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Elena Solovyeva: Moscow River in a Different Light

We talked to Elena Solovyeva, Head of the Scientific Development and Production Center at the Research and Design Institute of the General Plan of Moscow about the modern river transformation and what is means in the historical context of the city.

— The results of the biggest urban planning competition in the history of modern Moscow for the capital’s riverfront development concept have attracted a lot of attention. As an expert, what do you think about the historical aspect of it all?

— We needed that contest in order to see the Moscow River in a different light. First of all, we need to understand the meaning of a river for a Russian city: is it a landmark or a purely technical object? At the early stages of Russia’s history rivers were main traffic roads. At the same time they represented a visually interconnected system, and that is why churches, bell towers, watchtowers and other important buildings were traditionally put at the highest points along the rivers. Later on, when other means of transportation were developed, rivers were turned into industrial zones, so to speak: people drew water from the river and then they dumped their wastes into it. The aesthetical role of the river, at least in Moscow, was lost. In the XII-XVI centuries there were monasteries, estates and villages located around it, and in the XIX century the territories along the river were given to factories.

Now we want to bring back the aesthetical role of the river, something that all other capitals have.

— Speaking of international experience, what particular example would you call the best?

— In European countries a river is, first of all, a place where all the architectural, urban planning and landscaping solutions of the city come together. Paris is a particularly good example. All the major urban planning axes and city landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, the Louvre and the Champ de Mars face the Seine. It’s typical for Paris to have the city’s most important architectural ensembles located near the river.

Same can be said about Hong Kong, where the most important from the design point of view objects face the Victoria Harbor. A river in the city is not just a traffic artery but also an aesthetically important one. And that should be reflected in its development.

— One of the contest tasks was to form transverse visual axes. Is that what has been done in other capitals?

— Yes, for example, those axes exist in Paris. They are very important for Moscow, too, because the city needs to develop transverse links between two riverbanks. That is something it lacks in now.

Besides that, we need to create longitudinal visual connections between different objects located at the river, like in medieval Moscow. I have to say that there are still some historical landmarks left near the Moscow River, although part of them has been lost, unfortunately. We need to create new landmarks to make sure the visual connection between the reference points is not broken.

— What constructions in Moscow would you call modern landmarks? And what kind of new ones should we build in the future: high-rise buildings, cultural venues, or something else?

— Modern landmarks are usually represented by high-rise residential complexes built at the river, as well as business and commercial centers, for example, the Moscow City.

I want to point out that landmarks need to be created regardless of their function. We are talking about creating a tridimensional composition.

— Besides the shape-generating function, what else are landmarks good for?

— They serve as an urban navigating system. When it comes to urban planning, Moscow is a very confusing city, unlike Saint Petersburg. People used to use landmarks as reference points, and we want them to be able to do that again. As soon as somebody sees a landmark, they understand immediately where they are.

— How important is the transport function of the Moscow River?

— I believe that the major part of the passenger traffic of the Moscow River should consist of tourists. River transport is usually not the quickest way to get somewhere, and when it comes to public transportation, speed is what people care about.

— How can areas adjacent to the Moscow River be included in the city life? What do they lack in?

— There is a huge number of residential districts facing the river, but the riverfronts there are seldom developed. There are, however, some examples of riverfronts being successfully included in the city life, like in Kolomenskoye. But many areas are still neglected and require redevelopment. I think there should be parks, pedestrian and sport zones, as well as bike lanes in those areas. A recreational zone should be created around the river.

— The winning project, submitted by Meganom bureau, contained some design proposals for the Mnevniki floodplain area. What do you think about this area’s development?

— It’s a unique landscape area. The Moscow River loops here, almost creating some sort of an island. This is what we call Mnevniki floodplain (or "Mnevniki poyma" in Russian).

When it comes to the housing development, I don’t think we should build anything big here, because it could potentially damage the unique natural landscape. But I am not against the Parliamentary Centre project.

— Having served as an expert for another recent competition, the one for the design of Solntsevo and Peredelkino metro stations, would you say you were satisfied with its results?

— When it comes to the winning design for Solntsevo, created by Russian architectural bureau Nefa Architects, I wouldn’t say it was a unanimous decision. Although the jury’s opinion eventually did coincide with the public’s, expressed through the Active Citizen program. I like that the designers were inspired by the fact that Solntsevo is named after a village that used to be there. Hence the pavilions design, reminiscent of the traditional Russian izba (log cabin). It’s great that they didn’t create something absolutely abstract, but turned to our history for inspiration instead. At the same time they used the motif of sunlight and sunbeams.

As for the winning design for Novoperedelkino, at first I voted for the design offered by United Riga Architects. I liked the self-irony and the elegance of the project. Unfortunately, when they went into details for the second stage of the contest, the design lost much of its finesse.

Source: Archcouncil of Moscow

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