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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report: Construction Destroying Old Moscow

Maps-moscow.comA view of Detsky Mir’s facade. The building is to be gutted and renovated to include a cinema and a market.
Moscow’s historical buildings and architectural treasures are in the midst of a “demolition derby,” facing destruction at the hands of developers and shortsighted city officials, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, titled “Moscow Heritage at a Crisis Point” and released by the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society, is an updated version of a 2007  report that outlined the threats faced by the city’s architectural heritage.

The 2007 report met with some success: After an increase in public awareness of the issue, not a single building listed on the report was demolished.

“This turned out to be only a temporary reprieve for the city’s heritage,” said Edmund Harris, the report’s editor. Since the beginning of 2008, numerous other buildings have been destroyed outright or suffered major losses to their original fabric,” he said.

“The scale of destruction is almost comparable to that of the 1930s-1960s, the difference being that today what is under attack is those few structures that were lucky enough to survive Stalin and Khrushchev’s purges,” Natalya Dushkina, a professor at the Moscow Architecture Institute, said in the report. “Never has Russia strayed so far from the scientific principles and methods endorsed by the international academic community, from observing the doctrines dealing with heritage conservation.”

With property laws that often impede maintenance and routine restoration work on historic buildings, city officials often say historic architecture is too dilapidated to bother saving.
The Bolshoi Theater, whose renovation is expected to cost $1.5 billion.

“Moscow isn’t Rome — in Rome it’s alright to leave the Colosseum half destroyed and to conserve other buildings in a ruined state,” the report cited Vladimir Resin, head of the city government’s construction division, as saying last year.

Buildings the report lists as under threat include well-known Moscow landmarks such as the Bolshoi Theater, Mayakovskaya metro station, Moscow Central House of Artists and Detsky Mir children’s store.

Although the city has preservation laws that theoretically should provide a sound defense for historic buildings, “widespread corruption means that these laws are rarely enforced,” the report said.

And even when the city government prevents the wholesale redevelopment of a historic building, it will often commission a “sham replica,” in which the facade from the original building is left while the rest is gutted and replaced.

“To Muscovites who love and appreciate the architecture of their city, the over-scaled, new monsters are an outrage, whatever lip service they pay to history, producing a mock heritage in place of authentic buildings quite capable of undergoing renovation to modern standards,” says Marcus Binney, President of SAVE Europe’s Heritage.

One such case that has provoked a significant outcry is that of Detsky Mir. Once the biggest children’s store in Europe, Detsky Mir was closed a year ago by its new owner, Sistema-Hals, and is currently undergoing a $200 million renovation, including the construction of cinemas and a food market, which will open by 2011.

The Moscow Architecture Preservation Society released the report in conjunction Arkhnadzor and international groups Docomomo International and SAVE Europe’s Heritage. MAPS founder Kevin O’Flynn is also The Moscow Times’ Context editor.

MAPS was founded in 2004, after the demolition of Hotel Moskva, a post-constructivist hotel built in the 1930s, and Art Nouveau Voyentorg department store, which was completed in 1914.

After the destruction of these two landmarks, it became clear that no building is immune to redevelopment, the report said. And the city may soon be deprived of a heritage that includes styles from early 20th-century avant-garde to constructivist and modernist masterpieces.

“I belong to a generation which views the contribution made by the Russian avant-garde towards the Soviet brave new world as the very origin of our modernity,” said Maristella Casciato, chairwoman of Docomomo International. “We owe it to future generations to safeguard the future of the Soviet modernist heritage to give them.”