Chief Architect Takes Moscow Back To The Drawing Board

Sergei Kuznetsov

Speech / For Req

Moscow City Hall appointed a new chief architect in August 2012. Passing the baton came at a propitious time, as Mayor Sergei Sobyanin was shifting the focus of the city's planners from one-off approval of construction on disparate sites to something resembling a general plan.

The expansion of Moscow in mid-2012 doubled its territory. The ad hoc development of settlements around Moscow's perimeter would finally be structured, with an emphasis on public transport, quick commutes from home to work, and integration with Moscow's airports.

The co-owner of an architects' bureau, still in his mid-thirties, Sergei Kuznetsov took charge of the world's 16th largest city by population. His appointment was widely seen in Russian circles as a break with the past: Someone with fewer ties to lobby groups; with less reputational capital invested in existing approaches; and with the perspective of a different generation.

The plan to integrate the old city with its new territory is a task on a huge scale. Sergei Kuznetsov told REQ's Mark Gay about the evolution of the plan for a Greater Moscow. 

Moscow has held two competitions: for plans to extend the city into a new district and to develop the former Rossiya hotel site next to the Kremlin. What is the next step?

Sergei Kuznetsov: At the moment we are preparing an international tender for a team which should have experience in implementing key park zones or public areas projects. The idea of making a modern, comfortable park zone on the territory where there used to be the hotel "Rossiya", combining recreational, entertainment and cultural functions and thus attracting not only Muscovites but visitors too, belongs to the President and is supported by Moscow Government.  The idea is to create an original, interesting park which would open onto the Moskva River embankment, with free access, and which would have infrastructure for comfortable recreation, i.e. small shops, cafes, etc. In addition to this, in its underground part, Zaryadie will have a concert hall with as many as 1,500 to 2,000 seats, underground parking and probably some shopping zones. However, all technical-economic parameters have yet to be specified in the course of putting together the terms of reference for the tender. This work has just started.

 When will a decision be taken on whether and when to start construction of the Greater Moscow project? Who will take that decision: the Mayor, the President, or a commission?

Sergei Kuznetsov: There is no need to take any special decision in order to start building. Some investors have already received papers on their private lots and construction licenses are already being issued. At the same time we are working on the terms of reference for implementing the master plan on the united territory of Greater Moscow and by the end of 2014 we are going to update the General Plan of the city's development. We expect the Moscow master plan to tie together the social-economic strategy for the city's development with its construction plans, so that it becomes the basis for implementation of various developers' and construction projects.

The French architectural agencies Antoine Grumbach & Associés and Wilmotte & Associés won the tender for the design of Greater Moscow. What are the next steps? Has the contract been signed yet? What is the schedule for the implementation of the project?

Sergei Kuznetsov: As you can conclude from the title of the tender, the project was supposed to produce a concept for Greater Moscow's development. This concept is not a strict document that will regulate the construction works, but is rather a document outlining the general principles of development and the approaches to planning the new territories. Taking into account the importance of the project, it is possible that when making the construction plans for Greater Moscow we will use the most successful elements of different concepts. But of course, the concept of the winner of the tender has the chance to be most thoroughly implemented. Still, we paid the tenderers for their work and Moscow does not have any strict liabilities to implement one particular concept.

Who will pay for the construction of Greater Moscow, the city of Moscow or will it be funded from the federal budget?  What share will private investors and businesses have?

Sergei Kuznetsov: We are very much counting on the full involvement of business in this major project. However, the city realizes that the project will also require financing from the state budget: federal and municipal. This will first of all be spent on the road and engineering infrastructure, the underground metro system and other transport networks within the new territories. We expect the New Moscow project to make investors very interested in the opportunities to pursue their own business ideas. At the same time, for us it is above all a way to implement new principles and approaches to the construction of residential and office quarters. The basic idea is to mix residential and working areas as much as possible: so that homes would not be far away from the workplace; so that people would not need cars to get to work; and so that the area becomes pedestrian-friendly. Such principles are easier to implement on the new territories rather than within the density of the existing city.

There is a proposal to move the federal staff out of the center of Moscow, into the newly attached districts. What is the plan for industry within this area? What would be the ratio of business to bureaucrats?

Sergei Kuznetsov: At the moment the issue of moving federal staff out of their current Moscow location is not settled. So it is impossible to answer this question. I repeat, we are hoping to develop the newly attached districts in such a way that the ratio of residential, working, recreational, entertainment and shopping areas are harmonized, and to make the new Moscow territory attractive for living and minimize the traffic load of the city. This is precisely the task in creating New Moscow, and this is the principle that the Committee for Architecture and Urban Development will keep in mind when it plans the new territories.

Moscow has a lot of new business centers, but one has a feeling that these centers are wealthy islands, isolated from the rest of the adjacent, less successful territory. For example, the "White Square" business center and the shabby territory of the Belorusskiy train station. Is there a plan to rehabilitate the older blocks between these business centers? 

Sergei Kuznetsov: It would be very strange to tie the street development plans exclusively to the office quarters. There are plans for rehabilitating Moscow streets in general, to create a comfortable, successful environment. One of the first steps is the experiment in sorting out the outside advertising and billboards, sorting out the navigational signs system, the renovation of minor architectural forms, such as benches, garbage bins, flower vases, etc. We expect a lot of the central streets soon to become pedestrian friendly. The walking areas would then develop an infrastructure like small shops, cozy cafes, galleries and souvenir shops. We would like to make the city pleasant and walkable, so that it would be easier to take one's time and not feel always in a rush, and to create the desire in people to spend more leisure time outside.