The Bell Tolls for Moscow's Modernist Masterworks

Moscow’s Modernist legacy is one of the finest in the world, but also one of the most neglected. Built in the feverish early years of the revolution, the buildings are experimental in form and materials and presented Moscow with dramatic silhouettes to mark the new era of socialism. However, despite their aesthetic power and historical importance, more than 70 years of poor maintenance and ill-use have deformed many of these buildings and led others to near collapse. An indication of the critical nature of the situation are the inclusion of two of Moscow’s Modernist landmarks on WMF’s 2006 list of 100 Most Endangered Sites and an international conference in Moscow, Heritage at Risk, which will be held this April. Architecture fans visiting Moscow are often surprised to find that the majority of the city’s Modernist buildings have either fallen into ruin or have been disfigured by inappropriate use and insensitive rehabilitations. Visitors to Paris who want to see Le Corbusier’s work can visit the Fondation where they will receive information about his buildings, which they will find pristine and well maintained. Significant Soviet architects such as Konstantin Melnikov, or Moisei Ginzburg, have no such representation in Moscow. Indeed, visitors will be hard-pressed to even find their buildings, so crowded are they by new developments of the last 15 years, and in conditions which are anything but their intended pristine appearance. The present state of the Narkomfin building, which has been included on WMF’s Watch list three times— in 2002, 2004, and 2006—is the most graphic example of the result of these problems. Built between 1928 and 1930 by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis for employees of the National Finance Ministry, the Narkomfin is a seminal document in the history of architecture, having served as the model for Le Corbusier’s Unité D’Habitation (see page 30).

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