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Paper Architecture

[Ross Anderson and Anna Gibb] ‘In the ’80s, a Russian group sought to escape restrictions of the regime by entering forbidden competitions’

Two recent architecture graduates, Ross Anderson and Anna Gibb, travelled to Russia to investigate a loose collective of young architects who lived in Moscow in the 1980s and called themselves ‘the Paper Architects’. The group, which included Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, sought to escape the restrictions that came with working under a communist regime by entering projects in ‘forbidden competitions’.

Anderson’s and Gibb’s research has been motivated by their own disillusion with the state of practice in the UK, where the lack of job security and creative limitations means design competitions offer the only outlet for self-expression. For Venice Takeaway, the pair have entered a ‘forbidden competition’ in Scotland. Their entry, Castle to Cathedral to Cashmere, aims to encourage work between young architects: a community of new Paper Architects in the UK.

Where did your idea come from?

Since graduating in 2008 and 2009 and starting to practice, we’ve been entering competitions. As individuals or as collaborators, competitions offer a space for creative freedom and a welcome alternative to the restrictions of professional practice. We also both have a long-standing interest in drawing. It was a friend who alerted us to the work of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin - even suggesting a similarity between Anna’s work and theirs! We loved the quality of their drawings, and we were intrigued when we discovered they were part of a collective. We wanted to find out more to see what lessons we could apply to our situation.

Most surprising thing you found out?

We didn’t expect to meet as many as eight of the original Paper Architects, nor did we anticipate the detailed insights they would provide. It was fascinating to learn of the determination and invention required just to maintain a connection with the outside world. In order to enter foreign competitions, they even faked committee authorisation signatures to
get sketches past military censors. We were also inspired by the risks they took, which propelled them beyond accepted boundaries. A lot of architects today seem scared to try things. It made us think we should be bolder.

Most challenging part of your trip?

In some ways it was Moscow itself. The sheer expanse of the city meant that it was quite difficult to comprehend. The language barrier was also an issue. Fortunately, we were accompanied by Elina and Ksenia, two architecture students who translated interviews and helped us navigate the city. One unexpected challenge was tracking down our interviewees. We wondered if having a studio in an offbeat location was a prerequisite for being a Paper Architect.

How do you plan to take this forward?

Inspired by the collaboration exhibited by the Paper Architects, we intend to develop a network of young architects in the UK. We have established paperplusarchitects.com, an online platform for discussion and a space for the presentation and critique of new architectural ideas.

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