Interview for the architectural magazine Project BaltiaInterview
Interest in wood as a construction material is a special instance of a tradition which is to this day being maintained and rethought by modern specialists. The traditionality is often a matter of both the material itself, which is inseparable from the identity of national architecture, and the continuous character of professions which make direct use of timber.
Anton Snitko, founder of St Petersburg company Woodcort, recalls that he first encountered wood as a child; his first knowledge of the material came from his grandfather, a professional model-maker. His job with Tekhnopark LTA, one of the first companies to manufacture double-glazed wooden windows in St Petersburg, allowed Anton to immerse himself in technologies for working with wood and then to set up, together with his partners, a small manufacturing plant in Vsevolozhsk.
“We don’t make large quantities, but what we do make is of high quality and aesthetically pleasing”
Exploiting wood’s plasticity and flexibility, Woodcort undertakes both standard and non-standard projects. “Each new commission involves adventures, amusing stories, and great effort,” — admits Anton. “Often we find ourselves plunging into the unknown and the territory of what has never been done before. So we try not to take on more than three projects a month — like children, they need a lot of attention. We also, as a matter of principle, do not make cheap windows. We don’t cut corners; the result is what is important: we don’t make large quantities, but what we do make is of high quality and aesthetically pleasing.”
Woodcort has produced unique windows and doors which are the result sometimes of prolonged research, including the study of historical drawings of engineering solutions, and sometimes of development of solutions which are fundamentally new for St Petersburg and Russia. For instance, Woodcort was the first company in St Petersburg to install wooden windows of the type that are now so much in demand — able to open wide and yet preserve heat — on ulitsa Rubinshteyna.
Every project is a welcome call
A recent project is a window for Dogs bar on ulitsa Nekrasova, described as absolutely unique by specialists from Siegenia, a German company which produces fittings and has been active in Russia for 10 years. “What makes this window so difficult is the requirement that it should open fully — which is a problem when you have a difference in level between the street and the floor inside,” explains Anton. “It’s impossible that the window should open inwards, i.e. the movement of the system has to be on the other side, the street side, and this is always a more aggressive environment requiring a special approach.”
Last year, another bar on ulitsa Nekrasova — Krasny ugol — acquired window and doors by Woodcort. “The challenge in this case was to install bay windows of the historical type — deeper than today’s bay windows. The windows had to open fully, while the door needed, when opening, to fit into the corner of the wall, which required incredible engineering ingenuity and an ability to talk to the client.”
Other memorable commissions have been: windows for Capuletti, a restaurant belonging to Ginza Project on Bolshoy prospekt on Petrogradskaya storona, where there were special requirements for the external appearance, and a historical door for a building at the intersection of ulitsa Bakunina and Nevsky prospekt. “Our task here was to turn an existing window into a door, for the sake of enhanced accessibility. We used historical drawings, which always means a large volume of intense preparation; the fruit of this was an impressive result for the client.”
“We need to restore the historical language and at the same time offer a new one”
At the present moment Woodcort’s specialists are planning glazing for a small historical building in Pavlovsk. This will use a single-frame structure stylized to look like an old window. “In another project, on kanal Griboedova, we shall try to preserve a historical window in order to achieve a light and elegant look.”
It is restoration and recreation of historical windows that Anton calls his true love. This is always an original and labour-intensive process. In St Petersburg, like in any other historical city, almost every building is an aristocratic mansion commissioned from a specific architect. This means that many of the city’s window are absolutely unique.
“I think it important for the client to have the ability to preserve the historical profile,” — says Anton. “The elements of urban architecture are like an alphabet which loses its letters when historical fragments are lost. We need to restore the historical language and at the same time offer a new one — without rejecting the past but, on the contrary, based on the stylistic code that exists in St Petersburg. Fortunately, more and more people are coming to realize the importance of the Petersburg window and of preserving it — in both large projects and private apartments. We are only too glad to help in preserving heritage. Commissions like this create a lasting impression, look different, and possess charisma.”
Text by Karina Kharebova