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Volodymyr Smyrnov, spiilka design büro co-founder



“I was born in Shuliavka district, on Peremoha avenue. On the way from the metro to Nargosp, there is a small square. Behind this square, there is an 11-story house - I lived there with my parents from the age of five. My parents are engineers. They met each other in KNUBA (translit. from Kyiv National University of Civil Engineering and Architecture), where they studied at the first set of the Faculty of Construction Production Automation. My father stayed at the institute and was the dean of the faculty until the last days, while my mother still works as an engineer.


I remember spending all my fall and spring breaks not far from the former House of Pioneers - across the street, where my mom used to work. She allowed me to stand behind the cul-de-sac and draw barges that sailed across the Dnipro river. Once I became older and was allowed to stay at home on my own, I sat on the windowsill or in a chair with a book. My parents left me in some pose in the morning and discovered me in the same position in the evening. All day I’ve been reading, and reading, and reading…


I’ve been studying in school #154. Long were the walks in the park next to the kids railway, in Nyvky park (it was called Komsomol park before). There are two lakes - we went there for PE lessons and skipped the other lessons then.


All my childhood I’ve spent in the Shulyavka - Nyvky - Dorogozhychi triangle.

Back then, these districts were considered industrial and had never been "fashion." Since I was a nerd, I had some fights there. I remember Kyiv of that time with its old Soviet concrete buildings from the 1970s, what they call Soviet modernism, and "Khrushchevky" (typical buildings constructed during Khrushchev governing).


What is the visual portrait of Kyiv for me now? Dnipro, chestnuts, and a totally marvelous mix of styles. I read somewhere that Kyiv has an incorrect tree planting scheme, with a more minor “step” than usual. So the trees are planted closer to each other. I like it, though - especially when they form the arches from their crowns, the streets turn out green. I like Kyiv overall anyway.


Soviet modernism and its “Plate,” library named after Vernadsky, stalinky (blocks of flats constructed during the governing time of Stalin), old districts with “khrushchevky,” the Olympic Stadium, and the new Klitschko Bridge, the Dnipro river with Trukhanov Island, the Troya (Troyeschina district), and kinda shattered Podil - all this is my Kyiv today.

Of course, some things irritate me - marshrutkas, signs, kiosks, cars on sidewalks and lawns, uncontrolled buildings - all that turns the city into Shanghai of the 19th century.


I agree with Viktor Zotov, architect, that today we observe all the diseases of our society. Everything happening with the buildings and the streets also occurs in the state and the society. Unfortunately, most Kyiv people don’t need public spaces and playgrounds - they need parking and dense construction. You could see the green hills from the left Dnipro bank to the right one, and now you only see the buildings sticking out like Chinese products. My mother, an engineer, constantly threatens that all these houses will be in Dnipro one day because the land on these hills is not for construction. But what is "impossible" for people with money in our country?


If, theoretically, there was a job titled “art director of the city,” I would try to fix all our chaos, and somewhere, on the contrary, would intensify it. There is no going back. We can’t bring back old Kyiv.

Nastya (my partner in spiilka design büro) thinks that at some point, we can become very fancy, like ugly Balenciaga, and use all the trashy chaos of Kyiv like a trend. That's why I would create an un-fkn-usual building in every part of the city, such as a giant kiosk-shaped house from Zaha Hadid's office. I would try to laugh at our "peculiarities." I would develop the direction of the murals, to decorate somehow our panels and all the houses of Ukrbud. I would replace marshrutkas with trolleybuses, buses, and trams and would oblige to wash all public transport daily. I would return the exterior facades of buildings with ugly balconies to their former appearance. At the same time, I would leave the interior facades in the courtyards and hold an annual competition for the best balcony.



However, I don't share the belief that Ukrainians are "cattle" and all the other nations are princes from heaven. People are the same everywhere - homo sapiens are homo sapiens everywhere, just someone has gone further in their development while someone is still catching up. You don't know what Stockholm would look like if the Swedes had the same construction technology in the 18th century as we have today. Maybe Stockholm would look like one extensive Ukrbud catalog.


Once in the Middle Ages, urine was poured under the feet on the road there. I got to know recently how the bay window was used in castles - it stood out of the fortress wall and usually had a toilet, where poop was ejected on the heads of peasants who walked under the castle walls. So someone has been through this in the past. Someone is going through it now.


We are far behind in many areas. However, Ukraine still occupies its place in world culture.


We’ll never become French, Germans, or Polish people, and that’s fine. We’ll be Ukrainians, and please stop being happy when you are considered a Swede, a German, or a British man abroad.

I don't get it: when you are considered a foreigner, you are happy and shyly hide your passport in your pocket? Of course, it's clear where it comes from, but it seems that we have reached a level where we should stop being ashamed and go our own way. No matter where you go, you are already saturated with Ukraine - you do not need to claim that you're someone you are not. The French are not ashamed of their accent when speaking English. And the Spaniards speak calmly in Spanglish and do not apologize. Why are we ashamed? I am working on accepting myself. I couldn't grow up in another country and have a different upbringing. So why should I be ashamed of where I was born and where I live?"


Volodymyr Smyrnov, co-founder of spiilka design büro

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