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5 architects who brought gardens back to Moscow’s Garden Ring

, Cities
Translator Maxwell Koopsen
Photographer Egor Slizyak

Strelka Magazine continues to publish stories of architects who participated in the “My Street” renovation project in the Russian capital. In this, the final issue, we take a look at the those who have changed the Garden Ring, one of the main transport arteries that encircles Moscow’s city center. This project was a collaborative effort:  Russian and foreign bureaus developed the concepts, while architects from Strelka KB worked in accompaniment, making adaptations to fit the realities of Moscow.

ALYA CHECHETKINA, 26 

Project manager and lead architect at KB Strelka,  studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute and AA School of Architecture, where she currently teaches

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Project: Directed the development of the Garden Ring (Sadovoe Koltso) concept, was there through all the stages of the project
The Garden Ring is not just a street, but a unique space in Moscow of 15.6 kilometers in length, which unites completely different places. Here you’ll find Filatov Hospital, the Obraztsov Theater, Lotte Plaza, the Bakhrushin Museum, the Foreign Ministry, and residential complexes. As for the architecture, Sadovoe is a hodgepodge of styles: 19th century Empire style juxtaposed with the Constructivism of Shchusev from the 1920s, the Brutalism of the 1980 Olympics press center standing in contrast to buildings from the 2000s. In addition, the Garden Ring functions as the most important artery for the city, connecting traffic flows, but at the same time breaks the integrity of the pedestrian space. Our task was to come up with a unified and recognizable image of the entire ring and, at the same time, avoid repetitive decisions while emphasizing the diversity of its spaces.
The general concept was called "100 Gardens of the Garden Ring.” It was based on the desire to restore historical justice. At the beginning of the 20th century, authorities in Moscow implemented the first "public project" – they allocated small plots of land in front of each house and allowed residents to plant gardens there according to their own tastes. Due to the large number of various front gardens and boulevards in those days, the street was indeed a garden ring. However, by the 1930s, during reconstruction, the boulevards and front gardens were demolished. The project aimed to bring back gardens, replacing what was destroyed in the 20th century in order to form an accessible and convenient space for pedestrians and everyone else.
Since ancient times in Russia, there have been gardens of the sovereign, of merchants, and those planted for amusement. Based on this idea, we developed several types of gardens that would be suitable for different types of street space: ceremonial gardens for iconic territories (mostly in the metro areas), as well as secret gardens. Transit spaces, even parking areas, were to become gardens.
In the development of these ideas, we were assisted by experts in historical and cultural heritage – Anna Bronovitskaya and Boris Pasternak, as well as professional dendrologists Grigory Boyko and Artem Parshin. To create a functional and competent street profile, we attracted Ludwig Tewksbury, the landscape architect responsible for the transformation of two main streets in London – Regent Street and Oxford Circus. We conducted a field survey of the entirety of the Garden Ring with him in February 2016, observing its functions and discussing possible solutions. Our walk took six and a half hours. Together with him, we adjusted and validated many of our ideas, including the optimal distance between barrel-planted trees, ensuring it would be convenient for those passing from the road to the sidewalk, and for storing snow in winter in case he authorities would one day stop scattering salt on the sidewalks. 
In addition to the linear space along the road, we identified various landmark areas of the road, such as Krymskaya Square and the area near Krasnye Vorota, as well as small adjoining areas which make up the Garden Ring. According to the concept, the reorganization of these areas  should emphasize the uniqueness of each of them and thereby bring diversity to the project. It was for this purpose that concepts for these distinct areas were developed by various foreign bureaus, including Snøhetta and Villes & Paysages. We, in turn, helped adapt their visions to fit the reality of Moscow. 
Different executive powers are responsible for the objects we see on the street, such as street lights, benches, road signs, stop signs, and mailboxes. We counted more than 50 ways in which the arrangements of these elements are regulated. In our concepts, we had to accommodate most of them. There was no consensus among all these bodies, therefore it was necessary to search tirelessly for a compromise which would suit all. 

According to urban designer Ludwig Tewksbury, if the Garden Ring were in London, it would take no less than five years to process the coordination of the project with all the necessary departments.

Formally, the scope of our responsibility was limited to the creation of the concept. However we tried to be part  of the project’s detailed plans, which led us to the construction phase, and even to the construction site itself.
When implementing the project, our ideas were severely curtailed. What has now been built is difficult to call “gardens,” and the concept of diversity that was key to the project has been almost entirely unrealized.
Nevertheless, the functional part of our concept was fully realized, and today we see 20-year-old maple and linden trees planted along the entirety of the Garden Ring. Small ash trees and wild apple trees are planted on the sidewalks, which had to be the right  width. All of Sadovoe is now illuminated by a uniform, warm light. Billboards do not interfere with pedestrian traffic, and entrances to courtyards are highlighted by the color of the pavement. From a transport perspective, the Garden Ring has turned into a balanced street. Now it's much nicer to move around it.

ALEXANDER TRUKHAN, 26 

Architect at Strelka Architects, studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute

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Project: The Novinsky Boulevard Project
For this site, we worked together with both Novoe and A2OM bureaus. They developed the concepts and we accompanied them, adapting their ideas and supervising the project during construction.
Novoe worked on the concept for the courtyard near the house at Novinsky Boulevard, 15. The architects created a modern and cozy city space with convenient walking paths. We discussed the design solutions with residents and slightly adjusted the concept. For example, by expanding the distance to the house so that large machinery could approach it, while also making additional footpaths.
Our workplace moved here over the summer. We practically lived on Novinsky Boulevard. Every day, in the morning, we made a detour with the builders, and solved any questions that appeared overnight.
I even had my own desktop there, as it was sometimes necessary to add or refine things on the spot. We did not have a schedule as such; the builders would call me at 10pm or 11pm. But it was a pleasure to work with them; we became friends, so it was easy to find a compromise.
We worked on the boulevard for three months. The area changed before our eyes day by day, and now we see people walking along the street. It's inspiring. Of course, this place has become a landmark for me in Moscow, and I'm glad that the area has changed. During the construction, we heard different opinions about our work from passersby – both good and bad. But I hope that as a result, we managed to make the space comfortable for everyone.

HAMID TAITSENOV, 26 

Architect at Strelka Architects, studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute and MARCH Architecture School

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Project: The Garden Ring area, from the Foreign Ministry to Oktyabrskaya metro station
One of the most striking changes on this site is the appearance of a skate park under the bridge near Park Kultury metro station, an idea which belongs to Snøhetta. We have thoroughly refined their concept and implemented our joint ideas. To do this, we were helped by the guys from the Federation of Skateboarding and Tcekh. Thanks to them, this place came into existence.
This is the second summer that I’ve spent on the Garden Ring. Last year, I worked on the Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya street project. This time was a little easier for me, since I had assistants with whom I could solve any questions that arose. But our schedule was equally adjusted to the workers: when it was an all hands on deck kind of job, we were right there with them. We had to be there at night sometimes, too. You might say that our whole life was spent at the site.
During the construction process, you need to make sure that all the items are delivered and aligned according to plan. We used spray paint to mark where the lights should go, so that it was clearly understandable for the workers. By the way, we became friends with them and they even called me on my birthday.
Design decisions often had to be changed on the spot. For example, it was not possible to plant a tree because of a communication system. This problem has often been encountered in the past, and also this year. One of the brightest moments of last year was planting the first trees. We bought champagne, went to the planting site. It was an important and happy day for us, as the preparations for it were very difficult.

To transform the city is enjoyable, but it is also a great responsibility. There is a fear that someone might not like the changes. Although this year, I already understood what could cause negative reactions, and reacted more calmly. 

ANNA SHEVCHENKO, 28 

Architect at Strelka Architects, studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute and MARCH Architecture School

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Project: The area between Mayakovskaya and Sukharevskaya metro stations
If we’re talking about practice within the profession, the most valuable part for me was the experience of working at a construction site, interacting with a vast number of contractors, and getting to know each manager and worker. I spent a whole summer with these people, and we had a very pleasant friendship. We understood that we are building for ages to come, that in 50 years we will tell our children how we planted trees there together.
When a young woman enters a construction site, it takes some time to prove her credibility; to show that you really can cope with any problem, from designing junctions to showing a worker how to correctly place paving stones. 
Of course, there were disputes at the construction sites. It is important to use your experience and knowledge of modern technologies competently and be able to convey your ideas to builders. I think in many ways, thanks to teamwork, our work is getting better. 
We often interacted with residents who were in nearby cafes, as well as with passersby, while we were working. We were approached several times by former builders who and asked us what we were doing, whether this or that junction was being done correctly.
Many residents wondered whether there would be trees opposite their windows. Our work with one cafe was especially memorable. Before, there were parked cars that blocked the entrance of the establishment. During the reconstruction, we put extra benches at the entrance, while still leaving parking spaces nearby. In the end, all were satisfied.

It seems to me that this was a unique experience; most of what we have done will remain in the city for many years, and this was a big responsibility. Now, when we walk along this street, we see that everything is working. The end result was important to us: for the Garden Ring to become a proper street. And we succeeded.

ANNA KHLUDENEVA, 30 

Architect at Strelka Architects, studied at the Moscow Architectural Institute

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Project: Landmark areas and squares of the Garden Ring, completed in 2017
For the most part, the concept of spaces around the metro and large areas was developed by foreign firms, and my job was to accompany their work and adapt their ideas to Moscow’s conditions. Since the concepts were made quite a while ago, in 2016, some things had to be worked out For instance, in 2016 part of the Garden Ring was rebuilt, and because of this, we made some changes.
One of the most striking projects was the area near  Krasnye Vorota metro station. There, together with Michel Desvigne, we managed to realize a rather controversial, but functional and interesting idea: to turn continuous asphalt, parking spaces, and a roadway into a comfortable, green pedestrian space to create a full-fledged square. At the entrance of the metro there appeared green hills with lots of trees. It was almost like a forest. We tried to place these objects so as not to block the view from Novaya Basmannaya Street to the pavilion of architect Ladovsky and to the towering Russian Railways building, which was constructed according to Fomin’s design. We didn’t manage to accomplish everything exactly as was intended and, at this point, not all of the elements are ready. For example, benches and garbage bins still need to be placed on the square, and the shrubs won’t be planted until the spring.

Our team, you might say, lived on the Garden Ring all summer. But since the landmark areas are located along the entire street, I personally had to ride around to various places on the ring road all day. 

During the construction process, it was necessary to oversee everything – from planting trees to arranging benches, garbage bins and street lamps. The builders often had questions and we helped them understand the necessary plans and documentation, and explained how it should be implemented.
We tried to change the street for the better by making it more convenient for citizens. I hope that most Muscovites will appreciate it as time goes on.
Photos: Egor Slizyak / Strelka Institute, photos of Garden Ring from the Foreign Ministry to Oktyabrskaya metro station by Dmitry Gusev

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