Moscow's super-rich get Dome of their own

Norman Foster will build an entire suburb under a glass cover where the sub-zero winter will be 'irrelevant'

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.

"He [Lord Foster] has precisely worked everything out. It will be a multi-functional complex, a town under glass." Mr Kuzmin told the daily Kommersant newspaper.

"It's going to be quite interesting and will stretch over 2.5 million square metres at a height of 150 metres. It will look a bit like a 20-hectare crystal circus tent. Inside will be a large number of hotels, a recreational zone, apartments, entertainments, a stadium and shops. You'll be able to settle there and never leave the area."

In a city whose streets are increasingly clogged by traffic, Lord Foster has pencilled in underground parking for up to 70,000 cars. Mr Luzhkov has said that a new metro station will be built nearby.

It is not yet clear how many people will live within the cone permanently, but Mr Luzhkov has estimated that the development will be frequented by up to one million people every day.

The cone will be Lord Foster's third major project in Moscow and his fourth in Russia. In each case he has been commissioned by 56-year-old oligarch Shalva Chigirinsky, one of Russia's richest and most powerful property developers. His firm, ST Development, is strongly connected to Moscow's Mayor Luzhkov.

Lord Foster's footprint in Moscow seems to be getting bigger by the day. He has designed a 600m hi-tech skyscraper called Russia. He is also playing a leading role in resurrecting the city's oldest and most central district, a stone's throw from the Kremlin. It was previously the site of the Soviet-era Hotel Rossia.

Lord Foster's work is on show in one of the city's most prestigious art galleries and he is reported to be gearing up to design one of Moscow's most famous squares in front of the Belorussky railway station.