Here’s a challenge: design a park on top of a contested, politically-charged site.
Not hard enough? Ok. How about you create a park on the site of what was both a Jewish ghetto and Nikita Krushchev’s Hotel Rossiya. Harder still? Do it in the center of Moscow, and make sure it becomes a world-class destination that’s open in the winter. And try to make President Vladimir Putin happy, too.
That, in a sense, was the challenge given out to designers across the world: reimagine Zaryadye Park in downtown Moscow.
The winner? Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York. It’s the design house responsible for transforming a derelict set of freight tracks into New York City’s High Line Park.
“It’s a reclamation project, as much as anything,” says design partner Charles Renfro.
The site plan includes combining four ecological environments of Russia in one park: tundra, steppe, forest and marshland. It aims to embed itself seamlessly into the urban surroundings. Renfro believes the new park will offer a surreal and new experience that’s urban and green at the same time.
The goals are ambitious. But it doesn’t stop with looks. Renfro wants Zaryadye Park to lead Muscovites to reinvent the way they use public space. He says Muscovites, as a group, are “respectful of the curb.”
“No one really gets in touch with nature,” he says. “I mean, just a piece of grass where in the United States would be like, ‘Oh look, there’s a lawn, let’s go out and play Frisbee.’ In Moscow, if there is a piece of cultivated grass, people would be like, ‘Oh wow, there’s a green thing to look at.’ So it’s less about what they are doing, and more about what they aren’t doing.”
The new plan for the park hopes to get them exploring. The entire place wil lack paths. People will be invited to meander as they please — couples to sit, children to tumble, and singles to wander. The space will turn into whatever people want the space to turn into.
“I hope people learn to enjoy just being in the landscape.”
Note: A previous version of this story identified the Rossiya Hotel as Joseph Stalin's hotel and was corrected to Nikita Krushchev's hotel.