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Moscow's chief architect on the city's big-ticket projects

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Rory Olcayto meets Moscow chief architect Sergey Kuznetsov at this year’s MIPIM to talk about Russian development

When it was announced last September that Moscow was to double in size in the coming decades, in line with a masterplan partly conceived by Brits John Thompson & Partners and Gillespies, it seemed at the least understandable: it has space to expand into. Densifying cities, making the core more compact – that is more of an issue for the cramped cities of old Europe.

Yet in the Russian pavilion’s beachside terrace in Cannes, Moscow’s chief architect Sergey Kuznetsov, shielding his eyes from the sun and cheerfully ignoring his forever-ringing phone, is talking ‘walkable cities’ – mixed-use developments on brownfield sites – and citing New York’s Meatpacking District as an inspirational regeneration model. It is a world away from the Thompson/Gillespies forest and lakeside expansion plan that would see the Russian capital transformed into a megacity, in footprint at least.

‘We want to create new public spaces that are shaped by the relationship between the communities around which they grow,’ Kuznetsov explains, as he outlines the latest big-name project set to alter the look and feel of Moscow city centre, Diller + Scofidio’s Zaryadye Park design. Alongside Heneghan Peng’s recent appointment to design the £73 million National Centre for Contemporary Arts, the park’s development is vital to Moscow’s rebranding. Until 2006 it had been home to a vast 3,000-room hotel and, while the site is comparatively small – 13ha to Hyde Park’s 142 – its strategic location makes the decision to make it a park intriguing: it is a minute’s walk from Red Square.

‘Not all investment is strictly for profit,’ says Kuznetsov. ‘Not short-term profit, anyway.’ He continues to explain wider plans driven by sports infrastructure for the forthcoming international athletics meet and the 2018 World Cup, and how healthier lifestyles are influencing urban design. Yet, typical solutions are less easy. Cycling, for example, is hampered by the climate.

Kuznetsov says ongoing development of Zil, a 460ha site near the city centre, remains crucial to Moscow’s success. It was once zoned exclusively for the manufacture of cars. Now Kuznetsov is leading a total overhaul, ‘making it multi-functional’, with boulevards, quarters and people-centered streets. ‘It is a laboratory of ideas for the wider city,’ he says, as he squints in the sunlight, and finally answers his phone.

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