Financial Times: How Zaha Hadid’s spaceship house landed in a Russian forest

The Capital Hill Residence is the only private house the late architect realised in her lifetime

Vladislav Doronin's Capital Hill Residence
Vladislav Doronin’s Capital Hill Residence, designed by Zaha Hadid

By Edwin Heathcote

The description of any vaguely futuristic architecture as sci-fi is overused, but occasionally there is just no other way to describe it. Zaha Hadid, who died two years ago, was the paragon of this approach to construction as a glimpse into an otherworldly, dreamlike field of potential. And the only private house she realised during her career is perhaps the most strangely sci-fi of all.

Situated in the Barvikha forest outside Moscow, the Capital Hill Residence is utterly unlike anything else outside a film. The master bedroom rises on a stalk, lifting it above the canopy of the trees, and the whole structure seems to be streamlined for some kind of supersonic travel, as if it had motion somehow embedded in its form.

Designed by Zaha Hadid for Vladislav Doronin, The Capital Hill Residence
Short Film

The house was commissioned by property magnate Vladislav Doronin, chief executive and owner of Aman Resorts and Capital Group. Initially he had commissioned Hadid to design an apartment building in Moscow which didn’t go ahead. “But,” he says, “I still wanted to build with her because she was so unique and talented — I wouldn’t give up.”

The two became friends and when Doronin acquired this plot in the forest, he went back to Hadid. “We had lunch at the Wolseley in London and I asked her to build my house. I said I want to wake up in the morning and not see anybody, just to look over the top of the trees. She drew a sketch on the napkin and I said, ‘You’re hired’.”

Remarkably, what was built was very close to the seemingly impossible structure outlined in those early sketches. “She wanted this skinny leg,” recalls Doronin. “The contractors and engineers said, ‘We can’t do this’ — but she was right.” They could. And they did.

The dominant image of the building is of the spaceship-like bridge poking above the trees, but in fact a huge house lies beneath. It is reputed to have cost $140m and comprises 36,000 sq ft of accommodation. The capsule hovering above the forest is the tip of the iceberg, with most of the structure embedded in the ground, half-buried into the sloping site.

“I have a 20-metre pool, a spa and a nightclub down there,” Doronin says. There is also, of course, a gym, a Japanese garden and the other necessities for a house this eye-wateringly expensive.

The Capital Hill Residence is, in a way, a celebration of early visionary modernism, from expressionism through constructivism and the visual dematerialisation of architecture, making it appear as something fast-moving and organic, rather than fixed and static.

Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s former business partner and now head of her eponymous architecture studio, says of the house: “It has Zaha’s signature features of organic intricacy, complexity, of spatial arrangements, a lot of surprises, a lot of craftiness and beauty in the honing of the shape and forms.” But even more than that, it is, in the words of both architect and client, a “dream house” — as much fantasy as reality, an idea of architecture that still seems somehow impossible.

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