Western building standards and eastern expectations: Moscow Exhibition Centre

Surrounded by an environmentally-protected forest and situated beside a main thoroughfare just outside the Muscovite cityscape, the Moscow Exhibition Centre (MEC) was designed to meld sleek fluidity with shimmering mystery.

View of the MEC from the highway
View of the MEC from the highway

Surrounded by an environmentally-protected forest and situated beside a main thoroughfare just outside the Muscovite cityscape, the Moscow Exhibition Centre (MEC) was designed to meld sleek fluidity with shimmering mystery.

A concept created by Axel Koschany and Mathias Kampmann of the German firm Koschany + Zimmer Architects (KZA), the complex will incorporate the Vadim Sadoroschny Museum of Technology - housing classic cars, tanks, planes and trains - a five-star hotel, a conference centre and a wellness/spa area.

Client brief

After the Russian Automobile Club of Roadsters and Cabriolets (RACRC) was unable to locate Russian architects that could create a suitable design to match its vision, KZA was contacted through a business acquaintance, commissioned for the project and given a shortlist of guidelines.

The exhibition centre will need a self-sustaining power and heating plant and we are working with the consultants a low-energy concept. And, the materials we want to use will not cause any problems if the building is demolished some day.' Axel Koschany, KZA

First, it was to design a futuristic building that contrasts with the mundane concept of a traditional exhibition centre. "The client wanted a very sharp and clear kind of 'spaceship' style of building to house its wonderful collection of old cars with all their baroque forms and shapes," says Axel Koschany, head architect, partner and managing director of KZA.

Another request from the client was to ensure both the hotel and museum were protected from the noise and traffic of the highway. To do this, KZA bent its concept design to situate the conference centre in front of these two sections, thereby creating the requisite noise buffer.

The third request from the RACRC presented a structural challenge for KZA. It was asked to connect the three functional buildings - all of differing sizes, shapes and functions - via one main foyer. So, instead of a composition of three different buildings, KZA was to create one building with various sections to serve myriad functions and a hotel oriented toward the peacefulness of the forest.

"The courtyard in the centre of the complex becomes the central entrance to the exhibition centre and makes for perfect orientation," says Koschany. "The cantilevered museum offers a view into the courtyard from the outside. From here every section of the MEC can be reached easily."

Architectural form

The entire MEC complex is informed and driven by the shape of the roof. Following one fluid line, the roof of the museum, conference centre, hotel and the wellness/spa area, have kept the same materials, architectural line and sleek design.

Depending on the standards met and the overall quality of the materials, both interior and exterior materials will be sourced from Western Europe and Russia. In accordance with the original concept brief, different materials will be used for different sections of the facade

The northeastern face is set back from the street and houses the office block. It is a section that is tranquil and professional to mimic the attributes of the inhabitants. For this section, KZA chose a simple, yet elegant facade of glass and steel panels that alternate to create a subtle pattern.

The section that runs parallel to the northwestern highway houses the Vadim Sadoroschny Museum of Technology and its baroque shapes and forms.

The museum building, with its unique shape and orientation serves as the viewer's first impression of the structure, and was designed to be eye-catching and thus, utilises the sleek double-skin facade

"Like a second skin, a layer of woven metal mesh lies over the glass facade. With its different mesh size, changing with every sector of the facade, the museum shows its 'treasures' as if through a veil - retracted in only small sections to allow a direct view," says Koschany.

Extending around the backside of the structure, the double-skin glass and mesh material also serves as the facade of the entire conference centre. However, the three 'fingers' that make up the hotel break the skin and use several varieties of concrete, glass and timber. They were specifically designed with the materials to react to their orientation to the forest.

The roof is the signature element of the MEC; it is the concept through which every other design decision on the project was made. With its cantilevered shape, double-skin cladding made of glass and woven metal mesh, the roof offers a streamlined, 'spaceship'-like, design from the outside and shimmers mysteriously from the inside.

"The roof connects all the materials and sections of the MEC and creates the feeling that the complex is actually just one sculpture with a fluent change from the roof into the facades," says Koschany.

Architectural challenges

Less architectural than geographic, the biggest challenge faced by KZA in the MEC project was working in Russia for the first time and being restricted by unfamiliar laws, regulations and standards. "We were not used to all the new and different rules, laws and the way the authorities work and act," says Koschany.


The other major challenge was also more cultural than architectural. Koschany says: "Another challenge was to find and keep the balance as architects coming from Western Europe. On one hand the clients sought us because of our expertise, professionalism and design quality. On the other hand, our clients seemed very self-conscious [about choosing our firm] and proud of their own possibilities. So we needed to act very carefully and sensibly - a bit like in Dubai."

The final challenge - one that will continue to plague KZA until the completion of MEC - is the delicate balance of meeting RACRC's request to use Western building standards in Russia, while also trying to control building costs.

"The specific climate of the location will require a very high standard during the design and, even more, once the building is under construction. For that reason we hope to convince the client to choose a qualified contractor - even if it will not be the company with the cheapest price," explains Koschany.

Failure to meet this challenge could conceivably undermine this project, as it will undoubtedly be a subtle reminder to its Russian clients that using a non-local firm only adds to the difficulty of the project. KZA's hope, of course, is that its more costly Western standards will ultimately add value as well.

In the event KZA is able to source and use its choice of materials and products, and if the client and contractor are able to follow accepted facility management procedures, Koschany remains optimistic that the MEC will withstand the test of time. However, KZA has also insisted on the employment of sustainable materials that are easily recycled.

Architectural philosophy

Koschany considers his job to design economical buildings that withstand the test of time. "That means," he says, "using certain materials that will create an energy-efficient building - even in a country which has no lack of gas and oil."

The KZA portfolio offers an array of domestic and international projects that vary in location, function, size and client guidelines. "Each design is unique; we're always looking for new lines and spaces. At the same time, of course, we use elements we have experience in using and try to compose them in different contexts and structures," says Koschany.

Although KZA would not consider MEC a deviation from its philosophy, the MEC project, with its unique context, rigid guidelines and combination of disconnected functions, offered a design challenge unfamiliar to KZA.

"The MEC differs from other projects we've done in the lines of the design, its context, structure and size... New projects challenge our creativity and our professionalism," says Koschany.

Project data

Project began:
Design, 2006; Building phase, Spring 2008

Project Status:
In development

Estimated completion:
2010

Built space:
45,000m²

Client:
Russian Automobile Club of Roadsters and Cabriolets

Masterplanner:
Koschany + Zimmer Architects

Concept designer:
Mathias Kampmann, Architect, KZA
Axel Koschany, Architect, CEO KZA

Head architect:
Axel Koschany, Architect, CEO KZA

Project Coordinator:
Michael Ricken, Architect, KZA

 

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