Russia’s Mercury City tower cuts the Shard down to size

A towering beacon of pink mirrored glass has overtaken the Shard to become the tallest building in Europe. Moscow’s Mercury City tower, which topped out on Thursday, now rises to 339m, making it 29m taller than London‘s own crystalline pyramid.

The building joins a motley cluster in the emerging Moscow International Business Centre, a $12bn complex initiated by former mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a playground for rival oligarchs to demonstrate their penile might.

This latest pink totem is the brainchild of retail billionaire Igor Kesaev, who said it “demonstrates that all of Russia is on a level with countries of the eurozone, continuing its planned development and moving forward”.

Designed by the late American architect Frank Williams, working with Moscow’s Mikhail Posokhin, the $1bn tower stands as a tapering mountain of trapezoidal blocks. If you screw your eyes up, its faceted steps recall early expressionist architecture and the crystalline forms of Hugh Ferris’s New York setback diagrams – only here interpreted with a clumsy commercial bulk.

The building was originally to be clad in a shimmering sheath of silver glass, to act as a mirrored backdrop to the reddish Moscow City Hall. Since that scheme was axed, Mercury City has taken on a bronzed hue, a kind of architectural perma-tan, as if forever bathed in a sunset glow.

The architect says the project “has a strong reference to Russian constructivism, [which] gives the tower a strong vertical thrust similar to the one found in New York’s Chrysler building“.

The comparison is tenuous to say the least, but Kesaev confirmed it was his chief inspiration: “When I first came to New York in 1991 and saw the Chrysler building and the Citibank one, I thought that [this] kind of skyscraper should appear in Moscow,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “Now, 20 years later, this dream has come true.”

How Moscow's skyline will look if proposed skyscrapers are built
Castles in the air … how Moscow’s skyline will look if proposed skyscrapers are built

In January, Mercury City overtook the neighbouring City of Capitals development – two topsy-turvy stacks of mirrored cubes climbing to 300m – which in turn had recently trumped the Imperia tower, a sludgy green box from which various elliptical shapes have been extended. Together they form a strange gaggle of maladjusted outcasts standing on the western edge of the city: an estranged monument to Luzhkov’s lust for iconic buildings.

Mercury City will not enjoy its title for long: it will soon be overtaken by Federation tower, which takes the form of two triangular blocks connected by sky bridges and penetrated by a great spike, and will soar to 506m. Others’ ambitions have not been quite so lucky. Norman Foster‘s planned 612m skyscraper for Chalva Tchigirinski was swiftly credit-crunched, while Sergei Polonsky, behind the Federation tower, lost his projects to banks after they were pledged as loan collateral.

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