Occupying over 500 hectares (1,250 acres), Sokolniki is one of Moscow’s largest parks. An international competition was conducted in 2014 for a concept for its development over the next 15 years. A consortium comprised of Wowhaus, Groundlab (Great Britain), and the “Urbanica” Institute for Regional Planning took first place with a design based on the idea of renewal driven by nature itself.
Propose a development plan for this vast green area emphasizing its uniqueness, structuring its territory, and saturating it with various functions while resolving accumulated problems, primarily those associated with allowing people to comfortably interact with nature.
The basic conceptual idea entails turning Sokolniki into a place where the city meets nature. The park is divided into 3 zones defined by degree of anthropological impact: an urban park, a woodland park, and a wild forest. Each zone has its own overall environment, its own infrastructure, and its own entertainment and forms of recreation. Functions and services are more evenly distributed throughout the overall area, thereby enhancing its overall exploitation.
Sokolniki is unique in that it represents the extension of a green wedge bringing nature very close to the city center – as opposed to typical parks which as a rule are surrounded by urban development. Thanks to this characteristic, the vast area of the park should become one of Moscow’s main recreation areas – an “Embassy of Nature” in the megalopolis. The new park’s motto – “for science, go to the polytechnic institute, for nature – go to Sokolniki”
The proposal calls for “Sokolniki” to be divided into three contextual zones: an urban park, a woodland park, and a wild forest. The urban park is in the southern part of Sokolniki within walking distance radius from the Metro and in close proximity to residential micro-districts. It’s function - to host nature and ecologically-themed urban events. The fountain square and expo-center are the primary areas affected. The woodlands zone, whose key theme is nature-related education is in Sokolniki’s central area. A nature education cluster located in reconstructed agriculture greenhouses becomes the heart of this zone. The wild forest is situated in Sokolniki’s northern section. Here, it is people who are the guests of wild animals coming in from Moose Island Park via a specially constructed “Green Corridor”. Park visitors can observe the life of animals in their natural habitat from the elevated “Skywalk” promenade gallery as well as from their “hotel-in-the trees” cabins. The result - the ground level part of this area becomes a full-fledged wild nature habitat with no human access.
The historic layout of Sokolniki Park consisting of 6 radial passages united by a half-crescent has been preserved and highlighted: the identity of each will be highlighted by its paving, type of accompanying structures, and concentration of characteristic activities. The fountain square from which the passages emanate will be reworked, with roads for vehicles running through the park partially moved underground.
The history of the Sokolniki Park itself will become the linchpin for the overall plan for the “Urban Park” – this is where in 1959 the legendary American exhibit took place. Today, the Expo zone is a jumble of structures, many of which are used either as warehouses or are rented out, while pavilions block passage to several of the radial passages. The concept developed calls for radically “clearing” this part of the zone, leaving only three historical pavilions, rebuilding the “Shaiba (hockey-puck) Café”, and creating a venue for open-air events and providing convenient visitor parking. If the VDNKh provides for exhibits for the country as a whole, the Crocus-Expo – major commercial exhibits, the Expocenter – industry-specific business events and conferences, then Sokolniki’s Expo can carve out its own niche – exhibitions like the Chelsea Flower Show and unique mood music and lifestyle festivals in a nature setting.
Beyond that, sports events – one of the preserved pavilions is expected to be turned to into a sports hub. Today, that pavilion is a hollow box which will be dismantled down to its skeleton framework and filled with functional sections related to sports and healthy lifestyle activities. The resulting new pavilion will be turned into a system of closed and open spaces – halls for yoga and dance classes, lectures, and co-working, and bases for all the park’s sports clubs, a café, dressing rooms with showers, equipment rental, and so on. All these facilities will be open year-round, ensuring a constant flow of visitors to this part of the park independent of events at the Expo.
The central part of Sokolniki – the woodlands park – will have its own hub of activity – a nature education cluster on the site of reconstructed greenhouses: a center with workshops, an organic produce store, a hothouse, a farm, a café, and a lecture hall. Part of the greenhouses may be leased out to urban residents for communal food gardens. This zone will also house a “young plant” area which will enable support for the biodiversity within the Sokolniki and Moose Lake Parks.
The “Green Corridor” provides an artificially created wild nature preserve within Sokolniki as well as the safest and most convenient migration passage for wildlife from the Moose Island National Park.
In providing for such a corridor, it is important to remove obstacles: by creating a tunnel for animals under Rostokinski Drive; by moving the Transverse Drive underground where it intersects with the Green Corridor; and by turning the 5th Radial Passage into a fully pedestrian path. With people being the guests here, park trails intersecting with the corridor are elevated by means of footbridges so as to maintain pedestrian connectivity and park accessibility without encroaching upon the animals’ world. In order to separate the woodlands park intended for walks (with grass and free of undergrowth) from the “Wild Forest”, and insulate animals from people, there is a barrier created by an artificially created fold in the terrain clearly indicating boundaries for visitor access.
Additionally, in this zone of the park there is a “Skywalk” system of footbridges of varying heights, with observation platforms providing a convenient vantage point for watching wild animals in their natural habitat. This zone will also house an original “hotel in the trees” providing its lodgers with the unique for Moscow opportunity to spend the night in the wild without leaving the city center.
There are plans to place several functional zones not far from the “Green Corridor” for demonstrating methodologies for adapting existing infrastructure to the new orientation for the park. Several older dachas in the northern part of the park have been preserved. They may serve as the basis for a museum of dacha culture – a special leisure lifestyle amid nature that expanded among Moscow residents and those of other major cities in Russia beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Yet another classical element of park art, the woodland park labyrinth, which today is in pitiful condition, will be altered and turned into a modern art gallery under open skies.