Talk me through your design plans?
Our approach was about healing the post-industrial landscape, because we felt that this was an area that needed to transform into a place that was much more in tune with the way modern people live their lives. It had to turn around from being an industrial place into an attractive living environment, so that is what drove our design concept.
The biggest challenge was to turn a former industrial site into a whole new city neighbourhood with around 10,000 apartments. But the question was ‘how do you create enough environmental policy in that area when it is already a location that is quite degraded from an environmental point of view?’ The site was heavily polluted and had poor air quality meaning the immediate environment was quite bad. So attracting people into that part of Moscow was going to be a huge challenge.
Tell me a bit about how you were commissioned?
Our client Donstroy jointly decided to hold a design competition. They needed something that was going make a mark in the city and create something of real quality.
Because it was a design competition we were up against four or five other teams. The other teams were a mixture of Dutch, French and Russian teams and we were the only UK team. They were all quite high profile practices in Europe, so we were lucky to get shortlisted to the final five. I think this was because we had already done some work in the city on the restoration of Gorky Park, and that had made LDA-Design quite a prominent name in the city.
In terms of being shortlisted we got onto the list fairly quickly, even though we were up against some pretty stiff competition. When we went through the design process one of the things we thought about was how we would try and make our design entry different from the others. We took a distinctly different view of how we would approach the design, after anticipating that all the other competition entries would have had a kind of rational, european urbanist approach to developing the site.
How big was your design team.
It was no more than five or six people at its height.
Tell me a bit more about the central linear park, why was it an important design choice?
What we really wanted to do that was different was to create a park in the middle of the site that broke all the rules. The purpose of the park in the middle followed this idea of landscaping being this healing method for the post-industrial landscape. Additionality, by putting the park in the middle of the site it meant that we could provide a refuge from the weather for the people living there
The park is going to be a very calming, green connection that can take people from the heart of the development right through to where the main transport hub is. That was quite different from the other competition entries because they were all largely based upon just creating good streets.
However, by putting a park in the centre of the development it meant we had to make some of the residential areas much taller, since we were taking the development land in the middle. We had to break one or two rules in terms of building height to do that.
Can you tell me more about the seven pillars of your design strategy?
We had what we called the seven pillars of our design strategy. The first was healing the site of contamination, this was done by cleaning and removing soil and demolition material from the area. The second pillar was about creating higher value development, with private and public gardens. The third pillar was creating a major destination to the east of Moscow.
The fourth pillar was forming a connection to other ‘green islands’ from the central park. The fifth one was about improving local microclimate by including shelter and warmth in the winter and cooling during the height of summer. In Moscow you’ve got pretty extreme temperatures ranging from very cold to really hot in summer. The park has an effect of ameliorating the biggest extremes of temperature and creating a bit of warmth and shelter within the site.
The sixth pillar was about limiting car movement and keeping that to the perimeter of the site instead, rather than drawing it through the middle of the site. Although we did not completely succeed in that effort.
The seventh one was about creating and forming a major landmark to the east of the city. Like any city, Moscow has got its distinctive landmarks. There are buildings called the Seven Sisters, which are these very ornate skyscrapers which mimicked what was happening in New York however many years ago. They are quite strong visual references across the cities and one of the things we wanted to do was to create a cluster of taller buildings around the park so it would form part of the city’s skyline.
Why was the name hammer and sickle chosen?
The site was already known as Serp and Molot (Translated to hammer and sickle) and it had quite an interesting history in that it was a former iron and steelworks. The symbol of the site was also the hammer and sickle, so it had that Soviet symbolism. It was also a significant location during the October revolution, since this is where part of the revolution started.
It was quite a difficult to persuade our client Donstroy to retain a lot of the history of the site, because they clearly had a vision of changing this industrial factory into this sparkling mixed use neighbourhood. The idea of retaining what was on the site didn’t really fit with the picture that they had.
We did try our best to retain some of the cultural references on the site. There was a memorial garden to the workers of the factory, which we wanted to incorporate into our design.
But we weren’t able to keep very much of what was on the site, partly because the Russians didn’t want that to be the case. They were pretty keen to flatten large parts of the site and move on to create this new place.
Did you have a specific source of inspiration when designing the project?
We didn’t base in on any other scheme from other projects. We felt that a park in the middle of the site would fulfill the central role in regeneration, so I suppose our inspiration was using the power of landscaping to heal an industrial site.
In general what is it like working on international projects?
Pretty challenging. It depends where you are working honestly, since you will always have the different cultural dimension. Moscow architecture is professional in its design and development and its planning cultures are not that different compared to the rest of Europe. You have got the usual challenges of communication and quite different legal contractual differences. I have already alluded to the building and planning regulation which were very strict.
One of the things that the Russians are very strict on is daylighting and what they call insulation. This is the amount of sunlight you get into living spaces within your house during the winter months. What that means is that you have to model buildings to avoid one building shading out the other, because if you shade out living spaces during the winter then you are effectively infringing the building and planning regulations.
One of the things we had to do was model the insulation of the buildings very carefully to ensure that they did not shade each other out. So we had to do a lot of modelling using computer programmes to check that the buildings met the planning regulations. That was quite a challenge, since you don’t normally have to do that with other projects.
How was your work with your partner Donstroy?
They were quite a tough client, in that they had very high expectations of what they wanted. If they didn’t really understand an aspect of the design process they would often come along quite late in the design process and tell us we should have taken account of ‘XYZ’. Pieces of information and changes came frequently and late in the process which made it devilishly difficult as a project since we had to revise drawings over and over again. But one of the great things about working with the Russians is that you know exactly where you stand with them, so you don’t get any of that sense where you don’t know what they think of the project .
What was your favourite aspect of the project?
My favourite aspect was the park really, since we managed to orientate the park in such a way the that people living next it would not only get a view of the structure below them, but when they looked down, what we called the corridor, they would also get a distant view of the Kremlin. Little things like that were quite satisfying.
Did you travel to Moscow yourself?
Many times. Over a period of about two years, we were travelling over there around once every six weeks. We would be there for around two or three days and would have long meetings where we go through the design, do various presentations and make various revisions. We had several meetings with the Moscow city authority as well, to present various things.
One of the interesting aspects of working in Moscow is that all schemes are scrutinised by the mayor of Moscow and the chief architect. We had to do two or three presentations with the chief architect of Moscow, and he is a very powerful individual who can make or break a scheme with one comment. Usually everyone was indifferent to the chief architect so it was really important to keep him on our side during the presentations.
What weather conditions did you have to take into account?
We had to make the streets wider than normal. The reason for that is that when it snows in Moscow the snow plows come along and plow the snow to the side of the road, and then the snow doesn’t go anywhere for about three months because it doesn’t melt. So it meant that the cross sections for our streets were wider then we would have liked.
What kind of budget did you have?
It was £450,000.
When do you expect the project to be completed by?
The first apartments should be available in 2020, but the overall scheme itself will still take around a decade to complete. So we expect the project to be fully completed by 2030.
AREA: 60 ha
SCHEDULE: 2014 – ongoing
CLIENT: CJC Donstroy
LOCATION: Moscow, Russia
PARTNERS: UHA Architects, Group Ark
SERVICES USED: Masterplanning, urban design, landscape architecture
Learning Curve: Serp + Molot – Bernie Foulkes
We learned a number of valuable lessons from the Serp + Molot project, both good and bad and certainly worth sharing.
The first and maybe the most valuable lesson in the current climate is the leading role that
UK landscape architects can play on the world stage in influencing how megacities like Moscow can grow and evolve.
This is about what we would call landscape-led masterplanning. Winning in an international competition against some of Europe’s best urbanists and architects demonstrates how connecting people and places through landscape can speak so much than dazzling architectural statements or the calm rationalism of the ‘European Urbanist’, when the opportunity presents itself.
UK landscape architects need to embrace this opportunity, become more engaged in those challenges faced by cities and develop their own approach to urbanism. There is a willing audience out there with an appetite for it.
For those of us who have been in the profession for a long time, the value of landscape and nature in healing post-industrial landscape is understood, but maybe has been largely forgotten or under-celebrated.
Britain’s worst post-industrial landscapes were nearly all regenerated in the second half of the 20th century and are invisible today, but for many of the newer industrial nations of Eastern Europe and Asia the post-industrial age is now and the scars are very real. Russia’s heavy industries are either in decline or have disappeared and turning them in an instant from rusting factories into vibrant new neighbourhood needs vision, technical know-how and understanding of how cities and communities work.
The other lesson learned in this process is how to harness the power of modern marketing in selling strong ideas, concepts built around the value of parklands and gardens and the currency of a view. We are now able to articulate a vision through sophisticated computer modelling and visualisations that we know will pretty much look like the completed scheme.
At Serp + Molot our visualisations became a central part of the marketing campaign, from their appearance in Aeroflot’s inflight magazine to their decoration of the Marketing Suite. Strong ideas and concepts which are well presented have created unprecedented interest and boosted sales of apartments off-plan.
The relationship with our Russian developer client Donstroy has been very good, but not without its running battles and strains. For instance, we lost our argument to maintain the width of the central park and it became squeezed and canyon-like in places and we worry about how it will fare. We wanted to keep the building line back, especially for the taller buildings. We also lost our battle to prevent traffic crossing the central park. A car-free central zone with the park at its heart was one of our principles that had to be compromised in the end.
The first phases are nearing completion now and we have had no involvement in the detailed design or implementation of the scheme. We have no presence in Russia and have no plans to locate an office there. We recognise that Russian clients are buying ideas and strong concepts, and maintaining our involvement through the design development and implementation is not cost-effective for them or for us. This is not unusual in Russia, much of our earlier work on the restoration of Gorky Park and on 5 City Parks in other parts of Moscow has been completed by local architects and landscape architects. The same will be the case on Serp + Molot.