Developments Rise Over Moscow's Historic Field

MTFour towers standing beside the 22-story Parus building, dubbed "the Ear," on Monday. They are part of the Grand Park development in northwestern Moscow.
One of Moscow's last wide-open spaces, Khodynskoye Pole, is being encircled by high-rise buildings as part of a city-backed plan to develop the area. The latest to go up is Parus, or sail, for its curved shape, although locals have taken to calling it "the Ear."

The field, often referred to as Khodynka, has had a checkered history. In 1896, it was the scene of a terrible crowd disaster at Nicholas II's coronation, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. Later, it served as Moscow's first airport, and rusting planes still stand along its runway. Now, the historic area in northwestern Moscow is used primarily for car shows and rehearsals of Victory Day parades.

The 22-story Parus apartment building, part of the Grand Park development, has one side like the curved edge of a wheel, while the other slopes down more gradually. It stands on the southern side of Khodynskoye Pole, flanked by four towers in assorted pastel colors and a lower-rise development of multilevel blocks.

The buildings, which include more than 1 million square meters of apartment space, were designed by architectural bureau Mosproyekt-4, which specializes in City Hall projects. Grand Park's investors are Inteko, the firm owned by billionaire Yelena Baturina, Mayor Yury Luzhkov's wife, construction company Mosfundamentstroi-6 and real estate firm Miel.

"Our idea was to create a grand, city-defining project," said Boris Uborevich-Borovsky, the chief architect of Parus. Last month, he gave a tour for members of the public and reporters, organized by Svoboda Dostupa, a group that publicizes new architecture.

The building, whose residents are now moving in, has already caught the public's attention. It was named Building of the Year 2007 by Internet voters in a competition organized by architecture web site Drugaya Moskva and Made in Future magazine.

Parus was planned as a visual continuation of the lines of the airstrip, with a tall archway "like the eye of a needle," Uborevich-Borovsky said. The investors, however, protested the loss of apartment space, and the archway was replaced with a red-colored area of facade.

The building's unusual shape was partly the result of building regulations. The architects had to remove a corner to avoid overshadowing a schoolyard, so they designed a graduated curve.

Grand Park is an attempt to create "a city within a city," according to its web site. In addition to the residential space, the development has four kindergartens, a 1,200-student school, as well as shops and businesses in the buildings' ground floors.

Parus' roof features a helicopter pad for emergency evacuations and sweeping views of Moskva-City and central Moscow. On one side, the new headquarters of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, which opened nearby in 2006, is clearly visible.

And while the building's official name may be Sail, but Andrei Bokov, head of Mosproyekt-4, now refers to it by its nickname, the Ear. "It means it's accepted by society," he said in a recent interview.

Khodynskoye Pole is "very special, because it's something like a secret land," Bokov said. "It's quite close to the city center, close to Leningradsky Prospekt, close to several metro stations, and at the same time, you do not see it from the outside."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
The first residential buildings, foreground, to go up along Khodynskoye Pole.
It's only recently that people have chosen to live next to Khodynskoye Pole. The first group of multilevel apartment blocks was finished in 2006.

The field is still surrounded by major air construction plants owned by Sukhoi, Ilyushin and Tupolev, which used to test planes on Khodynka's airstrip.

Although the residential buildings are going up at full speed, there is still little sign of two other long-announced projects for Khodynskoye Pole: a park on the southern half of the field and an aviation and space museum, which are supposed to be built beside the airstrip.

Both the park and museum are to be financed by a private investor, rather than by the city or federal government. "It's the same investors for both developments," Bokov said, identifying the company as AviaPark.

Mosproyekt-4 designed a park called "Historical Landscapes of Moscow" for the site, with different zones representing various periods in the city's history.

"It won't just be copies of historical spaces or historical parks. It will be something like a contemporary view, a contemporary sense of our history," Bokov said, adding that he wanted to put up monuments to plane constructors, pilots and cosmonauts.

So far, though, only a small section of the field has been turned into a park, with benches, sidewalks and landscaping. The rest is an atmospheric wasteland, grown over with wild flowers. Hangars on one side are used to store vehicles during Victory Day rehearsals.

Plans to build the museum were first announced in the late 1990s. Also designed by Mosproyekt-4, it is stylized to look like an airplane, with its "wings" housing exhibitions of planes. The central tower will display rockets and missiles, Bokov said. At the top, there will be offices.

The vintage Soviet planes and helicopters that are set to be the exhibits remain parked and uncovered on the airstrip, many with broken windows and rusting fuselages. The sight has stirred at least a few calls to action lately.

Yury Khardikov, the prefect of the Northern Administrative District, which includes Khodynskoye Pole, visited the airfield in April and wrote in a comment on his web site that "We don't have the right to keep the park in this shape."

Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid highlighted the planes' plight last month in a story emotively headlined "The Wings of the Motherland Are Rotting on Khodynka."

Bokov said he had no idea when the museum would open, putting the delays down to "problems of property and land usage." The infrastructure and engineering networks are in place, he said. "The land is totally prepared for the future development."

Repeated calls to AviaPark went unanswered.

Behind the planned museum, to the north of the field, will be a huge shopping complex with more than 170 stores, which is due to be completed in 2011. The architects are Moscow's ABD Architects and British group Benoy, said Alsu Zianshina, the PR manager at Magazin Magazinov, a commercial real estate consultancy that handles publicity for the mall.

The investor is a company called TVK Aviapark, whose general director, Sergei Chemerisov, previously worked as the deputy director of GUM.

Vedomosti has reported that TVK Aviapark is co-owned by Lev Khasis, the chief executive of X5 Retail Group, the country's largest food retailer.

Construction is set to begin later this year, Zianshina said.