Soviet modernist: Rem Koolhaas-designed Garage Museum of Contemporary Art opens in Moscow

Soviet modernist: Rem Koolhaas-designed Garage Museum of Contemporary Art opens in Moscow

Architecture studio OMA has resurrected a 1960s Soviet Modernist ruin as a contemporary art museum in Moscow’s Gorky Park, restoring original features and wrapping the two-storey space in a gleaming polycarbonate façade.

The 5,400 sq m building is a new permanent home for the Garage art centre founded in 2008 by art collector and philanthropist Dasha Zhukova and named after the centre’s first location, the Konstantin Melnikov-designed Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage. More recently, a nearby pavilion designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has provided a temporary home.

The new structure looks nothing like its Brezhnev-era predecessor, the 1,200-seat Vremena Goda restaurant that OMA founder Rem Koolhaas first saw when he visited Moscow in his twenties.

’What we tried to do was to preserve some of the history of its decay.  For me, the great fallacy of the whole preservation movement is that it can only preserve great monuments,’ says Koolhaas.

New architectural interventions include a double-height lobby that accommodates large-scale commissioned projects such as the debut Come to Garage! painting by Russian artist Eric Bulatov.

The double layered translucent polycarbonate façade also acts as a space in which to hide the building’s electrical services while two 11-metre wide panels on either side of the building slide upwards revealing views in- and outwards. Garage curator Kate Fowle says this creates a unique ’visual interface’ with the park that has also received something of a facelift with manicured lawns and an artificial beach where young Moscovites suntan on sculptural recliners.

According to Koolhaas, the generous dimensions of 1960s Soviet architecture offered a unique chance to experiment with the act of preservation in a ’radical’ way adding galleries, education facilities, an auditorium, and a rather utilitarian-looking cafe.

Inside, original brickwork has been left exposed while ’found’ features like a crumbling mosaic artwork and moss-green ceramic tiles - once ubiquitous in Soviet interiors - are coupled with contemporary concrete and birchwood floors.  

OMA’s innovative design stands in contrast to Moscow’s relatively conservative art scene where political works are especially still perceived as highly controversial. The inaugural programme avoided any such issues with the likes of Yayoi Kusama’s playful works that included several of the park’s trees sheathed in the artist’s trademark polkadot pattern, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Ping-Pong Club Moscow, and a small concrete space that will eventually contain a work made from nuclear waste.  It is ’scheduled’ to arrive post-treatment in 3015.

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