question of “Black Square” is one of a much more abstract nature-that of a Sorcerer if you will. Malevich’s work can serve as the perfect poster at a conference on theology, science, art or even politics and other discussions of modem mysteries.

Poncho “Black Square” Svetlana Shalumova Sketch by Shalum Shalumov Inspired by Art

Poncho “Black Square” . Photo by Galina Akhsanov.

One of the most important concepts inherent in the “Black Square” is the surprise and novelty of the idea. This is a general attribute of the movement which we call modem art. The whole point of its occurrence was created when the development of the realism movement was trapped by the tremendously high level reached by the French salon. With photography already having been invented, reflected reality art emerged into seeking new horizons where the natural attractiveness assessment criterion could develop an underlying “Surprise me” moment for viewers. Moreover, the picture, concise and restrained, showing a black empty field, illustrates the inexhaustible depths within that are unexplored and undiscovered.

Poncho “Black Square” Svetlana Shalumova Inspired by Art

The appearance of the “Black Square” by Malevich, didn’t certify the end of European Art, as some zealous advocates of classical forms are asserting. Simply a journey of 400 years was just concluded. From Leonardo we can count time when the artists went into the inner world of their subjects using the revival of the classic forms of the Renaissance. “Black Square” marked the beginning of the era of the search for and creation of, radically new forms of transmitting the eternal inner content.

Like both of these iconic and dare I say, revolutionary products, our competitive replicas pursue the same idea; not to focus on the form of the women no matter how attractive and sophisticated they are, but rather on their inner world using the same compositional and formalistic techniques. A woman of mystery in the “Black Square”, where light absorbing, dense fabric hides but does not emphasize the shape, intrigues and capture’s one’s attention. And the woman awaits, half hidden behind the landscaped folds of her light, airy gown (dutifully painted by artist Yelena Akhumova as a replica of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa landscape) In the end the viewer looks at the idea rather than the external form of the original image.

Notably, losing in the finals to “Mona Lisa”, “Black Square” was awarded a separate article in the Threads Magazine (Apr/May 2008), where a photo of a model reminds us of Leonardos’s famous “The Virtual Man”. While the artists apparently chose this posture unconsciously, it emphasizes the path of contemporary art from Leonardo to Malevich as a path to excellence and depth; the path to the inside, where content and form are one inseparable cycle.
Leonardo man & Black square poncho Inspired by art competition

In the actual dresses there is a lot which is interesting, for example, wonderful things like multifunctionality and diversity, which can be seen as the basis for many independent story lines. But today I have only written about the part of the work which has to do with concept. That being the clearly articulated and consciously chosen methods of expressing a certain idea. In this case the idea is one of using techniques found in the fine arts in the design of clothing; i.e.: identifying the most important qualities and moving secondary qualities to the wayside. That is the technique inspired by art.

(End of part 1. In the next post we will see how these principles work in the examples of other well-known works, as well as an example of architecture).




October 14, 2016  |  Published by  |  Leave a comment

Frankly the age old debate about how to build in a historic neighborhood surprises, and even amuses me a little. It would seem natural that when we work on design for a new building, or any other industrial or graphic design, every new idea and the “brush stroke” should be informed by the context of the existing picture. It seems obvious that the goal for new design should be toward evolution of the current condition, and not a force for its destruction.

In architecture, and more specifically, in urban planning, each new element or new building should be developed in context and as a continuation of the specific living concept. It sounds easy enough, but this is where the heart of the problem lies: the definition of what the “living concept” and what “in context” actually means. This is especially important in the areas with a historic district status, where the main public interest goals are defined as preservation of the historic heritage.

I’ve been prompted to write on this subject by my current work on a design proposal for a new mikvah building located in a historic district of a small American town.  Here are some of my thoughts about the stylistic approach to the concept – how to design a new building without violating the nature of the existing environment, and at the same time to create a contemporary design without directly imitating the past. Another reason to write this article were the ongoing debates about the future of the Judicial Quarter area in St. Petersburg, Russia, the city where I had privilege to spent a third of my life.

I’d like to first bring up a few examples of existing world famous works of architecture that had to address the same questions. Then, I will highlight the reasons that in my opinion made these successful solutions.

I want to emphasize – First, we will focus only on the stylistic aspect, without analysis of the existing regulations and limitations. Second, in the framework of a short essay, we will highlight the main ideas and points that could become the basis for further discussions.

New buildings in historical neighborhoodVenice – the museum city.

In a unique environment like Venice in Italy, or other museum cities like Machu-Picchu in Peru, there are no new building construction is allowed (as far as I know). The concept here is to preserve the city as a unique artifact, functioning in essence as a museum piece.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Paris – the capital of taste and style.

In the case of Paris, the interference with the existing urban fabric is limited but not impossible. When the new structure is constructed within the limits of the historic city it’s often rises to the level of absolutely revolutionary design, the level of significance worthy of the city as a trendsetter. The special context and history in this case; Paris is renowned for being a capital of taste and style and has always been open and not afraid of revolutionary experimentation.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Rouen is a European province with deep historical roots.

Some European cities (like Rouen, pictured above), present evidence of the new structures built in a modern (contemporary) aesthetics, the constraints are applied to the scale and character that follows an existing pattern. New forms follow the existing rhythm and scale, replicating recognizable geometry in a new modern architectural language.  At the same time we can see how ultra-modern structures do get built in the suburbs.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Amsterdam – an old city with clear direction for the future.

One of the largest historic city centers in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern is largely unchanged since the 19th century since there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands, linked by 400 bridges. One of the key elements is the canal ring that was established in the 17th century. So, similar to Rouen, new structures are designed in the context of scale, density and nature of the historic patterns. The aesthetic language echoes the language of the existing buildings characteristic.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Prague is one of the most prominent European architectural gems.

It is difficult to find an architectural style that is not represented in Prague, from the Romanesque, to the modern High-tech and Deconstructivist styles. The biggest impact on the appearance of the city was the Gothic style. Therefore, the Gothic motifs can often be observed here in the buildings of other eras and styles.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Jerusalem – a living history.

An amazing example of the reconstruction of the whole city district in one of the most historically significant cities in the world is the reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. New buildings are not stylized to the old days and do not simulate an existing style.  The construction of the modern city streets and courtyards were subject to the characteristics of the scale inherent to the Middle Eastern cities. At the same time, the determining factor in the success of the new district was the choice of the traditional local construction material – stone. Moreover, the stone was not used as a finish but, as a structural material. Because the choice of material provides limitations for the design features, the resulting appearance of the new buildings fits extremely well in the historical fabric of the old city.  (For example – the narrow slits of windows or arched spans, in the case of large openings). And of course, as in many other successful examples – tremendous professionalism and talent of the designers, who undertook the stratospheric challenge.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

New York – the world’s urban experiment.

The main determinant in the architectural context of the buildings of this city has always been the lack of any architectural context, except perhaps one – the famous Manhattan grid master plan with a clear dividing into blocks and standard sized lots. The style and character of a building is determined solely by financial capability, economic efficiency and customer’s aesthetic taste. However, since the second decade of the twentieth century, the city authorities began to establish its first building regulations and codes, governing some of the details. Fortunately the stylistic independence was preserved. The main characteristic hasn’t changed – stylistically every building completely ignores surrounding buildings. In terms of the design, the architect often ignores the basic parameters of the adjacent buildings.

New buildings in historical neighborhood

Princeton – America and Europe, history and modernity.

Princeton is a very interesting example for us, because of the same scale and cultural similarity to the town where my mikvah is located. Every era is clearly represented with its own style structures, and at the same time most of the new buildings are done in respect to the context, and historical uniqueness, and beauty of this wonderful town.

So, in the examples listed above, we can see that the five basic conditions are met:

1. Scale. Perhaps the main condition – the building should fit and be respectful of the scale of the existing surrounding structures.
2. The density of the development. The new building, with a few exceptions, must fit into existing patterns without breaking its rhythms and character.
3. The architectural language of the era. Every time manifested in its aesthetic and cultural clews. The idea is that each city/community is a multi-layer cake; each temporal layer has its own flavor and stylistic ingredient.
4. The stylistic context. The new building should be respectful of an appropriate context, but designed by using of the architectural language of our time. The contextual character does not mean direct replicas. This may be a contrast, or certain building material typical for this area, or aesthetic components, such as the pointed gothic arch shape, replication the timber-framing, etc.
5. The composite and functional context. The role of composition in the new building stands in the context of the existing algorithm. It can serve as an accent, if, for example, it will build on the corner block or  formats the existing plaza. On the contrary, it may be understated as a background, if the given place located in the middle of the block, or next to an object that acts as the main focus.

And a few more words about the context. Probably, the context is always there, regardless of whether we think about it or not, and even what particularly we think about it.

04-House in new townIn many smaller provincial cities in the US, the context presented by specific architectural styles, as Craftsman, Colonial, or Folk Victorian Style (where the key word is “Folk”, meaning – “not professional”). Having grown up in the framework of a kind of aesthetic paradigm of small towns and shopping centers with phony columns and attics, many Americans uniquely interpret architectural aesthetics. In response to my rough conceptual sketches for the small Mikvah-Chapel the walls of which were covered by ivy (which symbolizes the philosophy of mikvah as a part of nature where the visitors have come to dive into water, and at the same time reduces the apparent size of the new building), the client expressed his preference for the fake mansard to hide the slightly sloped “cement flat roof”. I must say that it was not surprising as this is a common facade style in the region.

04-Judicial Quarter in StIn the Petersburg’s competition mentioned above, I believe the context is a deep and peracute crisis of genre. And not just in terms of architecture, but of the culture, where folks look to the past as an ideal, where people do not believe in the success of new initiatives, where the pathological focus on the classics has more roots in psychiatry rather in psychology. Here, I would suggest to the term “Contempophobia” or “Contemporophobia” – the rejection of modernity and novelty. (Contemporary, from Latin – “Con” – together, “Tempo” – time; Phobia – “fear”).

This is understandable, especially in the case of one person or a small group of people who are passionate about classic or folk architecture, or something else. I am sincerely happy for my old university friend Maxim Atayants that he has a true love in professional sense. His winning project made at the highest level, albeit within rather in my opinion controversial paradigm.

However, I still believe that either extreme– trends based solely on the past or without any regard for context–is cause for serious alarm.

Imagine if the same mood of conservatism would prevail in St. Petersburg in early 20th century architecture, we would never have seen the wonderful Comedy Theatre or The House of Books (Singer House), or a variety of other interesting buildings in the city center in its interesting guise in which they exist today. And today, by the way, a lot of people in St. Petersburg’s professional circles consider the appearance of these buildings as a big mistake.
There would be no Eiffel Tower in Paris, not to mention the Centre Pompidou, Prague would not have had the famous Frank Gehry house, and in Jerusalem, instead of the Jewish quarter it would be adorned park with a flavor of cemetery.

So, to go over some of the basic concepts I have brought up – the city museum, the cozy and pleasant “shtetl” kind province, the living historical city – which continues to develop in accordance with the time and the role it plays in society. The secret of careful preservation of the environment is not to stop all vital activity, and not to build a randomly selected imitated style of the existing ones in the city. But with respect to the existing urban fabric to approach the design with the utmost care, following to the conditions listed above.

The best way to keep a historic heritage – is creating tomorrow’s heritage.

In conclusion, I want to say there is no universal and absolute recipe to what can and what cannot be built in a historical district. This question remains open for discussion. There may always be some exceptional circumstances in a given situation. Consistently one – when people are assigned to some place special status of the historic zone, it means that the contact with this site should be with extreme carefulness and delicate. In addition to the goal of preserving individual character of the site for generations, and emphasize this character, we need to do everything possible to make this place as pleasant and as interesting as possible.

March 8, 2016  |  Published by  |  8 Comments

Painting has attracted me with its capacity to depict randomness and reticence, and likewise, its capacity to show figures lacking clear demarcation. In my opinion, in real life there are no clear boundaries. It is often difficult to determine where one ends and another begins. Everything in our world is in constant motion, and is in a perpetual process of flux from one state to the next. This applies not only to objects, but also to our perception and understanding of these objects. Not only do the boundaries between objects and air blur, so too does the conditional boundary between that which is visible to the eye and that which is unseen. This happens with everything that comprises our world. The types of plants and animals, peoples and races, religions and political systems, government, ethics – everything is in constant transformation, and often has no clear boundaries. Even the land and ocean are separated by a nervous strip of constantly changing surf.Watercolor on damp paper is a wonderful visual metaphor of this quality of reality. Thick, succulent brushstrokes on raw textured paper—and an interesting process begins; as the paint begins to stretch out across the page, changing its color and tone, it crosses paths with a similar stream from another stroke, then another, and the next. This results in a complex and multi-layered fragment, multidimensional and to a certain extent, random. That is to say, it is not exactly hand-crafted, but even in all its uncertainty and randomness, the image maintains a level of specificity of form.

Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Shalumov


To me, in essence, there is no difference whether my brushstrokes will remind the viewer of reality or become absolute abstractions; whether a tree or sky appears under my brush, a barely recognizable, exaggerated form, or a formless colored stain. I love to observe how the colors fight for their locations on the canvas; some dominate, displace, others give way to one another. I am happy if the dried paper is left with an imprint of the climax of the most dramatic battle that took place there, and I am upset if the escaped colors freeze in an extinguished pose, not fully capturing the beautiful flames of the battle they fought.

My favorite time of year is the fall and winter, when there is either a riot of colors left on sunbleached leaves, or only bare tree-carcasses are left standing from this natural tumult. The echoes of this battlefield reflect on the prismatic snow and the infinitely broad and eternally unique arrangements of colors spilling about in the skies. My favorite times of the day are sunrise and sunset, when colors flow from fog as if in a reverse process of watercolor painting, and blurred unknown patches of color appear and flow into indiscernible forms which slowly develop into familiar realities. Or, conversely, familiar skies begin to disintegrate into lush, vibrant colors and sink into the night.

Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Landscape Shalumov

“The Lake” Watercolor by Shalum Shalumov

I also enjoy the films of Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Fellini, where there is also more to the image than meets the eye. Re-watching their films, we see constantly shifting boundaries, forcing us to think harder and more deeply about their meanings.

I seek to capture this dynamism in my work. Through my watercolors, I share my enthusiasm and awe of this exciting, complex and often ambiguous world we live in with those around me.
Shalum Shalumov


October 2, 2015  |  Published by  |  5 Comments