Palekh is a small town in Russia’s Ivanovo region, and the capital of the country’s icon painting and lacquer miniature industries. 20% of the population are artists, but a mere year ago, the town’s center was almost abandoned. Palekh’s main street and signature fountain were overgrown with weeds, pedestrians had to walk in the middle of the roadway, and the town lacked any semblance of organized street lighting. After a complex public space renewal was carried out in 2018, the town is now bright at night and safe to walk through, while lighting solutions helped to preserve the local identity and heritage by reflecting the traditions of lacquer miniatures in a contemporary way. At night, the town center turns into a big Palekh “jewelry box.”
Early in 2018, the local administration, together with architects and local residents,
appealed to federal authorities with a request to improve the city and revive the heart
of Palekh. The initiative was adopted and the project was implemented by Strelka
KB with the support of the regional government and DOM.RF. In a town where more than 20% of the population are artists, finding compromises and building dialogue within the local community were the main challenges faced by our bureau. Most importantly, we wanted to help them address a typical problem of a typical Russian town: an abandoned and unliveable urban center with a lack of light on the one hand, and absence of the civic engagement and dialogue between people and authorities needed to enable improvement on the other. Our goal was to shift outdated Soviet paradigms of urban development and create a new system that could be shared with and scaled for other towns. We managed to bring local citizens together as the key brainstormers and join them with the best globally-recognized design experts as implementers and the authorities as the main client.
Our top priority was to suit the local context by preserving abandoned heritage while introducing elements of the best global lighting technologies available. The main idea of the lighting design was to emphasize zoning in the evenings in Palekh’s central square. Each zone has its own architectural or semiotic dominant, emphasized with accent and decorative lighting techniques. The choice of warm white and the use of amber-colored lighting were based on the history and traditions of Palekh: the handicrafts of icon painting and lacquer miniatures feature predominantly gold and yellow.
The Holy Cross Cathedral, a symbol of Palekh and the region’s high-rise dominant, was put in the center of attention. Its existing facade lighting, using cold white and blue tones, became an additional factor in the choice of spectral characteristics for background lighting of paths and landscaping. Based on the principles of "high-quality light contrast," warm white tones were used as the main colors for landscape lighting.
The signature fountain of Palekh’s main street has been renewed with unique lighting and even shows the underwater world, thanks to miniature spotlights. The installation depth of these devices (2 meters) is below the depth at which water freezes, which allows the use of the lighting system even in winter, when the frozen surface of the fountain pond turns into an ice-skating rink.
The complex lighting of the main street surrounding the square and the internal walking paths demonstrate the synthesis of various lighting elements. Thanks to a comprehensive approach, you can notice a transition from the neutral white light given off by 9-meter-high street lamps to the warm white light from bollards, measuring only 1.2 meters high and corresponding to the scale of pedestrians themselves. In order to achieve the sensation of a bright space, the illumination of the pedestrian paths was increased by 2-3 times compared with normalized values.
The process of engaging citizens in Russia has only taken root in the past couple of years; therefore, citizens and architects are still learning to build dialogue and make compromises with one another. Strelka KB was concerned about starting a project in such a small town as Palekh - with a population of only four thousand people - since residents of small towns tend to take things more personally and react more strongly to any dispute. At the first meeting, local residents were adamant that the architects listen to their ideas in full. Thankfully, after several months of constant communication, the citizens, administrators, and consultants found a common language, becoming true friends and collaborators in the process. Various ideas were taken into account and are now being implemented. The community that was formed as result of this project has already become "Friends of Palekh’s Center.”
As of today, Palekh’s town center meets all of its requirements for safety, comfort, ecology, diversity, and identity. Everyone who comes to the town, be it longtime residents or tourists, can see the city in a new light. All the ideas that were brought forward by local residents together with architects and experts were designed to give the community new life, all the while emphasizing the history and identity of the place, and at the same time meeting global design standards. A safe walking route using materials that are both eco-friendly and durable is being created in the green center, and streets are finally properly lit up. In addition, by creating new conditions in the center of the city, the place where most Palekh residents and tourists spend their time, a precedent will be set that will inspire the transformation of other Russian towns.
Strelka KB was founded in 2013 to offer strategic consulting and comprehensive urban solutions. The company is currently working across Russia and abroad as a multi-disciplinary and multi-national team, covering expert teams, with Centers for Urban Anthropology, Urban Economics, and GIS Analysis among them. It collaborates with both Russian and international experts from 45 countries. Landmark projects include a renovation program and development guidelines for 3,500 streets in Moscow, Integrated Guidelines for Urban Development and the data-driven Urban Environment Quality Index for 1,114 Russian cities, the functional model for Zaryadye Park and architectural competitions, including Nike’s outdoor sports center in Gorky Park, Moscow, and Tel Aviv University’s nano lab.