One image in the photo series Silicon Forest shows Nick Volynkin, an employee of a mobile entertainment startup, grinning up at the camera, his face illuminated by the light of his laptop. Sitting awkwardly in a conference room full of gleaming monitors, Volynkin is the image of any under-caffeinated, overworked twenty-something you’d find in Silicon Valley. Instead he’s deep in the heart of the Siberian forest, where Russia has its own burgeoning technology sector.
This is Akademgorodok, President Putin’s answer to the global arms race, where a swanky new Akadempark complex hosts startups, entrepreneurs, incubators, and academics from all over the country. Though the building’s new, the town is not–it’s been around since the 1960s when the country’s brightest scientists gathered there far from the watchful eye of Soviet-era Moscow. The place was an intellectual haven in a country of idealogical restraints: scientists lived in cushy apartments, held lively debates in local social clubs, and made significant advancements in previously dismissed fields like cybernetics and genetics.
Unfortunately, the dream was short-lived; the Brezhnev era brought an end to those freedoms and with it the Akademgorodok. Recently the area has been experiencing a bit of resurgence under Putin, who is hoping to revive it as a hotbed of 21st-century innovation. In his photos, Brooklyn-based photographer Grant Slater captures vestiges of the Akademgorodok–in a solitary stone monument, older machines–alongside the flashy new 13-story Akadempark and its brainy inhabitants. As Oliver Wainright writes in the Guardian, Putin’s drive to make this the Silicon Valley of Russia has ushered in a mix of federal and private money totaling around $1 billion. IBM, Intel, and Schlumberger all have outposts there, though most of the other tech heavyweights–Microsoft, Cisco, and Google, for example–still populate the more established tech hub of Skolkovo, near Moscow.
See more of life at Akademgorodok in the slide show above or head over to Slater’s website for the full selection.