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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Building Fervor Creates Bewildering Skyline

In a city whose skyline has long been dominated by concrete Soviet monoliths, some unlikely new neighbors have been appearing.

A glass and metal spaceship-like apartment building squats behind the Foreign Ministry. A lemon-yellow wedding cake towers over the neighborhood where a famous Russian writer once lived. A curvy glass mall stands defiantly across from the old KGB headquarters.

They are apartments and office spaces being erected with tremendous speed as demand for elite housing by Russia's growing wealthy class increases. The buildings, much despised by a small group of historians and intellectuals, are part of Moscow's frenzied rebirth.

The recent changes are signs of a new Russia, where a longing for luxury has been sharpened by 70 years of shopping monotony. Real estate brokers now offer dizzying arrays of options, from dog-walkers to indoor tennis courts. An elite fenced development in northern Moscow called Aliye Parusa has an indoor water amusement park and a marina for yachts.

"It's a question of taste," said Milana Zotova, director for public relations at Don-Stroi, one of Moscow's largest developers and owner of Aliye Parusa. "Our clients are top managers, heads of companies, successful people. They want security and convenience. Our concierge is an important person for them. A grandmother sleeping behind a desk, this is not security."

It is also, however, a question of money. The largest apartments at Aliye Parusa, or Scarlet Sails, sell for between $700,000 and $900,000 -- about 750 times the average annual wage in Russia. Even so, demand is high. Zotova said all of the gated community's 500 apartments have been sold. Among the residents are prominent government officials and executives.

"There's nothing like this in all of Moscow," she said, flicking her fur-trimmed wrist toward the development's brightly colored towers, which stand on the banks of the Moscow River.

The former residents of the neighborhood, called Shukino, home to many military and police families, have been resettled into several high-rises nearby, the costs split by the city, the residents and the developer, said Zotova, who refers to those buildings as "economy class." In all, seven five-story apartment buildings are to be razed to make way for the upscale development.

The building boom has drawn a small but active opposition. A ragtag group of several hundred historians, intellectuals and enthusiasts has been fighting new development in areas where it threatens landmark buildings.

In a flurry of letter-writing and hand-wringing, they tried, and failed, to stop the demolition of part of the house of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Now a five-star restaurant occupies the area.

"It's like the death of a person," said Konstantin Mikhailov, 37, a journalist and anti-development activist, referring to the lost buildings. "We can't bring them back."

Mikhailov and others in the group pooh-pooh the styles and designs of the new buildings, which they say are either cheap imitations of older Russian designs or too large and modern to fit Moscow's two- and three-story neighborhoods. He calls the new buildings "coarse imitations of Russian architecture with the obligatory domes and towers."

His most recent protest was a small, sparsely attended photo exhibit above a billiard hall on a Moscow side street. The pictures chronicled the destruction of Moscow landmark buildings from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to the present. Free tours were given by an elderly woman, sympathetic to the cause after her neighborhood was invaded by bank high-rises.

"Moscow city officials say they are rebuilding into a European city, but we don't need that," said the tour guide, Yevgenia Zhirnova, 76. "We should build as our forefathers did."

Zotova maintains that the design of her company's buildings -- with brick-red and green facades, torch-like outdoor light fixtures and vaguely Gothic decorative spires -- is Russian.

"We call it traditional Russian architecture rethought in a modern way," she said.

Besides, Moscow's previous builders had their own cakes and rockets. Stalin ordered a series of imposing towers as symbols of Soviet power. Novy Arbat was broadened and lined with large concrete buildings that are now referred to as Moscow's false teeth. The Christ the Savior Cathedral was razed in 1931, and a swimming pool was built in its place.

The resulting landscape is a bewildering mix of centuries and styles, where candy-box churches sit in the shadows of Soviet giants, like the Defense Ministry or the much-despised glass and concrete Hotel Rossiya, the eyesore of Red Square.

The new styles seem to compete among themselves for grandeur and novelty. A glass building on a small, quiet side street, Maly Lyovshinsky, is a case in point.

The building "doesn't belong there at all," said Antonella Iazzetti, an architect with a practice in Moscow. "It departed completely from the roots of the place."