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Studying Zaryadye Park

What urbanists and cultural scientists think about the 'Park of Present Future' near the Kremlin wall


Zaryadye Park has inspired a series of studies and seminars involving urbanists, cultural scientists, designers, anthropologists and geographers. Researchers Michał Murawski, Margarita Chubukova and Daria Volkova reviewed some of the ideas about the new park in HSE's Urban Studies and Practices Journal. Here is a summary of their key findings.

Blooming Complexity

Launched on September 9th, 2017, Zaryadye Park remains one of Moscow's most discussed architectural projects. In evidence of its popularity, the local toponymy has changed: previously associated with a historical part of Moscow near the Kremlin, the name of Zaryadye refers primarily to the park today.

Acclaimed as a 'park of present future' and a 'miracle in the heart of Moscow', Zaryadye, according to Volkova, is 'designed to impress with its technology (the bridge, the screen, the glass dome and the cameras), the number of visitors, and the diversity of landscapes and types of Russian food served. But at least to the same extent, it surprises by its eclecticism, kaleidoscope of styles and  'blooming complexity'. Volkova sees Zaryadye as 'a pile-up of meanings and intentions' and 'an array of sometimes unrelated objects, events and allusions to different epochs'. To this, Murawski adds  that the park's design represents 'an incessant transformation of heterogeneity ... into ideology'.  Its style comprises 'Westernism' and 'Russianness', the natural and the artificial, aspirations for the future and nostalgia for the past. The actual history of the place  fades, replaced by a new one, deliberately constructed to fit the present circumstances.

Visitors react to Zaryadye's eclecticism in different ways ranging from delight to rejection. For many people, 'the mechanism of social programming works every time', according to Chubukova, and converts their positive emotions into 'pride for the Russian capital'. However, the park's design is too diverse for straightforward and unambivalent reactions.

A number of Moscow authorities and businesses – from the city’s Departments of Culture and Information Technology to Mosgorpark (the Joint Directorate of Moscow Parks) to engineering companies – attended the official launch of Zaryadye. 'The diversity of agents involved indicates their collective responsibility for the end result', Chubukova comments. According to the researchers, since the park was designed to be 'not only X but also Y', it could accommodate even polar opposites. 

The participants of 'Zaryadyology' seminars discussed the park in terms of 'not only hell but also heaven'. According to Murawski's witty remark, 'summer is not only summer but also winter, and winter is not only winter but also summer' in Zaryadye. The grassy hill over the philharmony is equipped with the 'artificial climate' technology keeping it warm in winter and cool in summer.

Outdated Modernity

The new park’s concept is supposed to mitigate many of its contrasts.

According to some experts, Zaryadye is a modern park based on an interplay of opposites: artificial versus natural, real versus virtual. 

The coexistence of man-made and natural elements is integral to the concept of 'wild urbanism' featured in the winning design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a New York-based architecture firm. According to Charles Renfro, a partner at DS+R, wild urbanism offers ‘an opportunity to leave the city and at the same time be closer to it' and creates spaces where urbanity meets nature in unusual ways.

Some experts, however, find this 'meeting' disappointing. Speaking at a round table on Zaryadyology, architect Nikita Asadov criticised the park's 'secondariness' and outdatedness. Asadov described the project as 'too figurative', adding that Western bionic architecture with its mimicry of plant forms had gone out of style. 'It is as if the park's architecture had become obsolete before it was launched', Chubukova comments.

Place of Uncertain Identity

While Zaryadye serves as a park, i.e. a place where people take walks and relax in nature, it does not look like a 'park of culture' typical of many Russian cities, with garden sculpture, lawns, flower beds and fountains. Although Zaryadye has overcome these clichés, its own identity remains vague.

Murawski questions whether this complex structure with plants on rooftops and a huge underground carpark, as well as mysterious nuclear bunkers, can indeed be called a park. The researcher describes it as an improvisation, a wild and free but controlled, guarded and regulated area designed for good-mannered and disciplined citizens only.

One way or another, the international call for proposals specifically mentioned that Zaryadye would be Moscow's and Russia's main park. The call also emphasised the hybrid nature of the new place as 'a world-class public space' yet 'having a distinct, individual character' and integrating both Westernism and Russianness in its appearance. Inspired by New York’s Central Park, London’s Hyde Park, Barcelona’s Güell Park and Chicago's Millennium Park, it was supposed to also represent the Russian landscape with its vast diversity.

 Made up of artificial microclimates that mimic Russia's landscape typologies (tundra, taiga, steppe, etc.), Zaryadye can serve as a mini-encyclopedia of Russian nature. According to Murawski, these landscape types are showcased in Zaryadye just like the diverse ethic cultures of the USSR were represented at VDNKh, the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy.

 The same is true of gastronomic diversity: the park's food court offers examples of local cuisine from all parts of Russia.  


Nostalgia for Russianness

Some researchers discuss what they call the 'landscape nationalism' of Zaryadye Park. According to anthropologist Sergey Shtyrkov who coined the term, it refers to certain features of the Russian landscape established in popular culture. These features are used to express, narratively and visually, 'a special connection between an individual representative of the nation <...> and a certain culturally canonised landscape' perceived as natural but disrupted by external circumstances such as modernisation, migration, etc.

According to Chubukova, Zaryadye's nationality is obvious: 'Here and there, one can see the Kremlin against the backdrop of "Russian” birch trees, a little church over a quiet river, i.e. the Church of the Conception of Saint Anna at the Corner, a costume performance of Boyars on the Day of National Unity and much more'. By recreating this idyllic landscape, the park's designers seek to respond to people’s longing for an imaginary past and mitigate the effects of its 'disruption'.

Clean Slate

Despite its apparent nostalgia for the past, Zaryadye’s construction has modified and partially erased the actual historical context. According to expert Rustam Rakhmatullin, the park's designers radically reworked the local landscape, e.g. by replacing a valley and meadows with hills.

However, the district of Zaryadye has survived numerous reincarnations throughout its history, and its current development 'follows the tradition of always treating Moscow as a clean slate, e.g. by pulling down parts of the Kremlin in the 18th and 20th centuries', Rakhmatullin notes. Many of the district's old buildings were destroyed in the 1930s as part of Stalin's reconstruction of Moscow and in the 2000s when Rossiya Hotel was taken down due to obsolescence and physical decay. Every now and then, the Kremlin – the local dominant feature – has required an updated, larger-scale urban development to fit the new epoch.

As the 'clean slate' of Zaryadye filled with new content, its reputation changed accordingly. Historically, the district used to house merchants and criminals in hiding. In Stalin’s time, things inevitably changed, and the city's centre, including Zaryadye, was transformed into a monumental urban project to correspond to the overall political spirit. Space had to be cleared for 'a building where Stalin could move with his government, featuring a huge shelter to hide them from any gas or nuclear attacks', writes Volkova. This was followed by a series of projects designed to populate Zaryadye's bare ground, including the would-be giant People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry (Narkomtiazhprom) building and the monumental Second House of the Council of People's Commissars (both utopias were never realised). In 1967, The Rossiya Hotel was built on the site, followed by Zaryadye Park. The original district of Zaryadye is long gone, and 'it was not Zaryadye Park that killed it', the researchers conclude. 

Perhaps the district would not have changed so radically if it had not been for Russia's 'enchantment with centralisation'. The Kremlin and Red Square, according to Murawski, are 'the eternal centre of Moscow and the Russian world'. Being part of their orbit, the district of Zaryadye is bound to change with current trends. While at the time of Yuri Luzhkov's mayoralty, Manezhnaya Square – or Manezhka – with its shopping mall served as 'a second Red Square', recently its function as Moscow's central attraction has been taken over by Zaryadye Park. 



The park is designed to be part of the country's visual identity. According to Volkova, reminiscent of major Soviet-time landmarks, the park's 'breadth, height and scale' have been emphasised, in particular in the media coverage. Some 150,000 visitors attended the park's opening, and the event made it into the world news. In September 2017 alone, the park was mentioned in social media some 300,000 times. However, what stands behind the record numbers is just as important.

Hyperbolisation and 'reliance on numbers to demonstrate the magnitude of concepts and their implementation are common in projects intended to impress by quantity and dimensions rather than operate with facts and meanings', Volkova comments.

We learn from the park's website that its Time Machine digital panorama featuring a multimedia show about Russia's history is equipped with a four-lens camera, an interactive floor, a 32-channel sound system, 300 actors, and more. The show is designed to allow the audience 'to witness the entire history of Moscow'. While the visual effects are impressive, the Visitor Feedback Book reveals a degree of disappointment with the show, e.g. its content criticised as very basic ('nothing new for those who attended school'), fragmented, and too fast-moving ('a new frame comes up before you are able to process the previous one').

Amusement Parade

Designed as a panoply of technological and natural wonders, Zaryadye relies on excitement and adventure for its public image.

Its attractions include a floating bridge, the 'Soaring over Moscow' film, and a fascinating environment with exotic plants and climate regulation.

 The floating bridge actually turns upon itself: instead of connecting the river banks, it stretches out over the river and then loops back to the left bank. According to some culture researchers critical of Zaryadye, the only role for the floating bridge is to provide a nice background for selfies. Indeed, visitors enjoy taking selfies and viewing the landscape from a new angle; the wow effect and excitement are guaranteed.

 The rare botanical wonders were met with such excitement that, according to a Zaryadye spokesman, some of the plants were trampled or stolen by visitors during the first few days of the park's opening.

 The Soaring over Moscow 4D flight simulator is perhaps the park's greatest thrill, allowing spectators to see the Russian capital's iconic sights, such as the Bolshoi Theatre, skyscrapers, the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, VDNKh, the Moscow-City complex, among others. The show also contributes to Zaryadye's overarching space theme. 


Russian Cosmism

Murawski refers to galactic motives in the park's aesthetics which, on one hand, allude to the Soviet space era, and on the other hand, relate to modern art. The monumental, neo-futurist Voskhod Restaurant features space-themed decor reminiscent of artwork by Arseny Zhilyaev or Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt. Other space-themed objects include levitating plant pots, astronaut-shaped flower vases with red carnations, bas-reliefs showing demiurgic workers and collective farmers (Vera Mukhina meets Michelangelo), and solar system chandeliers. The ceiling resembles the Kosmos Restaurant in the former Rossiya Hotel, additionally decorated, according to Murawski, with an 'organ-like tubular structure from Sheremetyevo Airport'. The expert describes the Soaring over Moscow simulation as an 'updated version of the flight over Moscow from Svetly Put' (The Shining Path), a 1940 Stalinist film.


According to the authors, Zaryadye's design can be characterised as meta-modernist, which combines a longing for such attributes of high modernity as credibility, centralisation, monumentality and heroism with postmodernist irony and totality with fragmentation.

However, this version of meta-modernism attempts to join together contrasting meanings without serious reflection on any of them. According to Volkova, images of the new Russia expressed via the flora of different geographical areas, fragments of historical facts, bionic architecture, gigantomania and wow effects 'are neither in contradiction nor in agreement with one another'.

She concludes that this 'meta-history assembled from meaningful and memorial items, while being authentic, does not follow any particular logic or add anything new'. 


Study authors:
Michal Murawski, PhD in Anthropology, Assistant Professor, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, UK; Research Fellow, Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism, HSE (2017–2018)
Margarita Chubukova, Master of Urban Development, Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism, HSE; Master of Anthropology, European University at St. Petersburg; independent researcher
Daria Volkova, Master's Student, Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism, HSE
February 01, 2019