RPBW renovates Moscow’s power station GES-2 into a civic cultural space

Renzo Piano Building Workshop is transforming the historic edifice and its adjoining outdoor space with new galleries and workshops, for Russia’s V-A-C Foundation.

by Jincy Iype Published on : Feb 19, 2020

Situated on the Balchug island in Moscow’s ‘Red October’ district, the decommissioned GES-2 (also known as Tramvaynaya or Tram power station) is being redesigned by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW). RPBW is credited for building over 140 splendid buildings across the world, most notably the picturesque Shard in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

  • GES-2 is being transformed into a new civic and cultural space in Moscow | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    GES-2 is being transformed into a new civic and cultural space in Moscow Image Credit: Gleb Leonov
  • The decommissioned power station was acquired by the V-A-C Foundation, and is set to become its future home | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    The decommissioned power station was acquired by the V-A-C Foundation, and is set to become its future home Image Credit: Gleb Leonov

GES-2 is a historic structure built in 1907 and upon closing operation in 2014, was acquired by the V-A-C Foundation that started its renovation in an attempt to shift the main building and its adjoining area into a fresh cultural venue for Moscow. The overhaul of the GES-2 by RPBW is an architectural marvel in progress, as it revolves around creating a civic and cultural space encompassing visual and performing arts, music, science and sustainability. GES-2 is set to become V-A-C Foundation’s future home in Russia, and has been receiving eyeballs since its construction began in 2016. It is due for completion later this year.

“I have always liked building places for people, places where people could come together and share emotions. If this happens in a former power station, I like it even more. And if this happens at a place in the centre of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva river, it blows my mind,” exclaims Pritzker laureate Renzo Piano.

  • Conceptual sketch of the main building of GES-2 by Renzo Piano | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketch of the main building of GES-2 by Renzo Piano Image Credit: Renzo Piano
  • Conceptual sketch of the Piazza at GES-2 by Renzo Piano | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketch of the Piazza at GES-2 by Renzo Piano Image Credit: Renzo Piano

Rather than razing the structure down and starting entirely from scratch, RPBW decided to restore the historic structure in Russia’s timeline. The project is directed by two concepts – of creating a space where visitors feel compelled enough to be guided by their own intuition to explore the space, and an efficient strategy of circulation. The former intends to develop a sense of comprehension that it will be enough for a visitor to look around, figure out what is inside, decide where to go, and how to get there. The latter accomplishes the plan of a ‘circulation web’. “The idea is to create a fluid and visible web, a single piece conceived as kind of spatial sculpture, consisting of stairs, lifts, corridors, canopies and platforms, connecting to each other all the spaces and activities,” explains the RPBW design team.

  • An interplay of light and shadow lent by the scaffoldings at the construction site | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    An interplay of light and shadow lent by the scaffoldings at the construction site Image Credit: Matthew Daubach, Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  • Construction underway at GES-2, which is expected to be completed later this year | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Construction underway at GES-2, which is expected to be completed later this year Image Credit: Gleb Leonov

The main structure will be converted into an open-plan activity space, also acting as a sheltered pedestrian walkway. The complex will house an auditorium, galleries, a playhouse with a glass envelope overlooking a birch grove, library, shop, café, and science and learning centre along with a residence block. It will also house a new facility for experimentation in its historic redbrick vaulted structure (a former vodka distillery) for artists and creative professionals, with its 2,000 sqm space hosting workshops and co-working spaces, linked to the main gallery space.

The GES-2 project has everything an architect could wish for: a place rich in memory, a former industrial space that is a factory of light and the opportunity to build a place for beauty. The beauty of art, of science and of conviviality. – Renzo Piano
Inside the main structure of GES-2, which is under construction at present | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
Inside the main structure of GES-2, which is under construction at present Image Credit: Gleb Leonov

The Main GES-2 Building

The 40,000-sqm structure comprises five components – the front building, the main building, right and left risalits and the playhouse. The front building of GES-2 will host the Second Square and is designed for a large gathering of visitors to meet, and learn about the programmes at GES-2. This also hosts a small library on a balcony, overlooking the Square.

The first level of the main building houses the core exhibition area of GES-2. Despite it being an underground level, it gets abundant natural light due to its double height ceilings. The main artery of the structure, the Prospekt, is also located here and is surrounded by exhibition spaces and learning programmes. The back of the GES-2 main building block hosts a café, a shop and the Playhouse, which is a transformable performance space with a seating of 420 people. The Playhouse stage can be configured in nine different ways, and the space will host theatre, concerts, film screenings and lectures.

  • The Prospekt is the main artery of the structure, surrounded by exhibition spaces | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    The Prospekt is the main artery of the structure, surrounded by exhibition spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  • A visual representation of the Playhouse, a transformable performance area| GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    A visual representation of the Playhouse, a transformable performance area Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Six apartments and communal spaces for creative professionals partaking in the GES-2 international residency programme take up the Right Risalit area (Risalit – part of a building that juts out from its main façade). The Left Risalit is planned to be developed into a culinary arts laboratory.  

The Vaults

Covering 2,000 sqm, the former warehouses for Smirnoff vodka will transition into the vaults, the creative core of GES-2. This is designed as a communal workshop and production space for artists, to experiment across disciplines and foster collaborations. The vaults will consist of workshops pertaining to wood and metal, textile, assembly and finishing, 3D printing and ceramics, along with sound recording studio, film editing suite, listening room, material library, photo laboratory, printmaking studio and a bakery.

  • Galleries set to come alive at the GES-2 | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Galleries set to come alive at the GES-2 Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  • Inside the GES-2 civic design programme | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Inside the GES-2 civic design programme Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Outdoor Space

The 10,000 sqm area surrounds the GES-2, and entails the Pier located in front, the construction of which is nearing completion. The Dvor (Russian for yard) is a lush green space located at the back, complete with a scenic birch tree grove and an open area to host summer concerts and film screenings.

A two storey Dno (Russian for underworld/bottom) resides beneath the birch grove, and is utilised as a car parking with over 200 spaces. Another Dno underneath the first one houses a 2000 sqm area for art storage, and holds the V-A-C Collection, which can be accessed by prior appointment. A path winds through the grove mentioned above, which transports visitors to a sightseeing platform, providing views to the Patriarshy Bridge that runs alongside it.

  • Site Plan | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  • Level 1 Floor Plan | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Level 1 Floor Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  • Sectional Views | GES-2 | Renzo Piano Building Workshop | STIRworld
    Sectional Views Image Credit: Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

A people centric design philosophy and enhancing a city’s fabric lies at the core of RPBW’s building methods - the half-constructed complex stands testament to this, spinning a tale of revival and protecting Moscow’s history. GES-2 is already a site of awe and intense renovation, standing the test of time, and transforming from a state of dereliction to glorious renewal.

Project Details

Name: GES - 2
Location: Moscow, Russia
Client: V-A-C Foundation
Site Area: 2 Hectares (approximate)
Project Status: 2015 – in progress
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop, architects in collaboration with APEX Project Bureau (Moscow)
Design team: A.Belvedere (partner in charge)

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About Author

Jincy Iype

Jincy Iype

Iype is a trained architect, who often indulges in writing and amateur photography. She was a cinephile and a melophile even before she knew what those words meant. She is inclined towards architecture journalism, and can usually be found curled up reading a book, or cooking for therapeutic relief.

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