El Lissitzky's Ogonyok Printing Plant Under Threat
By Natalia Melikova
El Lissitzky was an influential Russian artist, designer and architect in the early 20th century in the Soviet Union. While his architectural designs of horizontal skyscrapers on paper are well known, it was not until 2007 that an existing building was discovered in Moscow, the only one in the world. Like the Melnikov House, Lissiztky's Ogonyok Printing Plant is a valuable cultural landmark and threatened by construction. In this case, the construction is of the “Lumiere” elite residential complex for the Cinematographers Union by Inteko. The construction site’s proximity to the protected zone of Ogonyok and the nearby Zhurgaz Journalist residential building (also a landmark) threatens the integrity of the structures much like those at the Melnikov House.
A suspicious fire.
Ogonyok suffered a suspicious fire (fire outbreaks in 3 separate places on the roof) making matters worse on a rainy day in October of 2008. After arriving at the scene, firefighters refused to put out the fire, despite residents’ pleas, claiming that they could not enter the Ogonyok property because it was a closed territory (owned by the FSB). A camera crew was called and upon its arrival the fire was quickly extinguished. The roof of the building burned for a needless extra hour as a result of the delay in extinguishing the fire.
Lacking a roof, the abandoned building was further damaged by rain and snow, finally receiving a temporary roof only in spring 2013. Demolition officially was not possible because of the landmark status Ogonyok received in August 2008, an inconvenient fact for the Lumiere development, which received its building permit in April 2008. The fire coincidentally occurred on the very day a fence was put up around the plot of land allocated for the Lumiere development signalling the beginning of construction work. In 2009 there was an attempt to remove Ogonyok from the list of monuments that was stopped thanks to activism by the architecture community. Click here to see the video of the fire and here for the letter to FSB.
A historical and architectural landmark.
The blueprints of Ogonyok were uncovered in archives in 2007 as plans were being put together to build on the neighboring plot of land. Upon the rediscovery of a building by Lissitzky in the heart of Moscow, Ogonyok was included into the Register of Cultural Heritage of the City of Moscow on 26 July 2007, and on 21 August 2008 it was recognized by Moskomnasledie (the committee for cultural heritage of the city of Moscow) as a historical and architectural landmark. An important detail to note is the official address in the 2008 document designating "Printing Plant “Ogonyok”, 1927, architect El Lissiztky" as a landmark (Moscow, 1st Samotechny Lane bldg. 17).
The building received the status of a regional landmark of historic and cultural significance on 04 December 2012 (an upgrade from city landmark status in 2008). However, the amount of destruction to Ogonyok that has occurred in recent months is particularly surprising since the change in status was thought as a big victory for Ogonyok, as demonstrated by all the positive words from Department of Culture officials:
Photo (left): 11 July 2013 confirmation that the protected address of 17 c1 includes both wings which appear in some document as 17 c1 and c2. Photo (right): realized portion of Lissitzky's design (in red)
Work is well underway at Ogonyok, yet it can be clearly seen that none of it would qualify as “restoration”. When this irresponsible and unaccounted-for work is completed and the building has lost its authenticity and original fabric, it is feared the monument status can be reevaluated and removed. At the round-the-clock pace that “restoration” activities are currently being conducted, there is little time left to stop the destruction of Ogonyok before it can no longer be considered the last work by the great El Lissitzky.
For more background information, see the biography of El Lissitzky and his involvement in designing the Ogonyok Printing Plant (text earlier published by MOSKONSTRUCT).
To follow updates on Ogonyok and the Melnikov House go to the Constructivist Project website.