(Ежедневная британская газета "The Guardian")
For six years, it has 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, at the time it was 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, but while other Soviet behemoths were replaced with western five-star hotels, the site of the Rossiya remained a derelict wasteland. British architect Norman Foster was due to design a complex including a luxury hotel on the plot, but it never got off the ground.
Then, last January, President 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 for the site, and a competition open to Russian and international design firms was announced.
The winning project, announced in recent days, is by New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and will divide the territory into four zones typical of different parts of Russia: tundra, steppe, forest and marsh. Each will have a different feel and offer a different view on to the nearby Kremlin.
The project will involve artificial microclimates, and is designed according to the principles of "wild urbanism", say its authors, creating "a clear system of interaction between nature and the city". Muscovites are likely to welcome the fact that such a prime spot in central Moscow is to be opened to the public and that it will be a park and not another office complex or luxury hotel. With monumental Soviet buildings and 10-lane highways cutting through its centre, Moscow has never really been a comfortable city, but this is changing rapidly as it becomes more pedestrian friendly.
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 front line 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 re-landscaped and is now filled with strolling families, roller-blading hipsters and pleasant cafes.
Other parks have been given a facelift, while a huge urban regeneration project has pedestrianised a number of formerly grimy traffic-filled central streets, turning them into cobbled walkways.
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 £125m for the project, and the winning design was chosen from a shortlist by a panel of Russian and international judges.
The park is meant to be "an open-air museum of sorts, where the permanent exhibition on show is the city itself," according to the competition's design brief. "The park will operate as an introduction to Moscow – a place to discover what the city is really about; the place where the city infects you with its energy."
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