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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From Protests To Prose

MT
With his handlebar moustache and leather vest, Konstantin Mikhailov looks like he would be more comfortable on a motorcycle than among conservationists. But the 41-year-old author of the five-book series "The Moscow We Have Lost," which chronicles the buildings destroyed since 1917, has been campaigning to save Moscow's architectural heritage for more than 20 years.

Mikhailov lives in Moscow with his wife and daughter; he has lived here all his life. At the age of 15, he began reading about pre-Stalinist Moscow, saw photographs of destroyed buildings such as Sukharevskaya Bashnya, and imagined how the city might have been, with its architecture on par with European capitals such as Paris and Rome.

Increasingly, buildings that made Moscow so memorable were being knocked down, and at 16 Mikhailov decided he was going to be a journalist just so that he could write about their demise.

"The saddest thing about Moscow is that the architecture is not destroyed by enemies, terrorists or wars, but by our own government," Mikhailov said, sighing and squashing the stub of his cigarette during an interview.

He got his break in 1986, when he was a journalism student at Moscow State University. The Third Ring Road was under construction and many historic buildings were in its way, including an 18th-century residential building at 24 Bakuninskaya Ulitsa near Baumanskaya metro station. Mikhailov took friends from his journalism course to the site, where the group made an appearance at least once a day for three months.

He smiled for the first time in half an hour when he recalled the details: "We would put sugar in the tractors, we gave vodka to the workers and we would tamper with the equipment. There were more than 100 of us there and after three months they decided not to knock it down. I show my daughter that building every time we drive past."


Vladimir Filonov / MT
Mikhailov has been fighting to save historic buildings for more than two decades.
Mikhailov's documentation of the protest won him his first job at the weekly newspaper Sobesednik, and for the next two years of his journalism course he was in a good position. "It was great, because technically I was still a student and I completed my degree, but in reality I stopped studying as soon as I started working."

Stints as a political journalist at several major newspapers followed, and in 1998 he won the prestigious Zolotoye Pero journalism prize.

Meanwhile, Mikhailov kept up his writing about Moscow's fading architecture and co-wrote books, including "Russian Monasteries" and "Architecture and Landscapes of Russia: The Fate of 20th-Century Russian Culture." He also began collecting documents about buildings that were already gone and held a series of "Protiv Lom" exhibits from his personal archives, including photographs and plans of now-lost Moscow architecture.

In 2002, a newspaper where Mikhailov worked was closed, and he used the time between jobs to write his first solo book, "The History of One Explosion," an account of the destruction of the Transfiguration Church on Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad.

Unfortunately for Mikhailov, there is always something to write about. "Whenever you see a building with green gauze and a pretty illustration of an old-fashioned facade, you can safely assume it's getting torn down," he said.

Mikhailov's advice is to always follow gut instincts. "Never compromise your beliefs especially if someone tries to feed you propaganda," he said.

Natalya Loginova, the editor of Moskovskoye Naslediye, a journal published by the city's cultural heritage committee, said this attitude was his weakness. "Mikhailov is amazing, but I really wish he and the authorities would find a common language," she said. "He is very headstrong and it's often this that works against him."

Loginova said she was impressed with his knowledge and wasn't quite sure how he could remember everything. "You could call him in the middle of the night and say '24 Pokrovka,' he will give you a detailed description of what the building is, its history and the plans for its future."

Mikhailov is the first to admit that his efforts have saved few buildings from demolition, but he relishes small victories. He said a quarter of national newspaper editorials celebrating Mayor Yury Luzhkov's 70th birthday congratulated the mayor but pleaded for him to stop destroying the city. Mikhailov said his publisher has noticed the growing interest in his books and asked him to do a bigger series called "The Russia We Have Lost."

"More people know and care about the situation now than in the '90s, which is already more than I can hope for, and in this field something is always better than nothing."