ANATOLY M. KHAZANOV
(University of Wisconsin-Madison)
TO DESTROY IN ORDER TO BUILD ANEW: THE (RE)CONSTRUCTION OF CONTEMPORARY MOSCOW.
Remembrance is the secret of redemption.
Baal Shem Tov.
For centuries the palaces and churches were the only buildings in Moscow made of stone. The rest of the city was constructed of wood and was destroyed with each great fire of which the city had plenty. Only in the 18th and in the 19th century stone and brick construction were gradually becoming more common, especially after the fire of 1812 when two thirds of the city was burned to the ground. Still, in the 19th century and even later, Moscow was often called the “big village”. The Russian capital is not a much layered city. Its characteristic feature is not the perpetuation of architectural tradition but rather its frequent rapture with considerable losses of historical monuments. This is why the preservation of remaining historical landmarks is an especially acute problem for the city’s authenticity.
No more than nine to ten thousand buildings of the pre-Revolutionary periods have managed to survive. Nevertheless, Moscow has only 865 buildings on the protection list, including some of those constructed during the communist era. In addition, about 200 buildings more deemed historical because someone famous lived there or sometimes remarkable events happened within their walls (The Moscow News, April 18, 2004). Actually, there are many more buildings which might be considered architectural landmarks, but they are not officially recognized and, apparently, will soon be cosigned to art history books, or replaced with bland and inaccurate replicas (Fedorov et al., 2006).
Moreover, considering the current situation in the capital, one may hardly expect that the fate of the buildings on the protection list will be much better.
At present, Moscow is reeling from the rapid pace of change caused by the post-communist transformation. Nowadays, it is a brash city with pockets of ostentatious new-found and not infrequently ill-gotten wealth surrounded by the majority struggling to live on their meager salaries and pensions. Still, Moscow is much wealthier than any other Russian city, and new wealth, as well as large state investments in and deposits to Moscow’s financial institutions, resulted in the construction boom and new types of urban buildings, such as commercial banks and offices, luxury hotels and restaurants, prime housing with deluxe apartments that go for upward of $ 10,000 per square meter, or even more, supermarkets and shopping malls, private clubs, etc. Many foreign visitors like the new Moscow, a city full of bright streetlights, marquees, and a bustling nightlife, and fail to notice another side of the boom.
Construction, real estate and everything that is connected with them has become a very lucrative business for those who have capital and a source of enrichment for those in power. The corrupt Moscow municipal government still remains the principle owner of city land; besides, every step in construction is under its tight and arbitrary control (Glushkova, 1998: 18). Any development project needs approval by over 30 different administrative agencies, but bribes and good connections can overcome all barriers. At the same time, very big and complex projects that need professional expertise and discussion are often given the green light without them or even against their recommendations. No wonder that the wife of Moscow mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, Elena Baturina, who owns the largest construction and cement-maker companies in the city, is a billionaire. Forbes included her into the list of the one hundred wealthiest people of the world.
Islands of new urban landscape have emerged and are continuing to expand in the Russian capital, especially in its historic center. Fifty-five percent of investment is concentrated there, although it occupies only two percent of the metropolitan region’s area. The privatization law had allowed transferring ownership of flats for free. However, it also allowed the city authorities to exclude historical buildings and housing in poor condition from the privatization program. This initiated gentrification process with the goal to displace low-income residents from the most desirable neighborhoods and to make them available to high-income groups (Pickvance, 1996: 246).
There was only one obstacle which hindered the implementation of this goal. Most of the historical buildings that survived from the fervor of previous thoughtless reconstructions of the city are located only in central Moscow, and they are protected by law from demolition and alteration. This law is constantly violated, however. Buildings that survived decades of neglect and misuse are now succumbing to the threat of commercialization. During the last ten years, or so, the city lost more historical buildings than at any time since the 1930s, when Stalin decided to tear down much of pre-Revolution Moscow to build the new and model socialist city. What the communists failed to complete the crony capitalism under Luzhkov is now finishing off. Preservation experts estimate that since he became mayor, in 1992, more than one thousand historical buildings from the 17th century onwards have been destroyed or mutilated, including at least 60 buildings, which by law should be untouchable (MAPS Newsletter, 3, August 3, 2004). In the next few years, the city government plans to demolish another seven hundred historical buildings.
The city’s modern architectural heritage seems particularly vulnerable. An art nouveau classic, once the military no. 1 store (10 Vozdvizhenka Street
) was demolished following a city decree in 2003. Soviet avant-garde and constructivist architecture had made a very serious contribution to the international modern movement. Nevertheless, many of the iconic and world-renown buildings (such as Konstantin Melnikov’s the Rusakov workers’ club, the Kauchuk factory club, and the amazing circular house behind Staryi Arbat street, Ivan Nikolaev’s Communal House for Textile Institute students, and some others) are rapidly deteriorating. In 2004, a masterpiece of constructivist architecture, Moisei Ginsburg’s Narkomfin
Apartment building (1928-1930), was put on the World Monuments Fund’s List for the 100 most threatened sites world-wide.
Stalinist architecture is not spared either. A landmark of the Soviet architecture of the 1930s, the hotel “Moskva” located between the State Duma and Red Square, which was famous for appearing on the label of Stolichnaia vodka, was demolished in 2004, despite protests from the Ministry of Culture. Luzhkov has promised to built its $ 500 million replica, albeit with twice as much floor space, an interior redesign and a massive underground parking space, but how the project will be financed is kept secret (Novaia Gazeta, October 25, 2004).
Since buildings considered historical monuments cannot legally be knocked down, one way to circumvent this obstacle is to intentionally neglect the maintenance of these buildings until they become a wreck and fall into complete disrepair. Then they are put on a list of buildings that are beyond saving (avariinyi list) and, therefore, can be torn down. Moreover, not infrequently, structurally sound buildings, which are in rather good condition, are put on this notorious list in order to be demolished. It is no wonder that while fifteen years ago the city budget for restoration and maintenance of Moscow historical buildings was $ 300 million; in 2004, despite improved financial situation it shrunk to $ 15 million.
Another way is the sabotage of historical buildings. There is even a special firm in Moscow that specializes in deliberately damaging buildings under the guise of repair (The Moscow Times, January 13, 2004). Deliberate arson has also become a quite widespread practice. Hundreds of fires rage through the city center every year damaging and destroying old buildings; many of these fires go unexplained.
The most notorious case of the latter is the fire in the famous Manezh beside the Kremlin, the former Imperial Riding School, which was a masterpiece of classicist architecture of the early 19th century. At the time, the building was innovative for its system of wooden girders, that allowed the roof to stand unsupported by walls and columns and left a wide-opened pillarless space inside for large-scale events. On Luzhkov’s order plans had been drawn up to “reconstruct” the building: to replace its wooden ceiling beams and add several levels of underground parking, a restaurant and shops. After the Ministry of Culture dared to forbid any commercial development in Manezh, on the night of March 14, just as Vladimir Putin was announcing in the Kremlin his triumphant reelection as president, the Manezh was gutted in a suspicious blaze. There was something very sad but ironic in this event. Napoleon watched from the Kremlin the Moscow fire, Putin could do the same and from the same place. A little later, City Hall announced that, contrary to its initial assurance, Manezh could not be restored as had originally been promised (The Moscow Times, May 19, 2004). Luzhkov won again.
Still, another way of destruction and distortion of historical sites in Moscow goes under the pretext of what the city authorities euphemistically characterize as their “reconstruction with restoration” or “demolition with subsequent reconstruction”. Those buildings which avoid the wrecking ball face another cruel fate: a zealous restoration with shoddy materials. Everybody who visited Moscow during the last few years may notice the numerous green netted sheets that hang over many historical buildings, with signs promising their conservation and restoration. In reality, these signs are their death sentences. A common practice is to demolish these buildings and then to build their replicas which are but shadows of their former selves, or are enlarged phony copies which bear little semblance to the original. Even if a building is not entirely replaced, then so many changes are made that little remains of the original.
Charter 8 of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Declaration states that “conservation requires the maintenance of an appropriate visual setting, e.g. form, scale, color, texture and materials. No new construction, demolition, or modification which would adversely affect the settings should be allowed”.
In compliance with this charter, in Prague, residents of historical buildings cannot put up satellite dishes that would disfigure the façade of the landmark, and even less to make renovations that would disagree with the rest of the building’s look. Things are different in Moscow, however. Despite set international standards, the Moscow authorities understand conservation as “radical alteration of architectural monuments with the aim of improving and restoring their original design” (Nezavisimaia gazeta – Kulisa, No. 5, March 1998).
To the best of my knowledge, Moscow is the only city in the world, where demolition is called restoration and conservation, and pseudo-replicas are considered to be better than originals. Yuri Luzhkov boldly states that “in Moscow culture a notion of replica sometimes makes more sense than that of original. Its semantic, historical and cultural meaning may be richer and deeper than the original architectural design” (Izvestiia, May 19, 2004). In the same fold, he insists that “reinstitution is the most effective way of preservation of historical landmarks”. (Novoe vremia, June 19, 2005) This is certainly a new word in heritage conservation practice, unfortunately, with disastrous consequences for historical Moscow.
My old friend, the late Alexei Komech, former director of the State Institute of Art History and one of the most respected art historians and critics in the country, who was a staunch and courageous opponent of the Moscow mayor, at one time, sued by the city authorities for allegedly defaming their reputation, told me a story that he had witnessed himself. During one of his inspections of the city historical center Luzhkov spotted an early 19th century building on Stoleshnikov Lane
and immediately ordered to knock it down. The head of the city’s department for the preservation of monuments whispered to the mayor that the building was protected under the law. “What law?” asked the mayor. “The law for the protection of monuments,” answered the official. Luzhkov quickly replyed, “The law is not your business. Besides, we don’t break we law, we’ll rebuild the building”. The building then was knocked down and replaced with a replica.
As a rule, in order to save money, rebuilding is done with new materials. Thus, beautiful wooden buildings taken down for alleged “restoration” with permission from the city administration are rebuilt in brick and concrete. In 2002, the house of the Trubeskoi family (Usachov Street
), the oldest wooden house in the city, dating from the second half of the 18th
century, was demolished and replaced with a concrete replica.
A splendid specimen of 18th century Moscow classicism, the Shcherbatov House (4 Kuznetsky Most Street
) was raized to its foundation and built anew (Nezavisimaiia gazeta, September 4, 1997). A part of the Gostinnyi Dvor gallery, the only building in Moscow built by the famous architect Jacopo Guarengi, collapsed as a result of poorly thought-out reconstruction and afterwards was provided with an additional storey (Nezavisimaia gazeta, October 16, 1997).
In the first half of the 19th century, a French traveler to Russia, Marquis de Custine called it a country of facades, where the surface of things always conceals an entirely different inner essence. In the beginning of the 21st century, the situation remains basically the same. If a building is not entirely replaced, then so many changes are made, that little remains of the original one. This widespread practice: facadism and crude refurbishment can hardly be characterized as conservation at all. As a result many buildings have lost their historical authenticity and, therefore, cannot be included in the World Heritage List that might somewhat protect them from further mutilation.
Many 19th century mansions and manor-houses acquire underground parking lots, or even additional floors. The Rimsky-Korsakov house (5 Bolshoi Gnezdnikovsky Lane
; part faces 26 Tverskoi Boulevar) built at the turn of the 19th
centuries, was partly knocked down in 2001 to expand the pseudo-19th
century restaurant Pushkin, although the reason for the demolition at the time was the creation of a “cultural center of the Russian olden days”. At present, only the façade of the original building facing Tverskoi Boulevard
While historical buildings are demolished or distorted, Moscow is being lined with what is called novodely (literally, built anew), i.e. distorted and inaccurate replicas of churches and other monuments destroyed in the Soviet times (Khazanov, 1998: 243 ff.). Moscow authorities in their unwarranted haste of reinstitution of the destroyed monuments (the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan’, the Gates of the Resurrection, the Chapel of Saints Boris and Gleb, the towels and walls of Kitai-gorod, a second belt of fortifications that in former times fully encircled Moscow, and some others) do not care for their authenticity. Sometimes the replicas are built in a different scale, from contemporary materials and even not on the sites of the originals. However, the political message is quite clear.
Such reinstitutions always and everywhere have strong political connotations. Poles began to rebuild the historical center of Warsaw destroyed by the Germans after the suppression of the 1944 uprising almost as soon as the war had been over. For several decades, Germans are meticulously and painstakingly replacing with replicas their historical and cultural landmarks destroyed during the war. But they are trying to make the former as close to the originals as possible and are using similar materials whenever it is feasible. No wonder that it took more than ten years to rebuild the baroque Frauenkirche Church in Dresden. The building includes thousands of stones from the original church, and its reconsecration on October 30, 2005 was connected with one of the largest citizen-driven postwar reconciliation initiatives between Germany and Britain (British donors paid for the replica orb and cross on the top of the church’s dome, which was made in London).
Already ancient Greek philosophers knew that one could not enter the same river twice. In contemporary Moscow, attempts at rebuilding the architectural and cultural past are sometimes presented as expiation. In fact, they smack of bolshevism, since they share bolsheviks’ arrogant confidence that those in power could write and re-write history as they wish. The outcome is not repentance but watering down reflective memory. Perhaps, in the post-totalitarian urban context the best way to address the disturbing past would be not its obliteration, but turning its wounds into hallmarks of inassimilable destiny. The Muscovites have a remarkably short memory, since most of them are capital residents only of the second, or even the first generation. Under the situation, marked empty spaces could make much stronger impact on collective memory than the production of false replicas if repentance were a real goal. However, this is a far cry from contemporary Moscow's reality.
The most intriguing question, however, is why instead of simply demolishing historical buildings, the city authorities prefer their so-called “reconstruction”. This fervor of distorted reconstruction and replica building can hardly be understood without paying attention to the architectural signature style of the new Moscow. It is far from what may be called a contemporary one. On the contrary, few exceptions notwithstanding, it boasts a neo-Russian, neo-Classical or even neo-Stalinist façade with columns and multiple stories topped by turrets or domes allegedly meant to reflect Moscow’s and Russia’s historical heritage. Architecture of Stalin’s skyscrapers today is back in vogue. Their imitations are springing up. This is certainly not accidental.
The Soviet rulers treated Moscow like a class enemy. On the contrary, the post-Soviet rulers constantly declare their adherence to the so-called “traditional Moscow style”, historicity, and even to “patriotic archaism”. A fertile ground for their policy is the wide-spread nostalgia for the great-power grandeur which affected even a significant number of intelligentsia, if this term is still applicable at all to the current situation. However, a nostalgia for the “glorious past” is never on the side of honest historical reckoning. Memory erosion, neo-traditionalism and national conservatism are aimed at the rejuvenation of the mythological past, and the recapitalization of symbols of the allegedly lost organic unity of the nation. To use the stock market terminology, calls for the return to the roots create a bear market in values and attitudes.
The built environment and urban forms do not just represent or reflect socio-political order; they actually constitute much of social and political existence. The cultural language of urban space and place can never be reduced to aesthetics. Just as Baron Haussmann’s Paris was connected with a growing ascendancy of the bourgeoisie, contemporary Moscow reflects the hegemony of political capitalism with increasing nationalist accretion. Loss and replacement are inevitable in the development of any city; however the changes may be done in different ways. It is difficult to people to maintain their connections to the lived past if the physical world in which they live does not sustain this past anymore (Jackson, 1970: 158). In this situation it is easier to produce a fake past.
However regretful this may be, those who oppose Luzhkov’s reconstruction of Moscow and are trying in vain to prevent it, are in a very small minority. According to the statistics, no more than one percent of the capital’s residents are concerned about the preservation of its architectural heritage (Novoe vremia, June 19, 2005). People, like Alexei Komech, admit that they are fighting a lost cause, and that the general public pays very little attention to their hopeless struggle. The only thing that they can do is to record the loss for the future generations (see website http://moskva.kotoroy.net/).
Years of field research in Moscow have also brought me to a sad but firm conclusion that the vast majority of Muscovites, including the educated strata, rather welcome the current development, or, at any rate, can easily live with it. Many times I had been told that replicas and fakes are better than neglect, that the city has to develop, and that even stylistically it is becoming more modern and at the same time more homogeneous.
It is not accidental that the founders of the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS; for its website see http://maps-moscow.com/), in May 2004, are long time foreign residents of the city: such as Kevin O’Flynn, a reporter with the Moscow Times daily, the free-lance journalist Clem Cecil, and Ceny Archer who is with Standard and Poor’s Moscow office. They were joined not only by some Russian architects and historians, but also by foreign journalists from different countries.
Some Muscovites blame only their mayor for the destruction of old Moscow. However, occasional lip-service notwithstanding, in practical terms Putin’s leadership is doing nothing to prevent it. In April 2004, some major figures in the Russian culture world sent on open letter to the president which was signed by 3000 people (Izvestiia, April 5, 2004). They wrote:
“In the last decade irreparable harm has been done to the historical appearance of the Russian capital. Several buildings, all of them architectural monuments have been lost forever. The intense development of Moscow has been accompanied by gross, unpunished violations of the Russian law on Objects of Cultural Significance. This process has now reached the point of an avalanche.
The center of Moscow, including the immediate vicinity around the Kremlin, a monument of global significance – and protected by UNESCO, has been subject to catastrophic deformation. In the whirlwind of the construction boom invaluable examples of 17th – 19th century Russian architecture, the basis of historic Moscow, have vanished. During the chaotic clean-up of the city center hundreds of buildings have perished only to be replaced by ”replicas” and new structures which destroy the integrity of the city. In violation of the norms and methods of scientific restoration, international charters and conventions on the historic preservation as adopted in civilized notions “reconstruction” and “restoration”, in Moscow as a rule have been replaced by the total destruction of historic buildings and their false clones devoid of artistic and historical authenticity….The preservation of our cultural heritage should be the foundation of the national rebirth of Russia. The realities of today emphatically demand that the policies in the area of architecture and urban design acquire the status of being a federal priority” (The Moscow Times, April 27, 2004).
There was no official response to the letter. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that Luzhkov’s reconstruction policy, aimed at re-building Moscow as the new megalopolis, with an “a la Russe” touch, ideologically is similar to Putin’s own desire to merge statism with corporatism and nationalism. Anyway, the reconstruction policy in his favorite city, Saint-Petersburg, began to follow the Moscow model.
A peculiar architectural theater has emerged in Moscow. Decorations begin to dominate not only the facades of individual buildings, but also the city in general (Nikulina, 1998: 91-93). Moral equity and ambiguity have become its message. In fact, the forgery is taking place. Moscow has become a city of aesthetic populism, imitation, counterfeits, and fakes. A false reconstruction of public spaces accompanied by statuomania facilitates shaping the false collective memory. Contemporary Russian society has become tired of suffering and of those who suffered, be that people or historical monuments. Today, very few places and spaces in the capital inspire to think of, to reflect on, and to feel the painful past as it actually was. Many more places suggest to the people its glamour version. History is intentionally sanitized. Mass consciousness is becoming prone to the false idea that the past can be corrected and improved without any need for repentance, and that everything can be destroyed and rebuilt anew. No wonder that Russia has become a country of pseudos: pseudo-democracy, pseudo-civic society, pseudo-capitalism with the KGB face, pseudo-conservation, pseudo-historicity. Only political power is real in the country. Just as it always was.
Jackson, J.B. 1970. Landscapes. Ed. by E.H. Zube. Amherst: The University of Massachusets Press.
Fedorov, B.G. i dr. 2006. Khronika unichtozheniia staroi Moskvy: 1990-2006. Moscow.
Khazanov, A. M. 1998. Post-Communist Moscow: Re-building the “Third Rome” in the Country of Missed Opportunities? City and Society. Annual Review: 269-312.
Nikulina, E.G. 1998. Novodel v sovremennoi architecture Moskvy. In A.V. Ikonnikov (ed.). Problemy vossozdaniia utrachennykh arkhitektury: pro et contra. Moscow, PAASN: 91-94.