Generator of creativity and ideas: Transformation of GES-2

August 28

GES-2 on Bolotnaya Embankment served the city for an entire century and became an architectural landmark. It has been closed to the public for the past few years. Today, its restoration is nearly complete. In 2021, a modern House of Culture will open here.


This article describes what the City Tramway Central Power Station was in the past and what it will become in the future.

From tramway to exhibitions

GES-2 on Bolotnaya Embankment was built in 1904-1908 to a design by architect Vasily Bashkirov. Initially, it was called the Tramway Station because its main task was to provide electricity for the city’s tramways.

Bashkirov himself repeatedly used motifs of the neo-Russian architectural style, as can be seen from the design of the station’s façades.  

However, it was a glass roof that made the GES-2 building unique. It was designed by engineer Nikolai Sushkin with the direct participation of Vladimir Shukhov.

The station retained its original form until the end of the 1920s. Later, throughout the 20th century, it underwent many changes: new buildings and technical facilities were added; the details on the facades were removed and the pointed tower with its clock disappeared, having been removed so as not to eclipse the background of the Udarnik Cinema. At the beginning of the war, the 62-metre ornamental flue-gas stacks of the boiler were dismantled to prevent Nazi aviation from using them as a guide for attacking the city.

In 2006, GES-2 was shut down due to the ageing equipment and the high costs of generating electricity. In 2009, the former power station was designated a cultural heritage site of regional significance.

В 2014, the V-A-C Foundation of Modern Culture bought the building and adjacent territories and invited the international architectural design bureau Renzo Piano Building Workshop to develop the reconstruction concept.

“We see GES-2 as a cultural institution of a new type, which overcomes the physical space and becomes a friendly and accessible environment, not just a fragment of the landscape but part of the city, an active element of its life. This is exactly why we invited Italian visionary architect Renzo Piano and his colleagues who invariably create free, flexible and curiosity-stimulating architecture, architecture of human relations,” Teresa Mavica said.

Preserve and upgrade

To begin with, add-ons and newer buildings were removed. They had no historical value and concealed the entire courtyard façade. Extra beams were added to large halls. Specialists had to restore the initial layout and design and upgrade the existing spaces.

The structures of the building had to be reinforced because they were supposed to carry a heavy load. However, the appearance of load-bearing metallic trusses, arches, historical stairways and ramps was preserved. Two big open halls inside were restored. The clock tower will soon occupy its former place on top of the building.


Implementing the project, the authors preserved not only the elements of the protected building that had to be restored but also other structures and details of historical value, for instance, the equipment.

In the central nave, the architects preserved the historical staircase linking four floors and elements of a bypass bridge. These features were restored and future visitors will be able to use them. The late 19th century premises near GES-2, with an area of 2,000 square metres, were restored and will accommodate the Arches complex.

“This is part of the ancient wine cellar. We preserved the building, reinforced it and made it fit for use. It will accommodate shops for artists working with metal, wood, and textiles; photo and media labs, a recording studio and a bakery,” said Anastasia Nadeyeva.

Blue chimneys and a birch grove

The colour of the renovated building’s facade was not picked at random.

“Throughout the century, the colour of the electric power station changed repeatedly and drastically. It only became yellow in the last few years. The new colour is neutral, and was used because the building had no permanent historical colour,” Anastasia Nadeyeva said.

The renovated GES-2 will be decorated with chimneys of a rich blue colour, which are currently being installed. In the near future, Muscovites will be able to watch them gradually rising above the city. Each of the four 74-metre-high stacks will carry out both air intake and filtration.

«The air intake duct is located at maximum height and this will allow cleaner air to be delivered to the building,” Ms Nadeyeva said.

Under the project, after the renovation the GES-2 complex will house an exhibition space of  8,000 sq metres, creative workshops, artists' studios (in the part of the building under the tower), a library, a lecture/concert hall, educational classrooms, a recording studio, a photo lab, a restaurant, several cafes, a shop and a bakery.

The GES-2 House of Culture will be able to accommodate almost 2,000 visitors and 300 employees. 

The site will also feature a two-level underground car park for 207 cars. A real birch grove will grow above the car park: 620 trees and 80,000 bushes have been planted around GES-2.

Utility services rooms for storage and restoration of exhibits will also be located underground. All the underground floors will be connected by passageways.

Save natural resources

It is important for the GES-2 building to retain its glass roof, which is its centrepiece. The roof of the renovated station will remain transparent, as its creators intended. The double glazing was replaced for safety reasons and according to modern requirements: it is necessary for the temperature and humidity to comply with certain standards in the building where exhibits will be kept. Solar panels will be installed on the roof, partially meeting the building's electricity requirements.

Art is produced here

There will be no clear division into floors in the GES-2 House of Culture. The maximum ceiling height in some sections of the central nave will be 23 metres, enabling large-scale installations to be accommodated.

“To say that there are four floors is only a formal classification. The whole building will be filled with multi-level sections, platforms and overlaps. The floors will be connected by scenic paths and open stairways. This will allow visitors to view exhibits from varied angles,” Ms Nadeyeva explained.

The whole GES-2 complex will be equipped with 30 lifts and elevating platforms for the convenience of the disabled people.

“The idea of producing culture and consuming it consciously underlies GES-2’s public and internal activities. All kinds of events will be taking place here in constant collaboration with visitors. Everyone will be able to fulfil their potential here. The space for exhibitions and performance and education programmes, the library, the shop, the cafe and the restaurant, the housing area, the workshops and artists' studios will be linked and will operate together, feeding the city with the energy of art and culture. This is what I mean when I say that GES-2 is neither a museum nor an archive.  We do not intend to collect and display art only, our priority is to create art through many creative people's efforts,” the Director of the V-A-C Foundation said.

“There are no precedents to this in Russia, this is the first architectural project of this kind. This space will combine many functions. There will be artists' studios where artists will be able to work for a long time, offices for the foundation, exhibitions and workshops in the Arches building. It is an integrated system. The main idea behind the project is that previously, power was produced here and now, art is being produced,” Teresa Mavica concluded.


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