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Case studies

Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts

Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts is Moscow’s first large-scale public space modernisation project. It is both a showcase and testing ground for ideas that could be applied to other public spaces in Moscow. The combined free leisure, sports and cultural facilities have:

  • Extended accessibility to a wide spectrum of potential visitors
  • Renovated the area’s environmental, historical and cultural resources
  • Created new cultural institutions.

Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts is an extensive public space that connects six sites along the Moscow River. In addition to embankments, parks and gardens, there are exhibition spaces, outdoor cinemas, stages, sports facilities and educational centres. Open 24 hours a day and free of charge, it is the heart of Moscow cultural life and a core tourist attraction. The evolution of the space itself also encapsulates many of Moscow’s recent and historical transitions, giving it a significance for Muscovites beyond purely a leisure destination.

Moscow’s public open spaces, parks and cultural institutions suffered a great deal of neglect in the 1990s and 2000s, and it became clear to Moscow’s Department of Culture – and no doubt to Muscovites themselves – that besides repair, these facilities also needed a considered programme of modernisation. In 2011 the head of the Department of Culture, Sergei Kapkov, was appointed Director of Gorky Park, and the interconnected area of Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts became the city’s first large-scale public space modernisation project. It would be both showcase and testing ground; an opportunity to try out ideas for environmental improvement, social activities, public art programs and models for private sector collaboration, which could then potentially extend to other public spaces in Moscow.

Vorobyovy Hills was originally home to Vorobyevsky Palace, residence of tsars and princes from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1812, and by the 1940s and 1950s the area’s remaining buildings had been cleared to make way for Moscow State University. Vorobyovy Hills and neighbouring Neskuchny Gardens combined to become Gorky Park in 1932, part of a utopian vision to create a workers’ leisure district. Muzeon Park of Arts grew from the collection of dismantled Soviet era monuments in the 1990s into a new sculpture park near to Moscow’s primary venue for exhibitions, art fairs and festivals – the Central House of Artists.

These three areas, in addition to Moscow State University parkland, Moscow River’s Crimean Embankment (pedestrian public space), and one of Russia’s largest museums, the State Tretyakov Gallery, come together to form the Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts integrated public space.

The approach to transformation aimed to demonstrate quality and accessibility. Work began with Gorky Park, and in the few months immediately following the appointment of the park’s new director, amusement rides were cleared and basic infrastructural improvements such as resurfacing were carried out.

The abolition of Gorky Park’s entrance fee made it accessible to all regardless of economic means, and with improved lighting and a security presence on site, 24-hour opening became possible. Wheelchairs were made available to disabled visitors free of charge, signage and navigation was improved, and web tools such as social media and mobile apps were introduced to share information with visitors.

Renovation and repair works on historic structures such as the park’s observatory, rosary and Chess Club Pavilion are continuing into 2014, enhancing quality and strengthening identity. Gorky Park’s food and beverage offer boasts more than 30 cafes and restaurants, serving everything from lemonade to oysters, to Gorky Park’s very own brand of ‘Gorky’ ice cream. By July 2014 Gorky Park and the parkland of nearby Moscow State University had been brought together to create the Vorobyovy Hills Nature Reserve.

Sport and leisure are of course what might first encourage Muscovites to visit. 15 kinds of sports facilities are now available, with a new 15,000 square metre artificial ice rink as centrepiece. In summer there is free bike rental, a skate park, a football field, ping pong tables, sun loungers, and the biggest sandpit in Moscow.

Already central to the cultural offering of the Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts area are the State Tretyakov Gallery, housing more than 100,000 works across the history of Russian painting, and the Central House of Artist, hosting 300 exhibitions a year across its 60 galleries. In 2012 these two established venues were joined by Moscow’s independent, non-profit Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture. Established by Russian celebrity Dasha Zhukova in 2008, the Garage commissioned a temporary pavilion in GorkyPark from world-renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, quickly followed by the construction in 2013 of The Garage Education Centre. Garage’s permanent 5,400 square metre Gorky Park home will open in 2015, designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas of OMA.

Improvement work in Muzeon Park of Arts also began in 2012. Its collection of more than 700 sculptures are now joined by an outdoor cinema, a programme of summer outdoor music festivals and the School pavilion, providing free classes in Uzbek, Kazakh, Moldovan or Tajik languages.

Moscow’s freelance workers can take advantage of high quality work and meeting facilities at Neskuchny Garden’s Work Station. To ensure Muscovites can stay connected, Gorky Park is equipped with free wifi, a power network and charging points.

The Vorobyovy Hills-Gorky Park-Muzeon Park of Arts renovation and modernisation has expressed the area’s environmental, historical and cultural resources to their best advantage. The combination of leisure, sports and cultural facilities across an interconnected area that is open free of charge helps extend accessibility to a wide spectrum of potential visitors. If replicated as suggested, this ongoing modernisation project may indeed become 21st century Moscow’s new vision for a utopian leisure district.