Inteko's Orange-Shaped Building Creates Stir

IntekoThe 80,000-square-meter Apelsin project, split into five 15-story segments.
A striking design by British architect Norman Foster in the shape of a giant orange is the latest proposed addition to Moscow's bustling skyline.

The project is being touted by Inteko, the firm owned by Mayor Yury Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, as a potential replacement for the Central House of Artists, which is home to one of the city's biggest modern art galleries, the New Tretyakov.

There is just one problem.

Neither the Tretyakov nor the artists' organizations that own part of the building say they have heard anything about a possible tender to redevelop the prime riverside site, next to Gorky Park. None of the occupants say they have any plans to pull the Soviet-era building down.

Inteko unveiled Foster's futuristic design, Apelsin, which resembles the splayed segments of a huge orange, in a presentation at the MIPIM real estate exhibition in Cannes, France, earlier this month.

The occupants of the building, the New Tretyakov Gallery and the International Confederation of Artists' Unions, are outraged that a plan to redevelop the site could be drawn up without informing them, and said this week that they were going public with their complaints in a bid to stir up public debate.

"No one from Inteko has ever told us anything about these plans. ... It was completely unexpected," said Valentin Rodionov, general director of the Tretyakov Gallery, which houses its modern art collection in the building.

"Of course it came as a big shock," Rodionov said. "The first time I heard anything about the plans was when I saw something on television a week ago."

Inteko said it had done nothing wrong by publicizing the conceptual designs and that the current occupants would be rehoused within the new development. The artists accused the company of starting a public relations battle over the fate of the site and fear that they could be squeezed out to make way for more lucrative luxury apartments.

"Along with the Bolshoi Theater and Pushkin Museum, this is one of the most visited and highly regarded cultural hubs in Moscow -- it has become a cult place," said Masut Fatkulin, chairman of the management committee for the International Confederation of Artists' Unions, which has its headquarters in the building.

"Whatever happens, this should remain a cultural center. The function of the building should not be changed," Fatkulin said.

The 61,000-square-meter concrete monster houses the Tretyakov's treasure trove of 20th-century Russian art. Since it opened in 1979, more than 30 million people have visited its exhibitions, of which it holds about 300 a year.

While the gallery has an indefinite lease on 60 percent of the space from the Federal Property Management Agency, the artists' confederation actually owns the rest of the building and has a lease on the land it stands on until 2025.

As a cultural center, the site falls under the remit of the federal, not the city, authorities.

"Imagine, we are the owners of a building and someone seems to have decided to tear it down without even asking us about it," Fatkulin said.

"If there is to be a tender, then there is an official procedure for taking these sorts of decisions," he said. "And as owners, we have not even been consulted in any way."

Inteko agreed that it was up to the owners to hold a tender but argued that the company was just planning for the future.

"It is the prerogative of the building's owners to announce the organization of a new tender," Gennady Terebkov, head of Inteko's communications department, said in a written response to questions.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
The Central House of Artists would be demolished to make way for Apelsin.

Pointing to a failed tender to redevelop the site in 2001, the company argues that they're just slightly ahead of the game. Now, if a new tender were to be held for the reconstruction of the site, then Inteko says it would have the plans for the Apelsin project ready.

"At the MIPIM real estate exhibition, Inteko simply announced its new Apelsin project and the possibility of putting forward the project for any tender to redevelop the Central House of Artists," Terebkov said.

From Khanty-Mansiisk to central Moscow, Foster's spectacular designs have rapidly become a firm favorite with Russian developers. Split into five 15-story segments, the 80,000-square-meter Apelsin project would include a hotel and luxury apartments. The ground floor would be given over to the gallery.

Another futuristic Foster design, for the spectacular Crystal Island project in the south of the city on the banks of the Moscow River, has already stirred public protests over worries that it will blot out the skyline of the neighboring UNESCO-protected Kolomenskoye Monastery.

Although the Apelsin plans have been drawn up without consulting either of the current occupants of the Central House of Artists, and they both say the current site is absolutely fine for their needs, Terebkov insisted that the new project would offer them an equivalent and far more comfortable home.

"If they said they'd build us a brand new building with more exhibition space and better facilities then we'd be happy -- but it seems they are planning to build elite housing," Fatkulin said. "We have no idea what will happen to us."

Most people agree that if it were knocked down, the Central House of Artists would not be, at least aesthetically speaking, a great loss to Moscow's architectural heritage.

"It's true that it's not the most attractive building -- it looks like a factory or some other sort of industrial building," said Rodionov, the Tretyakov director.

Even if the current functionalist monolith is not ideal and the Central House of Artists outmoded, some in Moscow's art community said they feared that what comes next could be even worse.

"I don't really like the place. It's dark and hideous, and if they were to build something new and attractive there, I think that would be wonderful," said Katya Golitsyna, an acclaimed photographer. "But they seem set on building this awful new eyesore instead."

"The Central House of Artists has stopped being a real center for cultural life -- it's just a bazaar where you can show anything -- but if anything happened to the Tretyakov it would be a tragedy," she said.

Despite Inteko's insistence that it is waiting for the owners to announce an official tender, reports are circulating that a backroom deal over the fate of the site is being hatched.

The firm has already discussed the issue with the relevant federal government ministries, Vedomosti reported, citing a senior unidentified official in the city government. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry and the Federal Property Management Agency are considering giving their support to the project, a source close to Inteko told the newspaper.

A ministry spokeswoman for the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said she could not comment on the issue, and a spokeswoman for the Federal Property Management Agency said it needed a week to respond to questions.

"No one has informed us officially about any reconstruction plans or tender," said Natalya Uvarova, a spokeswoman for the Federal Cultural and Cinematography Agency, which handles property matters for cultural sites. "We have received nothing from Inteko, or anyone else."

Given Inteko's impressive record in winning tenders, the artists said the firm would make a formidable opponent.

"We understand that this is a very serious matter and not just empty chatter, and we want there to be some public debate about the project," said Fatkulin, of the artists' confederation.