How do you design a park for where Krushchev's hotel and a Jewish ghetto once stood?

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: A different sort of public space in Russia is about to get a makeover. Currently, it's a vast, vacant lot in the heart of Moscow, right in the shadow of the Kremlin. In Soviet times, it was a site of the hulking Rossiya Hotel, but the hotel was demolished years ago. Now the plan is to turn the space into a park. Zaryadye Park is the new name. The New York design firm, Diller Scofidio and Renfro, has a job. They're the same people who created the High Line Park in Manhattan.
Partner Charles Renfro told me about the firm's design for the Moscow park.

Charles Renfro: At Zaryadye, we're building on top of ruins, right in the middle of Moscow. It couldn't be more of an urban, and almost industrial, site. Our primary idea was to bring four different ecological sites from Russia, the tundra, the steppe, the forest and the wetlands, and create them as sort of artificial natural landscapes. And then overlay the urban conditions that surround the site, the cobblestones of Red Square...

Werman: And Red Square isn't too far away from this park, is it?

Renfro: No, well, it's... the extension of Red Square on the south side of Saint Basil's Cathedral is immediately adjacent to our park, and the same surface that forms Red Square is the surface that meets the park. So we bring that in and merge that up with the forest, to make a wholly surreal, new kind of experience that's at once urban and at once green.

Werman: So, what remain the most challenging parts of putting this park together now, for you?

Renfro: Well, there is a very complex site with a complex history, and it's a history that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years, and I think trying to reconcile the multiple histories with the current desires is going to prove very interesting. And when I say histories, I'm also referring to the Stalinist history, which is a kind of notable moment in the park, too. So it's the past histories and the future histories that we're trying to reconcile in the park, and I think that's going to be interesting and challenging.

Werman: I'm just curious, did you walk around a lot of parks in Moscow, and what was the, kind of, the oddest use of a park that you saw while you were there?

Renfro: Well, I can't really say that I saw anything particularly odd, but I think one of the things that happens in Moscow parks and public spaces... people are very respectable of the curb. Let's say the division between the paved and the green surface. Nobody really, you know, steps on, or gets in touch with nature. But I mean, just a piece of grass, where citizens in the United States would be, "oh look, it's a lawn, let's go out there and throw a Frisbee." In Moscow, if there's a piece of cultivated grass, people are like, "oh wow, there's a green thing to look at." So in a way, it's less what they're doing, and more of what they aren't doing.

Werman: Is that going to be a challenge in and of itself? Because, I mean, the High Line actually kind of invites... not people to go stomp on the weeds, to stomp on the grasses and plants, but it invites you to be a part of that kind of wilderness.

Renfro: Yeah, I love that you call them weeds, which is true...

Werman: I was thinking of, you know, the beach grass. And it kind of...

Renfro: No, it's all weeds. I mean, most of the material was recovered or discovered from the Line as it had become overgrown. I think there will be a new culture that will be born in Zaryadye, as there was a new culture born in New York City with the High Line. New York City folks didn't know how to use certain kinds of public space very well. I mean, Central Park, you know, invited people out to play Frisbee and do their various kinds of activities, but we really didn't have a park that was about doing nothing except for being there. And I think the High Line is the first New York City park that's sort of just about for being there, strolling. And likewise, Zaryadye will have a similar mandate, to teach Muscovites how to be in public space and with nature in a different way.

Werman: Charles Renfro, speaking with us from his New York City offices of Diller Scofidio and Renfro, thanks a lot.

Renfro: Thank you.

Werman: You can see what Moscow's new Zaryadye Park will look like at