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On the Bank of a Very Quiet River

The project of landscaping the territory of the residential complex NOW in Moscow’s Nagatinskaya Valley goes beyond the limits of its task and looks more like a modern park: with viewing platforms, an embankment, spaces different in their moods, and thought-out scenarios for visitors aged between 0 and 80.

Alyona Kuznetsova

Written by:
Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

22 July 2021
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The housing complex NOW is being built in the eastern part of the “ZIL Peninsula” – a territory, with which the biggest and most popular projects of reconstructing former industrial estates are associated. The city is planning to build here more than 6M square meters of real property accommodating for a brave new life: with pedestrian embankments, streets named after artists and architects, a technology park, a “Disneyland”, and many other infrastructure projects that will allow you to describe this place as “a city within a city” with traits of a utopia. One should hardly say that the status of this territory raises the bar sky-high.

The land site of the housing complex NOW stretches along the east bank of the Novinka backwater, which was the bed of the Moskva River before the construction of the rectifier canal. Its immediate neighbors on the opposite side of Drive 7024 are a group of business centers that together constitute the aforementioned techno park next to the namesake metro station (NOW is a ten minutes’ walk away), the already completed Technopark housing complex, designed by SPEECH, and the Nagatino i-Land complex, designed by Aleksey Ginzburg. On the opposite, western bank of the lake, “the biggest housing complex in Europe”, named Chagall, the first stage of which was designed by buromoscow.

All of the above-mentioned complexes are rather modernist architecture, and this is why when ATRIUM, headed by Vera Budko and Anton Nadtochiy, won the closed-door competition for the concept of NOW with a project quite characteristic for the style of these architects, the client asked the authors to redesign the visual appearance of the complex in a more traditional key, interpreted nowadays as “Art Deco”, which they did. The second stage was designed by the APEX project bureau. The complex consists of 16 buildings forming large city blocks with public stylobates. Each one has a facade of its own; the first line of houses is situated 30 meters away from the water’s edge.

View of the promenade near Buildings 1.1, 1.4. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The GAFA architects, which did the improvement of the NOW public zones, were to solve quite a large number of tasks: linking the territory of the complex to the surrounding territories, turning the embankment into the local center of attraction, which, considering the bar raised by ZIL, was quite a chore, making the yards cozy and “human-friendly”, and breathing life into this new little piece of the city by using thought-out scenarios. This whole project started from designing the sales office.

The entrance groups. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


When GAFA landed the commission for designing the sales office, the developer already had two landscaping projects ready. But, as is known, “there are no small roles”: designing this little project, GAFA perfected import principles, demonstrating their approach and competences, the client got inspired by their work, and then he proposed to spread the solutions over to the last stage, and then to the entire complex. 

The sales office of the NOW housing complex, a project
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The whole space between the buildings is dissected into “cabinets”, which makes the yards look like a regular park. On the inside, each of the urban blocks features a similar set of functions – playgrounds and sports fields, quiet and noisy streets, flowerbeds and city “balconies”. However, no two single cabinets are exactly alike, which is meant to motivate the residents to move around inside the complex in search of new viewing angles and favorite locations, as well as forming neighbor communities – this last thing is particularly important for GAFA. For this reason, each yard received a unique “bonus” of its own: a community table, a large “meadow” or a “city balcony” that commands the embankment views on the one side and the dynamic city street on the other.

The master plan of the yard. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The landscape solutions are aimed first of all at compensating for the rather large construction density, an excessive amount of shade that it produces, and the inevitable prevalence of hard surfaces, necessary for the emergency vehicles.

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    Urban block 2.3-2.6, an overview. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Urban block 2.3-2.6, an overview. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Urban block 2.3-2.6, an overview. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Urban block 4, the city balconies. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects


According to the architects, what makes GAFA’s approach to landscaping different is the fact that they do not seek to stuff the yards with “activities”, thereby imposing scenarios, but offer spaces that are “empty”, and, hence, multifunctional, easily adaptable to the user’s needs and moods: a lawn with a picturesque snag, a birch grove, a flower garden, and a plaza. Emptiness is a place that does not imply pragmatic benefits, but in return it gives air and a different level of experience. Free space is increasingly associated with luxury – like a weekday, in which there are no duties, and you can do whatever you have wanted for a long time. In this courtyard, you are not forced to warm up on a simulator or get bored on the playground – you can lie on the grass, smell flowers or play badminton with your children.

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    Stage 3. View of the birch garden and the city balcony. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Stage 3, view of the lawn and amphitheter. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Stage 3, view of the city balcony. THe yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    Stage 3, view of the alley with shadow awnings. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    View of the plazas. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects


Each point commands beautiful views, which is yet another achievement by GAFA, making the yard look like a garden. The emergency drives are masked as plazas with elegant paving. Victoria Barkalova, the chief architect of the project, believes that “the brickwork retrieves people’s attention to detail, which allows us to speak about the human-friendly character of the project and the quality of manual work.” The species diversity of perennials and trees in the composition of landscaping is counted in hundreds of names-needless to say that they are distributed in picturesque groups and are designed to bloom continuously.

Such a yard not only invites you to spend more time outdoors, but also will not bore you for a long time. It is interesting to be in for people of any age and throughout the year.

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    Plaza. A landscape slide. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The paving pattern. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The public spaces for the residents. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The next level of land improvement is the boulevard between the complex and the river, the “upper embankment” – a transient city space supported by the retail of NOW’s first floor, as well as by bicycle and jogging trails.

The master plan. The embankment. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


And, finally, the embankment immediately next to the water – an indisputable genius loci. The GAFA architects tried to bring it back to its original natural appearance and turn it into a local center of attraction. 

The natural contour of the riverbank will be kept intact and reinforced with boulders and pebbles, specially selected plants, and “rain gardens” that stop the excess of rainwater, filtering it and making it penetrate the soil gradually.

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    NOW housing complex. The rain gardens
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    NOW housing complex. The rain gardens
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    NOW housing complex. The rain gardens
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The possibilities presented by the terrain are used for creating connections – trails, descents, an amphitheater, as well as functional projects, such as playgrounds and summer slides. The minor architectural forms will be interspersed with pine trees and herbs, as well as by picturesquely scattered boulders. Essentially, the architects are creating not just the landscape but also a beginning of forming a whole ecosystem and reviving the local biological diversity – the numerous plants and flowers will attract insects, insects will in turn attract birds, and fish will return to the purified water. There is an eco trail running throughout the embankment, walking by which is meant to give the city resident new impressions and make them feel at one with nature.

The recreation place. The embankment. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


A mini-plaza with a pergola. The embankment. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
Copyright: © GAFA Architects


The architects tactfully included activity zones into the riverside space, they found space for amphitheaters, playgrounds, as well as a dog park, the “signature” community table, a picnic lawn, and a sports cluster that was positioned at the beginning of the embankment, closer to the Nagatino-i-Land technology park. Thus, the tiered embankment offers dozens of pastime scenarios.

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    The fuctional diagram. The yards. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
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    The routes. The embankment. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The “natural plaza”. The embankment. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The plaza with an amphitheater. The embankment. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The playground. The embankment. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects
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    The sports cluster. THe embankment. The improvement of the territory of the NOW housing complex
    Copyright: © GAFA Architects


In 2023, the construction of a road bridge across the backwater should be completed, the bridge should connect the Nagatinskaya floodplain with the ZIL-Yug / Shagal quarters, and two pedestrian bridges will also be built. In addition, the city announced the emergence of a water attraction platform, a floating spa complex and a garden with aquatic plants in the water area of the backwater. All this allows us to say that the NOW residential complex embankment will become a part of the recreational framework of the ZIL peninsula – together with the Marc Chagall embankment, the Tyuffel grove, and the Dream Island landscape parks.


22 July 2021

Alyona Kuznetsova

Written by:

Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
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