A public discussion on the joint activity of the “Heart of the City” Bureau’s design group and representatives of the companies “Studio 44” and Devillers et Associes/Off-The-Grid Studio was held in the library named after Anton Chekhov on Tuesday, 21st April. Over fifty persons, including architects, designers, social activists, students, librarians, representatives of the elder generation and journalists attended the event.
Is it possible to buy out the House of Soviets building from current owners so that it could be finally put into order? What is going to be designed on the land plot belonging to the owners of the House of Soviets? Does the project developers consider the strategic issue that the city centre should not be used for through traffic but intended only for public traffic and pedestrians. What constitutes the philosophy of the “Heart of the City” project, its “soul”, and whether “metaphysics of the centre” will fit into the city as a whole? Will anything specified in the Consolidated concept be completed by 2018? Why the facility to be tendered is called “Governmental”? Whether the future facility has a Client? Whether the Terms of Reference of the competition will include any height restrictions for the building to be designed? ¬– these and other questions from citizens were answered by the Bureau’s Director Alexander Popadin as well as architect and urban planner Olga Mezey during two hours.
The opening speech was made by the representative of the Concept designers, urbanist Edouard Moreau who has recorded a presentation video for this purpose. He told about the delivered work, shared project experience that Devillers et Associes/Off-The-Grid Studio had in Paris and in Moscow, in particular, about their recent winning in the competition for the Moscow River embankments, announced by the Government of the capital.
Alexander Popadin pointed out that the Consolidated Concept based on the results of the international competition held in 2014 and submitted to the judgment of the public, constitutes one of the important phases in the preparation of the strategic decisions within the scope of the implementation of the “Heart of the City” Project aimed at the regeneration of the historic centre of the city. The goal of the Consolidated Concept is not only to propose a planning design concept realistic for implementation by 2018 but also to prepare a foundation for the site planning of the historic core of Kaliningrad.
Alexander Popadin emphasized once again that consolidation of the best planning design concepts proposed by entrants of the international competition into one concept became possible due to a shared urban planning design ideology based on preserving a link to the past of the Kaliningrad’s centre. «We are not talking about any architecture here. This is a planning concept. Here we have height, parameters of the development density, but not architecture”, – Alexander Popadin dispelled doubts expressed by one of participants of the discussion. – “We will have architecture later. Once we have the site planning done and an investment case developed, somebody has purchased it, what is going to be next? What kind of architecture we shall have here? At this point, we need to continue our “romance of convenience” with potential investors so that they would make profit and we would be good. Issues on architectural design will be answered by the following package of documents – a Masterplan”.
As explained by Alexander Popadin, the preliminary sketches for individual blocks which the Bureau plans to order from the winners of the past competition will lay as a basis for the model of the central part of Kaliningrad. The model will be manufactured so that general public, authorites and potential investors could visualize the image of this place. “This will enable us to make a strategic decision regarding what we need here – a contemporary architecture? And if not a contemporary one, then what type of architecture – Königsbergish or some other? … This model, which I hope, shall be ready this autumn, will become a subject of a separate discussion on architecture. And now, as a matter of fact, we are talking about planning abandoned area near the House of Soviets”, the “Heart of the City” Project Manager reported on project plans.
“And what about the House of Soviets?” the moderator of the discussion Maxim Mikhailov asked. Many attendees were interested in the question about the building which has been disputed over decades.
Alexander Popadin explained, that the owners of the House of Soviets are primarily interested in making a profit and active functioning of the building being a central part of the large public junction. This problem can be partially solved by a new open international competition for the architectural design of the Governmental historic and cultural complex that will be announced by the Bureau in the nearest future. Architects shall give their proposals on the façade reconstruction and use of first floors of the building as well as the land plots adjacent to the House of the Soviets.
Olga Mezey addressed many attendee’s concerns on the transportation solutions proposed by specialists. The main point comes down to make a centre of the city more accessible and safe for pedestrians and cyclists by avoiding the aggravation of the situation for car traffic. The Consolidated concept for the first phase up to 2018 does not assume any cardinal changes of Moskovsky Prospekt or Leninsky Prospekt. First of all, it is proposed to implement pedestrian crossings with a special road treatment for “traffic calming” and to develop pedestrian routes on the area of the upper part of the Korolevskaya Gora itself. However, as the Bureau’s expert explained, in order to solve transport problems in the long-run, there are different quite feasible options. For instance, during the preparation of the Terms of Reference for the previous international competition, a transport scheme was developed and it would allow re-routing traffic flows to bypass the historic core. It involves closing a transport ring that is now interrupted in the area of Litovsky Val and Chernyakhovskogo Street. Alexander Popadin also added, that one of the items of the Terms of Reference for the General Plan for Kaliningrad up to 2035 (which is under development now), provides for reducing the through traffic via the central part of the Kaliningrad.
The question about a pedestrian subway across Shevtchenko Street was also articulated. This crossing would connect the Lower Pong with the future main square. “Why should we let people go down underground? Pedestrians should walk at the same level with the new Main square, the expert of the Bureau answered. – “We will just not be able to let vehicles down and have no financial resources to tackle this situation with a dam, this is why we will make a wide pedestrian crosswalk here, may be two crosswalks, with a special road treatment, so that cars would slow down here... and the speed would be reduced to 30-40 kilometers per hour. Pedestrians are key actors and let everybody get used to this thought.”
«It is unnatural for a human to descend underground when he is alive”, the expert was supported by the moderator Maxim Mikhailov. “It seems to me that the very normal philosophy for Kaliningrad city is a comfortable city, a place where a person lives, where he or she can cross roads without having to descend underground, where people give up cars and ride bicycles… We need to search for reasonable solutions and an underground solution has been worldwide acknowledged to be unreasonable, the same applies arterial roads as well as barriers that we have installed on all streets – all of these are the remains of previous urban planning policies”.
The second part of the discussion involved the presentation and discussion of parameters of the new competition for a post-castle area, which is to be launched by the Bureau “Heart of the City” very soon. The attendees were invited to participate in the survey to find out their opinion about to what extent the future building of the Governmental historic and cultural complex should remind of the former castle Königsberg and what functions it should accommodated besides those “core” ones mentioned in the background parameters. (For more see Our News ). The results of the survey will be included in the Terms of Reference of the new competition as additional materials.