Foster plans world’s biggest building
Chris Gourlay and Robert Watts
MOSCOW’S boomtown skyline will be dominated by the world’s biggest structure, a £2 billion “city inside a building” designed by Lord Foster.
Reaching almost 1,500ft into the sky and housing up to 30,000 residents, the Crystal Island will contain more floor space than any other structure on Earth.
Foster, whose recent British projects include the new Wembley stadium and “the Gherkin” office block in the City of London, said the tower is “the world’s most ambitious building” and symbolic of Russia’s renaissance as a world power.
However, some observers have likened the new Moscow skyscraper to a “Christmas tree” and dismissed it as “brash” and “vulgar”.
Vast and ornate, the Crystal Island will be twice as wide as the Millennium Dome and nearly double the height of Canary Wharf tower, the closest London has to a skyscraper. Inside there will be 27m sq ft of floor space – four times as much as the Pentagon building in Washington.
“I am very excited about this project – there is no equivalent to it anywhere in the world,” said Foster. “It is the first time anyone has tried to combine homes, cultural centres, offices and parkland in one project.”
As well as 900 apartments and 3,000 hotel rooms, the project will include an international school for 500 pupils, a cinema, museum, theatre, sports complex and dozens of shops.
The site will also contain one of Moscow’s largest public spaces, with platforms 980ft above the ground giving panoramic views over the city’s skyline. Parkland around the complex will offer cross-country skiing and ice-skating in the winter.
Foster compared the project to the Albert Hall, opened in London by Queen Victoria in 1871 in the heyday of the British Empire. “When countries are doing well again you often see these large iconic buildings appearing,” he said.
The tower spirals downwards from a sharp peak with a glass facade that resembles cut crystal. The building has an atrium that will open in summer to cool the 500ft-high public open space inside.
Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European studies at Oxford University, said the Crystal Island was inextricably linked with Russia’s bold ambitions for the 21st century.
“Russia is a state that feels it is coming back after the humiliation of the cold war,” said Garton Ash. “You see it in everything [President Vladimir] Putin says and you see it in this building, a bold demonstration of might and success – not just to Russians but to the world.”
Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, said the building was “eerily reminiscent” of the Tatlin’s tower, a sinister monument that was nearly built by the communists in St Petersburg shortly after the 1917 revolution.
“This building is everything that Moscow is today – confidently thrusting, brash, vulgar,” Figes said.
The proposed site for the Crystal Island is a peninsula located five miles from the city centre. Flights into Moscow’s Domodedovo airport bank sharply over the proposed site shortly before landing.
Alexander Kudryatsev, president of the Moscow Architectural Institute, said: “Everyone’s first impression of this was, what is it – a Christmas tree?
The Crystal Island won preliminary planning permission 10 days ago and could be completed within six years.
Last year Foster’s firm unveiled plans for a vast leisure complex in Kazakhstan enclosed in a dome inspired by the yurt of Genghis Khan. His new terminal for Beijing airport will open early next year and construction of his Russia tower, a 2,000ft-high skyscraper, is already under way in Moscow.
Renderings can be seen at: