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Analysis & Opinion
24.07.08 The Only Way Is Up
By Sergei Balashov

Moscow will soon be eclipsed by yet another ring, this time a ring of skyscrapers.

The supertall modern buildings that once seemed so alien to the Soviet and later Russian capital are now a compelling part of the city’s architecture and can even be seen on the background of the Red Square ensemble. Soon, Moscow will be sporting a totally different skyline with skyscrapers defining the city’s image.

The standardized apartment buildings that started infesting the area some fifty years ago have given Moscow a somewhat cluttered look. The new block buildings stood out and looked rather odd, sharply contrasting with the city’s historical buildings. However, they provided accommodation for millions of people coming into the city to do their jobs.

Today, the scenery has, once again, been disturbed by the architecture of economic expediency.

According to Emporis, Moscow has over 2,000 completed high-rise buildings with 81 more under construction. Twenty-nine out of the 46 buildings that stand taller than 100 meters (328 ft.) have been built over the past seven years in a response to the skyrocketing growth.

Even the Moscow government decided to contribute. In 1999, it passed The New Ring of Moscow, an investment program calling for construction of 200 multifunctional skyscrapers in the city by 2015. The list of premises included the lack of office space, as Moscow has around 12-13 million square meters of office space, while the demand vastly outstrips it, as 180-200 joint ventures and subsidiaries of international corporations come to Moscow annually.

For this city, there is simply no other way to grow but skywards. “The social economic development of the city indirectly affects its architectural image,” said Ara Aramyan, vice president of the MIRAX GROUP Corporation, developer of the Federation Business Complex, an integral part of the Moscow City International Business Center. “Russia is experiencing a dynamic economic growth. Built-up areas are stretching thin and getting more and more expensive. For Moscow, the only way to develop is to go high.”

The quality is starting to translate into quantity, as the new business district Moscow City will boast the Russia Tower, the tallest building on the whole continent standing 612 meters tall.

“Skyscrapers could be good or bad for the city, depending on where they are built and what they are used for,” said vice principal of the Moscow Institute of Architecture Ilya Lezhava.

Most of the tall structures that either have been or are being erected, including those from the Moscow’s New Ring project, serve multiple purposes, including providing spaces for offices, leisure facilities such as fitness centers and housing. “Skyscrapers are very good for offices,” said Lezhava. “However, residential skyscrapers cannot be built. That’s what they do in China for obvious reasons, but we should not learn from that experience. In Europe, you will not see a residential building with more than six floors, there are laws that set limits for them,” explained Lezhava. “It’s not comfortable to live too high up.”

“Apartments on the higher floors are cheaper and this is important right now when the real estate market is soaring. I think when the situation gets balanced out such practices might stop,” he added.

A major American city would beg to differ. Chicago Spire, which will be the world’s third tallest building at 610 meters trailing only Barj Dubai and the Russia Tower upon its completion in 2012, is going to be all-residential.

After all, residential areas might be a necessity. “Moscow is distinguished by the trend of implementing the so-called mixed-use projects,” said commercial director of Capital Group Alexei Belousov. “The traffic is very heavy so people try to minimize the distance from home to work. That’s why versatility is in demand. Such high storey mixed-use buildings are the future of the city.”

When it comes to location, it’s good as long as skyscrapers are kept away from the historical part of Moscow. Building tall structures is discouraged in Moscow, even though no regulations exist that would limit the number of levels for each building within the Garden Ring like in cities such as Washington, DC. “Of course, limits on the number of levels have to be set for buildings constructed in the historical part of the city. That is what is done all over the world,” said Aramyan.

Outskirts make for a much better place for experiments as these mostly have nothing but the countless apartment buildings, said Lezhava. “There is nothing to spoil there, so I’m all for going upstairs in these areas,” he added.

“There are places in Moscow where tall structures can be built and blend easier into the existing architecture without insulting the eye. Moscow City is a fair example of that, it’s a new self consistent integral part of Moscow,” said Aramyan.

When it comes to the upper level, Moscow is still looking for a style. “Moscow’s contemporary architecture is still looking for its own image,” said Aramyan. For now, he said, emulating the projects that exist in the West is the best way to go. There isn’t enough creativity, other experts add.

“We don’t experiment enough; we don’t really have any projects that stand out,” said Lezhava. “Building such structures would require a lot of funding and our architects can’t afford that while investors would be reluctant to finance it.”

“The United States and Europe have these kinds of projects and we lack them. I think it would not hurt us either to try them out,” he added.

These things are already being tried out. Moscow will soon host the world’s second rotating skyscraper, beating all other cities, except Dubai, to it. Set to be completed in 2011, the 300 meter tall tower with independently rotating floors, designed by Italian architect David Fischer, will be developed by the MIRAX GROUP. The construction is expected to draw over $400 million worth of investments.

“Today, the world’s leading architects work on projects in Moscow. These would spice up any city,” said Belousov. “Moscow City is one of the leading examples of that.”

“I’ve walked around Moscow City and it didn’t impress me much, compared to what I got to see in China,” said Lezhava. “Their business centers are like vanity fairs. What we have right now is quite modest. At least, for now.”
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