Aluminium, the Light and Beautiful Metal Irreplaceable in Building and Construction

The Union of Russian Architects and the Russian Aluminium Association initiated on past April 2019 a large-scale event titled ‘AlumForum’, which hosted the “Aluminium in Architecture” award, the First All-Russian Competition devoted the Aluminium solutions in architecture, construction, design. We talked about this event with Nikolai Shumakov, President of the Union of the Russian Architects, and with Irina Kazovskaya, co-chairwoman of the Russian Aluminium Association

by Mario Conserva *In cooperation with the PR team of the Union of Architects of Russia

The Aluminium Association of Russia is making itself ready for an important event. On March 26-28, 2020, Italy will host in Parma the First Russian-Italian Aluminium Forum, a discussion platform for all market participants, authorities and experts, where they will be talking about ways of industrial development, possibilities to increase demand for aluminium, being the material of the future, and agree on constructive cooperation between Russia and Italy in the field.
As part of the preparation for the Forum, we met Ms Irina Kazovskaya, co-chairwoman of the Russian Aluminium Association, and Mr Nikolai Shumakov, people’s architect of Russia, chief architect of Metrogiprotrans Institute, President of the Union of architects of Russia, speaking about the role of the light metal in the architectural applications.

A year ago the Union of Russian Architects and the Russian Aluminium Association initiated a large-scale event titled ‘AlumForum’, which hosted ‘Aluminium in Architecture’, the First All-Russian Competition with international participation. How did the union of architects come up with an idea of organising the AlumForum in Moscow?
“You know”, Nikolai Shumakov says, “it seems that all periodicals of Russia, including the radio and television, have published my answer to this question. Honestly: I do not understand why it happened just now, while architects have been considering aluminium as one the most needed construction materials for decades. The Forum ‘pecked’ like a chick through an egg shell: now it is time to make aluminium available to the public, make it a priority in construction and finishing. And I am not exaggerating at all. As a practicing architect, who has been constructing the underground for over forty years, I can sing an ode to this phenomenal metal. It is light, strong, machinable, castable, mouldable, corrosion resistant, heat and electricity conductive, completely recyclable… Open any source of information – an encyclopaedia, a reference book, the Internet – and you will learn so many interesting things about aluminium! Moreover, this is a very efficient material, too, which reacts easily to all design concepts, no matter how unrealistic they might be. Speaking of building and construction, we are accustomed to list: stone, wood, brick… whereas aluminium can replace all these materials in one successfully. In recent years, the most prominent globally renowned architects have been using aluminium in their projects. In one of the interviews, my Japanese counterpart Kengo Kuma remarked: ‘When I need to make a building hover, I use aluminium’. Since all my professional life is architecture of metro, I can rephrase this saying as follows: ‘When I need to create lightness and airiness under the ground, I use aluminium’. Basically, this is an answer to the question about the origins of the ‘AlumForum’: it simply couldn’t but appear today because it had to happen the day before yesterday”.
“Indeed, an application of aluminium in construction and architecture has been gaining momentum among Russian experts recently” adds Irina Kazovskaya. “They, if you will, have discovered the taste, or, as Italians would say, hanno scoperto il sapore, of this light and beautiful metal. Stand panels, suspended ceilings, windows, doors, staircases, roof sheets – all these pieces are made of aluminium today. It is irreplaceable in construction. We can see that its applications are really endless– from deluxe individual projects to mass construction and pedestrian bridges. At the same time, there is a stable association between aluminium and innovations. But it was not a long time ago that some people considered this material to be exotic. Aluminium was called ‘winged’ metal exclusively, with a reference given to its use in aircraft engineering. Now it is high time were named it to the ‘metal of the future’, which has already come.
It should be mentioned, that it took the Russian aluminium industry only several dozens of years to make a gigantic leap in its development. I will tell you more– hi-tech products from local aluminium, for example bridges, became demanded by the global market, including advanced European countries”.

What makes aluminium attractive for architects and urban planners?
“I have answered this question partially, but I can continue”, Nikolai Shumakov says. “Do you know that aluminium is an element of the 13th group of the Mendeleev’s Periodic Table with atomic number 13? As it is well known, 13 is a magic number, you never know, what it will bring you, there is some magic in it, which makes you believe in miracles. So, aluminium is a wonderful metal. I have mentioned its physical properties already, but its aesthetics are no less interesting. I will not open a secret if I say that the population of the Earth is growing, cities turn into megapolises, there is a catastrophic shortage of space, both for people and buildings.
We have been urging our fellow constructors to keep urban development well-proportioned all the time, but they go on rising, trying to solve settlement problems by building skyscrapers. Well, aluminium can make a multi-storey building look light, let it not be really so; and in combination with glass a building will benefit from the reflection, too. I believe that glass and aluminium make a unique match, a couple which is destined to live a long and happy life of common urban development. Sometime ago, glass attempted to join concrete– we all remember architects being crazy about this movement. Something’s turned out to be a success, but, on the whole, they are extremes: heavy rough concrete and radiant glass. They were lucky with aluminium: its lightness is complementary to glass, but simultaneously, the metal looks quite massive and brutal due to its strength and durability. Recently, I learnt a new word– ‘extrusion’ – sounds nice and strange. Of course, I am joking. In fact, this is a well-known hot working and forming process used to shape some metals, mainly aluminium. Extrusion makes it possible to shape aluminium the way you want, which you cannot do to either wood or steel. And here aluminium becomes a real architect’s find. It allows you to fantasise and model any structure to make a project a unique masterpiece.
Irina Kazovskaya added: “I will support my colleague– special characteristics of aluminium leave wide room for creative architectural solutions, because it can simulate a tree and even a wild stone. We know such examples. As for aluminium extrusion, this process is available in many industries; it is used in pipe and wire production, which is especially important, by the way, for underground and high-rise construction.
Equally important is the fact that in our country, where there are several climate zones – from high arctic tundra to subtropics – aluminium performs excellently at various temperatures. To make it absolutely clear let me remind you that dozens of years ago in Oimyakon (Yakutia) the absolute sub-zero temperature of –67.7 °C was recorded! Aluminium becomes stronger, while other materials lose their strength at low temperatures. This is the magic of ‘number 13’.

Mr. Shumakov, at the beginning of the interview you paid a compliment to aluminium as a practicing architect. Can you please expand on how you apply this material in your projects?
“I will be delighted! And you may consider this opinion unbiased: the entire Metrogiprotrans Institute is proud of the awards we won in the First All-Russian Competition with International Participation ‘Aluminium in Architecture’. We won ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ in the ‘Best Interior Solution’ nomination. A section of the underground from ‘Business Centre’ to ‘Savyolovskaya’ station of the Big Circle Line (the Moscow Metro) was awarded the golden diploma; the jury awarded a section of the Kalininsko-Solntsevskaya Line (from ‘Business Centre’ to ‘Ozyornaya’ station) the silver diploma. I can say that we use aluminium locally and globally; we use it both as a finishing material and as functionalism in architecture, when materials should be consistent with functions of a construction project. In other words, lightness, strength and range of temperatures are the features, which increase reliability of such a technically intricate facility as the metro. This is a functional consistency of aluminium with our construction both under and on the ground. In addition, of course, there are aesthetics and visual attractiveness. One should not forget that, as a rule, new metro stations are constructed in existing residential districts. It means that we must be very delicate to fit new facilities in the running architectural and urban context. By the way, there is a new station ‘Michurinski Prospect’ on the Kalininsko-Solntsevskaya Line with its exterior and interior stuffed with aluminium. By its name, it is clear that both the district and the Avenue and the metro station make a historical reference to Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, an outstanding Russian biologist, who was a father of the Russian fruit farming, selection and breeding of new types of apple trees. Aluminium panels in the entrance hall and column facets are decorated with work pieces of Lyudmila Shurygina, a talented artist, imitating blossoming branches and succulent fruits. We used glazed ceramics, granite, glass, steel and, of course, aluminium as finishing materials”.

A question to Irina Kazovskaya. What are the strategic plans of the Aluminium Association for the upcoming years?
“Until 2023 we plan to double the market and make it 2.5 million tonnes, thus developing the aluminium industry. It implies modernisation of existing and development of new processing capacities and creation of new products. A global share of aluminium consumption in construction is 25%;this number is very impressive by itself. In Russia trends are the same. Moscow and regions use aluminium solutions in construction and road infrastructure more and more actively. In 2018, aluminium bridge structures were installed over the Yauza river in Moscow and in Krasnoyarsk, the capital of Siberia. Aluminium bridges – the first in the modern history of Russia – have been in operation for two years now in the Nizhny Novgorod region.
This experience has proven efficiency of large-span bridge structures. Light, strong, environmentally-friendly aluminium guarantees excellent operational performance. A long lifetime, low operational costs and convenient assembly make the experience of Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnoyarsk quite attractive for other regions. Suffice it to say, the Russian Aluminium Association is developing two dozens of aluminium bridge construction projects now. Innovations in our industry develop new technologies and increase tax proceeds significantly”.

Does it mean the ‘ode to aluminium’ will continue? When is the next AlumForum?
“Soon, in Spring 2020”, says Nikolai Shumakov.“One may make applications both for the Forum and the competition. I am confident to say it, because we have a very reliable and heavyweight partner – the Aluminium Association of Russia. This is an authoritative organisation uniting aluminium suppliers and consumers, processing companies, scientists and practitioners”.
Irina Kazovskaya added: “The Russian aluminium industry moves forward intensively and leading world experts admit this. However, up until recently Russia has not had a dedicated international forum to act as a strategic partner, have a dialogue with a professional community and develop the hi-tech aluminium industry. Italians are the largest aluminium equipment manufacturers in the world. They have an invaluable experience in construction, re-construction and restoration of aluminium structures. This is why the Aluminium Association and the union of architects of Russia discuss a format of such a forum actively with their European colleagues.
Nikolai Shumakov concluded: “We are ready to facilitate the process by all means. The 2019 ‘Aluminium in Architecture’ award demonstrated a competence of our professional union in the issue. We started to cooperate with the Russian Aluminium Association closely during the preparation for the Forum, we found the common language easily confident that we maintain the common cause. We develop one of the most critical areas of the Russian industrial complex and create optimum conditions to expand the aluminium market and neighbouring sectors, where aluminium is used, so simple and so multifaceted. In a word, a magic element”.

Further information regarding AlumForum 2020 is available here: