Moscow is a city known for its chaotic anything-goes approach to construction – architecture and zoning give way to capitalism. In the past decades many historical buildings have been demolished or have gone to ruin while hundreds of business and residential buildings of little architectural interest and of low construction quality have been built.
However, Moscow has recently seen the founding of a new institution, the Strelka Institute. Its main aim is to bring order to chaos, to make people talk about space as well as “raise” a new generation of town planners who will improve the city’s look. This nonprofit, independent Institute for Media, Architecture and Design was founded in cooperation with AMO, the think tank of Rem Koolhaas’s OMA. That’s a place where students will work on the phenomena which are currently shaping Russia, and at the end of the academic year they will present their projects developed under the supervision of leading Russian and international experts from different fields.
“The image of Moscow today, but also of other Russian cities, is an image of a distopic urban landscape, and the space degradation is only getting worse. We cannot fix this image rapidly, but we need to start working on it”, said Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, the president of Strelka.
The Institute was opened by a lecture held by Rem Koolhaas who will head Strelka’s graduate program for Russian and international students, and who will visit Moscow every two months to teach classes. The Strelka faculty is planning a number of summer workshops and lectures on architecture and town planning, with a special focus on the situation in Russia.
The Strelka’s home is a brick building in the center of Moscow, in close proximity to Kremlin. It was a chocolate factory up to 2007. When the factory moved out three years ago, the plan was to build apartments for the über-wealthy, but the crisis has put a stop to that plan and the building opened its doors to galleries, restaurants, and the Strelka. The Institute is largely funded by donations from Alexander Mamut, a billionaire investor who was known for his ties to Boris Yeltsin. He was Yeltsin’s advisor in the ’90s, but has also profited in Putin’s era. Institute investment will reach 10 million dollars by the end of the year, which is just a drop in the oligarch’s ocean of wealth. It’s interesting that Mamut himself told the press that architects in Russia are too subservient and rather tied to business interests. His interest, he said, is to promote research, study and further understanding of architecture and to do “something good for Moscow”.
Among Moscow’s many “monstrosities” the monument to the Russian emperor Peter the Great stands out as probably the most unpopular new sculpture in Moscow. It is near the Strelka Institute, and the urban legend has it that it was a monument to Christopher Columbus that the Russians wanted to give to the Americans on the quincentennial of his 1492 voyage. However, when the present was refused on esthetic grounds, only the head on the monument was replaced by that of Peter the Great. Another “monstrosity” is the second terminal at the Sheremetyevo Airport, a dismal, socialistic building built for the 1980 Olympics. Also found on the black list are the skyscrapers built in Arbat, one of the most beautiful quarters where 19th century residential buildings have been demolished few decades ago to make room for the Novy Arbot with big grey skyscrapers.