Historic Moscow Under Siege

It ought to be inconceivable that a city with as rich an architectural legacy as Moscow could continue to lose so many of its historic buildings, having already lost so much of its cultural heritage during the twentieth century. Yet that is precisely what is happening—photographs taken of streets and buildings in the center of town as recently as last summer are already historic views.

Much of the destruction can be attributed to the city’s robust economy, which has spawned a boom in the real estate market on an unprecedented scale. With property values on the rise, it seems that any piece of land suitable for development is up for grabs, including many properties listed as historic sites. Although legislation protecting historic buildings is, on paper, very good, it is often ignored by those issuing development permits. Moreover, there also has been an inability to recognize that preserving the character of an historic streetscape is just as important as conserving its individual buildings. This is an especially important issue in Moscow, which, unlike most Russian cities, has retained its irregular medieval radial street plan that emanates from the Kremlin.

As the areas nearest the city center are the most desirable, available real estate there commands a premium, putting its historic structures in the greatest jeopardy. Clearly, the best-known landmarks such as the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral are not at risk. Seen with the other surviving architectural landmarks of the city, they are also testament to an age when Moscow was a coherent whole, exhibiting a unique blend of indigenous Russian styles and Byzantine and Classical influences. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a large number of luxury apartment buildings were erected in Moscow, which coincided with the flourishing of the Russian Art Nouveau and a brief neoclassical revival. Together with architectural treasures of earlier ages, they represent a distinctive and very important part of the city’s architectural heritage. Yet today, many of these building face an uncertain future—having fallen into decay and now threatened with demolition or inappropriate restoration

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