S&P Architektura Krajobrazu and LEVS Architecten redefine an urban block
Forum City, Yekaterinburg, Russia
The large residential complex of Forum City marries a dynamic metropolitan lifestyle to an intimate urban experience. Nine connected towers offer panoramic views over the city, while restoring the straight grid of the urban plan, creating an engaging street-level atmosphere. The full integration, on all levels of the design, of an ambitious landscape plan creates healthy and lively living environments for a wide range of residents and commercial users. A design that brings together urban planning, architecture and landscaping, to solve some of the most pressing problems facing Russian inner-city life.
Repairing the grid
One of the problems in the centre of Yekaterinburg is the lack of safe intimacy in the experience of public space. This is often the result of a discontinuous layout of the urban plan in many residential neighbourhoods. When buildings do not align with roads, the street-level experience can become anonymous, distant and non-inviting, marked by characterless open spaces and car parks. In addition, broken urban grid devoted of tree avenues add to harsh climatic conditions of Ural area inner cities – strong wither winds and summer temperatures soaring above 30 centigrade. This was the case in the district of Forum City.
The straight grid is a key historical feature of the city-plan, yet it is often lost in the segmental development of individual projects. Forum City repairs Yekaterinburg’s historical urban grid structure, through a combination of towers and facades that stretch out along the main throughways around this 103.000 m2 plot. By combining a continuous facade along the streets with open towers, the design creates a European-style metropolitan experience inside a residential complex, creating an inner-city oasis at its core at the same time.
Historical elements: brickwork and market
In the nineteenth century, Yekaterinburg was a predominantly brick-built city. Strong facades with details in the brickwork were found all over.
Many of these were replaced over the course of the twentieth century with high-rise out of concrete, steel and glass. Our design reflects this transition from past, to present and into the future. The outside facades are straight and of red bricks. The brickwork extends to the tenth floor at most, after which the taller towers climb up to a high point of 100 meter with predominantly aluminium and glass elements. On the inside, facing the inner towers and landscaped courtyard, the facades are always curved. Diagonal views between them open towards the skyline of the wider city. This is the cityscape of a new metropolitan lifestyle: a dynamic environment where living, leisure and work blend seamlessly.
Interestingly, the site of Forum City for many years functioned as one of the city’s main open markets. This function also has been integrated in the plan. The slim and elongated shopping mall that extends along the eastern side of the plot will be directly connected to a semi-public courtyard with plants, benches and a fountain, where residents and visitors can sit down for a drink. The covered food-court that lies in between is simultaneously a hint at the site’s past function as market and an answer to the modern urbanite’s desire for comfortable, safe culinary experiences.
“Architecture is art that we can live in. The architect who knows how to combine beauty with the convenience of life deserves the highest praise. And that’s exactly what LEVS did.”
- Forum Group
Greening the urban landscape
Even for European standards, the green spaces created for this project, are ambitious. For the extensive landscape design, LEVS worked together with S&P Landscape Architecture, with offices in Poland and Russia, and with whom we share the ambition to use integrated landscape plans as a means to deal with concerns over biodiversity, climate change and quality of life in densely urbanized areas.
In Forum City, a total of 150 mature trees will be planted, and thousands of shrubs and flowers will be spread out over the park, terraces and rooftops. These are commonly planted as saplings, that still need quite a few years to mature. Planting mature trees, in this case of up to 25 years old, has two important advantages. First, they immediately start making their contributions to air-quality of the neighbourhood.
And come next summer, the first renters will be able to enjoy the shade of trees and the cooling effects of large amounts of green surface areas around them.
By planting a variety of tree species, the park should eventually have live foliage and a changing colour palette year-round. From evergreen silver pine trees and Canadian hemlock, to deciduous trees such as several species of maple and lime. The inside and outside will make for varied and interesting landscapes to explore. All trees come from nurseries in Holland and Germany, specialized in growing large specimens with well-developed yet compact root-systems, making it possible to transport them over long distances before planting. Importantly, the landscape covers a 3-4 story underground parking. Typically, if not carefully designed, it is only possible to lay some grass and shrub cover on top of such structure. Our specific construction of the decks and use of the up to date green roof technology, creates stable soil conditions for intensive planting. Outside the building, places along the surrounding streets, that would otherwise typically host cars are now turned into boulevards and squares, where pedestrians and bikers share a public space and where trees and plants mark ideal sites for an encounter or a break. Linear avenues planted with linden and ornamental crab apples not only add to an aesthetic appeal of the development, they also help to organize the surrounding public realm into areas created for different user groups, making spaces safer and more comfortable.
Dreams become reality
It is not a coincidence, however, that a Dutch office is getting involved in this type of large plans. One of the great opportunities for us working in Russia, is to contribute to the production of real quality of life, not only inside the home, but in residential urban environments in general.” In the Netherlands, and in Europe more generally, there is a strong tradition in combining the dynamism and activity of a large city with the intimacy of a secluded neighbourhood. Many of the future residents of Forum City too want both. Open spaces between the towers and the layered park with transitions from semi-public areas to private areas are intended to facilitate the mixing of these two complementary lifestyles.
It has made possible for residents to move around, from house to work to leisure activities to day-care centre to doing groceries, all on foot. The private landscapes that connect all these elements in the complex are full of small paths and benches. Outside the building, places that would otherwise typically host cars are now turned into squares, where pedestrians and bikers share a public space and where trees and plants mark ideal sites for an encounter or a break. The plan functions like a small city within a bigger city.
From compact apartment to luxury penthouse, and from sky-bar to a bench in the park. From bicycle stand to parking below the trees, and from medical centre to Sunday market. Our dreams for a new type of metropolitan, sustainable living environment in the Russian inner city are becoming a reality.
LEVS urban concept and integrated design for architecture and public space was a base and an inspiration for landscape development by S&P Architektura Krajobrazu.
• shrubs and perennials