Russia's Island of the Super-Rich

Article excerpt

When the Black Sea resort of Sochi won the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, the authorities felt that a little sprucing up was in order - which is why they're spending Pounds 3bn ona brand new island, shaped like the Russian mainland and devoted to luxury. By Shaun Walker

Making aland fit for oligarchs

Soon, Russia's super-rich will no longer have to travel all the way to Monaco or the Cote d'Azur to purchase luxury beach homes. Having snapped up summer residences across Europe and gained a reputation for their appetite to party hard, spend big, and generally live the high life, the Russian elite will now be given the opportunity to do so without leaving Russia.

Plans have been announced for the construction of a breathtakingly ambitious artificial island off the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Seven main islands and several smaller ones will make up "Federation Island", a miniature archipelago which will be built in the shape of the map of Russia and offer luxury housing, shopping and relaxation for up to 30,000 people.

"Everyone knows Russia is a very big country with a lot of sea around it," said the project's designer, the Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat, a specialist in urban design who is also leading the project to revitalise Canning Town for the 2012 London Olympics. "But very little of the coastline is suitable for outdoor living."

In the climate of Russia's anything-goes architectural boom, however, there's a simple solution - build more coastline.

The island will be located around 10 miles from the city itself, about 300 yards from the shore, and connected to the mainland by a four-lane bridge and two tunnels. The development will be completed in time for the 2014 Olympics, but the architect insists that the project is a typical "Olympic legacy" project, which will benefit the city long after the games have left town.

Sochi is a dilapidated sub-tropical resort town on Russia's Black Sea coast that has perhaps the most pleasant climate of any Russian city, with hot summers and mild winters. Vladimir Putin, like Joseph Stalin before him, has his summer residence near by, and despite the warm climate, the Caucasus mountains, with all their winter sports possibilities, are just a short drive away.

In recent years, the Russian Black Sea coast has been a rather seedy, cheap destination for those Russians who couldn't afford package trips to Turkey or Egypt. But that is set to change after the city won the right in July to host the 2014 Winter Games, sparking a wave of projects for the city and region's economic development.

The architect's office declined to disclose who will finance the island project, the total cost of which is estimated to be 3bn, but the Olympic victory has made Sochi one of the most attactive regions for investment. In July, Mr Putin pledged 6bn of government money to regenerate the city, surrounding area and local infrastructure in the run-up to 2014, and the island's patriotic bent will also play well with Russian officials, who treated Sochi's Olympic victory as cause for national pride. There was much flag-waving and an outpouring of patriotism when the victory was announced

President Putin said the International Olympic Committee's vote for Sochi was not just a recognition of the city's sporting facilities but also "a judgement of our country".

Van Egeraat presented a model of the design to Mr Putin at an economic forum held in Sochi last Friday and found the Russian President to be "very impressed" by the project.

The island bears obvious similarities to Dubai's "Palm" and "World" artificial islands, and indeed the technical side of constructing the island will be undertaken by the same Dutch company that worked on the Dubai projects.

But the architect feels that Sochi's climate, which he calls "Mediterranean-plus", is more suited to the island concept than that of Dubai. …