Interview: Ken Smith (Zaryadnye Park Juror (2014)

Ken Smith 5
COMPETITIONS: Was this your first time in Moscow?


KS: Each trip was so short, and we were actually cocooned in the Strelka institute and the area around Red Square during that short stay, so that we hardly had time to see anything else.


COMPETITIONS: What was your take on the Zaryadnye Park competition site?


KS: The site was fantastic. It’s right in the heart of Moscow, adjacent to a historic neighborhood, and on the other side to Red Square and the Kremlin. So there probably wasn’t a more significant site in the entire city. And it was a huge site—formerly the site of a huge hotel.


COMPETITIONS: You were there for two sessions. How far apart were they?


KS: The first session was in June in what was perfect Moscow weather. The jury convened to go through what seemed like a hundred submissions, which teams submitted with their credentials. We spent two days going through those. We reconvened in November for what was the final jury. So we also got the beginning of the Moscow winter on that trip, which gave us an idea of the seasonal change. At that time we reviewed the proposals of the six entries we had shortlisted, and saw the videos they had submitted. The teams did not present in person. The video presentations were quite sophisticated, and they had to have spent a lot of money on them. They were very good.


COMPETITIONS: The composition of the jury was interesting. Did most of the discussions take place in English?


KS: Everything was in simulcast translation. We always had our headsets on, so even when somebody was speaking in Russian, you would get the simultaneous translation. So it worked pretty well.


COMPETITIONS: I see that Peter Walker was also a juror.


KS: He was not there for the first session, but was there for the final meeting.


COMPETITIONS: It was a rather large jury. Was it somewhat unwieldy because of the size?

Read the article

KS: It was a big jury, and a real international jury. There were people from North America and Europe. The Chief Architect of the City of Moscow was on the jury, as was the chief environmental person of the City. Although it was a large jury, I think it represented a large group of interests. There was no kind of singular viewpoint that dominated. It was a consensus-driven group, and I would say that the jury got along well—and was well behaved.


COMPETITIONS: How long was the second jury?


KS: It was two days (second session). Typically we would arrive the night before, followed by a very long day and would pick the winner by the end of that day. The second day was devoted to a press conference.


COMPETITIONS: If you only needed one day to pick the winner, it sounds as if the decision wasn’t all that difficult.


KS: There was a fair amount of discussion. I think we put together a very good shortlist of sixteen. The preliminary panel (for shortlisting) was as important as the final one. I think we put together what the jury thought was a diverse group that was solid. After the final selection of the finalists, we knew that one of the three in that group would be a good scheme. All six schemes were quite good proposals; so there was quite a lot of open discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the schemes, because it wasn’t necessarily clear at the first pass that there was an obvious winner. They were all interesting. So there was a lot of discussion about what was correct for the site, and what we thought about them as a group.
   There were a number of schemes that in the end dealt with partis that tried to center the space that had some sort of central feature. The scheme that we ultimately chose (Diller Scofidio Renfro) didn’t have a centered scheme, but actually played more toward the edges and had a kind of openness to the context around the site and dispersed features around the site, rather in the center. There was a lot of discussion as to whether the design should be centered or not. It was the idea that a non-centered park was more interesting and more contemporary and better suited to this site with its many contextual features around the edges.


COMPETITIONS: Wasn’t the MVRDV scheme a little contrived?


KS: It was, but a number of us were taken with that at a certain level. Its core was a non-hierarchical scheme, except that they put that circle in the middle of it strangely with the parking garage underneath, which was not very public. But aspects of that scheme were quite brilliant. But in the end, it felt like a scheme that didn’t quite land on the site and it wasn’t as thoroughly worked out as some of the other schemes.


COMPETITIONS: Didn’t the Russian scheme (TPO Reserv) indicate something akin to an arboretum?


KS: It was a strong scheme. It had an interesting set of terraces you would move through in the park. I think there was a lake feature at the center of the terraces. They produced so really interesting perspectives. Peter Walker commented that they had the best perspective views of their park. You really could imagine walking right into it. They were very seductive drawings. The other thing the Russian scheme did very effectively was a very convincing connection to the Moscow River. They had that lower terrace connection to the river that the other schemes weren’t as strong on. Now, I think the Russian team is part of the DSR team in terms of production. It would appear that their local partner is from that Russian team.


COMPETITIONS: One feature of all of these schemes is that they don’t in any way accommodate demonstrations, as is the case in nearby Red Square.


KS: Red Square was quite interesting for me—I have been to Beijing and Tiananmen Square, which is mind-boggling vast. Red Square was a much more civic scale than I had anticipated, in the tradition of a European square lined by street-wall buildings. It’s a lovely place. Whenever I walked around Red Square, it was always full of people—at the edge and in the middle. It’s a fantastic public space. To have the park as a green space, and not heavily paved makes sense as a contrast to Red Square.


COMPETITIONS: On that final day of judging it didn’t take long for you to narrow down the six original schemes to three?


KS: It really came down to two schemes ultimately. There were some that fell away relatively quickly. We started off the day with some technical reports. The City had done technical reviews, and there were presentations by local officials—traffic engineer, ecologist, public space person, and formal evaluations of the schemes. We had a booklet we received in advance, whereby the schemes were anonymous—we didn’t know who they were, although there were a couple that were kind of obvious. There were technical reviews that were part of that, with rankings and evaluations. A number of the jurors took exception with some of the technical reviews, for there were some points where we could tell the technical reviewer was offering a subjective opinion, rather than objective technical review.
   One thing that was interesting was the interplay between the Russian jurors and the international jurors. Everybody was cognizant that we didn’t want a divided jury, for that doesn’t bode well for the winner. When it got to the point that it was pretty clear that most of us were leaning toward the DSR entry, there was a point where we asked the Chief Architect of Moscow and the Russian jurors if there would be a problem if we picked this scheme. We didn’t want to pick a scheme that didn’t have the support of the local jurors. We had a discussion about that, and the local jurors said, “No, we should pick the scheme we felt was best.” It was a very adult jury in that respect.