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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Socialist Showpieces Make Shortlist for Facelifts

Love it or hate it, Moscow wouldn't be the same without its Soviet-era architecture. From the Stalinist skyscrapers to the soon-to-disappear Khruschevki low-rise apartment blocks on the outskirts, the architectural legacy of communism has left an indelible mark on the face of the city. However, what were once the showpieces of a new Socialist dawn have suffered under capitalism, and the Committee on the 850th Anniversary of Moscow has decided that 14 are to receive a long-overdue facelift.


"Moscow wouldn't be Moscow without the Stalin skyscrapers and the metro," said Natalya Golubkova, head expert at the Inspectorate for the Protection of Historic Buildings who drew up the list. "The 14 buildings chosen for restoration were selected from a list we made of the most important Soviet-era buildings in the capital. In principle all of them are in reasonably good condition because they are all still in use, but they all need cosmetic restoration."


Funds for the project are due to be allocated after the election as part of a city-wide project to restore all important architectural monuments in time for the 850th anniversary celebrations next year. What is still unclear is where the money will come from.


"We are still waiting for funds to be allocated from the federal budget," said Vladimir Tirischenko of the Mayor's Office information department. "But we hope that private investors will also play a part."


Since some of the buildings are still state property and some are occupied by non-public tenants, the project's coordinators at the Historic Buildings Inspectorate are trying to encourage private tenants to invest in the future of their buildings. The old Narkomfin building on Novinsky Bulvar, one of the first "commune-houses" built for workers in the 1920s, for instance, is now owned by a private company which planned to finance the restoration of the entire building by the construction of a new wing in the grounds. The plan ground to a halt due to disputes over land ownership, and the Narkomfin house continues to crumble away from neglect.


Similar legal problems have impeded the restoration of the Moscow State University building on the Sparrow Hills, which is also considered the private property of the university authorities and ineligible for 100 percent public funding. No private investors have yet been found to pay for the reconstruction of the facade, re-pointing the decorative panels which cover the building, and restoration of the statuary in the gardens. The Hotel Moskva on Manezh Square, built by architects A. Shchusev, L. Savelyev and O. Stapran between 1932 and 1935 is in similar straits, caught in limbo between a freeze of government support and a gigantic reconstruction bill, said Golubkova. The facade, asymmetrical, the legend goes, because Stalin signed both alternative designs, is in desperate need of attention.


Four out of Moscow's seven Stalin skyscrapers are on the shortlist: The Moscow State University, the Transport Ministry building on Sadovaya-Spasskaya, and the apartment houses at Ploshchad Vosstaniya and on Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya. Many of the unique cobalt-blue ceramic tiles on the spire of the Ploshchad Vosstaniya building recently fell off, and their replacement promises to be costly. The two story-high heroic statues of Socialist workers on the Kotelnicheskaya building are also showing cracks, which may require their removal to repair. Approval and funding for works to commence was issued in April of this year, and by autumn they should be restored to their former glory.


"If high rises were to disappear, Moscow would lose much of its personality. Any Muscovite will tell you that," said Irina Sitenko, senior consultant at the Museum of the History of Moscow. "Soviet architecture in Moscow is important not just for Russia but for world architecture."


The most ambitious restoration project is that of Dinamo Stadium, its bad state of repair presumably due to the poverty of the National Sports Fund. Nearby Sokol metro and the showpiece Stalin-built Sokol "village" are also due for a facelift.


Mayakovskaya, Krasniye Vorota and Novokuznetskaya metro stations are already being repaired with funds allocated for the 60th anniversary of the Moscow metro last year, with Novokuznetskaya closed for an extensive re-fit. Krasniye Vorota, built on Stalin's insistence despite surveyor's warnings of subsidence, is now reaping the results of the great leader's hubris and is in need of major structural work to prevent the subsidence developing any further.


Le Corbusier's unashamedly modernist 1935 Tsentrossoyuz building, which now houses the Statistical Office of the Russian Federation, is the only building in Russia by the controversial French architect, a regular visitor to Russia in the 1930s. Its restoration is being funded by letting out a wing as private office space since the government has yet to provide any funding.


Another building to suffer because of government prevarication over money is the remarkable non-revolutionary piece of architecture of I. Reberg's Central Telegraph Office on Tverskaya, completed in 1927. Work began last year, but was "temporarily" aborted as money ran out, according to an article published last week in Moskovskaya Pravda. Luckier is the eclectic Kazan Station, built between 1912 and 1926 by Alexei Shchusev, which is in the midst of a major renovation, with the Oktober department of the Moscow railway department picking up the bill. Moscow City Zoo is also soon to emerge from a major refit, partially funded by the city government.


Thankfully, none of the buildings on the Soviet-era list are in an emergency state of disrepair. "In general, the buildings of the '30s are better built than the later concrete structures," explained Golubkova. "The most famous buildings, which I call the stone triangles, were built as exemplary structures, and the materials and workmanship is very good. If we look after them they'll last for centuries; they built to last under Stalin."