Revealing ‘The Essence’


Arcade White Gardens

The Arcade is the “not-so-public” space between two buildings of the business center “White Gardens” located in the center of Moscow. Being functionally incoherent, the Arcade merely serves as a seasonal food-court for the adjacent cafes facing it. Among the restrictions within the competition brief none of the

existing physical aspects of the Arcade could not be altered or demolished. Nonetheless, the “new” quality of the Arcade should fully compensate the existing lack of its identity.

When developing the spatial scenario and its artistic design solution we have considered the following criteria:

  • complexity of the solution including spatial interventions, navigation and the design code
  • working with restrictions, thus turning the existing and rather poor small architectural forms into playful objects
  • program polyfunctional capacities of the space
  • integrity within the city fabric, considering the Arcade as a quiet lane in relation to the busy street
  • helping to establish and promote the local community

Our proposal considered 5 programmatic scenarios relevant to the client’s needs such as a food-court, exhibition and vernissage, sunday market, film and sports screenings, exclusive events. Spatial transformations accommodating aforementioned occasions were provided by the set of objects subdivided into clear typologies: vertical elements – walls, horizontal elements – tabletops, snap-on elements, serving as bars, market stalls, exhibition stands and green partitions. Most importantly, entrances to the Arcade were marked with theatrical curtains to accentuate the quality of the “new” Arcade.

Ornament Quarter

“I would have ranked the Georgian culture to the type of ornamental crops. Is bordered by a huge and complete the area of foreign, they absorb most of his pattern, at the same time fiercely resisting the internal essence of powerful hostile neighboring areas. “

-Osip Mandelstam

Ornament Quarter is an instrument for social transformation through education. Ornament covers a wide range of art, applied and theoretical programs. Ornament is an integral to the school, college and institute, as it can provide those with the necessary resources in the form of libraries, research centers, operating rooms, workshops etc. In addition, the ornament is envisaged to become a center for continuous professional and cultural development through courses, lectures, workshops and seminars. Moreover, Ornament facilitates variety of recreational and commercial spaces.

Ornament as a platform allows theoretical activity implemented in practice. The district selected for the design, can be called a bourgeois town. It is characterized by the low-rise quarterly planned pre-revolutionary buildings. The district has quite a few symbolic heritage sites: aristocratic houses, several old theaters, also two blocks away is the national stadium “Dynamo” and Tbilisi railway station.

However, if we move deeper into the district, it becomes clear those afore-mentioned symbolic objects have no direct impact on the life of this particular place. The area is dominated by the buildings that are either derelict or in disrepair. According to the rhythm of these streets and neighborhoods, it feels that you are in a sleeping district somewhere on the outskirts of the city, not in the city center, the once vibrant and rich in cultural events.

In Tbilisi, as a post-soviet legacy, there is no vision for urban planning and, unfortunately, self-flowing urban processes, in this case, can hardly be called successful. The trend is that the historic city center is oversaturated by activities, and other areas, albeit also central, remain in “sleep mode.” As a result Tbilisi suffers from monotony.

This particular district has always been somewhat special to me, it is noteworthy the reason i call it an epitome of Tiflis, 19th century capital, even regarded as “little Paris” by some of the visiting westerners. The scale, character and spirit of the place refer to the romantic city, a rich and lively, but the poetics of space in the project shall not be imitative, it will be expressed in the other, namely, to some extent, uncompromising rationality, and where the event takes place in an orderly void . It is necessary to immediately make a reservation, that the projected object, in any case, do not attempt to recreate a certain retrospective or pseudo-historical context. Rather, the project is regarded as a starting point for the “return of a city” in this place.

This is a place for work and cultural activities.

It is a place where community members meet with each other.

This is the place for various activities for the community and for the general public.

It is a place where citizens can privately rent space for commercial and non-commercial use. This is a place for citizens, public meetings and events.

It is a place to share knowledge and experience. This is a place for education and self-development.

This place is a point of attraction of both local residents and tourists.

This place is a starting point for the overall revitalization of the entire district.


Methodology of spatial ornament – can serve as a formal principle for the creation, development or restoration of the urban fabric. City as an ornament.

The geometric parameters of the plot laid by the geometric parameters of a building or buildings, scale, proportion of emptiness and fullness, ie, space-planning features of the building.

The terrain and the surrounding context both material and ideological are key principles of formation of an image of the building.

The function does not determine the geometric space. One type of space is able to accommodate and to implant a variety of functions, ie spatial typology is not determined by the functional purpose.

“Ornament – not a crime.” 

Porto City Block

The idea behind the “Co-Work City” lies within the very essence of the city. The city is an opportunity. It is a place where citizens have freedom to explore themselves and capacity to engage in range of different activities and lifestyles.

The modern age has proved the necessity of collaboration and experience cross-sharing. Our society becomes driven by knowledge and information. The image of the “office clerk” gradually becomes extinct. Once familiar pattern of the strictly anchored workplace is also fading quite patently. People tend to work wherever they please, may it be a park, coffee shop, library, museum or any other accessible space.

Therefore we as architects should acknowledge those changes and address them respectively.

Our intention in this project was to work with city fabric in order to create a polyfunctional vivid city district and therefore to “sew” those existing lifeless wastelands to its lively surroundings.

Speaking formally, in terms of the scale typology and morphology, we was decided to introduce physically balanced, functionally diverse, open and accessible buildings.

The Co-Work City block consists of 7 separate buildings, public squares and voids acting as one autonomous organism. All buildings share similar structural constitution – outer load-bearing frame and circulation routes. Latter allows interiors to be as adaptive as possible avoiding any excessive structural elements inside the building. Dimensions are modular, 6m for horizontal division and 4m for the vertical one. Those dimensions seem to correlate with the scale of the context quite rightly.

The programme of the site has been slightly edited and expanded.

Actual spaces for work are designated in A1, A2 and B types. Although, the D block Library Tower and some spaces of the E type also allow for different modes of work and social interaction. Moreover E type includes bar, auditorium, play area and some gym functions as well. Thus E type is envisaged as a key public attraction with a stunning view over the riverside. C1 type functions as a public canteen that serves both co-work facilities and the city. C2 type effectively accommodates public swimming pool on the ground level and “zen” space on the upper floor.

The space under the highway was decided to remain as the main parking area for general purpose to allow equidistant access to the buildings. Furthermore we added smaller spot for administrative and special purposes on R. de Sao Luis street by the old arches. Several bicycle parking spots were considered within the open public spaces of the Co-Work City block.

Voskhod hyper yard

Cinema “Voskhod” is hidden in the depths of the sleeping area and the last few years is an abandoned ruin. Nevertheless, the building, but rather the adjacent area, is still perceived by the residents as the center of their social life. In many ways, the importance of the building and the space around it for the local population is due to deficient quality of public space in the area and a complete lack of social and leisure functions within walking distance.

A key approach in the proposed consortium strategy of redevelopment of the former soviet cinema “Voskhod” is to create a sustainable community around the future function of the building. “Voskhod” programme is formed based on the needs of the local community, as it is a sole audience of the project.

As part of the technical requirements of regulated competition restrictions we have developed an approach to the re-profiling of the building of the former cinema in the family entertainment center. Thus, to accommodate new features in the building project includes the analysis of the scope of the former cinema foyer, floor leveling, roof replacement etc. New features include: classrooms, rooms for family gatherings, sports halls, work spaces, a children’s area – located in the former movie theater circuit box detached from the ground level in order to maintain the first floor of the building completely open. The first floor is positioned as an all-season yard, which also serves as a community center of the district.

Part of the building, which previously housed cinema projection, technical rooms and artists’ studios, is given by service-center home of a new type. There are two floors of open workshops, studios and services, operating on the principle of one window. On the ground floor of this unit is an area with terminals of electronic services and electronic point of delivery of the goods stores, and the last is a conservatory with a view of the city.

Through additional windows, showcases new features leisure center get a visual link with the city, on the one hand strengthens the center of communication with the site, and on the other symbolizes the changes inside the building. Window-shop window, whose size and placement dictated by the internal space, and a new feature, go to the front, crashing into items left over from the old features of the building. Thus the new and the old intersection and randomly stacked on top of each other, creating an unpredictable effect on the facade.

By reducing the volume of the building, new windows and a glass-dome roof of the building becomes more expressive and clear proportions and urban area gets extra space in front of him. In the frame area of improvement, which is a continuation of the internal public space leisure center (which emphasized single module paving) increases the hard surface area. Due to this, the area is becoming more capacious and versatile in terms of city festivals and regional events. Thus “Voskhod” returns its key role – to be an integral public space of the district.


Who influences you graphically?

Our visual influences grow exponentially just on a daily basis as in practice we tend to observe and digest countless images and texts in books, magazines and in the net. Certainly there are few substantial constants that we regularly refer to among those Zero group, Archizoom, Hipgnosis, East Asian ink wash painting, Giorgio De Chirico, Moscow Conceptualists and Paper Architects, Avant Garde movement and Suprematism, GTA video games, Peter Märkli, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 70’s and 80’s posters, Architecture Research Unit (ARU), Aldo Rossi, Dadaism, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Mies Van Der Rohe, American Apparel and fashion ads, Mark Rothko, Ed Ruscha, Paul Klee, old cartoons like “Kremilek a Vochomurka” and perhaps some ancient and medieval cartography should be noted as well.

How do the different silhouettes inform the image?

The phenomenon of an image contains inevitable dichotomy of visual representation and semiotic representation; the object we perceive may be completely detached from its meaning thus becoming a free floating symbol open for interpretations. For example, Jacques Derrida speaks of the “freeplay” of signifiers: arguing that they are not fixed to their signifieds but point beyond themselves to other signifiers in an “indefinite referral of signifier to signified”.

We find this tension between the two quite fascinating.

What dictates the choice of images you choose to reveal the projects through?

Generally speaking, we believe that each project has a particular unique quality; some call it “the concept”, we tend to call it “the essence”; therefore this essence embodies a particular visual language revealing the project at its very core. Accordingly our method is to find and specify the essence of the project once it is in process, then this particular quality quite naturally informs our visual language.

Nevertheless, the project could be unleashed even via only one type of an image, be it through series of axonometric projections, consecutive intricate sections or sequential spatial collages. On the other hand there is always a risk to become too schematic or “manneristic” if we limit ourselves and our projects to a single communicative tool.

Frankly, the game of open interpretations is what mostly defines the type of images we choose to narrate and communicate the project through. Collages seem to be an ideal tool in that interpretive matter, they allow us to code-in the visual data that then will be decoded in a surprisingly unexpected way. The whole process of coding-decoding is quite fascinating. Moreover, the time-consumptive and subversive nature of commercial glossiness typical to art of rendering we personally find extremely disempowering to say the least.

How important is the diagram as a tool of communication?

Talking about diagrams, it is very important to define what is a diagram. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary a diagram is ‘a graphic design that explains rather than represents; especially: a drawing that shows arrangement and relations (as of parts)’.

Significance of a diagram lies in the process of mental schematization. In order to comprehend we tend to simplify, that is in our blood.

However, we do believe that diagrams have very little to do with architecture, since they are more about the grammar of the spaces and less about the poetry. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to find the signs of logic interwoven into the dominant poetic essence of architecture. Thus representational images should have the quality to both deliver the poetic and the grammatic, both represent and explain. In this case the information and sensual experience we get from the images may become more holistic, eloquent and lucid.

What programs do you use and what is your work process? 

Our work always starts with the pen and paper. We do believe in sacrament of the process when our visions are directly driven by the hand and revealed on a piece of paper, the outcome is both tangible and tactile. This process effectively implies in platonic terms the transition from idea to “materia” that is critical to the act of creation. Once this ritual is over we recourse to digital means.  We find thinking and creating “in digital” rather fruitless; sensuality is lost.

In this regard our software package is aimed only to representation, therefore our production process is relatively common starting with Autocad, Vectorworks, Sketchup for drawing and digital modelling, then onto Illustrator and Photoshop for editing and finally using Indesign for formatting and layout.


“XOPA” is a young architecture practice currently based in Moscow and founded in 2015. The bureau is equally preoccupied with design, publishing, and education.
“Χώρα rests between the sensible and the intelligible, through which everything passes but in which nothing is retained.”