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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to the Future in Neo-Soviet Russia

The Independent reports on a plan of Russia's elite to literally build a country within a country, where they will be insultated not merely from the rabble in the streets but from Mother Nature herself. Not only has the Russian elite learned nothing from the past century of Soviet dictatorship, but they learned nothing from the centuries that came before. Apres moi le deluge! This obscene, insular attitude is exactly what brought down the Tsar AND the Politburo, but Russians go merrily on making the same mistakes over and over and over and over and over.

An entire Moscow suburb is to be built within a space-age glass cone conceived by architect Norman Foster to shield its residents from the Russian winter.

Plans for the futuristic development have already been presented to Moscow's city fathers by Lord Foster, who is rapidly taking a leading role in the Russian capital's most radical transformation since the 1930s.

The city's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has approved the £1.6bn project, and excited officials believe it could emulate the global status of the Foster-designed Swiss Re "Gherkin" tower in the City of London.

The cone will be situated in southern Moscow on a spit of land near the Moscow River and will be topped by an imposing 150m-high spire. Those inside it will be able to see out through its transparent skin.

But by far the best thing about it from a Russian point of view is that people inside will be protected from the elements in a city where the mercury can fall to a bone-tingling minus 30C in the depths of winter.

"It won't matter what the weather is like outside," said someone familiar with the project. "The elements have been made irrelevant."

The exact design of the cone is being kept under wraps by the architect, who is famously protective of his creations until the last moment, and no artist's impressions have yet been released. But Moscow officials have seen it and described it with enthusiasm. According to Aleksander Kuzmin, Moscow's chief architect, the lower part of the cone has been designed to look like an upturned flower with 12 giant petals radiating from its centre.

Inside, the cone itself will be a 20-hectare area split into six different levels, each one with several floors.

Lord Foster has designed a one-hectare observation point close to the cone's apex from where residents and visitors will be able to gaze over the Moscow skyline. The area will be surrounded by large swaths of greenery. The design is grandiose. Beneath its main cupola will be a public space that can be used as a sports stadium, a concert hall, a circus or an ice-rink. The cone's "guts" will look a bit like a see-through wedding cake; different levels will be stacked with apartment developments, shops, bars, restaurants and all the facilities you would expect to find in a small town.

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