Pompidou plan for Muscovites

October 24, 1997

A Pounds 6 MILLION plan to refurbish and extend Moscow's library of foreign literature to create an international education and cultural centre reflects an increasing awareness in Russia of the importance of language and skills training in encouraging economic regeneration.

The partial rebuilding and refitting of the library, which houses the British Council's Russian head offices as well as American, Japanese and French education and cultural centres, would create an international resource on a par with the Pompidou Centre in Paris and act as a focus for projects aiding Russia's transition to democracy and market economics.

The plan, which envisages increasing floorspace by 3,500 square metres to enable profitable sub-letting, has been devised by the library's director, Katya Geniva, with the backing of Tony Andrews, director of the British Council in Russia.

The council commissioned a Pounds 10,000 feasibility study and architectural scale model of the project to support Katya Geniva's campaign to raise financial backing from Russian banks.

President Yeltsin, who earlier this year announced the "Yeltsin Initiative" to send 5,000 industrial and commercial managers overseas every year to learn western ways of doing business, will see the model when he visits the British Council next week.

"The idea is to stimulate a discussion within Russia of the possibilities for what would effectively be an international cultural GUM," Mr Andrews said, referring to Moscow's famous department store. Architects' plans envisage covering the open courtyard of the library with a glass atrium and using retrofitted glass panels on the outside walls to allow creative use of light and special effects for exhibitions, presentations and educational events.

The Pounds 6 million cost could be recouped from rental income and other fees associated with education and training projects the centre would host.

Katya Geniva, who is also chair of the executive group of the Soros Foundation in Russia, sees education and training as integral to Russia's future. "I want to develop the library as a centre for the free flow of information and as a beacon for modern Russia," she said.

The plans have been made public at a time when Russian leaders are beginning to embrace international cooperation in education and training as the key to development in the 21st century.

The ministry of education will put out its first ever open tender next year for the pilot development of four regional "centres of excellence" in association with the British Council and Soros Foundation. Regions will be invited to bid to develop English language and business training centres to support the spread of new skills and opportunities.

The Pounds 5 million, three-year project, envisages the British Council and Soros contributing cash and expertise with the Russians providing the premises and facilities, although George Soros insisted that the regional partners contribute financially.

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