Site of former ugly hotel to become ultra-modern park in central Moscow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 4:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 4:19pm

For six years, there's been a wasteland in the heart of the Russian capital, fenced off and forlorn. Soon, however, Zaryadye will be home to an ultra-modern park featuring sleek glass architecture and artificial microclimates.

The area, just a few steps from St Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin, was cleared of houses during the Stalin era for the construction of a huge skyscraper. That plan was shelved and in its place, the vast Hotel Rossiya was built during the 1960s. With more than 3,000 rooms, it was then the largest hotel in the world - and many also thought one of the ugliest. Its hulking facade dominated views of the Kremlin and Red Square.

It was torn down in 2006 and the site remained a derelict wasteland. British architect Norman Foster was due to design a complex, including a luxury hotel, but it never got off the ground.

Then last January, President Vladimir Putin went for a stroll around the grounds and told Moscow's mayor Sergei Sobyanin that he thought it was a good spot for a park. The mayoralty said it would draw up proposals and the city announced a competition open to Russian and international design firms.

The winning project, announced in recent days, is by New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro and will divide the site into four zones typical of different parts of Russia: tundra, steppe, forest and marsh. Each will offer a different view of the nearby Kremlin.

The project will involve artificial microclimates, and is designed according to the principles of "wild urbanism", say its creators, imagining "a clear system of interaction between nature and the city".

Zaryadye will be the first new park to be built in Moscow for half a century and construction should be completed by 2016. The city has set aside 6.5 billion roubles (HK$1.5 billion) for the project.

Muscovites are likely to welcome a prime spot open to the public that's a park and not another office complex or luxury hotel.

During his tenure as mayor, Sobyanin has pulled back slightly from the free-wheeling capitalism of the recent post-Soviet past in Moscow and made quality of life a priority in the centre of the city, selecting parks as the forefront of the initiative.

Opposition politicians such as Alexey Navalny have complained that the reconstruction is cosmetic and only benefits a small square of central Moscow, while the suburbs are scruffy post-Soviet forgotten zones.

But in the centre, the regeneration has indeed been impressive. Gorky Park, once a depressing concrete jungle of rusting rides and sorry fast-food stands, has been completely relandscaped and is now filled with strolling families, roller-blading hipsters and pleasant cafes.