Who has bought the "Book Houses" on Novy Arbat, and why?

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Who has bought the "Book Houses" on Novy Arbat, and why?
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The famous "Book Houses", based on Novy Arbat, are being sold. How will its new masters manage it?  

One of the four famous "Book Houses", the one on Novy Arbat (Moscow), has been sold. One of the ventures of the “Capital Group” GC is its new owner. The building was sold by the Moscow city administration on the condition that it will be redesigned as an apartment hotel for the World Cup 2018. This deal is thought to have started a new chapter in the history of Novy Arbat and its commercialization and functionality change. Let us remember what Novy Arbat looked like and imagine what it is likely to become in future.


Luxurious, like Habana’s embankment

The first attempts to realign Novy Arbat were made in 1920. Everybody was discussing the project of the Russian constructivist Konstantin Melnikov, having considered his project for Arbatskaya Square and the side-streets near it. But the final decision was taken later, and its fate was determined in the general plan of Moscow’s reconstruction in 1935. A wide highway was designed leading from Vozdvizhenka through Kutuzovsky Avenue to the western suburbs of the capital.

But the vast scheme was not realized, as the main street from Moscow to Tverskaya was being reconstructed at that time, and the city could not manage the double load. Then the war started and all urban development plans were cancelled.

The project was renewed at the beginning of the 1960s. Nikita Khruschev, the leader of the country at that time, travelled abroad a lot. He was deeply impressed by western architecture. He especially admired Cuba and the embankment in Havana with its snow-white, high-rise hotels. He turned up the heat for the building of something outstanding in Moscow, and it was then that the project for the reconstruction of the wide avenue connecting Arbatskaya Square and the Garden Ring (Sadovoye Koltso) – Novy Arbat – was revived.

Specialists in urban development have remarked that there were objective reasons for the construction of the new main road – it was necessary to ease the traffic load of Old Arbat.   

“Moscow’s overbite” becomes the city’s symbol

The project was started in 1963. Some outstanding architects took part in it: Mikhail Posokhin, Alexei Gutnov, Zoya Kharitonova, Tatiana Maliavkina, and Oleg Baevsky. Also, A. Mdoyants, V. Makarevich, B. Thor, Sh. Airapetov, I. Pokrovsky, I. Popova, and A. Zaitseva worked on the project.

The main sights on the street were to become (and did in fact become) four 26-storey “book houses” where soviet ministries and institutions were to be located. These houses really resembled open hard-cover books.  

The original architectural plan was to put all of the four buildings on an integrated base – a stylobate consisting of two underground and two surface mounted floors, housing corridors of administrative buildings, shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Inside the stylobate there was a 800-meter-long tunnel for cargo cars to deliver goods. On the other side of the street, five 24-storey frame-panel residential buildings were planned. However, to cut through the residential areas, some historic buildings had to be destroyed: Molchanovka Street, The Dog Ground, and a number of Arbat side-streets. And of course, all of this was criticized by Moscow natives.

At that time, Novy Arbat used to be called “Moscow’s overbite” in the city’s folklore. The expression appeared due to the writer Yury Nagibin, who thus named the four buildings - and they really resemble a jaw with false teeth to some extent. There was another ironic name for it – “Posokhin’s bankbooks”.

But now, some decades having passed, the “book houses” are perceived as some of the brightest symbols of Moscow, together with the Kremlin, Tverskaya Street and Stalin’s high-rise buildings. 

The number of architectural frills was abundant

Hardly anybody would argue that the “book houses” form a unique city ensemble.

…but Novy Arbat is worth admiring: the flying swing of the two façade-wings evokes sensations of the premises’ lightness, as if growing from the massive stilobate. The facades are decorated with horizontal rows of windows alluding to constructivist traditions.

Two medium floors have different heights, different window designs, and different window sashes. This was done on purpose, to avoid monotony in the facades.

Eight high-speed elevators can carry up to 130 people. The escalator hall opens onto the stilobate’s roof, where architects planned to locate “green” grounds and mini sports-grounds. It should be remarked that, for the time of their construction, the buildings were innovative: these were frame –panel buildings lined with washable tile panels, which is important for a street with busy traffic.

New winterizing technologies were first used there, and then were deployed in mass construction. 

How much is it to build an apartment-hotel?

In the 2000s, the issue of updating the increasingly obsolete building arose. The Moscow authorities started looking for an investor who could manage them. In 2015, two “book houses” were tendered. New investors were supposed to convert the premises into apartment-hotels for the coming World Cup 2018.

The initial price was evaluated as much as 5.4 bln roubles, but nobody wanted to buy two buildings at once for this price. Besides this, the buildings were sold with some encumbrances: only two thirds of the area belonged to the Moscow administration, and the other third had other owners - and a possible investor had to solve his problems with the other owners on his own. Consequently, a purchaser’s expenses grew exponentially.  

In spring, a buyer for one of the buildings was found: namely, one of the ventures of the «Capital Group» GC. The house, № 15 Novy Arbat, was bought for 2.4 bln roubles.  

Now the new master is to reconstruct and update the house for its new purpose as an apartment-hotel. According to expert assessments, some more money is to be invested (the figure of 6.5 bln roubles was mentioned in the media). All necessary infrastructure must be added, engineering networks should be replaced, and modern decoration and air conditioning should be added.

Are the “book houses” worn out and outdated?

Pavel Kornilov, Director of Construction Projects Development of the Capital Group company, said in his interview with “RIA Realty” that in redecorating the house, they will try to return to Soviet-era luxury. According to him, initially the architectural decisions for these houses were very interesting but they suffered from so-called “euro-repairs”.

The task of the project is to return the house to its initial look. The investors plan to relay the inner engineering communications with the help of BIM-technologies, thus increasing the usable inner floor areas of the building. They are likely to use modern thermal insulation. The issue of suspended facades is still being discussed. 

— The “book houses” are unique, and we cannot speak of their obsolescence, the speaker mentioned.

As a result, the “book house” is to become a multifunctional complex with residential areas, offices, hotels and all necessary infrastructures.