Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tall buildings, wide streets, and where have all the Ladas gone?

Now this is a building that could be called The Twist
The reason for my trips to Moscow is to participate on the jury for a new International Financial Centre in Moscow, to be developed on a 1000 acre site on the outskirts of the city.

During my last trip, Timur Ryvkin of the Colliers Moscow office took me to an area in the city's downtown where another financial district is under construction. It includes a number of 'look at me' buildings at various stages of completion, along with an underground shopping mall, Novotel Hotel and other buildings.

My very knowledgeable guide, Timur Ryvkin of Colliers' Moscow office
One of the justifications for a new financial centre outside of the downtown is that the inner circle of Moscow is extremely congested. It is not uncommon for the traffic to become completely snarled, despite the fact that the city has some very wide wide that they can only be crossed by underground passages.

While some streets do have wide sidewalks lined with shops, and there are a limited number of pedestrian malls, this is not a pedestrian friendly city.

One of the goals of the new financial centre is to create a community that is much more pedestrian and transit oriented.  Now speaking of cars...

I always associated Russia with Ladas. However, I was in Moscow for two days before I saw my first Lada. Instead what I saw were Porsche Cayennes, Range Rovers, BMW's and even a few Rolls Royces and Bentleys. I even came across a Rolls dealership in the lobby of a hotel...the Radisson Royal Hotel.
The Rolls dealership in the Radisson Royal Hotel

In the winter the cars get extremely dirty. Or in the case of this Range Rover, they catch fire!
At the end of a day touring about the city I was treated to a very nice tea in the lobby of the Metropol Hotel.                                   No, I didn't eat the whole thing!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Housing in Moscow

While many older buildings and subway stations in Moscow are very attractive, the same cannot be said for much of the housing. The Soviet policy of providing homes for each citizen, combined with the rapid growth of the city led to the construction of enormous, plain housing blocks. Over the years, many of these buildings have been poorly maintained and are most unattractive.
After the fall of communism many citizens received ownership of their apartments which had formerly been owned by the state or their employer.  This allows many Muscovites to live rent free and pay only building maintenance and the utilities.
Apartments are small by our standards. A typical one-bedroom apartment is about thirty square meters (323 sq ft), a typical two-bedroom apartment is forty-five square meters (485 sq ft), and a typical three-bedroom apartment is seventy square meters (753 sq ft).

I was often disturbed by the amount of graffiti that covered both the outside of some buildings and interior common areas. However, the same buildings often had very elegant renovated apartments mixed in with dilapidated units, often side by side on the same floor. In reading about housing conditions in Moscow I came across one article that suggested many homeowners don't mind the graffiti and unsightly common areas since it deters thieves!

During my recent visit I had the opportunity to visit a number of new housing developments that were very different. While many of the larger buildings are... larger buildings, I did see a number of new higher end developments which were quite comparable in exterior appearance to new, high quality developments in Canada. In a number of instances I was fooled by the age of the buildings, since many new buildings have the character of older buildings.

Below are just some of the projects I came across in my travels

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Moscow's Subway System: Public Transit and Public Art

I've often thought you can learn a lot about a city by its public transit system. Riding the London tube is the quintessential London experience, as is a journey on a double-Decker bus. Toronto has its streetcars; Curitiba has its creative Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and New Orleans and Portland have their tram systems.

However, the Moscow Subway is perhaps the most remarkable transit system I have ever experienced. To me it is a mystery. It opened in 1935 and for the next 20 years many of its stations were built, some as much as 240 feet below grade...that's equivalent to a 27 storey apartment building below grade! You ride down very long escalators. When I inquired why the stations were so deep I was told many were designed as bomb shelters in the event of a nuclear war.

While a few lines have digital indicators to let you know where you are, most do not and it is difficult to know exactly where you are. However, the stations are announced (in Russian of course) and I was surprised to learn that a male voice announces the next station when traveling towards the centre of the city, and a female voice when going away from it.

The system carries up to 9 million passengers a day. But what makes it most remarkable is the design of the stations, which truly are incredible works of art.  Here are some photos of just a few:
At the Checkov Station
A number of the stations feature beautiful stained glass...just compare this with Vancouver's typical station!

These colourful murals must surely delight on a cold, grey winter day!

This mural is created from pieces of marble, see detail below

The country's military history can be found in frieze's and other decorative works in the various stations.

Many of the stations have this circular design with the entrances clearly separated from the exits.

While the stations are often fabulous, the subway cars are not. While there may be some newer cars in the system, every one that I saw looked like this!

Moscow has some wonderful old buildings

One of the most iconic buildings in Moscow, St Basil Church at the end of Red Square
If you've never been to Moscow, you will probably have the wrong impression of the city. Yes, it can be grey, and yes, there are many large, Stalinesque buildings. But that's not the over-riding image. At least not for me.

During a recent 10 day working visit to Moscow I came across hundreds of grand and beautiful buildings, some dating back to the 16th century. I have many pictures, but here are just a few to hopefully give you a different impression of what some buildings in the city look like.

One of the many buildings that are beautifully illuminated at night.
The main Sochi Olympics Merchandise Store is located in a portion of the Gum Department Store in Red Square
Inside the Gum department store
One of the '7 Sisters' built by Stalin around 1947. This one is a government office.
This '7 Sister' was built as the Ukrainia Hotel. It was recently renovated as the Radisson Royal
I don't know what this building is but wanted you to see how blue the sky is!
The Tretyakov Gallery, once a private public
One of many solid looking government office buildings around the city...the sort of thing you would expect, right?
Cathedral of Christ our Saviour