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The New Russian Architecture

Federation Tower complex via
Federation Tower complex via (formerly Mirax Group)

Usually remembered for its dark- gray buildings and gloomy slurbs built in the Soviet period to suppress people's feelings and emotions, Russia's architecture has changed dramatically. Modern trends in architecture and design have witnessed the raising of colorful high-rise buildings and hi-tech glazed skyscrapers in recent years. Correspondingly, similar changes in people's lifestyles and in the general look of the country, foretell of a resurgent Russian society.

By way of an historic note, this break began in the late 1990s-early 2000s with major construction developers and foreign investors entering the Russian market. Just a few years back most of the Russia's big cites looked like enormous construction sites with bare cement walls and construction cranes all around. Today one can see the fantastic results of those projects all around the country. From Moscow to Siberia and the Far East, Russia literally became obsessed with architecture and design. And so real estate soon became the most attractive investment for Russians, as well as for foreigners intent on investment gains.

Shopping at the multifunctional complex \"Water\"
Shopping at the multifunctional complex "Water" (MR Group)


Shopping Malls and a New Commercial Craze

The rush of commercial real estate in Russia in the 2000s brought a new vision of the people as far as leisure and shopping habits were concerned. With modern trade and entertainment malls spreading across Russian cities, new shopping habits signaled  a new way of life, rather than the typical societal routine. The modern design of the shopping centers in Russia also reflects the latest trends and innovations in architecture. Hi-tech glazing, visionary cinemas, coffee-shops and restaurants, these examples and more were created to entice people and make them stay inside the stores, which is a typically American mercantile idea.

Vershina Trade and Entertainment Centre’ by Erick Van Egeraat Architects in Surgut
Vershina Trade and Entertainment Centre’ by Erick Van Egeraat Architects in Surgut

Examples of this new “mall craze” are everywhere, but the best of these new architectural projects are reflected in the NAI Becar ranking of the world's most unique shopping centers. According to the list, the shopping mall “Vershina” (above) in the Siberian city of Surgut, is a prime example. Designed by the Dutch architect Eric Van Egeraat, the mall has a spiral concept where shoppers must pass in a clockwise motion, past the various shops and stores. As you can see in the images presented, the effect is space age and spellbinding. 

Residential complex \"Fili Grad\"
Residential complex "Fili Grad" (MR Group)

As for this market in the wake of economic sanctions of late, the Head of strategic consulting at Knight Frank St. Petersburg,  Igor Kokorev discusses how "tenants" are making all the difference in the commercial market for growth. One such instance, the aspect of children's entertainment within new facilities, lends itself to a better understanding of such phenomena. This story (in Russian) reveals how Ohta Mall took advantage of the trend to install amusement parks for kids. Of course there are many innovative trends being inserted into new cutting edge designs of the future, as well. 

residential project of the Atomstroykomplex
A new residential project of the Atomstroykomplex company in Ekaterinburg. (Photo: Atomstrykomplex archive)


The Luxury Elite Residential Boom

Apart from the commercial transformation of properties across Russia, another dynamic transition has taken place in the design and style of Russia's residential properties. Evidence of this can be seen in the large residential complexes, created to be self contained living spheres. These new “worlds” of living come replete with; all inside infrastructure and facilities, business-class apartment-hotels like the first YE’S Apart Hotel in Moscow slated for completion in October 2015, feature modern pools, gymnasiums, and restaurants. Obviously, the tendency may well spell the end of the old-style apartment blocks, which still dot the landscape in between innovative projects. What’s more, the seller’s market that existed back in 2011, has been transformed into a buyer’s market by recent economic factors.

This Knight Frank report (PDF) frames the 2011 elite luxury market at the peak of this trend. Conversely, Maria Litinetskaya, CEO of the Metrium Group discusses the up side of this market in December of 2014. On the face of it, the drop in Moscow luxury property prices from an average of some $18,800 per sqm, to below $15,800, is not a positive by any stretch.  However, there are signs that the factors that have cause these slumps, and especially the devaluation of the Ruble, may well boost the luxury property market substantially. 

Apart-hotel “Actor-Galaxy” in Sochi
Apart-hotel “Actor-Galaxy” in Sochi by MR Group

On the positive side, Western expats who were once the tenants of luxury apartments in the center of major Russian cities, they are being replaced in kind by Chinese and Brazilian executives, as the intensification of the Asian and Latin American business blossoms. New tax incentives, asset "forgiveness" programs initiated by the government of Vladimir Putin, and other stimulus variables paint a far more positive picture of the Russia market than meets the eye. While sanctions and other economic factors still weigh heavily on the overall market, it is during just such economic atmospheres that fortunes are made.

As for Russia's budding love affair with the ultra-moder, nowhere is this more evident than in the thriving coastal cities like Sochi, Vladivastok, and St. Petersburg itself. Companies like MR Group, Atomstroykomplex, and others are designing and building the Russia of tomorrow. Through their efforts, we see the trend in Russia is definitely toward the sustainable, livable, and beautiful, yet conservative lifestyle. The age of the hotel apartment is here, as is a more European sense of what modern life should be all about. Frankly, the trend perfectly compliments the way in which Russians view the past, present, and future.