Kazan’s New Garden City Competition

An “eco-district” Master Plan

Winning plan by Knight Frank (image © Knight Frank) courtesy: Agency for Strategic Development

 

Moscow has been short on housing for decades. Now the need for housing in the far-flung reaches of the Russian Federation is taking shape. Kazan, a city east of Moscow on the upper reaches of the Volga River in the Republic of Tartarstan, has just announced the winners of a competition for a completely new suburban plan. Although such a competition might not appear as anything new to western countries, where new towns were built in England and elsewhere, and especially in China, where new towns are sprouting up on a regular basis, this represents a new way to approach urban planning in the Russian Federation. According to Kazan’s mayor, Ilsur Metshin, “The competition featured the world’s best architectural and design players, who fought for the right to reach the final. This has enriched us all – we really did see completely new approaches to design, or at least unusual for Russia. This is a large territory, and there is enough of everything: both land, and scale, as well as the desire to see the eco-district of tomorrow.”

The competition was open to international participants, and drew 47 entries from a number of countries outside Russia. Three finalists, each receiving 2 million rubles for their work, were selected to present their designs to a Russian jury.

After reviewing presentations of all the concepts, including the functional programming strategy, the architectural and urban planning concept, the framework financial and economic model for implementing the concept until 2030, and a preliminary design of the territory for the initial implementation stage, the jury discussed the projects submitted and determined the winner by vote. 

The winner was the Anglo-French-Russian consortium led by international consulting company Knight Frank (Russia, UK), which included XTU Architects (France), OXO Architects (France), John Thompson & Partners/JTP (England), Architectural Landing Force (Russia, Republic of Tatarstan), and TERRA SCAPE (Belgium). Their team presented the “Ecopolis ‘Two forests’” project, featuring the infiltration of green fingers in the future eco-district. “The concept involves the formation of active clusters with dense buildings, where life will be in full swing, a “clearing” with less dense buildings, and local public spaces with playgrounds and meeting places. There will be clusters, and groups of clearings, and the ‘fingers’ are united by a long park in the region and a large green ring. The park threads sub-centers at the intersection with the roads, where children’s sports and event zones and cafes will be located, as well as a square with the main cultural center. Thus, the three elements are active clusters, the green ring and the district park, forming the basis for the successful development of the eco-district. As a result, the existing ecosystem, biodiversity and high quality of the environment are prioritized at the highest level.


First place images © Knight Frank courtesy: Agency for Strategic Development

 

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Interview: James Mary O’Connor FAIA (Winter 2017)

After receiving his Diploma in Architecture from the Dublin Institute of Technology and BS in Architecture from Trinity College in Dublin, James received his Masters in Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles while a Fulbright Scholar in the U.S. Shortly after his time as a student in Charles Moore’s Master Class at UCLA, he joined the Moore firm in Los Angeles, now Moore Ruble Yudell. Beginning in the late 1980s, he was involved in the firm’s many projects in Germany, many of which dealt with masterplanning and the construction of large housing, primarily in Berlin. Subsequently, he was involved in the Potatisåkern Master Plan & Housing, as well as the Bo01 Housing Exhibition, both in Malmö, Sweden.
James was MRY’s point person in its subsequent involvement with the firm’s many projects in the People’s Republic of China, beginning with their winning competition proposal for the Century Center project in Beijing. Although unbuilt, it didn’t escape the notice of the Chinese, who invited the firm to participate in a competition for the Tianjin Xin-He large neighborhood masterplan—which they won. This was followed by the 2004 Chun Sen Bi An Housing Masterplan competition in the city of Chongqing, located in central China—completed in 2010. This high profile project resulted in a number of affordable and high-end housing projects throughout China. The firm’s most remarkable sustainability project was the COFCO Agricultural Eco-Valley Master Plan project outside Beijing, envisioned to become the first net zero-carbon project of its kind in the world.
In the meantime, the firm’s focus in China has evolved from its concentration on housing to institutional projects, such as the Shanghai University of Technology‘s research buildings. In the meantime MRY has been noted as a leader in the design of campus projects in the U.S. and abroad, as well as numerous government projects—courthouses and embassies.

 

 

Interview: Joe Valerio (Fall 2004)


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North Point Competition model, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2003)

 

COMPETITIONS: As has been case with many architects, your career got a very big boost by virtue of winning a competition — Colton Palms Senior Apartments. Was that the very first competition you participated in?

 

VALERIO: No. It wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the last. It was interesting in that we won, and also won a PA Design Award for it and an AIA Honor Award for the project when it was finished. It covered the gamut of awards that one could win with a project. And it got built almost exactly the way it was designed for the competition.

 

COMPETITIONS: Was the competition open or invited?

 

VALERIO: It was open, and there were about 140 entries from around the world. There were five finalists in the 2-stage competition, and we were selected at the end of the second stage.

 




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COMPETITIONS: Do you recall who ran that competition?

VALERIO: Michael Pittas, who did a very commendable job. The two key jurors were Rob Quigley and Don Lyndon. In hindsight, it was one of those things where all the stars were alligned and there was a very dynamic city manager (Frank Benest). This was his first job as city manager. He went on to become city manager in Brea, California, a wealthier suburb. Now he is city manager of Palo Alto. He recently said to me that one thing he was always trying to get communities to do was to invest in their downtowns. ‘Here in Palo Alto, nobody wants any more investment in downtown.’ Frank was very innovative, in that he used the competition process to get something to happen that probably could not have happened any other way. California in the early 90s had a law which said that, ‘if you set up a redevelopment district, you could capture the increase in real estate tax revenue in that district and use it to help finance the development.
   So it was a kind of bootstrap sort of approach called tiff financing, which is very popular all over the U.S., including in Chicago. You have to set aside 20% from that funding mechanism for
affordable housing. So everybody set up these greenbelt districts and this set-aside fund. But nobody wanted affordable housing, because affordable housing equated with subsidized housing. It didn’t matter that the people that really wanted to use the affordable housing were seniors from the community who didn’t want to leave, or policemen or firemen who couldn’t afford to live in communities they were serving. People were just against affordable housing.

 

Colton Palms Apartments (Competition winner 1988) Colton Palms, California
Photo: courtesy Valerio Dewalt Train
Colton Palms Apartments (Competition winner 1988) Colton Palms, California


So Frank came up with the idea, if he could create enough buzz about the project and really make it into this event, he could get the city to build affordable housing projects. It turned out that they had an abandoned grocery store in their old downtown area, which covered most of a city block. The city had taken control of the property. So he had the money and the set-aside. He had this piece of property which had to be redeveloped; but he couldn’t get the city to just do it. So he came up with this idea of doing a competition, hired Michael Pittas to organize it, and it worked. There was all this publicity and notoriety; this competition was like a city festival. It was a very public event where people showed up for the presentations. So not only was it an architectural event; but it had a real social underpinning that was really admirable. Without that mechanism, I doubt if Frank would have been successful.

 

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3Com office and production facility, Rolling Meadows, Illinois  Photos: courtesy Valerio Dewalt Train Associates


COMPETITIONS: In retrospect, would you have any clues as to why you won?

 

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