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Real Estate

Island Paradise
Taking the shape of Russia, much of Federation Island is to be completed in time for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Text James Brooke
Photo courtesy Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects

Spend the morning windsurfing from the Arctic to the Caspian Sea? In the afternoon, hike from Moscow to Kamchatka, stopping for a dip in Lake Baikal?

It should all be possible within five years, thanks to an unlikely real estate alliance that includes a Dutch architect, billionaire investors from Abu Dhabi, and Russian officials eager to create a Russia-shaped archipelago in time to greet visitors flying into Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Federation Island, the latest manifestation of Russia’s oilboom era ambitions, is to start rising next spring from the waters of the Black Sea, 150 yards off the coast of Sochi. From Kaliningrad to Sakhalin, this landscaped version of the Russian Federation is Russia’s response to Dubai’s Palm Islands.

No miniature golf course, this 815 acre version of Russia is to stretch 1.5 miles and cost $10 billion. Inside a breakwater crescent, an artificial archipelago is to contain a convention center, two marinas, and myriad hotels, villas, and apartments. By completion in 2020, Federation Island is to draw 100,000 people a day — tourists, residents, and workers.

“This island is about being outdoors, outdoor sports, a recreation area,” Erick van Egeraat, the architect, said in an interview in Moscow, poring over designs that showed sailboats and yachts plying the waters in this planned playground near Sochi, one of European Russia’s southernmost cities. In an echo of Miami, houses are to be built on narrow lots, with 10 to 15 meters of water frontage. In a liberal interpretation of geography, Russia’s “rivers” are to slice Federation Island from north to south, providing nearly 45 miles of water frontage to an archipelago with a total land surface area of only 1.25 square miles.

“My island is a toy version of the real one,” Egeraat said of his Russia made of palm trees, sand dunes, and ‘mountains’ built over hidden parking garages. Avoiding an exact replica, the architect said his toy Russia will be more “fun” than “an exact copy.”

During Soviet times, the Black Sea was largely a Russian playground. By contrast, Russians today have free access to only 300 miles of Russian Black Sea coastline, between Anapa and Sochi. The buildable land is squeezed into a narrow strip between the Black Sea and the mountains of Sochi National Park. After Sochi won the 2014 Winter Olympics last year, real estate prices soared to Moscow levels.

Months earlier, Egeraat had started designing Federation Island, commissioned by M-Industry, a St. Petersburg group that is also building 20-story apartment towers next to Sochi’s botanical gardens. One of several foreign architects now leaving their mark on oil-boom Russia, Egeraat has an edge. He grew up in Holland, a country where half the population lives on land reclaimed from the sea.

“My first response was, ‘Why would you build land in the biggest country in the world? It does not make sense,’” recalled the 52-year-old architect whose Moscow office is working on half a dozen projects on dry land across Russia. “But looking at the geography of Sochi, I changed my mind.”

Driven by land prices, developers have decided to create new land. There are now plans for 10 projects to create artificial islands off the coast of Sochi.

“This gives Sochi a completely different profile; it gives more of a Disneyland touch to Sochi,” said Marina Ushakova, a Sochi native who is associate director for capital markets at Jones Lang LaSalle, the international real estate consultancy.

Of the competing projects, Federation Island seems to lead, winning endorsements from the Kremlin down to Sochi’s City Hall. After permits fell into place during the first half of this year, M-Industry executives announced in June that landfill work would start in early 2009. Egeraat predicts that island construction will be complete by the summer of 2012 and that the hotels and marinas will be ready to greet visitors when the Winter Olympic Games open on February 7, 2014.

Not part of the official Olympic construction plan, Federation Island, with a $10 billion budget to completion in 2020, will rival the $12 billion public and private construction budget for the Olympics, according to the Kremlin. Egeraat stressed: “There is no government sponsoring of this project. The principle is that it is a fully commercial project.”

Dutch architect Erik van Egeraat is the lead designer of Federation Island, 330 hectare (726 acre) landfill project off the coast of Sochi, Russia.
Photo Vladimir Strokovsky

Federation Island’s financing comes largely from the Dubaibased Allied Business Consultants. Over the past 18 months, another group from the UAE, RAK Investment Authority, has committed to investing over $1 billion in neighboring Georgia, with interests in Tbilisi and a controlling stake in the Black Sea port of Poti, 150 miles south of Sochi.

European Russia is now to have two major landfill projects, both built largely with private money. In the north, 1,000 acres of landfill are being created in St. Petersburg for Marine Façade, a multi-use complex centered aroud a 7-berth cruise ship port. In the humid, subtropical south, Federation Island is to be the new port of call for visitors arriving by sea as well as tunnel and pedestrian bridge. Both projects are to be carried out by Van Oord, a Dutch dredging and marine contractor.

Compared to the shallow waters off Dubai or St. Petersburg, the Black Sea near Sochi is deep. At about 1 mile from shore, planners face depths up to 30 meters. In total, 140 million cubic meters of rock and sand will be needed to build the mini-Russia. Unlike Dubai’s Palms, which are largely flat, Federation Island is to emulate Russia’s contours, including the Ural Mountains. Turkey is to be a prime source of the rock and sand.

On the land, 27 islands in total, almost 4 million square meters of construction is to be built — roughly seven times the area of Russia Tower, the biggest building planned for the Moscow City highrise complex. The islands are to contain at least 10,000 apartments and villas, enough to house 25,000 residents.

“Even though people have called it ‘islands for oligarchs,’ there are only 20 private islands – most of it is midsize properties, not super properties,” Egeraat said, adding that apartments as small as 50 square meters would be built near the marinas.

The big attraction, he predicted, will be the location – owning a waterfront property with views of the Black Sea and snow-topped peaks of the Caucasus. “Living on that island and looking back to the mainland will be very similar to living on the coast of Italy.”

For more information on Federation Island, visit

James Brooke is director of external relations for Jones Lang LaSalle in Moscow. Contact him at

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