10.12.2012

The Return of the Project

  • contemporary architecture

Story of the project office and retail building on Kulneva Street (better known under its former name of УMirax PlazaФ) losing its designer supervision, being re-done, and then finally getting back into the hands of its authors to retrieve its architectural integrity.

Information:

The project of the office complex УMirax PlazaФ is well known to anyone interested in the contemporary Moscow (see our article on the 2007 project). Although after the global financial crisis set in and the main investor left the project, it lost its proud-sounding name, the two austere prismatic towers saluting to the Moscow City skyscrapers from the opposite side of the Moskva River, are still almost complete and are clearly visible to the cars driving by down the Third Transport Ring

The towers, however, were but a part of the entire concept.
The other part of it was the group of ten-storey buildings inscribed into the neat oval of the layout at the foot of the two high-rises. The yellow stone buildings braced by dramatic horizontal ribs looking a lot like flying buttresses, had to continue the row of Stalin-era buildings standing along Kutuzov Avenue, and create an offset contrast to the office towers.

The previous version of "Mirax-Plaza" project

However, as often is the case, not everything went to plan. The designer supervision over the construction of part of the УislandФ (the building that is turned onto Kutuzov Avenue and that makes up the УnoseФ of the oval), was handed over to another architectural office, the project was changed, and the building was not built the way it had been intended. In a nutshell, it was generalized and simplified: now there was less stone, more glass, and the horizontal ribs, while still preserved, became thinner and more monotonous. The casing blocks, from horizontal and tawny, with Уscorch marksФ so characteristic of Stalin times houses, turned into pink-gray and vertical, now looking very much like УseashellФ casing that was used back in the 1970Тs for coating the Soviet movie theaters and office buildings.

The building on the Kutuzov Avenue, built with neither designer supervision nor with УSergey Kisselev and PartnersФ. Photo: panoramio.com, stargate

During the work on the ten-storey building that in fact makes up the elongated part of the oval situated next to the Third Transport Ring (designated by the letter "B" on the various layouts of the complex) it became clear that keeping its original shape would be impossible due to the recent changes in the land-use and development rules of the adjacent section of the railroad line. "While formerly our situation provided the opportunity of placing the stylobate pillars directly on this railroad section, now the agency for land-use would not even condescend to considering such a possibility" - the architects share. In other words, according to the original design, the volume of Building "B" and the railroad line actually crossed: the dome-shaped arch of the facade would have overhung the tunnel that pierced the volume of the building from side to side chordwise but now the building was to recede into the confines of its construction site. 

The original layout

The commissioner announced a tender for the design adjustment of the ten-story building - naturally, with a view to preserve in the new project the original square footage with expenses minimized. For the architectural office "Sergey Kisselev and Partners" this in fact was a chance to retrieve its original project, and finally bring it to fruition. Knowing their own project inside and out, the architects quickly found the solution to the problem that was set before them. The design, of course, underwent a few significant changes (under the given circumstances it simply could not have been otherwise) but the authors "did their best to consider the structures that were already erected and were making all of their planning decisions, if it's possible to put it like this, in the reconstruction mode". In a word, they only proposed to make the most necessary changes, at the same time giving back to the project all of its original useful space. 

The regular-shaped, compasses-drawn but protruding too far beyond the confines of the site arch of the oval layout had to get cut off to make room for the railroad line - the layout of the building was no longer a segment and took on the constrained and squeezed shape, like a 1960's TV with straight sides and rounded corners.

Site plan

In order to compensate for the lost useful square footage, the architects divided the elongated building into five parts, replacing the four atriums with open courtyards. Each of the five resulting volumes got expanded lengthwise at the expense of reducing the space of the yards. This measure helped to retrieve all the lost square meters without increasing the height of the buildings. The yards, in the meantime, started looking more like short fragments of pedestrian boulevards: they all lead to the longitudinal inner street that connects all the five buildings. The latter, at the same time, overhang in deep cantilevers above the pedestrian space thus winning yet some more useful space and forming small marquees over the boulevards below. 

Visualization. Project of 2012. Version 2.

What is peculiar is the fact that the architects deliberately opted out of making their "yard" streets car-passable, fully reserving them for the pedestrians. This resonates a little with a reminder about the cancelled deluxe atriums - the yards, of course, lack the luxury of their glass surfaces stretched at a ten-storey height but they still remain the safe and comfortable space to be in. Unlike the atriums, however, the yards are open to the city and thus are more democratic: anyone can walk in and around here. This solution is more on the European than on Moscow side: Moscow is still having a difficult time getting rid of its endless fences and checkpoints, so the open little streets of the office center are a small but still an important step to meet the city community halfway. 

The pass-through pedestrian street of Building B

The facades, of course, also had to be remodeled: now they are made up of the same alternating pattern of horizontal stripes of stone and glass as the towers. At the rounded side walls the stripes get narrower - here they resonate with the graphics of the building that stands on the side of the Kutuzovsky Avenue. As we can see, the architects ultimately came to one of the most wide-spread, if not to say "classical" facade techniques of office architecture. The striking-looking "arrested" cascade of stone braces that in the original project was meant to bring association of the age of high speeds and similar technogenious things, has now turned into a respectable office street. Still, the authors have been able to restore the project's integrity, which was particularly important to them. The "courtyard" streets splitting the once-single building into five separate volumes, will look, at a quick glance cast from the side of the Third Transport Ring, like narrow slits and will not violate the integrity of the facade's image. Andrew Nikiforov is also positive that the architects have ultimately been able to keep the idea of the "oval island". 

View from the Third Transport Ring

One cannot but be happy about the fact that the shattered and scattered project got almost unexpectedly "fixed". This story once again goes to show that a competent architect will always be able to solve the commissioner's situation as well as retrieve the all-but-lost project to restore its integrity and find a new image for it.

This "new image" that came as a result of the transformation described, is also worth special mentioning. It is more relaxed, more practical, and more democratic. "Mirax-Plaza", though austere and conceptual, was still dramatic and expensive-looking. It was meant to strike one's imagination with the glass of the atriums, the flying buttresses, and the regular arches and circles. Its architecture sported the contrastive tension: between the concrete and glass, the towers and the avenue (the former being the symbol of the power of money, the latter - the power of the tyrant). The contradictions of the city were aptly reflected in it and turned into a dramatic and powerful story. Which was quite resonant with the times: the period of quick growth, arrogant investors, and giant projects.

Now the contrasts are all but erased, the contradictions are softened, and the story is taken to a whole new level: now it has ceased, to a large extent, being a theatrical performance arrested in stone, and has started looking more like the natural history of finding common ground, reasonable economy, and architectural integrity. The complex is stepping back from the obstacle that its predecessor was stepping upon but at the same time it opens its arms and lets itself into the city. These are marks of our times - possibly, just as good as one can think of.


Text by: Julia Tarabarina, Alla Pavlikova

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