- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

MOSCOW — French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte is reinventing a corner of Moscow’s Red Square in a project that could for the first time allow wealthy home buyers to move into Russia’s most prestigious address.

Across the square from the Kremlin offices of President Vladimir Putin and yards from Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral, Mr. Wilmotte plans to transform a former Red Army storehouse into one of the country’s most elite residential complexes.

Red Square 5, designed as an upscale shopping mall in 1891 by Russian architect Roman Klein, became a military facility with an army storehouse in its basement after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and had remained the property of the Ministry of Defense until last year.

Now the ornate four-sided structure is set to be transformed by the architect into a landmark hotel with a Wilmotte-designed apartment complex in the central courtyard.

The ornate stone facade will remain, as this is part of the UNESCO-protected Red Square. The buildings in the courtyard are already being destroyed, but Mr. Wilmotte doesn’t plan on straying far from the surrounding architectural styles.

“The scheme’s new buildings are still quite classical in stone with verdigris roofs,” the architect said at a recent presentation of the plans and construction site.

The scale model and drawings showed small apartment blocks with large windows, separated by courtyards penetrated by shafts of sunlight.

“The building contains a succession of gaps designed to let the sunlight into this central courtyard,” Mr. Wilmotte said.

The 344,448-square-foot main building will boast 118 hotel rooms, and the 290,628-square-foot courtyard will hold about 100 apartments, each between 1,600 and 2,700 square feet in area.

The $350 million project was slated for completion by the end of 2008 — although, to date, a building contractor has not been selected.

Mr. Wilmotte fell in love with Moscow while creating a set for the opera “The Queen of Spades” at the Bolshoi Theatre several years ago. He returned in 2004 to design a luxury boutique for French watchmaker and jeweler Cartier and then did the same for Cartier rival Chaumet.

“I very much like the scale of the city, the architecture itself, the mixture of this very classical architecture and the architecture of the totalitarian era,” Mr. Wilmotte says.

“And what I love is that wherever you are in Moscow, there is always a cupola shining on a sunny day; I love that. And when all this is covered with snow, it is of exceptional beauty, because the snow snugly wraps up everything. All these colors that stand out, these terra cottas, these cupolas, these verdigris roofs. It’s of moving beauty.”

His architectural firm, founded in 1975, has offices in 20 countries around the world. Mr. Wilmotte started his international career in Japan, where he worked for 12 years. His first project there was the vast Bunkamura cultural complex in Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district.

A third of the firm’s work outside of France is done in South Korea, a third in Western Europe and a third in Eastern Europe.

In Moscow, Red Square 5 is not the only historical building Mr. Wilmotte is adapting.

He’s also working on the design of a development at the Red October chocolate factory, an impressive pre-revolutionary red brick building on a Moscow River island that’s a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

While transforming the factory into lofts, Mr. Wilmotte is trying once more to be careful with the heritage of this richly historical city.

In an effort to make up for the loss of the chocolate aromas that will stop wafting around the island and across the river once the factory closes, the project will include a small chocolate museum.

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