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Moscow architecture ‘neglected and demolished by ultra-capitalism’


Moscow’s architecture is under ‘immediate, extensive and overwhelming threat’ from both neglect and rampant over-development, a new report claims

The report, from the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society and SAVE Europe’s Heritage, states: ‘There is no other capital city in peacetime Europe that is being subjected to such devastation for the sake of earning a fast megabuck’. 

It claims that laws currently in place to protect buildings are ineffective due to corruption within the city. 

At the heart of the argument is the Bolshoi Theatre, which has been closed for four years for renovation. Experts fear the work will never be completed and claim that the building is now riddled with cracks and close to collapse. 

Other buildings under threat include the Mayakovskaya Metro Station, Narkomfin Building and Melnikov House

Alongside a lack of preservation the report accuses the Moscow authorities of reckless overdevelopment and taking a ‘theme park approach to a historic city’. 

Developers are heavily criticised by the report, particularly for low-budget ‘bloated sham replicas of historic buildings’, such as The Imperial Riding School. 

The decline of Moscow’s ‘imposing, beautiful and fascinatingly bizarre buildings’ has been blamed Yury Luzhkov, who has implemented a rapid ‘modernisation’ strategy as mayor of Moscow since 1992. Many projects have been overseen by his wife, property developer Yelena Baturina, who has become Russia’s first female billionaire. 


Readers' comments (6)

  • The report can be downloaded here:-


    There's a great deal of further information at:-


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  • Sergei Jargin

    Reconstruction of Moscow: a new past for the new future
    Minimum intervention – this is an acknowledged principle of preservation and restoration of built environment. Repair should not encroach on the original fabric in a manner which diminishes the authenticity (1). In the course of reconstruction during last decade, historic centre of Moscow has been partially replaced by imitations of old architecture. Reconstruction of Moscow and some other Russian cities includes not only selective replacement of old buildings but also transformation of remaining ones. After the reconstruction, it is sometimes difficult to envisage original appearance, some houses being altered beyond recognition.
    During the Soviet time, students of architecture were taught that buildings from the late XIX and early XX centuries have little aesthetic value. Pre-revolutionary architecture was demolished and replaced in many places. Parts of Moscow old city were torn out and split (2). Admittedly, high-quality edifices were created during Soviet time, for example, the Moscow subway (Metro), not least because construction of underground stations did not necessitate demolition of old houses.
    All previous plans for Moscow lacked the power to zone or otherwise control the development of the city (3). The central area is overloaded by commercial offices and jammed by cars; the more so as parking places, flyovers and tunnels cannot be easily built in the old city. Recent construction of the Third circular motorway has consolidated the concentric-radial structure of Moscow. Increasing traffic gridlock in metropolitan cities is a well-known phenomenon; it was one of the reasons why cities of late XIX – early XX, originally having a single centre, transformed to the polycentric agglomerations (4). Retreat from the radial structure by establishment of additional, more specialized centres (commercial, administrative, recreational) must be the best solution for Moscow (5).
    Current reconstruction of Moscow can be seen as a large-scale architectural experiment without precedent in the XX century (comparable phenomena took place in London and Paris during the XIX), which, although not in agreement with the principles of preservation of built environment, cannot be denied certain grandeur. Nobody is against experiments, also in the field of Revivalism or pseudo-reminiscences, but why exactly in the historic centre? There is enough territory; a “Neo-Imperial” quartier could be built, for example, in the area of Proletarskaya Metro station, where old architecture was demolished during Soviet time. There are positive examples: in Helsinki, the classicistic old city from XVIII century, resembling St. Petersburg, remained untouched, while the new centre was developing at a distance. An ensemble in Wilhelmian style (Neue Stadt) was built in Strasbourg in the late XIX – early XX without encroaching upon the ancient city centre. Magnificent modern Singapore peacefully coexists with the old Chinatown providing an example of successful architectural and functional zoning in a megalopolis.
    Which arguments are voiced in support of the current reconstruction? Continuation of imperial traditions, idealised as they are today, or invented anew, as if no fin de siècle, revolution and constitution have ever taken place, as if modesty, embodied in the two-storied Moscow Eclecticism, which is deep in the heart of old Muscovites, has never existed. Where are they, old Muscovites, who inhabited these humble and poetic, art nouveau and eclectic houses? Expelled from the city centre most of them and live, if at all, in apartment blocks at the periphery… or farther. Russia is supposed to be standing today on the eve of her new historic greatness. Therefore, magnificent and formidable image of the capital must be created in defiance of historic authenticity and nostalgia. Is it perhaps delirium? Or rising from the ashes? We, humble architects, do not know it; we just grieve over destruction of the past, over the ongoing annihilation of Moscow of our childhood… Current reconstruction has already created, very largely, a new image for the old capital.
    1. R.D. Pickard, Conservation in the built environment (Harlow, Longman, 1996)
    2. K. Berton, Moscow. An Architectural History (London, Studio Vista, 1977)
    3. M.H. Lang ‘Moscow and St Petersburg: a tale of two capitals’ in D.L.A. Gordon, Planning twentieth century capital cities (London & New York, Routledge, 2006)
    4. D. Gosling, M.C. Gosling, The evolution of American urban design (Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2003)
    5. Z.N. Yargina, Ya.V. Kositsky, V.V. Vladimirov, A.E. Gutnov, E.M. Mikulina, V.A. Sosnovsky, Basic theory of city planning (Moscow, Stroiizdat, 1986 – in Russian)

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  • Sergei Jargin

    Reconstruction of Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow. http://domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&ID=695

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  • Sergei Jargin

    Phobia: psychological background of Moscow reconstruction
    One example: car alarm systems are sounding the whole night under the windows of an apartment house, waking people up. In Moscow there are many expensive cars, but alarm systems are often of a cheap variety, they react on a passing tramway or switch on spontaneously. Nobody goes out from the apartment house. It is useless to apply to the militia (the police), to the traffic inspection, to discuss it with the district militia officer, to report numbers of the offending cars etc. Some traffic inspectors are known to avoid conflicts with owners of big cars. Here is also the reason of poor creativity: an artist, on the contrary to an artisan, must be free from fear. This is why European civilization has been so creative, because she was able to free her citizens from fear. The same is true for scientific creativity, fraud in science (compare Lysenko affair) and charlatanism in medicine. This is the mechanism of barbaric reconstruction of Moscow (1-2) and other historic sites in Russia (3). Architects and city planners understand it but do what authorities say; and the corrupt authorities, having their vested interests, are reckoning with criminalized structures affiliated with nouveau riches etc. In fact, all these men are afraid of each other. I'm afraid myself: I was beaten twice (without severe complications, thank you) and threatened several times (details in Dermatopathol: Pract & Conc 13(3) and 15(2), http://derm101.com, search after "Jargin").
    1. Jargin S. General layout for Moscow. Bicentric instead of concentric-radial. Domus. Update published 12 Oct 2009: http://domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=677
    2. Ricostruzione di Mosca. Update 10 Sept 2009: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=605
    3. Old and new wooden architecture of northern Russia. Update 10 Sept 2009: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?id=598&idtipo=1

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  • Sergei Jargin

    Reconstruction of Moscow: poor quality of building materials

    New building materials used today for the reconstruction in Moscow and other cities, a great part of which is imported from China, are of uneven quality: use of some materials was noticed to be accompanied by allergic reactions (rhinitis, bronchospasm, itching skin rash) in personnel and inhabitants of neighbouring houses; some tiles have low strength and easily break. More details: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=818

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  • Sergei Jargin

    Reconstruction of Moscow: Motives and Mechanisms

    Economical growth in Russia was accompanied by considerable elevation of prices for real estate. In the historic center of Moscow, prices for apartments have skyrocketed. Banks or other firms are buying apartments in old houses in the city center, make a "Euroremont" (a Russian neologism meaning repair supposedly according to European standards, replacing the original interior, often with a re-layout), and hire them out. Commercial offices are established in some apartments. This process is accompanied by gradual pressing of the former inhabitants out of the city center. With communal flats, which had prevailed in the center of Moscow during the Soviet time, it went rather smoothly: families and even singles obtained their own apartments in more distant and less expensive areas. The process was facilitated by the rumors that old houses will be allegedly demolished or undergo major repair with compulsory resettlement of inhabitants. The catch phrases like "wooden bearing structures are rotten and must be replaced" have been used even for the houses built in the late 19th and the 20th century, although it is known that in West Europe frame houses and other edifices with beans and girders are preserved from much older time. Another catch phrase: "Waste-water tubes are obstructed by rust and must be replaced", although the major cause of the waste-water conduit obstruction is the garbage from the "Euroremonts", notoriously, pieces of flooring tiles coming into the conduit when a lavatory pan is exchanged by not very professional firms. To stimulate decision making, threats and violence by unknown "hooligans" or persons living temporarily in the same house, were also known to occur, including assault and battery in the staircase or at the entrance. After such a case, which the author experienced himself, the local police (militia) were remarkably unwilling to find the offenders, let alone the organizers.

    After the majority of communal flats had been cleared, and the remaining inhabitants became aware of the real value of their apartments, the new tactics have become apparent. In the houses, especially those having high commercial value, emerge the so-called initiative groups, acting for the purpose of breaking-off from existing house managements and foundation of the so-called TSG (Russian abbreviation for the Association of Apartment Owners). From the beginning, the initiative groups used incorrect methods: gathered from inhabitants considerable amounts of money for unclear purposes without giving a receipt; collected signatures under formal pretexts (for example, to inform about a forthcoming meeting), while the signatures were gathered on the separate sheets, being thus suitable to endorse any application made as if on the part of the inhabitants, for example, the inhabitants’ consent to placement of firms in the house, in basements and other free rooms outside the private apartments, which are, according to the law, in condominium of the apartment-owners. The house management of TSG-type would permit collecting more money, but it is not the final goal. The current legislation pertaining to the management of partly or completely privatized apartment houses is somewhat vague, but it is clear from the codes of law that TSG-type management would enable making reconstructions and major repairs at the costs of the apartment owners. It would thus enable the TSG-management to make the level of obligatory payments unpredictable, collecting now and then greater sums for different kinds of repairs, renovations and reconstructions. The original inhabitants are accustomed to the stable, gradually increasing maintenance fees, and the uncertainty will be a hardship for them, both financially and psychologically. Even wealthy apartment owners, who could be able to participate in some ventures, are cautious because of the incorrect acts already committed by the “initiative groups” who have already shown themselves unreliable.

    This is the new and, under current legislation and executive, quite efficient mechanism of pressing original inhabitants out of their apartments and, at the same time, of reconstruction and rebuilding of old houses in the historic center of Moscow. Both processes are mutually stimulating: to reconstruct an old building for commercial purposes, previous inhabitants should be removed, while the reconstruction with accompanying costs helps removing them. In this way, Moscow loses its historic architectural image together with the original inhabitants of the city center. Moscow authorities are supporting this process, and some co-workers of the old house managements are obviously participating in it, demonstratively neglecting their duties and talking rudely to the inhabitants, communicating the message: “Manage your business yourself!” It should be noted that all repairs within the apartments (of electrical and sanitary equipment, window frames etc) must be made free by the workers of the house management, which is officially included in the monthly maintenance payment, but the workers ask for money nonetheless. The gap between the laws, regulations and everyday practice can be quite broad in Russia. This problem has also a technical aspect: the old house managements, by all their true or alleged drawbacks, have decades' experience with the old houses, know their structural and technical details, have corresponding archives, drawings, equipment and specialists. Today they are replaced by newcomers, aimed at momentary profit, at reconstruction and rebuilding of the old houses. The fact that the house has historic or architectural value is disregarded in many cases. In the past, some architects protested against reconstruction and pointed out that architectural monuments are sometimes destroyed intentionally (for example, Architecture and Construction of Moscow, 2005, Issue 1, p. 14; http://www.asm.rusk.ru/05/asm1/asm1_3.htm in Russian), but during the last years apologetics of reconstruction prevails in professional publications.

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