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Monday, January 7, 2013

i-land/Strolkovo i-city

If I had to award a prize for best exhibit at the Biennale of Architecture, it would go to the Russians whose i-land/Strolkovo i-city was spare, interesting and elegant. Curated by Sergei Tchoban. The exhibit, designed by SPEECH Techoban/Kuznetsov (Sergei Tchoban, Sergey Kuznetsov, Marina Kuznetskaya, Agniya Sterligova), is divided into two separate minimalist black and white sections. In each, light plays a major role. 

The lower level, i-land, features black walls perforated with hundreds of points of light which turn out to be glass peepholes. For some reason, I thought of Argus and his hundred eyes and began to feel both an observer and the observed, and wondered given the context if this was intentional. Looking through the peepholes you see images of the secret scientific towns that once existed throughout the Soviet Union. There were over 60 of these. As the wall panel explained: "they were everywhere and yet didn't exist. The people who worked within were isolated from society and were sometimes, for the sake of secrecy, given new names and surnames. These cities and their inhabitants were invisible except to the watchful eyes of the secret service." 

Upstairs, the walls and domed ceiling are composed of light and pattern. Even the floors are incised with the curious motif. It doesn't take long to recognize them as a series of QR codes and suddenly understand why the woman at the entrance had pressed an iPad on you. Scanning the lighted codes gets you information about Strolkovo i-city (a proposed "new city of science that will include a university and homes for more than 500 [international] firms...working in five distinct fields of science—biomedical research, nuclear research, energy and space technology" to be located near Moscow). I tried doing this without success, but didn’t really mind as I was enjoying the overall effect of the glowing “Moorish” tiles. This dual ode to past and present approaches to science-focused communities was simply stunning.

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