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The young architects changing the face of Moscow (Part 2)

, People
Photographer Egor Slizyak

In the second part of our story about the renovation of the streets of the Russian capital, we speak to the architects who created the observation sites on the medieval Varvarka Street, brought trees back to central Tverskaya Street, and revamped the modernist Novy Arbat.

We continue the story about the architects who worked on the “My Street” project. The first part of the publication sparked some angry comments from locals and motorist groups on social media. Besides lamentations about the number of paving stones and insults directed at the architects, they have been accused of having no right to change Moscow, and generally criticized for being too confident for their young age. 

It needs to be noted that they worked according to the principle of co-projecting: Russian and foreign firms developed ideas, and architects from Strelka KB adapted them and put them into practice on the streets of Moscow. It was always teamwork, in which many people and organizations took part, including residents, materials suppliers, and construction workers. 

 

Daniil Khlebnikov, 30

Architect at Strelka Architects. Graduate of Irkutsk National Technical University

Dmitry Stolbovoy, 26, Architect at  the Herzog & De Meuron Bureau. Graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute and MARCH Architecture School

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Project: Novy Arbat. Developed the project together with the German studio Topotek 1 and the Moscow bureau Tsimaylo Lyashenko & Partners.

Novy Arbat was built based on a project by Mikhail Posokhin that envisaged a large-scale reconstruction of the whole area, but it was not implemented completely. Because of this, the street seems cut off from adjacent buildings. Topotek 1’s idea was to finally integrate Novy Arbat into the fabric of the city. The project was difficult because the street combines historical buildings and Soviet modernist architecture. In addition, Novy Arbat is divided into two parts: one side is for walking, entertainment, and social life, and the other is more residential.

Haphazard parking, chaotically placed billboards, and a variety of cafes appeared on the street in the 1990s. As its main task, Topotek envisioned the revival of the original spirit of the Posokhin project, adapting it to the contemporary needs of the city. 

We arranged all the elements, created a technical zone in which the billboards were placed, and also made sure that most of the illegal construction was removed.

During the work phase, the concept of the German bureau went almost unchanged – there were only a few points that we adapted together. For example, it was important to take into account that Novy Arbat is a governmental route, so it was required to maintain the width of the allocated lane. We specifically measured the road to prove that it was wider than necessary. However, we couldn’t drastically narrow down the roadway. As a result, the footpath turned out to be three meters narrower than initially planned by the German bureau. Their other solutions did not take into account the historical context. For example, it was planned to plant more trees on the site near the medieval Church of Simeon Stylites. But this church is a signature landmark of Novy Arbat, so we placed the greenery on the side, so as not to spoil the picture-postcard view of the monument.

The main problem for the residential side is an absence of courtyard spaces near the buildings. People live almost directly on the roadway. In places where there used to be haphazard parking, we set up small parks, so that it was possible to achieve connectivity for people to freely move between these spaces. On Molchanovka Street, we set up parking exclusively for residents and placed taxi stops near key facilities. On the side of the street housing a group of 26-storey buildings (the so-called ‘Book Houses’) we created a hybrid space changing to serve the needs of the city. On weekdays you can park there, and during the weekend parking is closed and this area is turned into a square. The parking is on the same level as the sidewalk and a tree is planted every five parking spaces, so that pedestrians have a more pleasant experience. Long benches serve to highlight the silhouettes of the ‘Book Houses.’

We discussed all our plans with residents: they were present at local government meetings. This was also not easy, because everyone has their own opinion: some agreed with our ideas, and others did not like anything at all. 

We explained that we are creating a space specifically for the residents of Novy Arbat: we are expanding the sidewalk, making a pedestrian alley, and working within the framework of Posokhin’s original ideas. When the construction began, social networks started buzzing with negative comments. But now we can see how the street has been filled with life: new cafes and festival pavilions have opened, and swings have been installed. Now if you follow the hashtag #новыйарбат (#NovyArbat) you can see a lot of people who enjoy the space and spend their time there This, perhaps, can be considered to be the essence of renovation.

 

Alexander Kachalov, 38, and Sergey Fomin, 38 

Architects at the "Plan B" bureau. Graduates of Yaroslavl State Technical University

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Project: Area of Tverskaya Street extending from Nastasyensky Lane to Triumfalnaya Square 

The main idea of our project was to create mini-squares at the intersection of Tverskaya with the adjacent streets and lanes. We saw  summer cafes, festival zones, and areas for musicians set up here. For various reasons, not everything was put into practice. One of the reasons for this  was physical limitations: in other parts of Tverskaya, the roadway is initially wider. In order to avoid creating a bottleneck narrowing of lanes, we needed to maintain the same sidewalk width. In some places, they were narrowed down so that we could introduce an exit lane. 

We managed, it seems, to make this part of Tverskaya more pleasant for pedestrians. We returned the trees, although not as many as planned: a large number of underground utilities tied our hands. Additional trash bins and benches will be placed in the area. We managed to partially start adding plants on the adjacent streets and setting up street lights. Since the space in the alleys is narrower, special lights are required, so we added lower-level floor lamps there. In addition, flower beds will be added to the lawns under the trees in the spring.

Any architect is pleased when their project is brought to life and becomes part of the city’s daily life. We can quickly see the results of our work – when people like an area, it immediately becomes more vibrant.

 

Pyotr Mironenko, 24

Architect at Strelka Architects. Graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute

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Project: Sretenka Street

Sretenka Street is a very demonstrative project, because it had all the major urban problems. Many of them manifested in the details: no wide sidewalks to plant trees or to place benches and flower beds. We were tasked with making the street more functional. For example, to set up the sidewalk so that there are no steps at the entrances to cafes.

Our main achievement was the intersection of Sretenka with Sukharevskaya Square. Previously, the pavement there was very narrow, and the pedestrian crossing led to nowhere – the whole area came out on a transition to a narrow square. We managed to relocate the rainwater outlets and expand the pedestrian zone.

Like on many historic streets in Moscow, a fragment of pre-revolutionary paving was dug out on Sretenka. We wanted to connect it to a landmark building, so we placed these paving stones next to the Temple of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and made a front garden there. Previously, there was a chaotic parking lot and at times even a garbage dump, instead. 

In general, everything turned out as planned: the pedestrian zone was cleared and road signs were moved to the service area. The fact that it was possible to put street lamps there is also an achievement. There are a lot of utility networks at this site, so it was a problem to remove the expansions under the ground. Our project created a neutral background against which the beautiful buildings of Sretenka are perceived in a new way.

 

Alyona Guk, 30 

Architect at Buromoscow. Graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm 

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Project: Prechistenka Street

Prechistenka is a historic street that has kept its atmosphere: it has many mansions and museums. Our task was to simultaneously make it modern for convenience and save its original appearance.

The main requirement here, as on all the streets, was to narrow the roadway. Here it was important that pedestrians could not only see the road, but also look around at the buildings, and it was for this purpose that the sidewalks were expanded. We also took into account that there are museums on Prechistenka and provided parking for tourist buses. With the help of paving stones, we wanted to focus attention on the entrances to museum buildings: they are indicated by arrows made of darker stone. We planned for historical information to be provided on the the arrows, but this was not put to practice.

It's nice to realize that I'm involved in improving the quality of the environment and creating a more comfortable atmosphere. But, of course, there will always be people who have a different perception of what is comfortable, so, of course, I am afraid that it is impossible to make everyone happy.

 

Andris Rubenis, 36 

Chief architect of “My Street” project, Strelka KB. Graduate of Riga Technical University

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Project: Managed the development and adaptation of projects for all areas of the"My Street” project and entrances to Zaryadye park. The project for areas surrounding Zaryadye was developed together with the Dutch bureau Okra, the entrances to the park are designed based on the concept of the American studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Varvarka Street is based on the idea of the German bureau Latz + Partner.

Our task was to connect all the ways leading to Zaryadye, and to think over how to accommodate the entrances to the park. For example, we managed to reorganize the space on Moskvoretskaya Street and rebuild the roads – now there is a square that can be seen from different points.

When our work began on the old streets of Moscow, we dug out pre-Soviet paving stones on many on them. We collected them and used them to lay out a part of the road leading to the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge. It seemed interesting, because the paving stone on Red Square was relaid in the 1970s, but this paving stone was original, from pre-revolutionary times. Since this is where the city meets the park, we wanted to lay out the entire road with these paving stones, ending on the bridge, butut this was not technically possible.

Varvarka Street is flanked by Rybny and Khrustalny Lanes, which are now pedestrian. On Varvarka we also decided to extend the pedestrian route from Moskvoretskaya Street. We wanted to make it wider so that you can sit there and look at the park from above. The bridge - the entrance to the Rossiya Hotel  - used to lead to the street. It was shortened, and all that was left were two balconies. We were so happy when we saw them and set up small viewing platforms on them. On the parapets, we depicted what old Moscow looked like from this place: from there one could see the outlines of all the churches and buildings depicted on the fences and railings. Previously, the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin stood at the intersection of Varvarka and Rybny Lane. Using lines of white tiles, we showed how this street originally looked and where the buildings were located. In addition, signs with historical references were placed there. From the outside, it all looks like a simple design and only attracts the attention of those who are really interested.

We also recreated the old street lamps. We found photos and reconstructed them. It is fascinating that the lighting technique applied in those street lamps makes it possible to illuminate both sides of the street very well.

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