GES-2 House of Culture; GES-2 House of Culture;

GES-2 House of Culture, Moscow

Reimagining a 1900s power station as an open arts centre

Obsolete industrial buildings can be imaginatively retrofitted into inspirational and adaptable cultural spaces. In Moscow, Russia, the GES-2 coal power station was decommissioned in 2015 and left behind a historical industrial building that had been a focal point of the Moscow skyline for over 100 years. When the V-A-C Foundation challenged Renzo Piano Building Workshop to transform the building, they turned to Arup as a trusted partner.

Arup’s depth of expertise in art gallery design pushed the boundaries of what would typically be possible in such an extreme climate. The architectural vision, which incorporated large expanses of glass and vast open internal spaces, blurred the lines between art forms and encouraged the public to play an active part.

The reimagined GES-2 House of Culture is Russia's first LEED Gold cultural building. It draws on cultural centres developed in 19th-century Russia, creatively celebrating the industrial heritage of the existing building, giving it a new life as a clean-energy generator. The ambitious contemporary art and culture centre was designed with ambiguity of use at its heart, hosting galleries, an amphitheatre, education centre, library, restaurant, offices and artist studios.

Project Summary

2 performance spaces and 6 art galleries

1stLEED Gold cultural building in Russia

55%of building fabric retained

© Michel Denancé

A cathedral of light

Openness is at the heart of GES-2, powerfully demonstrated by Renzo Piano’s vision of a fully glazed roof that replaces the existing solid structure. Our mechanical, electrical, façade, sustainability and lighting engineers collaborated with the architectural team to develop its design and performance.

We identified synergies between different elements, resulting in an innovative and efficient design. Photo-voltaic (PV) louvres and lightweight triple-glazing create a multi-layered roof system that balances the natural light to the art galleries. It generates energy through the integrated PV cells and provides heating to the spaces below via heated rafters. In winter, the PV reverses flow and melts the snow above, allowing daylight to penetrate the heart of the building.

The large, glazed walls provided an open and welcoming space for the community but challenged the required environmental performance. By carefully arranging the internal spaces, the vast turbine hall became a daylight-drenched winter garden, acting as a buffer between the extreme external temperatures and the precisely controlled environment of the art galleries.

To reduce cold draughts, we designed a system that used electrical cable with a conductive sheaf to allow heating to travel along its length. It is activated when the surface temperature reaches below 20 degrees. In cold external temperatures, condensation poses a significant risk when managing the thermal bridging of the roof. Our approach lifts the surface temperature of the inside of the roof structure to minimise condensation while allowing for a leaner structure.

GES-2 House of Culture GES-2 House of Culture
The art galleries and auditorium were enclosed and protected as a box-in-box, optimised for sensitive artworks and occupants. © Michel Denancé

Adapting to the 21st Century

Early on, we used our in-house interactive façade tool to document drawings and photographs and build a 3D envelope model. A point-cloud survey (laser scan) of the existing building fabric was embedded into the design, becoming the basis of analysis and modelling tools.

External and internal consultants collaborated within a shared 3D Revit model, with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis connected into the workflow, enabling efficient and accurate calculations with minimum wasted effort. 

Blending flexibility with performance

The complexity of design, environmental performance and flexibility in use required highly bespoke solutions from the team. The glass-walled auditorium challenged us with its constrained footprint and complex staging requirements. We designed a floor comprising multiple lift systems with integrated seating to allow rapid automated reconfiguration of the room to suit a wide variety of uses.

The central hall provides opportunities for spectacular performances and large-scale art pieces requiring extensive overhead lighting, sound and video systems. We fitted technical facilities and hoists into gantry crane bridges travelling the length of the building without impacting the appearance of the airy glass roof.

Four chimneys have been used to provide natural ventilation. Exploiting their height, they bring in cleaner external air from an altitude of 70 metres, reducing the level of filtration and cutting operational emissions.  

Our lighting designers collaborated with the architect and manufacturers to develop customised lighting that caters to conflicting lightness needs and art preservation criteria. Bluetooth beacons integrated into the gallery spotlights broadcast information about events and exhibitions directly to visitors’ smartphones to enhance their museum experience.

© Michel Denancé

A light touch for a historic building

The new design embraces the industrial heritage of the existing building. Our façade team adapted standard steel profiles for the large windows to replicate the historic aesthetic but in a cost-effective system. The thermally-broken, triple-glazed units provide excellent performance and solar control.

The sheer volume of the central hall created challenges for our acousticians. We used novel reverse engineering techniques to develop a concept for demountable acoustic reflectors which could support performances without permanent interventions, helping to protect the fabric of the historic architecture.