Park + Cultural Heritage

Cultural and historical Park Lefortovo, Moscow

How do you safeguard the qualities of a historic park and, simultaneously, introduce new potential? How do you understand and encapsulate the cultural and historical value of a site originally designed as a country estate for Peter the Great?


More than three centuries ago, the Dutch physician Nicholaas Bidloo arrived with his wife by sleigh in Moscow. He had committed to serve as the personal physician to Tsar Peter I, the future Peter the Great, for 6 years. Bidloo was drawn to this adventure by the lure of a vast and unknown country (and also the healthy salary)! He remained in Moscow until the end of his contract.

Nicolaas Bidloo

Bidloo founded the first military hospital and medical training facility in Russia. He also created the first botanical garden in Russia, cultivated strictly for medicinal purposes. Around 1720, he designed a country house outside Moscow for Peter. Over time, the estate was opened as a city park and has gradually become neglected and run down. Now, the future of the site is uncertain. Certain stakeholders want to demolish the site for commercial development. Others want a full reconstruction of the original Lefortovo Park. H+N+S has designed a third option, which preserves the historical value of the park, while also allowing for the introduction of more modern and functional aspects.

Lefortovo Park is like a forgotten, neglected Rembrandt or Vermeer masterpiece… now covered with a layer of mud

Research for this project involved an examination of the legacy of Bidloo. The research was conducted via a special process. A designer usually starts with an idea and then, by following a concept and planning principles, formulates a concrete plan. In this case, however, the process was reversed. The starting points for the research were the plans made by Bidloo and later the Italian architect Rastrelli. From these old plans, H+N+S traced back further to identify the reasoning underlying the design principles. The new proposal aims to capture and emulate the vision and sensation that the designer originally intended for the site.


Shared cultural heritage

The project commenced in 2011 with a visit to Lefortovo at the invitation of the State Service for Cultural Heritage (RCE). Even through the shabby, run down vegetation in the park, the underlying contours of a grand garden were clearly visible. The primary demand of the RCE was to redesign and rejuvenate this park into a site of shared Dutch and Russian cultural heritage – a task that H+N+S was well and truly enthusiastic about!


Together with the experts from RCE, a new forum was created – the Cultural and Historical Atlas (CHA). The CHA advocates for closer cooperation between designers and historians to ‘reconstruct history, and a different future.’ Although in recent years there has been a growing interest within the Landscape Architecture profession for projects with a historical component, there is still little opportunity for collaboration or knowledge-sharing between the fields. The CHA aims to change this.


Pleasure garden

On the banks of the Yauza River, Bidloo designed a feature garden – an ingenious combination of a water park and a terraced garden that showcases the best of the late 17 th century and early 18 th century Dutch landscaping. Bidloos plan provides a window into classical Dutch garden art, which was complemented and emphasised by the local topography and the richness and dynamism of Tsar Peter.


Lefortovo is now no longer outside the city walls but located in the middle of the metropolis of Moscow. The private country estate has become a public park. Lefortovo is in need of urgent renewal and redesign to fulfil its role as a modern city park. Most of the energy and attention in Moscow is currently dedicated to the southwestern expansion of the city, however this must be redirected to focus on improving the existing city landscape – including the renewal of Lefortovo Park.

City park

Lefortovo does not currently meet the requirements and demands of a modern day city park. It lacks a broad, interesting program for the surrounding neighbourhoods, let alone the whole city. The layout is not accessible, it has no clear entrances and has an ambiguous border. In addition, the relationship between the park and the river Yauza was severed due to the construction of a busy city road in the 50's.

In spite of these setbacks, there is definitely the potential and opportunity to use the park as a green centre for the city.

Green networks, Moscow
Lefortovo as a regional attraction


But how do you introduce new qualities into a historic park? How should a designer capture and preserve the cultural and historical values in this park? What are the fixed and unchanging values? In order to conceptualise a design for the future of the park, H+N+S decided to delve into the original design of Bidloo and understand the essence of what he was trying to realise. This process was developed and undertaken through the Cultural and Historical Atlas (CHA).

Historical research

The work of the CHA is based on extensive historical research. The CHA tried to clearly format the available information on the various stages of development of the site, from private country estate, to city park. The emphasis of the research was on form, the idea behind the construction, the motive of the client and, where the information was available, the original materials, flora and features used. Through this in-depth historical research, the urban and landscape context of the site was revealed and understood to a greater extent.

5 time layers

Based on historical research, the development of Lefortovo Park can be loosely categorised into five layers of time dating from the original design and construction by Bidloo, to the modern day. Through the research process, each time layer was expanded to include information such as: an indication of what was physically there at that time (the spatial plan), what the (presumed) vision was for the plan at the time, how (or whether) this vision was realised, and what is left of it now.

The development of Lefortovo through ‘time layers’

Design themes

Topic Maps were created showing the relationship between, for example, water structures and land elevation; the sequential space experience (open/closed areas, views); the deliberate placement of special objects and special plants. As the team uncovered these features, they were also able to explore deeper and more contextual questions such as: why were these features included in the original designs?; what is their meaning within the landscape?; what experience was intended?; what resources were used in their construction?

Design vision

The insight and understanding gained through analysis of these historical ‘time layers’, is combined with the contemporary values and aspects of the modern park, in order to create a comprehensive and original design vision. Through the ‘time layers’ it was possible to trace the historical roots and historical value of certain features of the park and, thus, evaluate their importance.


The CHA earmarked several very tall monuments in the park, that are crucial to the structure and/or the cultural-historical significance of the park due to their particular history or rarity. Through the identification of these historically valuable assets in the park, a targeted, comprehensive and sensitive design vision can be developed, along with recommendations for renewal.

Substantive design contributions have been made by former employee Tim de Weerd.