Orientation for the contest finalists
The organizer of the international competition for the development of the coastal areas of the Moscow River — the Institute of the General Plan — held an orientation seminar for the members of the consortium-finalists.
The Chief Architect of Moscow, Sergey Kuznetsov, in speaking to the contestants pointed out that as a project development object, the current competition is centered on the complex phenomena of the river in the city, which also includes the development of the territory along the riverbed, the river’s transport component, and the “architectural front.”
Upon completely a river tour on the day of the seminar, the consortium members saw for themselves that the tone of the general atmosphere of the river, especially in the city center, indicates an ensemble that was formed nearly 80 years ago. This first and only stage of the reconstruction of the Moscow River and its embankments took place in the 1930-50s and after that, as noted by Sergey Kuznetsov, nothing comprehensively was done with the river. The river in fact generally fell out of the urban planning and landscape framework, and the city stopped noticing it.
As a part of the strategic program of the 1935 General Plan, it was during that period that the river began to develop as a single architectural ensemble and as the most important architectural component within the city.
The chief architect of the Institute of the General Plan of Moscow Andrei Gnezdilov stressed that it was in the 1930-50s that the Moscow River enabled the city to raise the bar to the level of “a port of five seas”. The river made Moscow fully a capital, linking the city to the whole country with a canal system. In those same years, continued Gnezdilov, the idea of the river as a transport network was formed. The architect said that the Moscow River’s winding channel was aligned by way of, for example, the Khoroshevskaya or Karamyshevskaya channels for the development of a navigation system to bypass the center.
Most of the work that the contestants will be working on for the concept is related to the development of territories that have yet to be made sense of, which are mainly abandoned sites between the Third Ring Road and the Moscow Ring Road. And there are three especially important areas — the Moscow-City International Business Center, Stroginskaya floodplain, and ZIL, all which require more elaborated solutions. “There are a number of projects that are already being developed — they need to be connected and integrated into the concept, — said Sergey Kuznetsov. — They already nicely correspond with the theme of the river as a dominant.”
In particular for Moscow-City, where all planning decisions practically have already been adopted, the key task is the formation of public areas on the territory of the complex itself, whose daily population reaches 60,000 people, as well as the development of transport connections between the business center and Kutuzovsky Avenue and the green zone on the opposite embankment.
Rethinking and reconstructing the river across the entire city is a long process and in the implementation of this concept three stages have been identified: before 2017, 2025 and 2035. Acting Director of the Institute of the General Plan of Moscow Karima Nigmatulina pointed out that the first phase already includes a number of short-term measures that can be implemented in the near future with the conclusion of the contest.
The Archcouncil of Moscow website asked members of the consortium finalists to comment on a few points of their future strategy for the development of the river.
Peter Kudryavtsev — CEO of Citymakers (member of the Burgos & Garridoarquitectos consortium, Spain)
Will your concept have continuity with the first stage of the reconstruction of Moscow embankments in the 1930-50s?
— Of course, the 1935 Master Plan by V. Semenov and S. Chernyshev is a very ambitious, deliberate and intense piece of work that has defined the look of Moscow today. It would be strange not to use it, given that this design for the embankments in particular is intended now as well.... On the one hand, embankments are not protected sites, but on the other — if you ask any Muscovite or tourist who has ever admired Moscow, looked at the Kremlin from the river, this is evident.
The peculiarity of the Moscow River is the fact that it was formed as a single ensemble, and it has existed almost 80 years in this same concept. That is, it is a sort of grand facade of the city. This has its pros and cons: for example, any infringement and active intervention in the urban planning layout and appearance of the embankments destroys this ensemble. On the other hand, we also understand that without this there cannot be any further progress.
Is it possible to compare the situation of the Moscow River with some major European cities with a river?
You can draw some analogies with the Seine, but it’s on a sort of microscale working with the lower level of the embankment, as it happens, for example, in Paris. More likely similar are the experiences of Moscow and Berlin as two capitals of great empires. The Spree in Berlin back in the day was made into a very “official” river, but recently I was amazed that in the immediate vicinity of the government district people quite comfortably swim and sunbathe. So even the “capital” look of the Moscow River, I think, can be used as a basis for the development of recreational activities. The interrelations may be the most interesting and unexpected.
How important is it to use the river in a metropolitan city as a transport artery?
Undoubtedly, the river in this sense is used in cities such as Paris and Berlin, but certainly not to such an extent. I think that it makes sense to talk more about the tourist function and possibly freight transportation which do not affect the city center. On the other hand, within the concept certain “points of attraction” will be created, and for example, a shuttle system between them could be developed. For residents of Moscow-City, time is of profound value and to be on time to work or to a meeting is important for them. I think they are ready to use water transport to travel to remote locations. Although imagine a system of boats that run regularly from Kitai-Gorod to Pechatniki, and you spend 60 minutes to get back and forth, and this certainly is a big problem. That is, it is apparent that it will be necessary to devise some new connections, and it’s interesting work.
Anton Nadtochy — head of the architectural bureau Atrium (member of the MaxwanArchitects + Urbanists consortium, Netherlands)
Nadezhda Nilina — professor at the MARCH school (member of the MaxwanArchitects + Urbanists consortium, Netherlands)
What do you think about the experience of reconstructing the capital’s embankments in the 1930-50s, will you be starting from it?
Nadezhda Nilina: For me, this question is very complicated ideologically. Of course, the first premise would be to continue the implementation of the 1935 Master Plan, the grand, colossal plan created under a totalitarian regime for a totalitarian city. But I, for example, have a complex association with the period of Stalinism and any return to it, even aesthetic, seems to me dangerous. I think we must get away from this aesthetic, and find a contemporary alternative that will resonate in the hearts of the people of future generations.
That said, the introduction of something new to Moscow is an incredibly complex idea. There have not been any major cultural breakthroughs in the last 20 years, and where to gather the aesthetics to complete a project that was launched in the 30s is a very complex question. As for technical issues, they are world precedents, and they can be learned.
Can Moscow take advantage of the designs that major European cities found for themselves?
Nadezhda Nilina: in terms of aesthetics, by no means; I think it’s a dead end. European embankments were mainly formed in the 19th century, and one of the best is Budapest’s embankment which was entirely finished at that time. The embankment in Paris has had minimal fundamental intervention in the last hundred years. So if we borrow something, we borrow from the 19th century, and that is a complete regression. However, with regard to planning areas, bringing in new functions and in general returning the river to the city, then of course a lot of positive things have happened in the world, and from such an experience can be a start.
Anton Nadtochy: There are of course good examples of reconstructing port areas from the 20th century. Every time period offers its own solutions, and in this competition we will be searching specifically for designs that are relevant for a modern city, an understanding of comfort, and modern aesthetic predilections. But, of course, it will not be grand embankments. A new time, new aesthetics, new designs.
Will you be providing some short-term measures that can be implemented immediately after the contest finishes?
Nadezhda Nilina: There are some things that are very simple, such as the creation of pedestrian crossings to the promenade itself — to the waterfront. Already tomorrow we can go out, take paint and paint 200 pedestrian crossings — we already have a layout where they should be, we did this work with students in MARCH — and it is a cost-effective way to improve the lives of pedestrians. At the moment the embankments are difficult and uncomfortable for pedestrians.
I think it is very important to also return people to the city center. This would be concordant with the transformation of embankments, creating better connectivity throughout the territory along the river. It would be nice if people returned to the center, although the economy today is not conducive to this.
Can the Moscow River be a modern transport hub?
Anton Nadtochy: It seems to me that in such an extensive city like ours, and with such a twisting river, it is difficult to use it as a transport corridor to get from one point to another. More likely, a touristic function is more suitable for it which suggests the idea of using the waterfront as a recreational area. We have too fast of speeds, we need to move around quickly, and the river does not quite suit this.
Nadezhda Nilina: On the whole I would restrict traffic on the river. It seems to me that there is too much traffic and it is not public — these are some sort of private ships ... and they are rarely filled. If we want to clean up the river, to make it convenient for boating, such as the Amstel River in Amsterdam, I would restrict the sailing of large tourist ships and would update their composition. This does not mean that they should not be there at all, but there should be less of them and they should be environmentally friendly ships. I would also return trams to the embankments.
And in the long term, I would expand the metro network to include stops on the river.
How do you plan to work towards river ecology?
Nadezhda Nilina: This is our greatest strength, and I even do not want to reveal it. We have a very strong team of ecologists and they use an approach of eco-structural planning. That is, they examine the geometry, geography, and size of green areas on the river, assess their potential in terms of habitat for certain species of animals, and try to figure out how we can create and reunite this natural green framework. This framework will be multifunctional and will increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, including in the river’s water.
Should the days when one could swim in the Moscow River be brought back?
I believe that biodiversity is more important than the possibility of swimming. And it’s realistic, though those cities that had such a task spent 15-20 years on it. I can cite as an example the Charles River in Boston, or the Hudson which was cleared up to such an extent that in it appeared bacterium that live only in clean water, and which, however, began to eat up the foundations of Battery Park City.
Dmitry Gusev — chief architect of projects in the architectural bureau Ostozhenka. Russia
In your concept, will there be continuity with the stages of the Moscow River’s reconstruction in the 130-50s?
For us, it is certainly one of the starting points of our trip along the river, as a program which in joining the waterways gave a sense of an ensemble, of capital-ness to parts of the Moscow River. We will take this into account, examine it, it will be a start, but we live in the present day, and we face new specific tasks, probably more diversified tasks.
Will you use the solutions that major European cities found for themselves?
Moscow more often than not is a collective image from around the world, foreign architects have always worked here who brought fragments of their cultures from all over. Methods of finding solutions, in fact, are international, they are the same, but the combination of these methods, and the issues that we solve using them — they may be unique to Moscow. For example, metropolitan spaces have not been fully formed on the Moscow River for some time, and our task is to create them using these methods.
What is the environmental component of the design for you?
The river is the natural axis of Moscow, it brings a fresh breeze, large green areas, and for example, in the northwest we can go through them almost to the center with a few breaks. And we will pay close attention to the creation of this green belt. The work of many professionals needs to be coordinated for this. Of course, it will be difficult to do a cleanup, such as of the water, but it is possible to “fix” it — to begin with fragments and then together to do the bigger work.
Do you plan to use the river as a transport artery in your concept?
I think this is an interesting direction, although there is seasonality with such transport. It would be promising in terms of short walks. Our goal is to make the Moscow River lively and transport in my opinion, is one of the fundamentals which brings life to the river, as well as activity to the embankments, using the river as a connecting element. The river should be used by private transport, water taxis, and the related parking. The river should live a full life, be a real functional thoroughfare, and not just a decorative ornament. This will give a new life to the entire city too.
Details of the seminar and short interviews with the other participants are published on the official website of the competition.