, Cities

Five Design Visions Rethinking One of Moscow’s Largest Embankments

Author: Lynsey Free

Pushkinskaya Embankment is one of Moscow’s most prominent—yet sparse—public spaces. Located in Gorky Park, it connects the historic center to the city’s vast green area. In 2017, Strelka KB invited five offices to conduct design studies reimagining Pushkinskaya Embankment.

Gorky Park in 1923. Image courtesy of Gorky Park

The architecture firms presented their projects showing how the embankment in Russia’s most famous park could be improved for Muscovites and visitors alike. Each of those firms—COOP HIMMELB(L)AU, !melk, OKRA, Openfabric, and Reserve Creative Production Union—put their own creative spin on the space, embracing the park’s waterfront location, its history, and its endless possibilities for the future.

The ideas presented below showcase the importance of the space and how its potential can be unleashed in forward-thinking ways that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and sustainable.


1. Coop Himmelb(l)au: Embracing Water

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Images courtesy of Coop Himmelb(l)au

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International architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au chose to embrace the surrounding elements of Pushkinskaya Embankment, including the waters of the Moskva River, when coming up with its competition submission.

Channeling the force of the water and its liquid and flowing form, the firm’s design for Pushkinskaya Embankment centers on natural flowing zones for social interaction and activities, allowing the visitor to experience the space as a “pulsating, flowing sequence of wide and narrow spaces.” Coop Himmelb(l)au acknowledges the “rigid and deterministic” layout of Gorky Park which is affected by forces that run along the main axes of the green space. As a result, event zones would be spatially defined by the bulges of the park edge, embracing existing curvature and avoiding monotonous straightness. When darkness falls, pedestrians would be guided by seamless light strings, generating a visible orientation system which would be recognizable from far away.

Image courtesy of Coop Himmelb(l)au

Underfloor heating, provided by renewable energy sources, would allow the promenade to be used year-round, even in the coldest of winter months. A river deck would be home to a public swimming pool in the summer, while a sliding floor would cover the pool in the winter to provide a stage for concerts and other events.

The park gates would be welcoming and prominent, featuring entrance sculptures that would also function as vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) for harvesting renewable energy.


2. !melk: Looking to the Past & the Future

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Images courtesy of !melk

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Embracing the historic past of Gorky Park while also looking towards the future, !melk acknowledges the need for “functional zoning” while also prioritizing a space that would be “enticing, beautiful, and uniquely Moscow.”

One of the key features proposed by the New York-based firm is a distinctive pavement pattern which would create a strong linkage between Pushkinskaya Embankment and the adjacent areas of Gorky Park. Clusters of elevated planters would help to define zones of activity and create dynamic routes of travel that encourage both socialization and relaxation.

Image courtesy of !melk

The firm also designed an observation tower that would soar 50 meters into the sky, offering the “best panoramic views of Moscow found anywhere in the city.” The tower would be connected to the public space by a “dramatic ramp” that leads visitors into the structure. From there, they would have a choice of taking an elevator or stairs to the top. Back on the ground, the base of the tower would house a large space for a restaurant or other cultural facility, while the interior could also be configured for special uses including exhibition spaces and demonstration areas which would showcase the tower’s integrated sustainability components such as wind, solar, and water reclamation.

An “Infrastructure and Service” area would be complete with small kiosks, restaurants, and a multifunctional pavilion, while the “Main Entrance Area” would include a ticketing kiosk for events taking place in the park. Gateway structures would also be placed in this area to add to the embankment’s iconicity.


3. OKRA: Reconnecting with Water

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Images courtesy of OKRA

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The Dutch-based firm OKRA also chose to embrace the water element of Pushkinskaya Embankment, with its design aiming to “reconnect Moscow’s citizens to the water” through new steps and ramps, a lower walk along the water, and a floating deck for water sports. Playful elements would provide space for sports and summer activities, while “lush greenhouses in a wonderful small forest” would invite people to enjoy the park even on cold winter days.

OKRA believes that one of the key priorities of the project is to understand the greatness of Gorky Park and the joy it has brought to the lives of people from Moscow and beyond. This quality, it believes, should be linked to the future image of the park and to the waterfront. As such, the historical grid of the park would be elongated through clusters of tree planting, while paved areas suitable for larger events would be enclosed.

Image courtesy of OKRA

Scaffolding would be added along the water, bringing people in direct contact with the Moskva River. In addition to this, a balcony above the river at the entrance of the park would attract spectators. A lower river walkway would also be present, as well as a multi-functional floating deck with a cafe and sauna.

The proposal would strongly contribute to the sustainable city through inclusive climate adaptive measures such as tree planting, upgraded paving, and impressive fog fountains.


4. Openfabric: Embracing the Experimental

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Images courtesy of Openfabric

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Choosing to embrace the experimental tradition of Gorky Park which has been alive since the First All-Russian Agricultural and Handicraft Industries Exhibition in 1923, the proposal by international architecture firm Openfabric includes a “Theatre of Wonders,” a form of public space where the “audience” would become an active part of the play—and where functions become performances. It aims to rebalance the ratio between leisure and culture, reinforcing the latter by reinterpreting the original principles of the park.

Openfabric’s proposal enhances Pushkinskaya Embankment’s connection with Gorky Park, becoming its “mineral counterpart”—a space for organized and occasional events and performances.

Image courtesy of Openfabric

The embankment would be spatially defined by Granite Square to the north and Alphabet Square to the south, defining an elongated central event space. A Low Embankment would be situated to the west and a Multifunctional Strip (a continuous wooden surface) to the east.

An extended and light metal structure would be located on the central part of the embankment which would integrate scenographic lighting typologies that would create dramatic effects after dark while also reducing the need for temporary structures for events. Art installations could also be hung from the frame, giving extra space for exhibitions.


5. Reserve Creative Production Union: Breaking Down Divisions

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In its proposal, the Russia-based Reserve Creative Production Union addresses a problem faced by Pushkinskaya Embankment—the lack of direct access to the water which limits possible scenarios for using the embankment. Acknowledging this fact, the firm set out to design a way to recreate the park, which it believes is divided in a poor way, with large open areas inorganically standing out from the green fabric of the park. That division “visually and physically separates the park from the most important natural element—the river.”

The firm seeks to provide the area with new qualities, by making existing areas multi-functional and creating new centers of activity, and developing new scenarios for use of the territory that meet all the needs of a modern public space, thereby improving the quality of life and recreation for citizens.

This includes evenly distributing visitor flows and improving the connection between the upper level of the embankment and the river bank. The comprehensive reorganization of the territory would give the architects the “opportunity to create a new environment with a unique balance of urban, public, and private interests.”

While the reorganization would lead to a more organic flow of one structure into another, the firm stresses that those areas should not be completely blurred with one another, as it is necessary to preserve the characteristics inherent in each model of space.

The firm seeks to provide areas for rest, entertainment, and education, while embracing the waterfront and its picturesque setting which is ideal for walks and water sports. It also envisions a pier, observation deck, and a bar/restaurant to be enjoyed by visitors, along with several art objects placed along the shore.

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