"We are happy to be back here," said Tchoban as the biennale came to its final phase - 3 days of presentations, lectures, and discussions. The focus is on the regeneration of industrial areas, which represents a great challenge for many cities, not only for former Soviet ones, that want to create something new while still preserving their identity. "Europe and Russia have similar problems, linked to what builders did between the 1940s and 1960s", added the Russian-German architect, who designed the Russian pavilion for Expo 2015. This year, the architects were tasked to redevelop two different places: an abandoned faucet factory in Santekhriborand, a grain elevator, still in partial operation, near the port of Kazan overlooking the Volga.
Of 739 projects, only 30 finalists were selected. The Gold Prize for redeveloping the site of the former Santekhpribor factory and reintegrating it into its district was awarded to Alexander Alyayev, while Leto team from Moscow was awarded for the renovation of the grain elevator - a challenge probably even more difficult to solve convincingly. A common trend for all finalist projects was low density: all young Russian architects have preferred low buildings to accommodate homes and commercial activities. Not a single tower, but a lot of optimism, as Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova, visibly tired but happy, tells me. "In the future, I expect less density. Places like Kazan, a medium-sized city, will become increasingly important because physical interaction will become less and less essential for people," she says, "We'll choose places in which we can live well, and we'll abandon big cities." And she shows me her phone, implying that her existence is in there, and for the new generations, "who have used these devices since their birth", it will be even more like this. She says that when the first Biennale ended, she wasn't happy, because she didn't know whether there would be another edition and whether the winners would be given a contract. In two years, however, many things have changed, and people are already talking about a third event. Meanwhile, the network of young architects linked to Kazan is getting wider and wider. And the city grows: not in height, but in importance. Natalia knows exactly what she wants: for Kazan to become a capital of creativity and innovation.