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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

German Architect Designs City Centerpiece

For MTVon Gerkan's design, which he prices at less than $200 million, envisions a conference center inside a glass globe and a hotel.
A top German architect has proposed building a high-technology model of the world as the centerpiece for City Hall's flagging, multibillion-dollar Moskva-City business center.

Meinhard von Gerkan, founder of the architectural firm Von Gerkan, Marg and Partner, which has designed such major projects as airports, railway stations, and museums in Germany, China, Algeria and Korea, presented the design in Moscow last month.

"In October when [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov made a visit to ... Berlin, we had an appointment with him," von Gerkan said in a telephone interview last month. "I showed him some of our projects, and he was deeply impressed.

"We were asked to bring some new ideas into Moskva-City. ... They wanted a new symbol for the project."

Luzhkov, who attended von Gerkan's presentation, said his design would need to be evaluated by the city planners' general council, along with several other proposals for Moskva-City, Interfax reported.

No comment was available from City Hall as to why a competition has not called for a design for Moskva-City. Von Gerkan has not charged the city government for his work to date.

Von Gerkan is wary of putting a cost on his design, saying it depended on what was included, but that it should cost "something less than $200 million."

Moskva-City is a 100-hectare development straddling the Moscow River, northwest of the city center and behind the Ukraina hotel, where City Hall wants to develop a modern high-technology business center. Despite a number of incentives to attract investors, only a small part of the city's plans has been realized.

Von Gerkan's design envisages an 80-meter concrete globe covered by a glass roof with a three-dimensional map of the world on its surface.

The globe is to be open to the public who will be able to walk around it on a spiral ramp and there will be a viewing platform at the top.

A metro station will be opened underneath the globe.

Von Gerkan said a lot of skyscrapers are planned around the site of the globe.

"I thought it would not fight against ... the skyscrapers, but have something that is ... a kind of a symbol of the future for the people," he said.

Using a new technology that has not yet been applied anywhere in the world, the globe will display information, including the weather in different parts of the world, von Gerkan said.

"Families with their kids could go there and walk around the globe. As you walk around the left side, you could touch the Himalayas or some mountain, and on the other side, you could see Moscow around you," he said.

Inside the globe, von Gerkan proposes a multipurpose conference center for 3,500 people, an exhibition hall and a lobby. Tennis tournaments, ice skating, pop concerts -- "whatever is interesting for the public" -- could be held in a 1,000-square-meter entertainment center next to the globe, he said.

Von Gerkan's design also includes a three-star, horseshoe-shaped hotel around a large square.

Andrew Wixom, head of BrookeMil Ltd. real estate development company and an architect with training in urban planning, said von Gerkan's plan was an interesting idea. "It's a centerpiece for that new development area that is a symbol of new commerce in the world, globalization -- the fact that it's actually functional, that you can do things within it, is an interesting idea," he said.

Wixom added that a better way to select a design would have been to hold a competition. "For a real urban centerpiece, competition is always the way to go," he said. "Why limit yourself? In the scheme of things the cost of running a competition is not that significant and you wind up with a much richer set of ideas to choose from and get a dialogue going among the design community."

James McAdam, a British architect who has worked in Moscow, said top international architects like von Gerkan could bring a lot to a city like Moscow. The Spanish city of Bilbao was off the map until U.S. architect Frank Gehry built its Guggenheim museum.

McAdam said, though, that it would be understandable if local architects were wary of their foreign counterparts.

"Obviously, local architects do need to protect their own market, which is quite unstable," he said. "However, you have to look at Moscow as a world capital. If we look at the other cities of the world, then we see that contemporary architecture is used to elevate the status and the modernity and the whole symbol of what these cities stand for."

Not everyone in City Hall agrees with McAdam. First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, who oversees architectural projects in Moscow, has recently expressed a preference for working with local architects.

"[Foreign architects] design very interesting projects," he said, "but the price that they demand for their projects are very high. Therefore, only rarely are such projects built."