Activists campaign to save Moscow steel tower from being dismantled

Updated: 2014-04-10 07:23

By Anna Malpas in Moscow (China Daily)

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Activists campaign to save Moscow steel tower from being dismantled

The Shukhov tower has been part of the Moscow skyline since 1922, but now the Russian government wants to take it down and possibly move it to Crimea. A campaign to save the tower has gained thousands of supporters. [Photo / Agences]

Thousands of Muscovites and several top international architects have launched a campaign to save a conical steel tower that has marked Moscow's skyline since 1922.

The Russian communications ministry said it will dismantle and relocate the Shukhov tower, which was originally designed for radio broadcasts. It has been compared to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

But campaigners fear the tower will not be moved but simply demolished because it will be impossible to dismantle it and then put it back together.

It is the first time a campaign to save a historic building has received such a wide public following beyond architecture enthusiasts.

Officials of the government and city are set to meet campaigners for talks on the tower this week that may decide its future.

The campaign is not just about saving Moscow's crumbling early Soviet architecture but also about people having a say in government decisions, backers said.

"We have to learn how to say no," said Moscow resident Anna Chernobylskaya, holding a placard at a recent protest at the tower.

Vladimir Shukhov, a gifted engineer, designed the tower to give the Soviet Union a strong radio signal. At 148 meters, it was Moscow's tallest structure until the 1960s.

The conical telescope-like design took shape as each section was lifted into place from the inside. The slanted supports used a minimal amount of steel.

While sometimes compared to the Eiffel Tower, its design is purely functional.

"It's absolutely ascetic but at the same time very beautiful," enthused Alexandra Selivanova, head of the Centre of the Avant-Garde at Moscow's Jewish Museum, who updates a Facebook page on the tower and has organized several protest events.

The tower is a leading example of the Soviet constructivist movement of the 1920s and 1930s that focused on function and experimented with new geometric forms, a pioneering aesthetic that eventually inspired generations of architects around the world.

The Shukhov tower's owner, the communications ministry, said its poor, corroded condition means it must be dismantled. After that, it could be rebuilt elsewhere. Proposals include moving it from its southern Moscow neighborhood to Sevastopol in Crimea, which was annexed last month by Russia.

"It's the same thing as saying the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by buildings, let's move it to Marseilles," said the engineer's great-grandson, also named Vladimir Shukhov.

'Sawing it down'

"As all the specialists say, the tower can only be taken down one way, by sawing it down. And after that, the monument will be destroyed," he said.

He said the tower apparently fell victim to the interests of developers who have set their sights on the neighborhood dotted with several other constructivist buildings in various states of disrepair.

"This is about redeveloping the whole area," he said, adding that big dollars are at stake. "It's billions," he said.

Architects Norman Foster of Britain and Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands and Nicolas Serota, the director of Britain's Tate Galleries, were among thousands to sign a petition asking President Vladimir Putin for the tower to be restored where it stands.

But Selivanova said that it was not just the architectural community that signed the petition: there were many average people who even posted "selfies" - personal photos - taken against the landmark's silhouette in an online campaign.

"We've collected almost 5,000 signatures from ordinary Muscovites," she said.

Agence France-Presse