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Several UK practices have been turning down the prospect of work recently, not because their order books are bulging but because the prospect is just too horrible to contemplate. They have been invited to compete to design Russia's Chess City, a development terrifying in its crassness. 32 towers will be arranged on a 64,000m 2 'board', each representing a black or white chess piece. The brainchild of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the self-governing Republic of Kalmykia, it will cost a cool $2.6 billion (£1.3 billion). The dissenting architects could not get away that easily. Having declined the opportunity, they then received a letter thanking them for their interest, and pointing out that it was essential that the 'bishops' were not ecclesiastical but were represented by elephants.

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