Monday, 30 April 2012

Moscow Modern / Москва современная

To Moscow to see masterpieces of post-revolution Constructivist architecture - much of which is neglected and in poor condition - as part of a group shown round by the estimable Clementine Cecil, former Moscow correspondent of The Times and instigator of the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS).

In a packed couple of days, our visit (inspired by the recent Royal Academy exhibition) took in, among other things, Konstantin Melnikov's Workers' Club, with those canted auditorium elements copied by many architects over the years; Moisei Ginzburg's Narkomfin housing block; and Melnikov's own house.  The Melnikov buildings were not in brilliant nick but it didn't look too hard to bring them up to scratch given the will and the money (MAPS has the former, but not much use without the latter); whereas the Narkomfin building is in a bad state, and its future looks uncertain, in spite of the efforts of the grandson of its architect (who met us on site) to rescue it.

Most of the important buildings are recognised with very smart cast bronze plaques, but apart from that not well looked after.  In the case of Melnikov's house, which is still occupied by his granddaughter (whom we also met), there is a dispute about its future that appears still to be continuing along the lines reported by Rowan Moore last year.

An unexpected highlight of the trip was a visit to the All Russia Exhibition Centre, now mainly a very popular park, but populated by a weird collection of Socialist Realist inspired pavilions and monuments, mainly from the 1950s, including this one dedicated to agricultural productivity, its sparkliness a rather poignant contrast to the decay of the (mostly badly built) Constructivist buildings of the 20s and 30s.  

Early Modern, one suspects, is a minority interest there as here.  In London, the Grade 1 listed 1930s Finsbury Health Centre - designed by the Moscow-trained, Constructivist-inpired Lubetkin, and as idealistic in its social programme as its Russian cousins - languishes in just as unloved a state.

1 comment:

  1. It must have been a fascinating trip. It is a great shame that these wonderful buildings have been neglected. One of the problems with early modern buildings is that the construction is so thin. I worked on the pilot repair of Finsbury Health Centre with John Allan at Avanti about 15 years ago. The concrete on the parapets was only 100mm thick, with minimal cover on the reinforcement. Curiously the element of construction which survived best was the timber frame of the curtain walling, formed in wild teak. The most satisfying aspect of the project was uncovering and re-instating the rich original colour scheme - something easily overlooked when looking at contemporary black and white photos of buildings from this period. We didn't get the colour application quite right, but fortunately Freddy Skinner, a surviving member of Tecton, was on hand to put us right!

    Simon McCormack