City of eternal summer: World’s largest model of Moscow

August 11

In just a couple of minutes, you can walk around the entire city centre, follow the Garden Ring and even try your hand at managing the life of a big city by switching from day to night and back. The small building hosting a miniature copy of the Russian capital is located in Sirenevaya Alley at VDNKh. Today it serves as an exhibition centre of urban development displaying the latest Moscow projects.

The oval pavilion with a glazed façade was built at VDNKh in 2017 specifically for the model of Moscow. Its main exhibit, the model of central Moscow with 23,000 buildings and structures scaled down to 1:400, occupies 429 square metres.

Moscow was not built in one day

“The idea to create a new detailed city model goes back to 2011. In the autumn of 2012, instructed by Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, we started working on the model. Even a downsized Moscow took time to build. Designers spent eight years finishing the project,” says Sergei Lyovkin, Head of the Department of Urban Development.

The model of Moscow was not created solely for VDNKh visitors’ leisure. It is also an excellent visual aid for professionals studying city planning. The model provides an up-close look at the transit structure, public transport routes, the location and distinctive features of cultural, sports, business and commercial facilities, and much more. For architects, the model may be a source of vision for their projects with which they can play around by simply moving parts.

“The new model was first presented at MIPIM-2014 in Cannes, an international real estate investment fair. Eventually moved to a designated pavilion at VDNKh, the mini Moscow covered the area of only 70 square metres but continued to grow and, by the time the work was finished in 2020, it stretched over 927 square metres. Now it is the largest model of this kind in the world. Designers reproduced the entire city territory within the Third Ring Road, with railway stations, Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill, Moscow City skyscrapers and many other sites,” commented Sergei Lyovkin. “The entire big model cannot fit in the pavilion in Sirenevaya Alley. We are currently looking for a new site that will be announced shortly. We need more space not only for the model itself but for visitors to be able to move around it freely.”

Yulia Ivanko,

The city in full view

A team of more than 60 professionals worked on the model for eight years. It was a full-cycle production, starting from building drawings, designing the terrain and the structures themselves, connecting every building to lighting and registering every object in a database. By the way, there is no school for city model designers. Most people in the workshop had architecture or design qualifications.

Denis Grishkin, Press Service of the Mayor and Moscow Government

The model itself is a large rectangular PVC block with its four sides pointing in the cardinal directions. Its one-metre-high foundation standing on metal supports is an exact copy of the area’s natural terrain based on the heights data from the city’s general layout. The model consists of 644 parts, each having the approximate size of 1.2 by 1.2 metres. The model is easy to disassemble like a construction toy. Parts can be re-arranged depending on the circumstances (for example, if some buildings were demolished, new buildings were built or local transit infrastructure was changed).

During the renovation in 2019, Mosstroiinform team updated the exterior of 305 buildings and structures. Some of them have had their roof colour changed recently while others were rotated several degrees to achieve a more precise position. Several demolished structures (such as the Piramida shopping centre on Pushkinskaya Square) were removed from the model. The statue of Prince Vladimir on Borovitskaya Square was added to the model; tram tracks were removed from Gilyarovskaya Street. Triumfalnaya Square and Krasnye Vorota Square are now on display in their refurbished image,” explained Farit Fazylzyanov, Director of Mosstroiinform, creator of the model of Moscow.

The model of Moscow is unique in its extremely elaborate implementation. It is not just a set of blocks on a huge table vaguely resembling the city. On the contrary, every single building was created based on extremely detailed drawings. Three-dimensional components such as domes, frescos or sculptures were created using 3D modelling; façade décor and intricate roofs of some buildings, made of thin polystyrene (1-2 mm thick), required 3D milling.

The building facades have windows, parapets, imposts, pylons and other features. Window openings and window cases were painted to match each specific building. The miniature structures can be lit up from inside.

The designers reproduced all ramps, underground passages and promenades as accurately as the scale allowed. They even used actual satellite images to copy road markings. Tiny cars are parked in miniature streets while ferries cruise along a copy of the Moskva River made of special-purpose gel.

Trees and other green areas were made by hand of wire and sawdust while colour-shifting fountains were made of plexiglass. Each individual street lamp is a tiny light-emitting diode. LED strips were used to illuminate the miniature buildings.

The miniature Moscow even has miniature residents that can be seen through the windows. People and window curtains were printed on film.

The time of day can easily be changed on the model but the season is permanent. It is always summer in the miniature Moscow. Designers believe that the city model looks most spectacular in the summer. They made sure to avoid too much diversity of colours that would be incongruous with Moscow’s actual appearance. To achieve greater consistency, the facades were painted pastel shades and a specific colour scheme was chosen for roofs.

The devil is in the detail

The buildings in the city centre had to be replicated in the greatest detail. They are so sweet-looking you could eat them, sort of. Nice colours, sunshine and lacework… Houses turn standard beyond the Third Ring Road, where the industrial zone begins. On the one hand, it is easier to make, but on the other, there is not so much beauty as in the centre of Moscow.

The craftsmen reproduced even the mosaics and bas-reliefs on historical facades. For example, there is a tiny four-horse chariot made in full conformity with the original on the Bolshoi Theatre and the bells on Spasskaya Tower chime at the appointed time.

Details were also used to bring modern buildings to life. For example, one can discern Soviet film posters on the façade of the Yevropeisky shopping centre. “Many people believe that it is more difficult to make historical buildings than modern ones. But this is an illusion. Historical landmarks can be a problem because it is hard to reproduce façade decorations but their design is rather simple. These houses are assembled like toy blocks. Modern buildings are rich in finer points, like the number of floors and various shapes. So, the first thing to do is to make a framework and adjust the façade. The gluing comes next. It’s meticulous work,” Farit Fazylzyanov says.

According to Mr Fazylzyanov, the Old Road Palace of Peter the Great and the Krutitsy Metochion were among the trickiest facilities. “The metochion proved very small and we had to work with the utmost care. Normally model-makers do not visit the sites: it is unrealistic to drive round and measure tens of thousands of buildings. To make a model, we use information that is available online. But in the case of the metochion, a team of specialists had to travel to the location,” he said.

The 1.2 by 1.2- metre miniature Victory Park, which takes up four parts of the model, was yet another piece of highly meticulous work. A visitor will get a bird’s-eye view of a very natural-looking landscape, the Church of St George the Victorious, the Victory Museum, the Pobeditelei Square with its famous obelisk topped with the statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory, and the park with 600 trees, alleys and sidewalks.

City lights

Almost all the details in the model are connected to the lighting system. Visitors can choose lighting scenarios on their own: districts, or administrative areas, or types of facilities (residential houses, administrative buildings, cultural facilities, transit systems, boulevards, historical streets, and so on). They can also light houses, tunnels and roads at individual addresses or high-rises.

The lighting system creates natural daytime and night-time effects. It imitates the movement of the sun and clouds as well as other natural phenomena, or it can switch on visual effects to show off the model at its best.

The system is based on 12-volt light emitting diodes coloured in different shades of white for better emphasis. The lighting on public buildings feels cooler and that of residential houses, warmer. Building with more than 30 storeys – Moscow City skyscrapers or the historic Seven Sisters high-rises – have exterior accent lighting in addition to interior one.

The lighting system can be controlled both manually and automatically. As an option, it can be reprogrammed and synchronised with other multimedia technologies. Periodically, the exhibition attendants at VDNKh would put up real light shows titled “The Metropolis of Moscow,” “The Seasons,” “The Architectural Styles of Moscow,” “History of Moscow,” and “The Best City in the World.” On weekdays, they take place every hour, and every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. The websitehas videos of all the shows.

At any angle

There are also a lot of interactive options for the visitors. Special sensor screens can show each facility in the model magnified fortyfold by four Full HD cameras that bring into sharp focus the tiniest details indiscernible from afar. The system has an inbuilt rubricator that helps to choose facilities for a detailed overview. These could be the Kremlin, the Government buildings, the State Duma, the Moscow Town Hall, or any other structure. There is a photo gallery next to the model that also shows various buildings with captions in Russian and English.

A balcony that overhangs the model has interactive information booths on the most remarkable projects implemented by the city, including “Development of Moscow’s Transit System,” “Development of the Moscow Metro,” “Parks and Public Spaces,” “Renovation of Industrial Areas,” “The Relocation Programme,” and “New Moscow.”

Consultants are available to help visitors learn the ropes. The pavilion’s hall houses an exhibition gallery for themed displays dedicated to various facilities.

Admittance is free. The pavilion is open from 10 am to 8 pm every day except Monday. There are guided tours focusing on Moscow architecture and the model’s history. Tour guides handle the lighting system, the grand video wall, floodlights, interactive cameras, and the background sound.


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