Mayor Luzhkov and the reconstruction of Moscow

On 5th May the Moscow authorities approved a new General Plan described by its critics as “the death-knell” for the city. It is yet another strong-handed move by Yuri Luzhkov, whose personal tastes and business interests have left a strong mark on the city since he became Mayor in 1992. A trend for sham replicas has flourished during his tenure, causing experts to fear that Moscow has turned into an ‘ersatz city.’
Clementine Cecil
13 May 2010

Yuri Luzhkov was appointed Mayor of the city in 1992; since then he has overseen the physical transformation of the city using “hypermayoral” powers awarded by then President, Boris Yeltsin. These powers allow him to legislate by executive directives on any question pertaining to the city’s services or socio-economic problems. He can veto Duma bills, and has absolute control of all executive appointments.[1] Luzhkov is by and large a popular Mayor when it comes to the city’s infrastructure, and it is possible that he will run for another term in 2012, despite his age (74). However, he is deeply unpopular in conservation circles due to the demagogic legal structure in place, which has inevitably led to his having a disproportionately large influence on the city’s appearance. This makes itself felt in restoration projects, and also in town-planning as the new General Plan shows.

Luzhkov, monument by Tsereteli

A sculpture of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov Sweeping the Streets of Moscow Clean by his favourite sculptor Zurab Tsereteli.

Luzhkov as bulldozer pishchik

A satirical photo-montage of the Mayor as a bulldozer in the shape of a giant M by Philipp Pishchik (http://bluemoloko.com)

Luzhkov’s wife Elena Baturina is a property developer, estimated in 2010 by Forbes magazine to be worth almost £2 billion. In 2004 the Moscow Times estimated that her companies win over 11 per cent of Moscow’s building contracts, and in the same year her company Inteko built just under a quarter of Moscow’s new residential property. Forbes calculated that she owns 11 per cent of concrete production in Russia. Luzhkov always denies that he is in anyway involved with his wife’s business.

Under Luzhkov, the city has acquired a new set of symbols, many of them reconstructions, some of monuments torn down by the Soviets, some reconstructed versions of buildings torn down by the present regime, or, as in the case of Tsaritsyno Palace, buildings are being ‘completed’ and given new interiors.

Professor of architectural history at the Moscow Architecture Institute, Natalia Dushkina, calls the first post-Soviet reconstructions, the ‘romantic’ phase. These included the reconstruction of the Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan on Red Square (constructed 1620-1636, restored 1925-1933, demolished 1936, reconstructed 1992-1993), and the Voskresensky (Resurrection) Gates leading into Red Square (constructed 1535 and 1680, restored mid 1920s, demolished 1929-1931, reconstructed 1994-1995).  These reconstructions were a way of recovering the past, healing the wounds inflicted on the city by the Communist authorities.

The reconstruction of the Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan on Red Square together with some other were a way of recovering the past, healing the wounds inflicted on the city by the Communist authorities.

Cathedral of Christ our Saviour

In the mid-nineties Luzhkov launched his most ambitious reconstruction project, that of the monumental Cathedral of Christ our Saviour (constructed 1837-1883, demolished 1931, reconstructed 1995-2002).

In 1995, Luzhkov launched his most ambitious reconstruction project, that of the monumental Cathedral of Christ our Saviour (constructed 1837-1883, demolished 1931, reconstructed 1995-2002). The reconstruction cost hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it donated by Moscow’s businessmen made large donations. Luzhkov was returning a new set of symbols to the city. However, conservationists rightly feared that the new trend did not bode well for restoration practice. The reconstruction is made from reinforced concrete on a steel frame; bronze casts were used instead of carved stone for the reliefs on the exterior of the cathedral. A raised ground floor was added, raising the building up and changing its original proportions. The volume of the building was increased with the addition of some underground stories including an underground car park and an auditorium. Professor Dushkina called this reconstruction the ‘transitional’ phase of reconstructions.[2]

This quickly led on to the next phase, the ‘barbarous.’ Between 2002 and 2007, according to statistics gathered by MAPS (the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society) over 1,000 historic buildings were demolished in Moscow, some 200 of them officially protected monuments, or on the list for consideration to receive listed status. As a sop to conservation law and preservation groups, authentic historic buildings were reconstructed as replicas, often widely diverging from the original. Signs went up on building sites saying “reconstruction, replication and restoration of a historic monument,” indicating the ignorance of the fundamentals of restoration and of conservation law.  Dushkina wrote in 2009: “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.” [3]

Moskva Hotel (old)

In 2003 the Stalin-era Moskva Hotel was demolished to make way for a sham replica that is to be opened this year.

Hotel Moskva, sham replica

The same façade of the Moskva Hotel in 2009. Sham replica by Vladimir Kolosnitsyn et al., Mosproekt-2. The building has been painted cream, with details picked out in orange

In 2003 the enormous Stalin-era Moskva hotel (1932-1938) was demolished to make way for a sham replica that is to be opened this year. In the same year Voyentorg (the Central Military Department Store Emporium, 1912-1914) was demolished and replaced with a sham replica with very little in common with the original. This opened in 2008. These two demolitions, and the fire in the Manezh (1817), led to a crisis among Moscow’s cultural intelligentsia who wrote a letter to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in May 2004. In reply, Luzhkov took an entire page of Izvestia newspaper to explain his building policy. He wrote: “in Moscow’s culture the notion of a copy sometimes has no less bearing than that of an original. This is because the conceptual, historical and cultural ‘baggage’ that such a copy carries can often be richer and more profound than the original design.”

Luzhkov makes no secret of the fact that he imposes his tastes on the city, openly praising or condemning projects at the monthly Public Council. One of the most infamous examples of Luzhkov’s personal inclinations moulding the appearance of the city, was his guiding of the ‘finishing’ of Tsaritsyno.

Construction work at Tsaritsyno

Despite massive opposition among official conservation bodies, Luzhkov began work in Tsaritsyno, even before receiving official permission.

Tsaritsyno is a late eighteenth century palace commissioned by Catherine the Great and built, but never completed, in two stages by Vasily Bazhenov and Matvei Kazakov. It was given a roof, but the interiors never completed; the roof survived until the 1880s when it was dismantled. From then on the palace was a romantic ruin within a landscaped park, a favourite place of Muscovites.

In the mid-2000s Luzhkov announced plans to “complete” the ruin and make it into an art museum to rival The Hermitage in St Petersburg.[4]  All the hallmarks of today’s treatment of historic buildings in Moscow, are evident in the case of Tsaritsyno, a former ruined palace in a park in south Moscow. Here the ‘romantic’ impetus of the early reconstructions in Moscow is put at the service of new ambitions for the city.

Despite massive opposition among official conservation bodies, Luzhkov began work, even before receiving official permission. Reinforced concrete structures were added to the 18th century building; a new entrance pavilion was added that led into an underground foyer, dug under the complex, and modern, historically inauthentic building materials and techniques were used. The tender for reconstructing the landscaped park was one by one of the daughter organisations belonging to Luzhkov’s wife. Thousands of trees were cut down, many of them mature, and the bridges, follies and pavilions in the park underwent restoration and reconstruction.

At the Public Council deciding the fate of Tsarytsino, the Mayor swept aside the opinion of experts, and made it clear that he would do what he wished. The Mayor did not receive planning approval for the roof that was put on the ruin, nor for the windows, floors, ceilings and interiors. He received it post factum after work began in 2005.[6] It horrified experts that the Mayor broke Russian law in the process of creating what is in effect a new building, as well as international conservation guidelines like the Venice Charter.

In order to fake the past, and create the 18th century interiors restaurateur Andrei Dellos first destroyed a charming series of neoclassical late eighteenth century two-storey buildings on Tverskoy boulevard known as the Rimsky-Korsakov Quarter.

Another high-level reconstruction visited by many foreigners every year, oblivious of the crimes that were committed to create it, is that of that of the restaurant Turandot on Tverskoi Boulevard. Andrei Dellos, the restaurateur behind Turandot, has spoken proudly of the new establishment in the world press, saying he has “created a place where Russians can dream.” However, in order to fake the past, and create the 18th century interiors that now grace the restaurant, restaurateur Andrei Dellos first destroyed it.  The site, on Tverskoi boulevard, was formerly occupied by a charming series of neoclassical late eighteenth century two-storey buildings known as the Rimsky-Korsakov Quarter, after a lover of Catherine the Great. The ensemble was a federal monument, but in 2002, the deputy culture minister, Natalya Dementyeva, signed a letter declaring that three of the six buildings on the site were not monuments, paving the way for the work to go ahead. However, the law only allows the government to take a monument off the list when the decision is made at Cabinet level, making Dementyeva's action illegal.[7] Nevertheless, the ensemble was demolished, leaving only facades, denying Muscovites and Russians their legacy, but creating a fantasy for the wealthy to dine in. It is patronised by the Moscow Mayor and his wife, and members of the presidential administration. 

Despite his enormous powers, Mayor Luzhkov does not like criticism; his inclination to sue outspoken opponents to his plans, has made conservation into a dissident activity in Russia. Preservation campaigner Alexei Klimenko was taken to court by Luzhkov in 2008 for slander over something he said about the Mayor’s treatment of Tsaritsyno. When, in 2007, the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS) released a report on Moscow’s architectural heritage, the official reaction was “We are surrounded by enemies, and this was funded by enemies.”[8] In this climate of suspicion, it is difficult for a fair and open debate between the authorities and Muscovites about the future of their city. 

This was clear in discussions about the new development plan, passed in May this year despite widespread opposition from conservation groups in Moscow. It plans for a 15 year experts construction boom with 5 million square meters of property being destroyed and replaced with 200 million square meters. Experts fear that the city is being treated in a piece-meal manner with no unifying plan. “This makes it much easier to profit from,” said one expert who did not give her name as her offices are rented from the Moscow city authorities. The new plan will give the city more than 2 million new parking spaces and sixty buildings over 70 meters high. It is clear from the new plan that new construction takes precedent over gradual organic development of the city, integrating its historic building. The new General Plan makes Moscow’s remaining historic  buildings yet more vulnerable to cavalier treatment in the guise of ‘restoration.’  

By depriving the cityscape of authentic historic buildings, Moscow’s sham replicas are distorting its own citizens’ and visitors’ sense of history. The Mayor once claimed that he was righting historical wrongs by reconstructing architectural monuments destroyed by the Soviets. However, today’s political and business landscape indicates that a prime motivation is profit and convenience. As the former director of the Institute for Art History, Alexei Komech (1936-2007) said, “soon we will have the youngest heritage of any city in the world.”[9]



[1] Colton, T.J. Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis, London, 1995 p.686

[2] Dushkina, N. “Historical Authenticity” published in Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point MAPS and SAVE Europe’s Heritage. ed. Harris, E. Moscow 2009

[3] ibid p.223

[4] Harris, E. Moscow 2009

[5] Harris, E. Moscow 2009 p.244

[6] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catherine-the-greats-palace-gets-pvc-makeover-479624.html

[7] Cecil, C., Harris, E., Moscow 2007

[8] Cecil, C Comment, Blueprint Magazine, September 2007

[9] Cecil, C., Harris, E. p.74


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