Balazs Bognar, interview - Евразийская Премия
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Balazs Bognar

Architect, partner of Kengo Kuma & Associates

«‎There is an active architectural community in Yekaterinburg»‎:

We continue to publish interviews with renowned architects, laureates of the “Eurasian Award 2018” competition. One of them is Balazs Bognar, licensed American architect, partner of Kengo Kuma & Associates. He arrived in Yekaterinburg to receive an award from Japan. After the award ceremony, he shared his view on the development of modern architecture and spoke about his impressions of the competition and Yekaterinburg. Recall that the award winners of the competition took place during the days of the ARCH EURASIA forum on December 5-7.

— Tell about modern trends in architecture. What do you like about them and what not?
– I would single out two main trends. The first trend is caring for the environment. The second trend is to create an environment that is comfortable for people. True, there is one not very pleasant moment for us, architects and designers. When we want to implement the principles I have outlined, then we confront with a lack of understanding from the authorities, we have not enough rights to implement our ideas. Legislation does not keep pace with trends in architecture and become obstacles to development.

— Do you implement these principles in your projects? Or are they more theoretical for you?
– Of course, I implement 100%. We always try to bring our ideas to the result, although for these reasons we do not always succeed.

—Your project won the festival-contest”Eurasian Prize”. What other interesting projects that you have created on the basis of these principles can you mention?
— All Kengo Kuma & Associates projects are based on the principles of ecology and comfort for people. Therefore, I would not even single out something special among our works. Here at the forum ARCH EURASIA I spoke in detail about our projects and it was clear that the audience is interested, they support the ideas that I told them.

— What do you do when the customer or the authorities do not allow you to implement your project in full, but try to make their own adjustments?
—We always try to find a dialogue with business and government. But if we are given to understand that our project is possible only in a modified form, then we are not upset. We are just going to look for another place where it can be implemented. We live in an era of globalization. And if in one place we have not found a common language, we will find it in another. We do not compromise our principles, they are above money and interests of the authorities.

—What architectural objects you could call standards of the principles designated by you. That is, what impressed you personally over the past five to ten years?
— I would not concentrate on specific objects. We need to see a complete picture of the world. It is more important to understand how cities as a whole develop, what life and interaction between people are like in them, and not some separate buildings or objects. And then for me term in five-ten years is a small period of time. I cannot say that over the years I am being strongly impressed by any architecture. Regularly in the world they build something interesting, eye-catching. But we live in such a fast-paced world that something what impressed you today, you forgot a week later.

— But take Hong Kong, for example, as the city of the future. Many, who have been there, think it is a progressive city, including from the point of view of implementation of “smart” technologies and architecture. Doesn’t it impress you?
— But in Hong Kong there are problems with housing. Housing prices there are very high. People with small earnings sometimes have no place to live. And this does not correspond to the principle I mentioned above: the city should be a comfortable place to live, a city for people. Not the other way.

— One of the ideas of our government is to implement smart cities. That is, to introduce modern technologies in buildings, infrastructure and so on, to make life more comfortable and qualified. We know from childhood that Japan is an advanced country in terms of innovative technologies. Have Japanese cities already become “smart” and what is it?
— “Smart city” in my understanding is the one that meets the needs of each group of the city’s population. I have already mentioned this principle above. “Smart” city is not only some technologies, but also the comfort of people; the city should be environmental where people live comfortably. In addition, technology only serves to provide such an environment. Therefore, I estimate that to be “smart” is not the number of embedded technology but its convenience to the residents. And in this sense, the “smart” city is not some invention of recent years. Moreover, half a century ago, the city could be “smart” if residents felt comfortable living in it. Today, there are just technologies that accelerate the processes of creating a comfortable living environment in cities.

— Let’s talk about our forum ARCH EURASIA and the contest “Eurasian Prize”. Surely this is not the first such event in your professional life. What are your impressions of these events?
— I was very impressed that during the award ceremony a lot of young architects and designers came on the stage. And most of them are from Russia. That is, there is a very strong and active architectural community. Among the winners were many women. This is amazing!
In addition, the competition has a very attractive geographical location. I would even say – unique! This is the border of Europe and Asia. This means that in the future this forum can become an architectural bridge between the two continents, between the architectural communities from Europe and Asia. And there will be an exchange of experience and knowledge, which will eventually give a new fusion of architecture.

— What especially surprised you in our city?
– It was amazing to me that your natural wealth is so close to the city. That is, here they are-right at a glance. Not every modern city can be proud of it.

— You came from Japan. Recently, our city lost the competition for the right to host the world exhibition EXPO-2025. We gave way to the Japanese city of Osaka. In your opinion, why our Japanese colleagues managed to get this right, but we did not. What is missing in Ekaterinburg?
— I honestly don’t know how organized such contests and what is the reason for winning them. But I know Osaka very well. This is a very ancient city and earlier EXPO exhibition was held there several times. Apparently, it played a role. My experience of acquaintance with Yekaterinburg has just begun. And I’ve already pointed out its merits.
By the way, I could compare two cities. For example, in Osaka there is almost no old architecture. Yekaterinburg seemed specific to me because it combines old and new architecture. For example, in the city center near the hotel, I noticed a wooden carved house — it is very unusual. In General, I saw a lot of beautiful buildings here, I do not want to say that Osaka is ugly, but there is no such unusual beauty as in Yekaterinburg. In addition, you have a lot of open spaces and parks. Your city is quite low, there are several high-rises, but basically the city is low, and that’s good too. You do not have to be a city of towers to be modern. Of the minuses, I would note very wide roads. They’re made for transportation, not for people. We need more pedestrian space.
In General, I see no reason to give up and I am sure that in the future Yekaterinburg can again compete for the right to host the EXPO.

Balaz Bognar
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