Moscow preservationists see silver lining in economic slump
The financial crisis has halted breakneck development in the Russian capital that was tearing down historic buildings and replacing them with replicas.
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Many people do seem impressed by the rapid transformation of the city's core, which has modernized its appearance, upgraded facilities, and cleaned away Soviet-era jumble and grime.
Still, many of the changes have altered Moscow's historic center and enraged preservationists, including:
•The Hotel Moskva. The first major Soviet-era hotel, built in the 1930s next-door to the Kremlin, was a hulking Stalinist monument constructed from materials looted by the Bolsheviks from churches and Czarist-era palaces. Torn down by Luzhkov in 2004, it has been replaced by a "replica" that's set to open as a five-star hotel. "Of course, you couldn't love the Moskva for what it was," says Kevin O'Flynn, one of the original founders of MAPS. "But it was a building of its time and it made sense where it was."
•The Manege. The Czarist-era royal stables were turned into an art gallery in Soviet times, and burned down in 2004. The fire, whose causes remain unexplained, forcibly settled a dispute between the Ministry of Culture, which wanted no changes to one of Moscow's most beloved structures, and Luzhkov's planned renovation. A virtual replica was recently unveiled in the place of the original.
•Voyentorg. An Art Nouveau classic built in 1912, and turned into a military department store by the Soviets, it was the first major Moscow landmark demolished by Luzhkov, in 2003. Critics are beside themselves with fury at the high-end shopping mall set to open in its place. "It's a scapegrace, an awful parody of what Voyentorg used to be," says Nikolai Lyzlov, a Moscow architect.
•The Bolshoi Theater, built in 1824, has been draped in tarpaulins and gutted for almost five years and is scheduled to reopen in 2013. In July, its chief conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, quit over the renovations, complaining that "the theater is putting bureaucratic interests above artistic ones."
Amid the pause created by Russia's financial crisis, there is a chance to save not only Moscow's shrinking heritage, but also that of other major cities, such as St. Petersburg, where the bulldozers have barely started work, says Marina Khrustalyova, an architectural historian and a director of MAPS.
"Where Moscow goes, the rest of Russia follows," she says. "We need to attract attention to this issue now, while there's still something left to save."