MOSCOW -- The hottest selfie destination in Russia's capital sits at the end of an elegant V-shaped walkway in Moscow's Zaryadye Park. The park itself is brand new – the result of an international collaboration led by New York-based architect Charles Renfro.
He is a partner in the firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which also designed the wildly successful High Line in New York City.
Zaryadye, also wildly successful, is Moscow's first new city park in 50 years.
"It has become the most visited destination in central Moscow, and that makes me have chills and shivers," Renfro told correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.
Visitors have flocked to the park ... walkers and lovers, dreamers, tourists, families and friends.
But bringing Renfro's radically modern vision to Moscow caused some culture shock. Take the walkway that extends over but not across the Moscow River. "This bridge goes nowhere. It goes nowhere! We had a hard time getting it through," said Renfro.
Why? "Well, because of the fact that it's not a bridge. And I think the Muscovites were wanting it to be functional. 'Why should we build a fairly expensive feature in the park that does nothing?' But you see how popular it is!"
Filled with light and life, this park is a prime example of how much Moscow has changed. Two decades ago, the site was home to the hulking Rossiya Hotel – a Soviet landmark famous for its 3,000 drab rooms, and its cockroaches. Finally, in 2006 it was demolished. For years the site stood derelict, until in 2012 President Vladimir Putin ordered up a park.
Renfro said, "We questioned whether we should do the competition, politics being what they were."
But Renfro was as stunned as anyone when Diller Scofidio + Renfro won the competition to design Zaryadye. "The idea that we could make something this intimate, this special, in the center of one of the world's busiest, biggest urban cities was just too titillating and too, too exciting," he said.
The Americans worked closely with their Russian partners, Citymakers, to design 32 undulating acres covered in native plants and trees … birds, drawn to this green refuge, which recreates all of Russia's landscapes.
Here, for example, are plants from the far north, underneath the fairytale domes of St. Basil's.
Renfro's partner, landscape architect Mary Margaret Jones, is the head of Hargreaves Associates based in New York. She calls it "wild urbanism."
"Here we are, right now we're lost in this birch forest, [and] the city is right there. So, it's wild but it's urban," Jones said. "What interested us is the fact that it is a park, it is a landscape. And landscape is something that speaks to all people."
When they enter it, they leave the city behind. "The park managers, they love this part of the park – they say it's a little too romantic sometimes. We think that's great!" said Jones.
But tucked under every hill in this park are hidden treasure.
Visitors can go inside to see a mock ice cave, a virtual reality tour of Moscow, or the Philharmonic Orchestra, in a magnificent new concert hall inaugurated just weeks ago that sits under a graceful glass dome. Putin himself boasted that the hall was the best in Europe.
This summer, Renfro and Jones – along with their Moscow partner, Petr Kudryavtsev – spoke at the edgy Moscow Urban Forum. Renfro said, "I think the thing that worked out best was international cooperation."
Palmer said, "Russian-American relations are at their lowest point in a long time."
"Ohhh, you're going to go there," laughed Renfro.
"I have to go there!"
"I think it's wrong to say that American-Russian relations are at their worst point. What's at a bad point is our leadership around the world. But I think the people that are actually making this world a better place are doing so more cooperatively and more effectively than ever before."
Of Zaryadye Park, Renfro said, "This is a park for centuries. This is a piece of the city that will last well beyond anybody's lifetime. It's a park for eternity."
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Story produced by Randall Joyce.
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