Raising the bar: Top architecture firms to renovate Moscow’s major public spaces

Big-name firms, such as Snøhetta, West 8, and OKRA, have come to Moscow to give a new look to some of the city’s most busy and complicated squares and intersections.

This year more than 80 areas of the Russian capital will be fixed up as part of the ‘My Street’ program. The total length of the renovated streets amounts to 50 kilometers, and more than 3,000 courtyards will be refurbished and 50 new parks built. The whole area under renovation is 240 hectares.

The most essential part of the work – laying down utility lines, granite paving, installing curbs ‒ will be completed in August, and practically all of the sites included in the project will be completed by City Day. Only the planting of trees will remain for October-December: according to experts from Strelka KB, trees take root better in that period. The planting of greenery is one of the priorities of the program: this year 4,500 large trees and almost 100,000 bushes will be planted.

Twelve embankments will also be renovated. Their pedestrian areas will be widened and planted in order to separate the walking from the transportation zones. A pedestrian area of 27 kilometers in length will extend from the Krasnopresnenskaya to Goncharnaya embankments. The Pushkinskaya, Andreevskaya, and Vorobyevskaya embankments will be fixed up. Strelka Magazine spoke with the director of the ‘My Street’ program, Aleksandra Sytnikova, and learned how exactly the main public spaces in Moscow will look and which companies will be carrying out the projects.


Aleksandra Sytnikova, director of the ‘My Street’ program, partner of Strelka KB

“‘My Street’ is a huge and complicated project, in which a large number of aspects are brought into play. Any decision in the project passes through several stages. First, the anthropologists undertake their research and study the views of city residents in order to preserve the identity of each area and uncover its points of attraction; the architects, urban planners, and designers from Strelka KB divide the area into semantic zones, define the character of each section, and propose a general vision for the place. Then, star architects whose experience and signature coincide with the original idea are chosen. Unfortunately, Russian architects do not yet have that high level of professional experience in the organization of public spaces. This practice was not widespread in the country, and that is why architects from abroad, who have long had this experience, are invited to participate. We identified a pool of foreign partners with whom we were willing to work ‒ according to both the character of the areas and the character of the firms’ projects and architects – and discussed how each area could be developed and to what extent it was interesting to them. This was a dialogue: we understood the general vectors of development, and they worked out the design.”

KRYMSKAYA SQUARE (SNØHETTA, NOR)

Krymskaya Square Skatepark
Krymskaya Square Skatepark
Krymskaya Square Skatepark
Krymskaya Square Skatepark

Before

Krymskaya Square is a lively space on the Garden Ring between Zubovsky Boulevard, Ostozhenka Street, Komsomolsky Prospect, and Krymskiy Lane. Gorky Park is located nearby, and many people cross the square on their way there. In addition, the Museum of Moscow, the Garage Museum, and the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val are located in close proximity. The lively atmosphere of the square had to be taken into consideration so as to preserve rather than quash the life of the place. The pedestrian flow is not currently systematized, and thought hasn’t been given to a place for people to wait and meet their friends or colleagues.

Who is doing the makeover?

The architectural firm Snøhetta is famous for the National Opera and Ballet project in Oslo, which was one of the first buildings to combine the functions of cultural establishment and public space: you can walk around on its roof while peering through the giant windows of its central hall. Despite being built fairly recently – 10 years ago – it has already become a world-renowned symbol of the city. Another of Snøhetta’s significant projects was the reconstruction of Times Square in New York. One of the most heavily-trafficked knots in the city has now been transformed into an exemplary pedestrian square. In addition, the firm’s portfolio includes the new wing of the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, a looking-glass hotel in the Swedish forests, and the design for the Norwegian 1000-krone note.

After

The firm did an investigation of what points of attraction there are on the square, both within a small and larger radius. It was this research that informed the development of schematic diagrams of city-dwellers’ behavior: where people most often wait or meet, where musicians play, how the pedestrian flow moves. Snøhetta began with functional solutions: they optimized the circulation pattern and defined some quiet zones. According to their plan, a plastic figure will be placed in the center of the square, livening up the huge, empty space. The visual concept for Krymskaya Square was the idea of urban space as a backdrop for the cinematic movement of people. And so, an amphitheater, in the center of which street artists will perform, will be placed at the perimeter of the square.

THE AREA AROUND ZARYADYE: VARVARKA, KITAYGORODSKIY LANE, MOSKVORETSKAYA EMBANKMENT (DILLER SCOFIDIO + RENFRO)

The area around Zaryadye
The area around Zaryadye
The area around Zaryadye
The area around Zaryadye

Before

In 2013 the American company Diller Scofidio + Renfro won the competition for the Zaryadye Park project. When a decision was made to renovate the area around the park, they were once again invited to design the entry elements coming from Vasilevsky Descent. The scale of Zaryadye demanded particularly careful solutions for the surrounding area: the area consists of several of the earliest preserved Moscow streets, which vary widely in function and are currently practically cut off from residents. They needed to be connected into a unified, consistent system while at the same time preserving their historic character.

Who is doing the makeover?

Diller Scofidio + Renfro is an American firm and the creators of the High Line park in New York, which was set up on former railroad tracks. It was the High Line that, on the one hand, became a new symbol of the Big Apple, and on the other, raised again the question of gentrification and the difficult-to-predict economic consequences of such large-scale redevelopment projects. In addition, DS+R were involved in the reconstruction of MoMA, the design of the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Image and Sound, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

After

Varvarka Street was redesigned with the demands of historians in mind; that is why the design solutions ended up being conservative. Nonetheless, it connects the park, the street, the monastery, and the Patriarchal Metochion into a unified whole. A new pedestrian zone incorporating Bogoyavlensky Alley, Birzhevaya Square, and Rybny Alley will be created between Varvarka and Nikolskaya Street. Archeological finds will be shown in illuminated displays on Kitaygorodsky Lane. There will be new viewing points and resting places along the pedestrian route. The new center of the area will be a 20-meter-diameter fountain on Birzhevaya Square, which will be used as an ice-skating rink in winter and as a stage for performances during the warm part of the year. On the whole, all the decisions were based on the design for the park, which will be the largest recreation area in the historical center of Moscow.

TVERSKAYA ZASTAVA SQUARE (WEST 8)

Tverskaya Gate
Tverskaya Gate
Tverskaya Gate
Tverskaya Gate

Before

The square at which Tverskaya Street ends and onto which all the doors of Belorusskaya Station face is, on the one hand, a focal point for tourists, and on the other, a cause of annoyance for Muscovites. This was once where the Tversky Highway ended: this was the primary thoroughfare and the entrance to the city, and it was adorned with a triumphal arch designed by the architect Bove, a copy of which was placed on Kutuzovsky Prospect in the 1960s. Today, it is a large, quite chaotic transportation hub, a junction with some surface parking.

Who is doing the makeover?

This is not the first time that the Dutch group West 8, with Adriaan Geuze at the helm, are working in Russia. They have in their portfolio the design of the renovation of New Holland in St. Petersburg, as well as the remodeling of parts of Tverskaya in Moscow. In addition, in 2017 the firm is taking part in the renovation of the waterfront in Saratov. The main focus of West 8 is public spaces.

After

There are a few tasks for the square: separate the transport flow, bring order to the parking area, and return the function of station square to the space, which it now has in name alone. As Sytnikova explained, “People arriving at Belorusskaya Station can’t use a square that is packed with cars; they don’t get the first impression of the city that they should. We have returned this function to the space.”

The former square with a monument to Maxim Gorky has been returned to Tverskaya Zastava: the monument’s pedestal is located outside of Moscow, and Gorky himself has been “living” in Muzeon Park for several years. The square will be planted with trees, and a large grassy clearing will be left open for relaxation: a pause in the middle of the intensive motion around it. It will now be possible to wait for a train or meet with friends or colleagues here, but the traffic will remain: the pattern will have changed, but the number of lanes and possible destinations will be preserved.

The sidewalk in front of Belorusskaya Station itself will be widened to the size of a linear expanse. It will be possible to get into a taxi right at the exit from the station without having to risk your life by negotiating, as one does now, several lanes of obstacles. Instead of its current, chaotic state, the parking lot will now be a 111-car surface lot located by the station itself under the overpass on the “Aeroexpress” side. A terminal roundabout for the streetcar, removed in 2008 for the construction of an office complex, will be located at the perimeter of the square. The reconstruction project also included the derelict area on the other side of Leningradsky Prospect up to Belaya Square, which the city has not been able to fix up for a long time. A park will be located there, through which will be placed a transit route for both users of the station and workers from the offices on Belaya Square and the surrounding neighborhoods. The tunnel under the Tverskoy overpass extends the pedestrian pathway: the dark and uncomfortable corridor will be fixed up and illuminated with graphic screens.

KHOKHLOVSKAYA SQUARE (DJAO-RAKITINE)

Khokhlovskaya square
Khokhlovskaya square
Khokhlovskaya square
Khokhlovskaya square

Before

For many years, this had been a derelict, unfinished construction project with underground parking in a lively part of the Boulevard Ring at the intersection with Pokrovka Street. After the foundation of the walls of Bely Gorod were discovered, construction was frozen.

Who is doing the makeover?

The studio of Djao-Rakitine, which works with cultural heritage, was invited to work on this space, and it was proposed that they develop the historical significance of the area. Djao-Rakitine is a London landscape company that works on public and private cultural projects. The studio designed the public space for the Selfridges department store in London, urban spaces in Luxembourg, and also the 337-hectare campus for the Sacle (France) business cluster.

After

Djao-Rakitine proposed the creation of a natural amphitheater. Its stage will be the exposed white-stone wall. The wall of Bely Gorod has been recognized as a cultural heritage site of federal significance, and the section of it at Khokhlovskaya Square is one of the largest and most well-preserved: it covers almost 300 square meters in area. The amphitheater will be located below street level and so will be an enclosed space, within which it will be possible to get away from the noise of the center of the city and focus on this quiet, historical section of Moscow.

The natural topography of the square will be enhanced by the trees which will be planted, among other places, in the amphitheater itself. Its surface will be permeable, made of a new composite material that has never been used in Moscow before: natural, fine-grained granite chips reinforced with polymer.

Khokhlovskaya Square will also be divided into two tiers. On the upper tier will be a wide pedestrian zone with wooden benches and summer cafes with verandas, which will be lit by energy-saving lighting fixtures. In the center of the lower tier will be a square with the white-stone wall; this will be used as a stage for holding outdoor events. In the evening hours, the monument will also be lit by LED lamps.

BOLOTNAYA SQUARE (OKRA)

Bolotnaya Square and waterfront
Bolotnaya Square and waterfront
Bolotnaya Square and waterfront
Bolotnaya Square and waterfront

Before

Until recently, Bolotnaya Square was a place of estrangement: a wide automotive thoroughfare passes through, and it has been blocked for many years and not used for its intended function. The square is adjoined by another small square, which is likewise cut off from the waterfront.

Who is doing the makeover?

Okra specializes in designing waterfronts and urban landscapes with an emphasis on natural elements. Among the firm’s projects are the Cutty Sark Gardens in London, which descend by steps to the water; as well as the Boulevard de Wielingen in Cadzand-Bad, which stretches along the coast; and the center of the city of Basel. They developed the renovation plan for Domplain, a residential district in Utrecht, under which were buried the remains of a Roman castellum.

After

Okra proposed uniting Repin Square with the waterfront: although a two-lane service road remains between them, traffic there will not be intense, and they will be easy to cross by a surface cross-walk. A new use will be added to the huge parking lot near Bolotnaya Square: tourist buses bringing people to see Zaryadye, the Tretyakov Gallery, and the Pushkin Museum will now stop there. These types of buses are quite cumbersome; they can’t be left in the city, and need a place to wait for tour groups. The parking lot will accommodate 70. In addition, Okra proposed three levels of greenery, and among the bushes and new trees there will be an abundance of places to relax.

Text: Dmitry Nazarov
Translation: Jonah Simpson