Crystal Island appears to be some ethereal giant from any dystopian science fiction at first glance. However, iconic architecture firm Foster+Partners has dreamed of turning this vision into reality in the land of Moscow. The massive tent-like structure is going to be the biggest building in the world roughly having the four times square footage of the Pentagon. The narrative hook of this massive mixed-use structure might be the notion that- it is going to be “the world’s first archaeology”, where “archaeology” acts as the fusion of ecology and architecture.

Crystal Island by Foster + Partners - Sheet1
Crystal Island Illustration_©

Crystal Island- one step towards the futuristic Moscow

This mega structure will be located on Nagatino Peninsula, edged by the Moscow River. This location is only 7.5 km from the Kremlin and offers panoramic views over Moscow. In the words of the architect Norman Foster– “Crystal Island is one of the world’s most ambitious building projects and it represents a milestone in the 40-year history of the practice. It is the largest single building in the world, creating a year-round destination for Moscow and a sustainable, dynamic new urban quarter. It is a paradigm of compact, mixed-use, sustainable city planning, with an innovative energy strategy and ‘smart’ skin which buffers against climate extremes.” 

Being the world’s most perplexing project, Crystal Island has been granted preliminary planning permission in Moscow. The project is of an unprecedented scale and is contained within a massive mega-structure with a total floor area of 2.5 million square meters. The proposal is one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and has the greatest volume at 450 meters. The Moscow skyline also produces a magnificent new emblem. Moreover, the tower will have lighting at night to serve as a beacon that can be seen from the surrounding river and farther inland.

Crystal Island by Foster + Partners - Sheet2
Top view of Crystal Island_©

Giant “Christmas Tree” houses a wide range of activities

The spiralling shape of this “Christmas Tree” structure rises dramatically from a recently planted park, rising in opposite directions to create a diagonal grid. The project’s unusual geometry continues into the park. As a consequence, the plan is smoothly incorporated into a brand-new park’s landscape, which offers a variety of year-round sports, such as cross-country skiing and ice skating in the winter. In addition, to maintain a vibrant and active public realm throughout the day, Crystal Island will contain a variety of cultural, exhibition, and performance facilities, as well as offices, stores, and about 3000 hotel rooms and 900 serviced apartments. 

A highly populated suburb with every resource within easy walking distance, including an international school with 500 pupils, allows residents to work and live there. Individual components of mixed-use buildings utilize energy at various times, supporting the area’s diversity of economic and social activity while also making a compelling case for energy balance. Moreover, the Crystal Tower has panoramic views over the city of Moscow from a viewing platform 300m (980 ft) above the ground, and another platform at 150m (480 ft). 

Crystal Island by Foster + Partners - Sheet3
Section drawing of Crystal Island_©

Sustainable features- “Smart Skin” and many more

The superstructure provides a ‘second skin’ that acts as a breathable covering for the inner layers. This feature is termed “smart skin” to buffer against extreme temperatures. The internal domain will have dynamic enclosure panels inserted into the structural framing to allow daylight to enter deep inside the structure. Moreover, these panels will be adaptable to modify the interior temperature- shut in winter for extra warmth and opened in summer to permit natural ventilation. 

To protect the privacy of each unit, a vertical louvre system covers the internal facades. The exterior facade will be solar sensitive and will include solar panels, along with wind turbines to produce energy for the mega-structure. However, Within the triangulated steel mega frame, the interior constructed volumes adopt a staggered shape, extending flush against the exterior’s slope faceted glazed surface. Several winter gardens are created by this terracing. Curling arrows in section drawings show air convection currents and exchanges through the tent’s chimney and through an ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) membrane that will wrap the structure and provide superior light transmission than glass.

Crystal Island by Foster + Partners - Sheet4
“Smart Skin” of Crystal Island_©

The debate

Despite significant opposition during planning sessions, the design was approved. Aleksei Klimenko, a leading member of Moscow’s expert council on architecture, said it would overshadow a Unesco-protected church in the nearby Kolomenskoye district. He told Radio Svoboda that the structure was excessively oriental and resembled a “dahlia stuck in a string bag”. He added there were also issues with the concentration of heavy metals at the site, which were leached from surrounding manufacturers. Moreover, an architect who opposed the project, Yuri Bocharov, said: ” It appears that aliens from other planets have touched down in a flying saucer.” He continued that the structure contradicted the character of the city.

On the other hand, the Crystal Island construction received accolades from several city planners, and Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, noted how the creative design stood out from the “cubes and squares” of other international architects. Alexander Kudryavtsev, president of the Moscow Architectural Institute, said, “At first I understood I’d been shown some type of Christmas tree.” “But then I reasoned that such a magnificent building is a fitting illustration of modern technology and all of our accomplishments. The skyscraper might come to represent Moscow in the twenty-first century.”

Elevation of Crystal Island_©

Final Words

The paradoxical “Crystal Island” is yet to be built and many people are indeed precarious about turning this vague project into reality. Nevertheless, the extraordinary imagination of Norman Foster has sprouted the seed of designing the dream in many minds. Fosters+Partners has pinned their hopes on the technological advancement of modern times. Who knows, we might see “Crystal Island” growing in the domain of Moscow soon.


  1. Welch, A. (2022) Crystal Island Tower Moscow building, Russia – e-architect, e. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022). 
  2. Easterling, K. (2008) Keller Easterling on Norman Foster’s Crystal Island, The online edition of Artforum International Magazine. Available at: (Accessed: November 3, 2022). 
  3. Moscow rises to Foster’s space-age vision (2008) The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: (Accessed: November 4, 2022). 
  4. More from this author See All cmsadmin LEAF Review cmsadmin Atlantis Corporation et al. (2008) Crystal Tower, Design Build Network. Available at: (Accessed: November 4, 2022). 

A young and enthusiastic architect from Bangladesh who has an immense interest in writing and content-making. She loves to connect with different people while sharing thoughts and ideas. Also, she is determined to be an ecologically concerned designer of tomorrow.

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