Adventurousness and inspiration. Dutch urbanist Hiroki Matsuura on how Moscow has changed over the last years

September 19
Construction and renovation

Cities are undergoing changes continuously as they adapt to the residents’ needs. Today, many urbanists are thinking about how the environment affects people, what should become an integral part of the future megacities, and how cities can use infrastructure to make people healthier. Healing environment is one of the key topics in urban studies that respond to these concerns.

Hiroki Matsuura, an urbanist and architect, a partner and chief designer of the Maxwan bureau, the founder of the MASA architects workshop, took part in the 4th Regional Social Innovations Forum. He spoke at the session “From a healing space to ... The Future of infrastructure”. In his interview to, the expert explained what a healing environment is, what sort of exclusive expertise Moscow could share with the rest of the world in the field of urban studies, and how the Russian capital copes with the trend.

What do you mean by “healing environment” in the city? And to what extent is this trend important for the megalopolises?

“The idea of ​​a healing environment is to create multiple ways to help people. There is no universal recipe to do this, I must say. We all have different problems and therefore reasons to live through stressful situations, for we are all different.

When we talk about a healing environment, we must talk about layering, in the first place. For example, beautiful trees that are well looked after and pleasant to look at may be good and soothing for some people, while lawns and comfortable recreation grounds, for others. Some need physical activity in specially designed sites; others like to spend time near water, fountains, and ponds, so all this is important for residents of large cities.

Hiroki Matsuura

Since there is such a variety of public spaces, people can choose what they like most, what can be more healthy to heal them. Creating a diverse and varying environment is important, because only such an environment can be comfortable and help heal people. A striking example of such a multi-layered environment is the Healing Gardens of the Skokovo International Medical Cluster. Nine different zones influence different human senses and allow anyone to find the right way to reduce stress levels and improve overall psycho-emotional condition.

You participated in Russian competitions, presented projects for Zaryadye Park and ZIL, developed the concept of Healing Gardens in an international medical cluster. Now you are working on landscape design at the Skolkovo Innovation Center. What attracts you most in Russia’s capital? How much does working in Moscow differ from working in other cities?

“The most interesting thing about working in Russia is that it has such a deep and rich history and traditions that are absolutely exotic and mystical for me. It is like walking in a forest, where you do not know what awaits you next. It can be both good and bad things, but personally I really like walking in the Russian forests, metaphorically speaking.

Another interesting point is that Russia is still going through a rather dynamic moment of its history. The “perestroika” ended only in the 1990s; some 30 years have passed since then, and the country is still changing. Comparing with the Netherlands, the place where I live now, one can say that everything is more predictable there. And here everything is so full of energy. Therefore, I feel very motivated and appreciate the opportunity to work here.”

“What sort of urban experience could Moscow share with the rest of the world?”

“I think a good example can be the renovation of buildings in Moscow. This is an excellent model for the world to adopt because the city has really changed a lot in a short period of time.

I remember when this program just started so many streets were closed or cordoned throughout the city that it was almost impossible to take a calm walk. But now I really see how things have actually changed. Rebuilding and changing a city so dramatically in such a short time takes a lot of adventurousness and this is very inspiring.”

Does Moscow have buildings that fit into the concept of a healing environment?

“I see many new buildings in the city that somehow fit to this idea. For example, when greenery is used in the decoration of the walls, the entrance zone becomes ennobled, and even comfortable chairs can be placed there fitting well to the overall environment. But personally I think that is not really what heals people.

Using a lot of greenery in the design, both outside and inside of a building, certainly impacts on person’s perception. But the architecture itself must be of higher quality, not only the exteriors. This is why people are fond of Moscow’s historical buildings. Built hundreds of years ago, they are still charming. Not only because they look good, but mostly because people feel good in such buildings. This is one of the ways the minds can be healed. We have to be very careful and speak not only about technical possibilities that are able to make life better, as this is only part of the story. We need to think about perceptions too.”

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

What do you think the cities of the future would look like? What will the popular public spaces such as parks look like in the future?

“I think we would be less dependent on vehicles in the future, of course. The infrastructure of most megacities is transport-dependent. But the attitudes towards cars are changing, and the number of pedestrians is increasing, so I think this will have a big impact on how cities will look in the future.

Besides, less paved roads would be needed. Thus, it will be possible to get rid of asphalt in cities that are now entangled in roads and pay more attention to landscaping. All people love greenery.

Animals, insects and birds would come in greater numbers to cities with large green spaces. That would be also part of the healing environment. That’s how I see the future: Cities will become closer to Nature.”


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