In setting up a studio in Moscow, Alex Scott-Whitby of Scott Whitby Studio found demand for specialist expertise uncommon in Russia
We have been working in Russia for the last two years. Our studio there is run by Xenia Adjoubei and has several completed projects, including a restaurant and holiday lodges development, as well as three projects on site, which include an artist’s house and a cultural centre in Kaluga.
There is no doubt that there are continuing opportunities for UK practices in Russia, despite the economic downturn and cooling political relations between our two governments. If well placed, pitches are now being met with greater enthusiasm than when Moscow was heaving with money and unrealised concept designs contracted to large international offices. This puts practices with an accurate aim in a good position to form working relationships with clients and end up with adequately realised projects.
We pitch for projects where we can offer a unique approach or specialist expertise uncommon in Russia. In our case it is strong public realm design with navigation strategies, in park or urban contexts, as well as combining cultural projects with sustainable design and innovative civic thinking.
Of course working in any new context brings its own challenges, and we have found it essential to have a local studio, or at least a collaborative partner practice, when working further afield. Although to label our Moscow studio as any of the above would be a disservice, both studios operate symbiotically working on projects in the UK, Greece and the Middle East.
Russia is still a hugely exciting market to be operating in
We make sure that what we are doing in Moscow brings with it research and new discoveries that enrich our other projects. It can be hard work dealing with communications and regulations in a different time zone, so we make sure that our projects are engaging and fulfilling - from being set in wonderful locations you can visit, to working on inspiring Constructivist buildings.
Our advice to others thinking about setting up a studio in Russia is to partner up and have Russian-speaking members of staff on the ground. We also have Russian speakers in our UK studio, which means that any potential for details to be lost in translation is minimised, or at least identified quickly. It’s also quite useful to give the studio a unique name - in Russia we are Adjoubei Scott Whitby Studio - and is something we are also considering for our next studio in the Gulf. This way the director of each discrete studio has his or her name on the door too, and this has far-reaching benefits for all concerned.
In the end we feel that Russia is still a hugely exciting market to be operating in. We are actively seeking a path that veers away from designing oligarchical houses, and have been rewarded by invitations to work on commissions that challenge our creative dexterity. We hope to continue to make meaningful contributions to the architectural discourse in Russia, and look forward to a long and enriching dialogue between our family of studios.