Renzo Piano’s GES-2 V-A-C House of Culture opens in Moscow

The V-A-C Foundation celebrates its new design by Renzo Piano – the GES-2 House of Culture in Moscow, set in a former power station

Renzo Piano’s GES-2 House of Culture for V-A-C Foundation in Moscow
(Image credit: Gleb Leonov)

V-A-C Foundation’s GES-2 House of Culture opened on 3 December 2021 in Moscow, adjacent to the Kremlin. Designed by Renzo Piano and over a decade in the making, the reworked former power station – known as GES-2 – is free of charge and includes space for workshops, performance and exhibitions. It opens with the season ‘Santa Barbara: How Not to be Colonised’, which includes a site-specific performance work and exhibition from Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and a group show, ‘When Gondola Engines Were Taken to Bits: A Carnival in Four Acts’, alongside a programme of workshops and performances. 

‘It is conceptual, philosophical… To make a place that is accessible to everybody,’ says Piano. ‘It’s fundamentally this concept philosophically that is the House of Culture. Moscow badly needs this sort of place.’

An addition to the foundation’s Venice space, the 41,000 sq m building on the bank of the Moscow River is the brainchild of V-A-C founders Teresa Iarocci Mavica and Leonid Mikhelson, who is also its billionaire backer. Based on the idea of a Soviet House of Culture, GES-2 aims to provide space for cultural production and for people to gather and exchange ideas. Costs remain undisclosed but are rumoured to far exceed £300 million. 

Exterior with dramatic skies at Renzo Piano’s GES-2 House of Culture for V-A-C in Moscow

(Image credit: Michel Denancé)

The building houses communal space, a cinema and an adaptable performance area that is able to cater to many uses. Piano kept the integrity of the building, replacing only the roof with glass, flooding the knave with natural light. The structure was also lifted to add ceiling height to the spacious subterranean exhibition area, which opens out into a double-height space that spans up to the roof. By using small cells on the roof to disperse the light, he created a kind of diffused, dappled effect.

‘Light is essential, but it’s not the only thing. There is also transparency, the sense of openness and accessibility, and to do this in Moscow is especially important,’ says Piano. The original chimneys have been replaced with 70m-high pipes that bring in clean air in an ecologically conscious air-conditioning system, by drawing in fresh air from above Moscow’s pollution. 

The space is entirely white and grey, echoing the wintery Muscovite palette outside – save for the Matisse blue of the pipes and the original green of the cherry picker, a hangover from the building’s previous life, left in situ in the entrance hall. These elements combine to create an open and welcoming building, a place that aims to bring together the people who use it – whether to sit, think, enjoy the art and entertainment on view or contribute to it. ‘When you’re experiencing culture with a small “c”, where you meet people, you know you’ve built something really beautiful, a sense of community and conviviality,’ Piano concludes. 


Amah-Rose Abrams is a British writer, editor and broadcaster covering arts and culture based in London. In her decade plus career she has covered and broken arts stories all over the world and has interviewed artists including Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin, Ai Weiwei, Lubaina Himid and Herzog & de Meuron. She has also worked in content strategy and production.