Moscow's mayor attacks Foster's high-rise plan

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The Independent Online

A grandiose plan by Norman Foster to erect a high-rise hotel development in central Moscow has been heavily criticised by the city's authorities who fear it will look far too tall next to the neighbouring Kremlin and central Moscow's medieval churches.

To compound the architect's discomfort, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov also accused Lord Foster of designing an incongruous oval-shaped concert hall for the Russian capital that he pejoratively likened to London's Albert Hall and suggested should be completely redesigned.

Mr Luzhkov told Lord Foster at a meeting in Moscow to go back to the drawing board. The powerful mayor leavened criticism with praise and gave his conditional blessing for Lord Foster to go ahead with both projects. But he made it clear that his blessing could be withdrawn if radical changes are not made.

Both the hotel and the concert hall are slated to be built on a 13-acre riverside plot which is a stone's throw from the Kremlin and used to be home to the hulking Soviet-era Hotel Rossiya which is in the process of being demolished.

The condemned hotel, once the world's largest, was regarded by many Muscovites and visitors as a hideous eyesore and the idea was to resurrect the 19-century district that preceded it.

Moscow's city fathers want the 3,000-room hotel replaced with a sprawling multifunctional development complete with new hotels, offices, shops and cafés, subterranean parking space for 2,000 cars, a concert hall, cinemas, a huge public square and a terminal for boats on the adjacent river Moskva.

The tender for the project was won by ST Development, a company controlled by a wealthy Russian with close ties to Mr Luzhkov. It won the bid in 2004 by submitting an artist's impression of the finished site which charmed the mayor. It was drawn up by Russian architects and showed pastel-coloured recreations of 18th- and 19th-century Moscow mansions so as not to jar with the Kremlin.

But since Lord Foster was brought in the design has changed radically.

The height of the buildings, of which there will be 10 or 11, appears to have shot up from a planned six storeys to nine or even 10 levels. Plans to recreate the area's main 19th-century street have been dropped altogether as "impractical" and a major cultural element has been added with a museum and more concert halls than first planned.

Russian architects have said the design has become "hi-tech" with some questioning whether it is suitable for such a sacred site.

Mr Luzhkov, the man who has to sign off on the project, has been the most outspoken critic though. He said that Lord Foster's idea of an oval-shaped concert hall was just not right.

"Maybe I've really got too old," said the mayor who recently turned 70, "but it's just not Moscow. "There's nothing like this anywhere else in central Moscow. It's more like the Albert Hall."

He said the proposed height of the development was "really, really not right". "The churches... look like toys [in comparison to the hotel]. The balance of heights and proportions needs to be different."

Lord Foster's office said there were always "negotiations" when it came to architectural plans.