Five young architects changing the face of Moscow

Strelka Magazine talks to the architects who brought gardens back to the Garden Ring, turned an abandoned construction trench into an amphitheater, and made the Kremlin embankment pedestrian-friendly. 

More than 80 spaces in Moscow have been modernized by Russian and Western architectural bureaus as part of the “My Street” program during the past year. The work was based on co-designing: invited architects and teams developed their ideas based on the technical assignment from Strelka KB, and Strelka KB’s experts adapted their ideas to Moscow’s environment in turn. Strelka Magazine asked the people who participated in the “My Street” projects what it feels like to know that this is really "their street."

Dasha Alekseenko, 27 

Architect, Project Manager at Strelka KB. Graduate of the State University of Land Management

Project: Garden Ring. Developed the project with Norwegian bureau Snohetta, French agency Villes & Paysages, German studio Topotek-1, French bureau Michel Desvigne Paysagiste, Dutch firm Juurlink en Geluk, Russian bureau Cosmos, French architect Irene Djao Rakitine, Danish bureau Vega Landskab, and the German firm Latz + Partner.

"The main idea of the whole project of the Garden Ring is to finally bring back the gardens, give priority to public transport, and also to narrow the traffic lanes. Previously,  gardens were only present in the name – the Garden Ring – and they were 20 separate streets with different appearances. It was important for us to connect these sections. To do this, we planted trees, made land crossings, and connected pedestrian nodes, such as Serpukhov Square. Of all the interchanges and crossroads we had to do on the Garden Ring, this section was the most difficult and unpleasant for everyone – cars, public transport, and pedestrians – before reconstruction. Drivers got confused and created accident-prone situations, and pedestrians were forced to use underground crossings. We created a convenient space by changing the transport scheme and optimising the width of the road. 

"A good urban environment reduces the level of resentment in society – it humanizes the city."

We tried to come up with as many functional solutions as possible. The sidewalk on the Garden Ring consists of several types of paving stones: along the edges they’re smaller, and the main traffic zone consists of large pieces. Smaller stones are easy to disassemble; for example, to put up new road signs and parking meters. It's easy to skateboard, ride a bike, or just walk in the zones consisting of larger slabs of stone. 

You can’t see it,  but it was difficult to plant trees in the technical zone. Usually there’s a network of utility lines under roadways and we had to be careful not to dig more than one and a half meters deep. In the spring, we plan to plant bushes along the Garden Ring. Urban greenery serves the purposes of reducing noise and creating a visual border between the pedestrian zone and roadway. The bushes are also designed to defend against dust. It will be a sort of hedge, holding back sound and clearing the air.

I feel joy and professional pride for my projects – it's nice to make life for city residents more comfortable. I think that a good urban environment reduces the level of resentment in society – it humanizes the city."

Gulnara Safarova, 36 

Architect at KB Strelka. Graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute and South Devon College in the UK

Project:  Khokhlovskaya Square. Developed the project with Irene Djao Rakitine.

"The whole project is subordinated to an archaeological find – a section of the wall of the Bely Gorod (White City). We did a lot of work to leave this wall as it was discovered without erecting a protective structure over it. An open demonstration of archeology is a world practice that is rarely implemented in our country. The masonry of the wall was completely cleared, dismantled, and reassembled: each stone was covered with special compounds that repel water and protect it. Modern blocks were added to give more strength to the construction, but I tried to minimize their use.

The main task was to link the two levels of Khokhlovka, as the site of the wall is located lower than the boulevard by three meters. The amphitheater turned out to be a logical solution. We wanted to place together antiquity and modernity for contrast, so that's why the key material used was grey concrete, very unusual for Moscow.  Black concrete, used for a retaining wall, was also chosen in order to contrast the wall of Bely Gorod.

According to the initial plan, the amphitheater was to house 40-year-old pine trees, which would complete this minimalistic composition. Unfortunately, in the final stages of the project they were replaced by bushes, and this is another example of how project ideas are transformed when it comes down to reality. 

Sonia Sverdlova, 27 

Architect at KB Strelka. Graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute

Project: Tverskaya Zastava Square. Developed the project together with the Dutch Bureau West8 and Plan B from Yaroslavl.

"The main idea was to create a large new park around the Gorky monument that was restored to the square and to organize a transport interchange. We based the project on a plan given by the Department of Transport. The problem was to adjust the plan to our project. For example, we planned to make a large pedestrian square near the train station, but a part of this space had to be given to a bus lane.

Along with the rest of the team we are very proud that instead of the empty space that was on the Butyrsky Val street side, there is now a mini-park. We wanted to create a feeling of being close to nature there, so we used ‘terra way’ permeable pavement for the paths, like they use in parks. The design of the pavilion for a cafe in the square was based on the buildings of the guardhouses that used to be on the square next to Moscow’s Triumphal arch.

In the course of construction, of course, we had to give up some ideas. For example, we wanted to remove the support for the communications network from this site, since trolleybuses don’t pass here anymore. But that didn’t work out. In general, we managed to make the public space as we intended. In addition, there is a lot of greenery here now, and we solved the problem of the eternal traffic jam in this area. 

Anton Ivanov, 30

Architect at Strelka KB. Graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute and the Strelka Institute

Project: Kremlin Embankment. The street was designed with the Dutch Bureau West8.

"The idea of the project of modernizing the Kremlin embankment was very simple: we needed to create a convenient passage from Moskvoretskaya Tower to Vodovzvodnaya Tower. We worked with the Dutch Bureau West8. At first, we had many impracticable ideas like doing an amphitheater, boulevard, and garden. We ended up with a more down to earth and functional version. Previously, the footpath on the Kremlin embankment was on the same level as the roadway; that is, people walked along a road with car fumes. We raised the terrain and made the footpath higher. Now pedestrians walk on the same level as the roofs of the cars, and they have a view of the other side of the river.

"Public space can be considered successful when it is not noticeable, when a person simply feels comfortable there." 

Many restrictions were imposed because of the Kremlin's security status, so we were limited in the choice of street furniture. But I think that in the near future the Kremlin should become more open for the the city’s residents and alternative routes will appear in it. I hope that our project is the first step in this direction.

Public space can be considered successful when it is not noticeable, when a person simply feels comfortable there. Here we have achieved this: the space is comfortable, high-quality, and well executed."

Arthur Makarov, 23 

Architect at Strelka KB. Graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute

Project: Novaya Square. The project was developed based on a concept by the American landscape architect Martha Schwartz.

“In the first place, we worked with the historical context – there are many iconic buildings on the street: for example, the Church of St. John the Apostle. In addition, Novaya Square is part of the Kremlin Ring, in which all the streets, according to the Strelka KB project, have a single design. This also had to be taken into account.

If you look at old photos, the pavement here was a half or two meters wide, and most of the road was occupied by car lanes. In addition, near the end of the street, all nine lanes converged into two or three – there was always a big traffic jam. Cars parked on the sidewalks in several rows, and in order to pass it was necessary squeeze against the facades of buildings.

"When the project is completed, you realize that you have given people a different quality of life, and created a more organized public space."

We expanded the sidewalks, set up benches, and planted trees. Initially, there should have been three rows of trees to make the street a boulevard, but that did not work out. The main part of the sidewalk is made up of chaotic paving, and its axis from a lighter stone is clearly oriented at the high-rise building on Kotelnicheskaya embankment seen from here.

The zone around the Lubyanka metro station was to be designed so that there was no dissonance with the historical background. We decided to associate the entrance to the station with a person's transition underground. To do this, we laid out dark tiles in the form of tongues that seem to creep out of the arches. With the help of this technique, we tried to create a feeling of a vacuum which seems to lure the pedestrian underground.

When the project is completed, you realize that you have given people a different quality of life, and created a more organized public space. Such things lift people up to some extent. I see how they stop throwing garbage on the sidewalk and start looking for the garbage bin with their eyes. I always believed that the environment strongly influences the psychology of behaviour. And I'm glad to be part of the changes in society. "

Text: Alexandra Dorfman
Translation: Ekaterina Motyakina

Photos by Egor Slizyak / Strelka Institute