City Gate

  • contemporary architecture

More on the project by UNK Bureau that won the contest for the best architectural solution of the second construction stage of "Empire Tower" Complex in Moscow City.


The closed tender was announced in late February by the investor of the complex "Empire Tower", the company named "MosCityGroup" at the initiative of Chief Architect of Moscow Sergey Kuznetsov. In late April, the judging panel opted for the proposal by UNK Project; according to the organizers, this bureau as the contest winner will be commissioned with the further work on designing the second stage of the construction of the complex. (The hyperlinks lead to Russian articles - translator's note)

The building of the second stage will be built on the square land site between "Empire Tower" and the embankment. Over the period of 2002-2009, this spot saw the following succession of projects: a glass dome with an aqua park and an entertainment center (Giovanni Corradetti), white striped building with rounded corners (NP), and finally, one of the latest projects was the streamlined wavy "tongue" that stretched in the project by NBBJ from the tower to the embankment. Now, in 2013, the functional content of the second stage of the complex has changed: the building will no longer be connected to the marina, as was previously planned, and it will not have an aqua park in it; according to the contest specifications, part of the complex was to be occupied by the above-ground parking garage, part of the complex - by offices, and the top and bottom floors were to be turned into a public area with shops and cafes.

The architects of UNK Project concentrated their attention on the movement of the pedestrian flows, and thus the role of the "main hero" here is played by the atrium that pierces the cubic volume of the complex diagonally, from southeast corner to the northwest one. It splits the cubic volume into two buildings in fact: the north and the south ones. The north building, from its 3rd to its 8th floor, is occupied by the parking garages (floors 3 to 6 being occupied by non-mechanized garages, floors 7 and 8 - by mechanized ones), higher up - by offices. The second and third floors of the southern building are occupied by a medical center; higher up there are office premises. It is planned that the landscaped roof will be turned into a sightseeing platform accessible by elevator directly from the atrium. The center of the north triangle is the circular ramp of the drive-up of the parking garage (just like in the "European" shopping mall; the architects are providing scientifically proven reasons that such type of a drive-up is more convenient for the drivers who will not need to spin the wheel too much). In the nucleus of the triangle, there is yet another triangle of a smaller size, that includes two elevator shafts, which, in turn, allows for dividing the southern part into yet another two triangles, each one oriented to its elevator, meaning - use the office space with minimal losses of the usable area and provide for good insolation. The efficiency and economy became one of the central themes of the project (which allowed the authors to fit into the budget providing at the same time for quality materials): wherever possible, typical solutions are used. Besides, the architects were able to use in their project the existing sub-structures - the grid of underground columns, built earlier.

The project in the panorama of Moscow City

Plan of the first floor

The entire first floor is turned into a public area with shops and restaurants. It is planned to be open 24/7. The role of the center, or rather, the axis of the first floor is played by the diagonal "road" of the atrium. In its beginning and in its end, at the two corners of the cubic volume, in front of the entrances, there are small landings that are designed as "stanzas" and protected by the overall roof of the complex "from direct precipitation" as the architects put it in the explanatory note.

Plan of the eighth floor

The ravine of the atrium opens up eastwards, to the side of "Bagration" bridge and "Vystavochnaya" metro station, where usually the city-bound pedestrian flows come from. According to the architects idea, the people will be able to circle the building from the south and from the east but the main scenario proposed by the architects implies, of course, going through the atrium, through the "body" of the building: coming out at the opposite side, we find ourselves at the square before "Empire Tower", from where one can easily get to the center of "Moscow City".

Square in front of the atrium

From the bridge side, the mouth of the atrium looks like a "perspective portal" - this is how the authors themselves call it, even though it would only be fair to admit that the resemblance with a portal is but partial here; one can clearly see only one perspective bevel, namely, the right eastern one. The role of the second bevel is played by the wall that faces the embankment: it is turned at a 3-degree angle to the side of the atrium entrance. So it turns out that if we speak about "portal", then it is radically shifted to the right - it looks like in the classical "TV" layout of the 70's the axis is jerked aside. Following suit with the axis, the bevels also became very different: one formed an acute angle, and the other turned into a glass partition that serves to hide the riverside entrance rather than helps reveal it. As for the entrance itself, it is, as was already said, is turned to the side of the bridge, i.e, at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the surface of the main riverside facade. In other words, if we are to speak about the "portal" in the classical sense (the one that you might see in the architecture of the post-war modernism), then this portal did something that is very much like combatant realignment - it made a step left and about-faced. This motion is as simple as one-two-three but in its essence it is spiral, and the authors righteously claim that the composition of their building "supports the spiral-like" composition of the silhouette of Moscow City".

The described "about face" twist left the shape practically devoid of any classical allusions, endowing it with romantic resemblance to the Pillars of Hercules, the legendary gate of the Antique world. Indeed, we are standing before something that is THE City Gate - passing through it, we find ourselves in the world of the rocks of the skyscrapers, and the energy of the "gorge among the rocks" prepares us for getting into the space of a different scale and different tensions that we are used to deal with in the usual city.

One should say that the resulting aberration between what is familiar and classical and what is spicy and romantic permeates the whole project creating within it the kind of tension that is both plastic and meaningful.

The architects proposed to cover the glass walls with a grid of architectural concrete. The grid will get reflected in the glass, getting fractured and multiplied, enhancing but not dissolving the ornament in the succession of reflections. In the simple and big pattern one can easily discern the replica of the original idea of the building based on dividing a quadrant into triangles. This same kind of fracturing repeated many times in the pattern of the concrete grid of the facade. All the more so, because when one is looking from the ground level, he or she will hardly be able, because of the foreshortening, to tell a diamond shape from a quadrant. At the same time, on the corners, the triangles interlock and form an almost-sculptural zigzag, putting one in the mind of the classic of the genre - Hearst Tower by Norman Foster. To liven things up a bit, though, the architects have designed their grid in the "parametric" fashion: the thickness of the ribs gradually varies, getting at times sparser and at times thicker, just like the skin of a living being might look like, so there are "waves" rippling over the surface of the facade.

Southeast corner of the building and the atrium entrance

South facade

East facade

According to the authors, the concrete grid must become the intermedium between the stone "Stalin" architecture of the Kutuzovsky Avenue on the opposite side of the river and the glass architecture of Moscow City. At some places the grid is broken by glass fragments; inside the atrium, the western wall glass, and the eastern wall is covered with concrete ornament.

The result is well-executed and economic at the same time: the pattern is doubled by its own reflection on the opposite wall. If we take into consideration the presence of a glass wall behind the grid as well, we get two reflections versus one grid, and the straddling space gets permeated with flares and shades. Besides, the atrium closes in towards the top, thus strengthening the perspective effect for those who are not too lazy to raise their head and look up, adding to the intersection of the reflections at different angles.

At the level of the top floors, there appear the white diagonals of the overpasses that connect the two buildings (this will be very convenient for the future office employees who will be able to pass directly to their offices from the parking garage). Some bridges turn into stairways and pierce the space in a slanting way in three dimensions. At some places, the bridges get trees on them. Still lower, on thin steel-wire ropes, hover the white lamps that are executed in the shape of stylized airplanes - they create the feeling that the 50-meter height above the heads of the pedestrians in indeed inhabited. Over the walls glide the panoramic elevators, augmenting the dynamic shapes real extra motion (incidentally: several elevator groups are provided, one of them - specifically for the public areas; it connects the atrium with the walkable roof, while the office employees can use other elevators so as not to get in the way of the visitors of the shops and cafes, as well as the other way around). In a word, in spite of its almost-antiseptic whiteness, the atrium space turned out sophisticated, lively, and, no doubt, impressive-looking.

West facade


From the typological standpoint, this is a passage, but a very wide one, and in two dimensions at once: on the first floor, the cafes and shops get more room because they occupy the entire area of the two triangular buildings. The height of the "passage" also proves to be considerable, in fact, sky-high, by the shops' standards, which allows the architects to experiment with the space and the perspective, creating the austere, yet monumental, and at the same time charged with "intrigue plastique" anteroom of the thick forest of Moscow's tallest skyscrapers.

Text by: Yuliy Borisov, Nikolai Milovidov, Julia Tryaskina, Julia Tarabarina
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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