Russia’s most ambitious museum project in danger
The museum complex is the biggest museum project in Russia today. It would create a museum conglomerate right in the center of Moscow. Four years ago, the office of the famous British architect Norman Foster won the bid to design the complex.
Foster’s project, at an estimated cost of 22 billion rubles ($666.9 million), was to bring all Pushkin Museum property into a single complex of 15 buildings: the restoration center, a lecture hall, the museum proper and an exhibition center with an underground parking lot.
The remaining buildings were to be renovated. In addition, the total area of the museum complex was to increase from 533,890 square feet to 1,200,176 square feet.
Yet the work never started. The British office has announced that the architect has withdrawn from the project and has even forbidden his name to be mentioned in connection with the project.
The reason is simple: For three years, the museum has been excluding his office from developing the design, which was completed by other people. This is in spite of the fact that the office repeatedly tried to resume work with the museum.
Part of the problem was financial. “It is true that our work with Foster+Partners has slowed down in the last year and a half,” Sergei Tkachenko, project coordinator on the Russian side, said. “Over the past three years, the office was paid 100 million rubles [$3 million] out of a total contract sum of 320 million, and the museum reckons that it owes 68 million rubles [$2 million].”
This is not the only obstacle, however. It turns out that Foster’s brilliant, ambitious and costly project would spoil the historical look of Moscow, because it would involve demolishing several mansions in the capital’s center.
Yet the museum’s management has not abandoned the idea of reconstruction. The museum’s president, Irina Antonova, has written a letter to the British architect, asking him to complete the building of the complex.
Antonova wrote that, during the meeting of the Moscow Architectural Council to discuss the fate of the museum complex, many spoke in favor of continued cooperation with the British master.
“It is not that I would like to resume cooperation: As far as I am concerned, we never broke it off. He has assured me all along that he was very interested in the museum reconstruction project. But he has received so many blows and disappointments in Moscow and St. Petersburg. You know how many of his projects have been axed? Ours is the last remaining project,” Antonova told the newspaper Izvestia.
Foster’s projects that never got off the ground include a 2,000-foot Russia tower in Moscow City, the Orange Trade Center on Krymskaya Embankment and the Glass House cultural and business center in southeast Moscow, to name a few.
The Pushkin Museum’s new director, Marina Loshak, would also like the architect to be back in the project. “As far as we are concerned, the situation is not closed,” Loshak told Izvestia.
“The architect Sergei Tkachenko, who is supervising the project on the Russian side, has contacted the partners at Foster’s office, and they said they would very much like to continue work, but some problems had to be sorted out first. This gives us hope that things might still be set right.”
The architect himself was not available for comment. Lord Foster is traveling at present, his PR assistant reported.