A rusted section of Shukhov Tower
Blog Post

Russian Heritage at Risk

A rusted section of Shukhov Tower

The current state of heritage protection in Russia is discouraging and alarming.

Advocacy efforts for the 2016 Watch site Shukhov Tower continue, yet the site remains without clear steps towards protection by the owner or government authorities. (The Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network owns the tower; the Ministry of Communications has federal oversight; and the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage has regional oversight.) The tower stands without a plan for restoration, despite a 2009 government order requiring that the owner perform restoration. Reports indicate that stabilization works that were recently carried out at the tower—without expert consultation or government approval—are being proclaimed a victory, yet a lack of transparency and enforcement of heritage protection laws persists.

Moscow also experienced the sudden and contested demolition of the constructivist-era Taganskaya Telephone Station (or Taganka telephone exchange building) by Vasily Martinovich in April 2016. Public support for the building, including a petition to the Moscow mayor that includes more than 30,000 signatures, continues to surge. The government did not include the building on the state register of cultural heritage despite the fact that the historic building was reported to be in good condition. The seemingly urgent destruction was ordered to begin on Sunday, April 24 (a holiday on the Russian Orthodox calendar), although the original timeline called for June 1. Reports indicate that the station will be replaced with a luxury apartment complex built in "a late 18th century Art Nouveau style." In the words of Natalia Melikova of the advocacy organization The Constructivist Project,“This situation is a perfect example of the dire situation faced not only by avant-garde architecture [but] also, more broadly, the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to new construction in the historic center [of Moscow] and how cultural heritage is handled in general…In short, the still unfolding events surrounding the telephone station are proving to be a vivid case study in the problems of dealing with development in historical cities.”

Roughly 900km northwest of Moscow lies Vyborg, designated a historic city due to its medieval origins. Despite this designation, Vyborg, like Moscow, needs better planning for conservation and stronger enforcement of heritage protection laws. The city is currently on the 2016 Watch to call attention to the need for an informed and appropriate approach that respects Vyborg’s architectural, archaeological, cultural, and artistic heritage. Despite reports of planning and documentation funds allocated to the city, the fifteenth-century clock tower is near collapse and remains without protection—one of many fragile pieces of heritage at risk. Less than two years ago, we recognized the stellar preservation of the Vyborg Central City Library. It is regrettable that a project which represents the potential of municipal, federal, and international cooperation may be the exception rather than the goal.