Published: 09 September 2015
Gennady Vasilchenko-Malishev, of Malishev Engineers, has been a structural engineer for 18 years. Here he talks about the “Steel and Glass Features for the 300th Anniversary of Omsk, Russia” project, which has been shortlisted in the Small Practises category - recognising outstanding work by smaller engineering firms.
As part of the forthcoming 300th anniversary celebrations of the Siberian city of Omsk, the city decided to refurbish Valikhanov Street in the city centre, a project which involved the design and construction of steel and glass “crystals”. These features would be scattered along the street as if by an imaginary “wizard”. As far as I know, nothing like this project has been done in recent years anywhere in Russia, even Moscow and St Petersburg, so we were really lucky to get involved.
The designs for the Features were part inspired by Vladimir Shukhov, who is a massive figure in the world of creative engineering in Russia and around the world. His work was pretty much ignored by Russian architects of the time, and he was confined mostly to working in civil and industrial engineering – so it’s ironic that his elegantly minimal structures now inspire many architects around the world, including Norman Forster (think of the Gherkin for example). I was itching to use his ideas in my work for a long time.
We were fortunate that our architects from St Petersburg were happy for us to experiment a little with the structure and took our ideas on board. More and more the impact of engineers on projects at the concept stage is very much appreciated by architects - one example of close collaboration between architect and engineer is the roof of the British Museum in London: the architect’s initial concept had a flat roof, and it was the engineer who recommended to use a double curved diagrid shell - which is now the main visual feature we associate with the building.
Of course one of the main challenges in engineering the Steel and Glass Features was Siberia’s extreme continental climate. Summer in Omsk is lovely and hot, but when I visited the site for the first time at the end of April it was snowing, with sub-zero temperatures and horrendous gale-force winds. Flights were cancelled due to the weather so I was literally trapped – a memorable first time site visit!
Also the fact that we had eleven features, with some of them similar type, meant that effectively we had five different types of structure, each of which had to be designed differently, and assembled by different sub-contractors with varying levels of ability and experience.
The complex geometry of the features also posed a challenge – it meant that we were forced to work in 3D all the time. Some of the junction details were so complex that our draftsman had to go with his lap-top to the factory and figure out how to put things together, alongside the workers.
Transporting the assembled structures to the site was also quite challenging. We decided to transport them in one piece, which meant wheeling them out of the factory through a specially created hole in the wall, and then put onto oversized delivery vehicles and convoyed 3000km across half of Russia.
I think the Features project is a good example of structural engineering having an impact at various levels: aesthetics, cost and pushing the boundaries of engineering. We will see what the judges think!
Visit The Structural Awards website to learn more about the awards.