Vox Architects Transforms Moscow Olympics Aquatics Facility for Fitness Chain World Class
If the body is a temple, then why shouldn’t a swimming pool, particularly one with a soaring ceiling and an altarlike trainer’s stand, resemble a cathedral? That was the goal of Vox Architects when it was hired by World Class, a Russian chain of luxury fitness clubs, to transform a utilitarian aquatics facility built in Moscow for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games. (Those were the games boycotted by much of the world in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)
But cathedral doesn’t mean onion domes to Vox Architects founder Boris Voskoboynikov, whose aesthetic is grounded in the Russian avant-garde movement of the early 20th century. A graduate of the interior architecture program at Stroganov Academy, Voskoboynikov cites Konstantin Melnikov as an influence and keeps a reproduction of a sportsman figure by suprematist Kazimir Malevich on the conference table at Vox Architects. Voskoboynikov and head of creative development Maria Akhremenkova, also a Stroganov graduate, furthermore travel the world in search of suprematism’s latest manifestations. Those roads often lead to churches. “Most of us at the firm are atheists, but we love the beautiful architecture of contemporary cathedrals,” Akhremenkova says. “It’s a chance to create the heavenly. We are always amazed by the ability to build air.” Grabbing a book of work by Interior Design Hall of Fame member Richard Meier from a shelf, Voskoboynikov turns to images of the Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso, popularly known as the Jubilee Church, which he and Akhremenkova visited in Rome, and points out the building’s curves and embrace of light—two of the pair’s own guiding principles. “It’s an illustration of the influence of the Russian avant-garde on Meier and, in turn, of Meier’s influence on us,” Voskoboynikov says. “Meier is an architect who works with light. His walls are placed to reveal how the sun moves during the day.”
It was not a church but Koltsovo Airport in Yekaterinburg, the first of several airport projects, that put Vox Architects on the map. Several years after, the firm won the competition that resulted in the renovation of the pool for World Class, notable for its sexy ads and swish clientele but previously burdened with incoherent, uncoordinated interior design across a network of clubs. The branch known as Olympic is the third under the new brand direction.
A Russian saying speaks of getting something done without shedding much blood. That was the idea for the Olympic overhaul, a 10,000-square-foot job that took two months. “We turned something tacky into something magical,” Voskoboynikov says. He and Akhremenkova played with light, color, and, most critically, materials, since structural changes were out of the picture, due to the complex’s landmark status. Numerous experiments were required to determine what would work. Once the suspended ceiling over the pool came down, instantly adding 7 feet in height, there was literally more room to maneuver. In went a series of sweeping white arches in white PVC fabric stretched over a lightweight aluminum framework.
Stainless-steel shelving stores exercise equipment such as aqua-aerobics gear and sport mats. That altarlike trainer’s stand has a circular front upholstered in faux leather in a bright red—creating a dialogue with the all-red entrance zone, a low-ceilinged corridor that Voskoboynikov describes as “carnal.” It passes between the pool and the hot tub to reach the locker rooms and saunas. The dramatic color is intended to unify disparate parts. And then there was light. One of the positives of the original structure was its long glass wall. Still, artificial illumination was important. “We worked a great deal with the lighting,” Voskoboynikov says. It’s a component that he and Akhremenkova care about deeply—he even teaches seminars on the subject at his alma mater. “What’s key is that the lighting is focused on the perimeter, and it’s hidden. When you swim, there’s no glare in your eyes, only a diffused glow.” That’s a matter of great importance, after all, in a city that recorded only six minutes of sun in the entire month of December 2017.
Project Team: Anna Koskova; Andrey Koskov; Katerina Chernyshova; Evgeny Nezamaykin; Maxim Frolov; Anna Marchuk; Alina Epifanova: Vox Architects.