Making New Space at the Soviet Agriculture Expo

MTWorkers walking through VVTs' first new pavilion since the Soviet era, which is expected to be completed in October.
The park opened in 1939 as a showcase for Soviet agricultural achievements, expanding in the 1950s to include monuments to construction and industrial feats. Today, its scattered pavilions are picturesquely crumbling, and the stalls within sell a bewildering range of goods from Chinese jewelry to honey.

The complex, known since 1992 as the All-Russia Exhibition Center, or VVTs, is now getting its first new pavilion since the Soviet era as part of a city-funded plan to modernize the park, still often referred to by its earlier name, VDNKh.

The new pavilion, a huge, glass-walled structure that will cover nearly 60,000 square meters, is due to be completed in October.

"It will be an unbelievable space," VVTs director Magomed Musayev said in a recent interview.

The project is part of a larger initiative by the Moscow city government, which has allocated 20 billion rubles ($850 million) to build more than 200,000 square meters of exhibition space at VVTs.

"Everyone knows that in Russia it's necessary to develop the exhibition and congress industry," Musayev said. "It was our initiative, which was actively supported by Mayor Yury Luzhkov."

The entire complex is due to be completed in 2011. It will stretch along the southeastern boundary of the park, away from the historic pavilions. The new building was designed by Mosproyekt-4 architectural bureau, which specializes in big city projects.

"It will be one of the most modern [in Europe] in terms of amenities, new technology and service," Musayev said.

Musayev, who had a copy of Richard Branson's "Screw It, Let's Do It" open on his desk, also took the unusual step of calling in foreign experts from Germany, Italy and France to advise on the project.

One of those is German architect Klaus MЯller, who has set up an office in one of the park's historic pavilions.

"The new exhibition center will work for the whole area. It will earn money and have a synergetic effect," MЯller said in a recent interview. "The whole area will come to new life."

Standing at the front of the complex will be Vera Mukhina's iconic statue of "The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl," which was removed for restoration in 2003 and has yet to return, amid rumors of financing problems and foot-dragging by officials.

The restoration of the frame and metal facing is in the "final stages," said Antonina Zolotukhina, the head of the monuments section of the Moscow Heritage Committee.

She put the long wait down to the sculpture's size, and said it would be ready to be put in place by the end of 2009 at the latest.

The statue will stand on top of a museum or a small cinema, Musayev said. "It will be in its historical environment, not standing on its own, but in front of exhibition pavilions."


For MT
An artist's rendition of the new pavilion behind the restored statue of the "Worker and the Collective Farm Girl."


The monument topped the Soviet pavilion at a 1937 Paris exhibition, but was then moved to a low pedestal in a car park outside the exhibition complex.

The new building will be close to the original designs, Mosproyekt-4 director Andrei Bokov said in a recent interview at the bureau. "It was the great dream of Vera Mukhina to raise it to the right height."

Musayev also has plans for the center's historic pavilions, 47 of which are monuments of federal significance. Despite the designation, some are almost ruins, stones pried from their mosaics and stucco peeling off to reveal rotten wooden columns.

The pavilions were cited in a 2006 report on buildings at risk published by the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society, or MAPS.

"The historic pavilions at VVTs are in a bad state. They are not being maintained. You can see signs of it everywhere," MAPS founder Clementine Cecil wrote in an e-mail.

The Hunting pavilion — one of the original structures — burned down in 2006, while two of the best-known pavilions, Cosmos and Ukraine, are in need of restoration, she said.

Some will become exhibition spaces for CIS countries, Russian regions and ministries, Musayev said.

The individual regions may take on the restoration of their pavilions, or "it's very possible that there will be a decision made at the federal level on targeted financing to tidy them up," Musayev said.

Some buildings, such as the Armenia pavilion, have already been restored at those countries' expense, he said. The Armenia pavilion, with its warren of stalls, is hardly a shining example of sympathetic restoration.

"The idea that the pavilions should be restored at [regions'] own expense is only all right if there is a single restoration project," Cecil said. "There is a real danger that if each pavilion is dealt with separately, quality of restoration will vary wildly."

Cecil praised the recent restoration of the golden Friendship of the Peoples fountain as a "good precedent."

"However, while VDNKh is a glitzy place, the restoration has to be careful, and not aim to create a contemporary, glitzy image," she warned.

The commercial stalls will disappear from the historic pavilions, Musayev promised, although he said they might move to a purpose-built shopping center.

In a return to VVTs' original role, the pavilions will be used to publicize government programs, he said. "VVTs should carry out an overall propaganda role, because 50 percent of problems don't exist. The problem is lack of information."

One of his plans is to build a science and technology area around the Cosmos pavilion, including interactive exhibitions on energy and transport.

He also wants to open a farmyard display in the agriculture section. At present, there are only horses and rabbits living there, he said. The rest of the animals disappeared in the early 1990s.


MT
Musayev


Ownership of the pavilions will be transferred from the federal government to the registered capital of VVTs, a state company whose shareholders are the federal and Moscow city governments, Musayev said. He put the pavilions' value at 18 billion rubles ($770 million).

Musayev also talked of creating public-private partnerships to build service infrastructure: "That's restaurants, possibly shopping and entertainment complexes, business centers and so on."

The time frame for all this is unclear. Musayev plans to announce a five-year development plan on the park's 70th anniversary, in August 2009.

German architect MЯller, who came to Moscow two years ago after winning a competition to design a new Siemens office, is working with Musayev and Mosproyekt-4 on overall plans, as well as on the new exhibition complex.

Drinking freshly squeezed orange juice at a cafe, he said he has visited every single building at VVTs — no mean feat, given that there are 70 pavilions plus numerous other buildings.

In March, MЯller moved his office into the 1930s-era Rabbit Breeding pavilion and plans to restore it authentically at his own expense as a kind of show house and exhibition center for future development.

"It's a beautiful pavilion, I love it," he said, showing photographs of the atmospheric columned building on his laptop. MЯller pointed out decoration on the columns in the shape of rabbit ears.

When he first saw the pavilion, "there were some very old ladies, and lots of furs, but it was always empty," he said. He estimates restoration will cost from 500,000 to 1 million euros ($1.58 million).

"I will take a lot of care of this pavilion. It's very important to show we're treating it in the right way," MЯller said. "I'm not interested in Disneyworld. This is what I want to keep away from this area. There has to be quality."

The redevelopment of VVTs will take 10 to 15 years, he estimated. "For me, this is a life's task."

MЯller wants to rebuild some lost elements, such as the burned-down Hunting pavilion, but also add contemporary buildings.

Bokov, who has headed Mosproyekt-4 for the past 10 years, emphasized that VVTs is "both a historical monument and a protected landscape, so it's covered by two sorts of restrictions, any sort of new, attractive ideas are absolutely impossible, you know."

Mosproyekt-4, founded in 1968, designed several pavilions at VVTs before Bokov took charge, including the 1986 Consumer Goods pavilion, which is earmarked for demolition.

The latest plans for VVTs are part of a process that has been ongoing "for at least the last 40 years," Bokov said. "Now is just the fourth or fifth attempt, or period of adaptation to new demands, to new ideas," he added, with a hint of weariness.

The historic pavilions are "a real monument of the period," and must be preserved, Bokov said, but they are too small for use as exhibition halls.

To solve this problem, the new pavilion must be completed "as soon as possible," he said, to raise money for maintenance and ease the burden on the city budget.

Asked whether he was working alongside foreign consultants, Bokov, a fluent English speaker, said he was working "in parallel." But he voiced skepticism about their involvement.

"I couldn't say I am very enthusiastic," he said. "For some practitioners, some of the architects who come here, it's sometimes quite difficult to understand, to feel what's going on here. Why it's impossible to do something."