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How to turn an abandoned construction pit into a city’s top public space

, Cities

Khokhlovskaya Square – a sleek amphitheater in central Moscow, which replaced a stalled construction site and became a new type of public space in the city and a unique case of preservation – has won the Moscow Urban Forum award for best urban design.

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Khokhlovskaya Square / Photos: Mark Seryy

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The project was created last year by Strelka KB and French landscape architect Irene Djao Rakitine as part of the major My Street renovation program. The site is located on a busy part of the Boulevard Ring – a chain of boulevards encircling the historic center of Moscow – at the intersection with Pokrovka Street.

For decades, up until the 90s, the square was just a parking lot.

Parking lot, 1987 / Photo: Vitaly Tsarin

Photo: Vitaly Tsarin

In early 2000s, a shopping mall construction turned the site into a huge pit. However, work was halted in 2007 after a surprising archeological find – a segment of the 16th century Bely Gorod fortification wall that marked the border of medieval Moscow. A lack of funding led to abandonment of the site. The deserted construction pit had been an eyesore to Muscovites for more than a decade, collecting rainwater and garbage. It was also a major obstacle for pedestrians strolling down the Boulevard Ring. Khokhlovskaya Square was one of many stalled construction sites that plagued the country in the 1990s and 2000s.

Panorama view of the construction site on Khokhlovskaya Sq. (2008-2018)

The renovation project sought to create a public space that preserves the archeological find and gives it back to the city. As the Boulevard Ring is one of the longest walking routes in the city, it was important to remove the construction pit. The idea was to turn this “black hole” into a center of gravity for the local community and businesses.

Panorama view of the construction site on Khokhlovskaya Sq. (2008-2018)

The Bely Gorod wall that surrounded the historic core of Moscow was taken down under Catherine the Great in the 18th century, making way for a chain of boulevards, now known as the Boulevard Ring. A fragment of the Bely Gorod wall discovered at Khokhlovskaya Square is a unique gateway to Moscow’s past and important part of its historical heritage.

Before and after

Strelka KB and Irene Djao Rakitine proposed turning the site into a public area with an amphitheater, and showcasing the discovered section of the wall of Bely Gorod. The first architectural object of its kind in Moscow, the amphitheater descends meters below street level down to the well-preserved fragment of the wall. Behind the 16th century fortification is a concrete wall covered by vines.

The site was fenced off for years (October 2015)

Fenced off for over a decade, Khokhlovskaya Square has become an exceptional public space open to everyone. It is now a major center of gravity for residents and tourists, attracting many new customers to local businesses. The greater flow of people into the area fostered the opening of new trendy spots, including one of the most popular pizzerias in the city. The renovation made an archeological find the centerpiece of an open public space – such cases of careful and thoughtful preservation are rare in Russia. This project is a great example of how Russian cities could treat, reinvent, and regenerate their heritage sites.

Khokhlovksaya Sq. after the renovation

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