Sergey Kuznetsov: The residents must be pleased with the city in the first place
Nowadays a number of large-scale projects have been implemented in Moscow and their impact can already be seen, though global improvement will be observed in full only some time later. Chief Architect of the capital Sergey Kuznetsov told in an interview to RIA Novosti how the city is changing, why the number of fences and video cameras will soon be reduced, and why it is important to apply the results of your work to yourself.
— Mr. Kuznetsov, which trends of development of global megalopolises can you name today?
— Actually, all big cities of the world are rather similar and lately they are facing the same processes. And Moscow is no exception. For instance, a great emphasis is put on development of public spaces now, enlargement of pedestrian areas, promotion of public transport and reduction of private one, creation of landmarks.
— Do Asian and European cities differ in this respect, and whose experience is closer to Moscow?
— The development of Asian cities is mainly different in the sense that it’s happening in more restrained urban conditions. Many cities of China, Japan, Korea, even Singapore, are commercially successful, yet their residents’ vision of comfort is far from our idea of beautiful and comfortable city. That’s why I believe that we are still a part of European culture, including urban-planning.
— What does Moscow borrow from other cities? And is there anyone adopting our practices?
— All cities are unique; as there are no two identical people, there can also not be two identical cities. Each one has its own geographical and geopolitical factors, economic characteristics, and so on. Urban-planning is rather challenging process and it can’t bear blind replication and other simplifications. For this reason, I’d rather not call it borrowing, it’s more like sharing experience. Surely, we are looking at what others doing, exploring various practices, taking them into consideration in our cases. There is lots of interesting in Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna; London is very close for us. At some points Tokyo has rather similar character, while remarks I’ve mentioned before have to be borne in mind. Moscow experience is also being studied, and not only with other countries, there are many requests from other Russian cities. Almost all regions are interested in how we are working with documentation, norms, and standards. Strong interest in our standards of landscaping, the upgrading of integrated house-building factory, the activity of Archcouncil. From large-scale construction of parks on down to standardization of the same signage. Moscow experience is highly interesting, but it doesn’t mean that Moscow can be copied. Simply because it has other budget and lots of other inputs.
— Today it’s trendy to talk about some cities’ design-codes, what’s that all about?
— I have no idea what implies design code with regard to the cities. We’ve done some things that can be called street design code, for instance, a set of rules for placement of signage, summer terraces of cafes. Significant work has been done to make the urban environment more convenient and pleasing to the eye. Only during previous year over 1,800 advertising structures and notice boards in all city districts, in total signboards on the buildings at 7,500 addresses were renewed. But the city-wide design code is neither possible nor needed. Architecture is beautiful as it always has room for unexpectedness, surprise, and it’s great that talented architects cannot remain within framework of some unified code.
— Which work being in progress now will be fully appreciated by Muscovites years later?
— Of course, here can be distinguished a renovation program. Even though it has launched very actively and first results will be seen fairly soon, the city-wide progress will be noticeable only years later. But if we look even further, there will come time for the buildings massively constructed in 70s-80s-90s to be demolished, as they are not better then five-storey buildings. They have also to be replaced for the more comfortable residence, and it will be a long process, but it will have equivalent effect. Generally speaking, any large project produces effect as some time passes by. It refers to the large-scale metro construction, modernization of DSK (dacha construction co-operatives), work with embankments, and standards of massive real estate development in accordance with the Decree No. 305.
— Tell us about what is going on with the embankments?
— Around 30 km of embankments are being worked on now, both on the stage of designing and on the stage of construction. In particular, it embraces sections from Moscow City to the west and in the area of ZIL. At the same time a set of other sections that will be included into the program is being formed. Everything has been done according to the concept proclaimed in 2014. We want to turn the river into the central waterway with comfortable banks full of diverse activities and easily accessible. People will have an opportunity to walk along the river, and entrance to water will be available almost from any spot.
— Are there any difficulties in the development of the embankments?
— Sometimes there appear some difficulties relating to land use as some plots have owners with whom we need to negotiate, or there may be some engineering structures with restricted access. From the technical point there are no difficulties, especially since Moskva River has normal terrain without any earthquake zones.
— You’ve mentioned the Decree No. 305, which also includes standards for courtyards. What should a proper courtyard be like?
— It should have a set of grounds both for children and for adults. There should be greenery. Commercial and all other services should be placed from outside, as these elements are unnatural for the inner, private part. Theoretically, there mustn’t be any cars, but we understand that it’s impossible to create organized parking in every place, and in some yards we’ll have to take cars. From the very beginning the territory must be planned in such way, so that the area delimitation into public and private zones, yard, street, or park could be understandable without any extra navigation. Otherwise, there appear such rudiments as fences. Any fences, unless it’s a restricted access facility, appear due to the lack of planning. The fence is a sign of unhealthy environment and a perfect courtyard mustn’t have it. Yet, the amount of them across Moscow is too high. When we compare the length of fences in Moscow with the European cities with quarter system, such ones like Berlin, Paris, or Barcelona, we have a number which is many-fold larger.
— The developers are positioning the fenced territory in their residential compound as an advantage. And the residents probably feel safer there.
— We just need to form a good habit, and now both developers and residents are acting mechanically, tending to build fences. And the security feeling, which the fence creates, is wrong. An evil-minded person will easily overpass it, but when the help will be needed this very fence can be an obstacle. An idea that the fence adds to security is a great mistake. On the contrary, it forms conditions for negative situation. When there is no fence and the environment is translucent then it is much safer. Video cameras are also result of poor planning, though they are less evil than the fences. Once new standards will be introduced wide-scale, there will be no need in any other elements of monitoring. Environment will be safe and friendly on its own.
— Talking about safety and transparency, why not all new buildings get translucent doors to the entrance halls, it’s not expensive, is it?
— According to the Decree 305 the translucent doors are compulsory since 2015. If you show me a new residential building with non-translucent doors, I’ll admit that we’ve made a mistake agreeing on that project. It can also be connected to the different interpretations of standards. When it says that the door must be made of glass — should it be fully glass or only partially? It’s a good question by the way. Maybe some details in standards must be more clearly prescribed.
— Debates about whether the Moscow is made of ‘rubber’ (has infinite capacity for expansion) is a recurrent subject. Is there a limit of density reaching which the residents will feel the discomfort?
— Again, it depends on person. Asian cities I’ve mentioned before have incredible density and low provision of the residents with the living area. For our people it’s a living hell, while for Asians it’s a usual thing. For Moscow, based on the number of factors, Urban-Planning Code, Standards, residents’ habits, any density exceeding 25,000 sq. m. per ha can already produce discomfort. On the other hand, density in Moscow City is much greater than average across the city, still many people want to live and work there. So, this question cannot be answered in a simple way — different people with different preferences live in the city.
— Do you have your favorite places in Moscow?
— It hard to single out some particular one. Now I’m looking at the city through the prism of my profession. For instance, 20 years I’d lived in the area of Ryazansky prospekt, and I like it, I have a lot of things connected with it. Though, as a professional, I can list a number of disadvantages there. Still it has very good resource for development, in particular, lots of greenery, which can be worked with. The same can be said about lots of districts, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. And I’m persuaded that the same renovation program will increase the number of advantages.
In general, the main indicator on the work undertaken is how much you personally use its results. I advocate that everything should be applied to yourself. For instance, Triumfalnaya Square, where our Committee is located, looked more like a huge parking before. Today it’s rather comfortable public space. And Luzhniki, I leave in the nearby. I spend lots of time there doing sports and I can say that the improvement project there has been a success. Even Zaryadye, I visit it a lot not only for work and I really enjoy what we’ve done there. In the course of the recent Urbanforum we had a debate with Mikhail Kusnirovich, what we should focus on in development. He thinks that Moscow must be made attractive for the foreign guests first of all, and it will be the main indicator of its development.
My point is that the city must be attractive for its residents in the first place then the others will also like it. When your keep your house in order, then your guests feel good at your place. Everyone can have his own opinion, but I am persuaded that if something is done for the sake of some demonstration, it is certainly doomed to failure. When creating any type of product, the user-oriented approach must to be applied, it also refers to urban-planning.