Avant Garde Shortlist Unveiled for New Russian Museum

August 1, 2007

by Paul Abelsky

An all-star roster of avant garde international architects, mixed with some of Russia’s top talent, was announced last week in the first-round results of a competition to design a major new art museum in Perm, Russia. Among the 25 names on the shortlist are Asymptote, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Eric Owen Moss, Hans Hollein, Odile Decq, and Zaha Hadid. The competition is unprecedented in Russia for its scope and ambition, attracting 320 firms from 50 countries.

Perm is a major industrial center near the Urals, on the eastern edge of European Russia. The city’s art gallery features one of the better and most diverse provincial collections in the country, but it is located in a 19th-century cathedral that will soon be returned to church authorities. The competition calls for a new riverfront complex containing 215,278 square feet of galleries, children’s museum, lecture halls, library, and tourist center.

The Moscow-based Center of Contemporary Architecture organized the design competition under the auspices of Russia’s Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor presided over the jury, which also included architect Arata Isozaki, MAK artistic director Peter Noever, and high-placed Russian officials. The semi-finalists will now begin to prepare designs and a winner will be chosen in December.

A lively selection of Russian architects made the first-round cut including Alexander Brodsky, Vladimir Plotkin, and Boris Bernasconi but few of them have experience with large-scale public projects. This leads some observers to wonder if any of them will get the commission—particularly in light of remarks made at a press conference in Moscow last Tuesday. Perm minister of culture Oleg Oshchepkov gushed about the Bilbao precedent as well as the recently announced Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, projects both driven by starchitect power.

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Oshchepkov also said that Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, has visited Perm on a fact-finding mission and is acting as a consultant, much as Krens did on the Saadiyat Island project. For its part, though, the Guggenheim has not announced plans to create its own outpost in Perm.

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