Detsky Mir Refit Has Some Perturbed

MTDetsky Mir has promised to save the beloved merry-go-round, which is the historical centerpiece of the main
The landmark children’s store Detsky Mir will close July 1 for a massive, two-year refit, which is expected to cost $200 million. While the arched facade will remain, the interior will be gutted and replaced with a six-story glass atrium containing a food court and cinemas.
The store remains a magnet for children and their parents, many of whom have fond memories of visiting the building in their youth — even though a trip to the Soviet-era Detsky Mir could mean standing in lines of more than 1,000 people to buy hard-to-find clothing.
The developers say the new store will retain the magic of Detsky Mir with modern comforts, but architectural preservationists are skeptical.
Opened in 1957, Detsky Mir was designed to be a showpiece of the Soviet system. The marble-lined store standing across from the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters was the first in Moscow to have escalators and air conditioning. Its vast central hall has a curved ceiling, elaborate light fittings and features a working merry-go-round in the center.
But the years have not been kind to the building, which was privatized in 1992. The tiled stairwells are worn, several escalators no longer work and customers and staff alike sweat in year-round tropical heat. Period features, such as some of the marble-faced columns, have been covered with contemporary materials, and the giant windows are swathed in advertising.
Natalya Dushkina, an architecture professor who also happens to be the granddaughter of the building’s designer, Alexei Dushkin, published an article in Izvestia titled “Now a Hypermarket Will Come to Lubyanka, Too.”
Dushkina, who teaches at the Moscow Architecture Institute, is frustrated by the plans for her grandfather’s last building.
“There are things of historic and cultural value that should be preserved. And they are also of great material value,” she said.
“If you look at Harrods in London, or huge stores in Chicago and New York such as Macy’s, they are all located in historic buildings where the interior is preserved and is an unique selling point of the store.”
But the preservation laws have failed to save these elements of Detsky Mir. In 2005, the Culture Ministry listed the building as an object of cultural heritage of regional importance, but reconstruction can go ahead because the listing only said the building must retain its silhouette, height, facade and “historic function” as a store featuring goods for children.
“The listing of specific protected features [in this case, the facade and silhouette of the building] is no guarantee that the building itself will be preserved,” Dushkina said.
She questioned the need to gut the interior. “The building has a frame construction and its layout is completely free. That means you could take away all the non-load-bearing walls and design a trading space as freely as you like. The only aim here [of the reconstruction project] is to destroy. They are turning the building into a gigantic Mega mall.”
Vasily Antonov, buying a board game with his six-year-old grandson, Danila, was sad to hear the store is closing for reconstruction. “It’s a store that’s linked with the memories of Muscovites,” he said. “I brought my children here. I was brought here in my day.”
Yelena Sokolova, a mother of three, watched an orchestra of mechanical teddy bears with her 7-year-old son, Vanya. “I’m sorry about the merry-go-round,” she said. “They absolutely mustn’t get rid of that.”
Store workers were divided on the closure. “Of course, it’s a pity, we’re all used to being here,” said Marina, who works at a stall selling dried fruit and nuts.
But Natalya Vyshkova, who works at a stall that sells costume jewelry, was dry-eyed about the closure. “They should close it because it is all obsolete. There’s no ventilation. Working here is very hard,” she said.
All 517 store employees will be offered jobs in Detsky Mir’s other Moscow branches, said Maxim Yentakov, the general director of the retail operator Detsky Mir-Tsentr, in a statement in April.
The Detsky Mir brand has 100 locations all over Russia, 30 of which are in Moscow and the Moscow region.
The new store will include some elements of the old, said Sergei Shmakov, the first vice president of Sistema-Hals, the developing arm of Detsky Mir-Tsentr’s main shareholder, conglomerate Sistema.
“Everything that presents historical and cultural value will be preserved,” Shmakov said, listing the merry-go-round and the metal lamps that stand on balconies around the central hall. He is well aware of the store’s history, since his father worked in the administration of Detsky Mir when the store opened.
He stressed that the changes would not affect the exterior of the store as it is seen from the street. “The facade, the exterior of the building will remain unchanged,” he said.
David Sarkisyan, the director of the Shchusev Architecture Museum, was skeptical. “I think the reconstruction of Detsky Mir is yet another tragedy for our city,” he said. “The thing is that the interior is no less valuable than the walls around it.”
“If the building was spruced up, I mean truly restored, they would definitely be able to use it,” he said. He suggested expanding Detsky Mir by linking it up to the building now occupied by the little-visited Polytechnic Museum.
A scale model of the reconstructed building in the Sistema-Hals office shows a glass atrium cutting through the building from floor to roof and an oval glass cupola protruding slightly at the top.
That design is an old one, said Sistema-Hals’ press secretary, Anna Zavyalova. A more recent design features a circular cupola, level with the roof.
The reconstruction project was put together by a studio at Mosproyekt-2, led by Mikhail Posokhin, who worked on the Tsaritsyno palace and the Okhotny Ryad shopping mall. Other architects, including international architectural bureau RTKL, were also involved.
The new project involves structural alterations to Dushkin’s building. At present, only four of the seven floors are actually sales space. The highest floors are occupied by offices and storerooms. Additionally, there is no floor space directly above the central hall.
“Undoubtedly the space is used irrationally. Out of 57,000 square meters, only 19,000 are used for selling things. That’s very little and very ineffective,” Shmakov said.
The new building will fill in the gaps and consequently will be far larger. The Sistema-Hals web site says the new building will have a total area of 74,117 square meters, 38,770 of which will be sales space.
The new design will include elevators for customer use for the first time — at the moment, the store only has service elevators — as well as modern escalators. Two existing underground floors will be turned into a parking garage.
“It will be an open space. There won’t be any alleys or narrow passageways. The customer will be able to move around freely without pushing or creating a stampede,” Shmakov said.
There will also be one or two children’s cinemas and possibly a children’s theater and a supermarket. “The most important thing we want to achieve through the reconstruction is to recreate the feeling of a holiday,” Shmakov said.
The complex will retain the name Detsky Mir. It’s unclear, however, how much of the new store will actually sell children’s goods under the Detsky Mir brand. The web site of Sistema-Hals says the Detsky Mir brand will occupy about one-quarter of the available sales space.
“I can’t say exactly how much space the Detsky Mir brand will take up,” Shmakov said. “Undoubtedly it will be one of the key anchor stores. But I can say that in Detsky Mir, as before, the majority of goods will be for children. That’s the most important thing.”