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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage courtesy of Varvara Degtiarenko

Something special is underway at the Strelka Institute in Moscow. As evening falls, the courtyard of the Strelka becomes a venue for presentations with titles like “Learning Without Teachers” and “Libraries as a Situation.” The social currency is intangible—ideas, philosophies—all rooted in urban design, however circuitously. But it’s on the roof that the institute’s secret to success resides: an open-air bar that offsets the cost of the programs and workshops while simultaneously acting as a gathering place for the cities’ young creatives.

Artfully composed cocktails facilitate late-night conversation, while subtitled documentaries splash and ripple against the far wall. The atmosphere is youthful, creative and hopeful. From this rooftop, Moscow looks somehow different, even promising—a troubled metropolis undergoing a slow-motion metamorphosis.

At the core of Strelka’s social network is their nine-month postgraduate educational program. Each year, a small international group of young professionals are selected to participate in this inter-disciplinary project-based experience. Strelka’s students don’t pay tuition—in fact, thanks in some part to the bar, they are paid a modest salary to attend workshops and conduct research. Many of these projects involve travel to far-flung cities like Johannesburg and Shanghai, and the primary language of discourse at Strelka is English.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage courtesy of Varvara Degtiarenko

If you find yourself in Moscow, the Strelka Institute is not to be missed. Pick a presentation, film screening or concert from the monthly calendar and bring your beverage of choice in a water bottle. Seating is often limited, but from the railing above the courtyard you can take in both the screening and the social ambiance. Don’t go without a passion, an idea, and a willingness to change your opinion of Moscow’s future.

Read more from the author on his personal blog.

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