Melnikov House Update

Text and photos by Natalia Melikova
 
It has been two months since The Fight for the Melnikov House was first published and while advocacy for the house has been ongoing, with major international agencies joining in on the discussion, the Melnikov House is still in danger and construction work continues.
 
May 13, 2013 photo: “Not in the zone of influence” … Melnikov House & the construction site in one photo. 
 
There have been a number of important developments at the Melnikov House in the last few weeks. The most striking of which has been the building of wall piles to a depth of approximately 13 meters underground on the site directly behind the house. This is effectively the dam wall, as it lies in the direction of the groundwater that flows under the Melnikov House. In the near future, this may lead to flooding the area of the house and cause new ground subsidence. The video below shows work continuing on the construction site and its proximity to the Melnikov House. Also available on You Tube.
 

A look at the other events that have been going on concerning the Melnikov House:
 
April 2: ICOMOS ISC20C together with Docomomo International and the International Union of Architects issued a Heritage Alert accompanied by a letter addressed to President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and Moscow Mayor Sobyanin to intervene in the issue. The only response has been that they received the letter, which is simply an automatic, technical reply.  Also included was an international petition On the Preservation of Konstantin Melnikov's Works and Heritage signed by well-known archictects and professionals from around the world. The eyes of the world are again on the Melnikov House thanks to social media and numerous repostings of the very real threat to the Melnikov House posed by nearby construction work. See the list of blogs and news sites in various languages that have picked up on the story of the house at the end of this article.
 
April 9 – 14: The exhibit “The Architect Konstantin Melnikov” was on view during Milan's Design Week at the Spazio Krizia gallery. In Moscow, it can be seen May 22-26 at the Central House of Artists during the International exhibition of Architecture and Design ARCH MOSCOW NEXT.
 
Exhibition "The Architect Konstantin Melnikov," will be the first in the series "Architecture of Russia - Past, Present, and Future." This exposition, held at the International Design Week in Milan, the organizers plan to begin a program of annual cultural events likely to draw global attention to the problems of preserving the architectural heritage of Russia. (translation from http://www.premia-avangard.ru/spazio-krizia)
 
Mid April: Ongoing construction of the dam wall near the Melnikov House.
 
April 22, 2013 photos (left to right): Wall of piles already in place which effectively will act as a dam for groundwater. Digging underground has already begun in various places, piles are prepared for the foundations.
 
 
 
April 18: The world celebrated International Day for Monuments and Sites. An article by Archnadzor pointed out that considering the situation in Moscow, it is the developers, the investors, those getting away with demolishing buildings of heritage, those getting away with building in “government protected” areas, that have something to celebrate:
 
May 13, 2013 photos (left and below left to right): Wall of piles in the construction area closest to the Melnikov House is cleary visible, the “dam” is in place. Neighboring buildings are feeling the construction effects too: a new building built in the 2000s is covered in cracks. Construction processes are well underway without a halt to the work in sight.
 
 
And on the neighboring street of Arbat shakes another world famous monument – the Melnikov House. Nearby, on the site of last year’s demolition of an old Arbat house, a pit is being dug and construction work goes on. The Moscow City Government has allowed this construction of a 4-5-story multi-functional complex in a protected zone with all the necessary papers. International and domestic experts shout out loud, and Moscow City Hall is silent. Happy Heritage Day to you, experts!
 
April 18: Ironically on Heritage day, Ekaterina Karinskaya received a beaucratic reply from the Aminstration of the President of the Russian Federation (The Russian Federation President Citizens and Organizations Petitions Office) to her request for President Putin to intervene in the issue of the Melnikov House, citing the ongoing construction work putting the Melnikov House at risk, the ICOMOS Heritage Alert, a need for a reevaluation of the development project, etc:
 
Please be advised that the authority to deal with the issues raised by you during your personal reception at the Russian Federation President Receiving Office on April 18, 2013 falls within competence of the Government of Moscow. Melnikov House still does not have federal status.
 
April 18, 2013 photo: Karinskaya received a letter from the President's office - Melnikov House issues are Moscow gov's responsibility

 

 
 
April 26: It was a surprising discovery to find workers from the neighboring construction site illegally entering the private property of the “government protect” Melnikov House. Besides trespassing, they were building scaffolding for the 3 story structure that tightly fits between the Melnikov House backyard fence, and the official territory of the construction site. Members of architectural watchdog Archnadzor came and demanded to be shown the approval for such a procedure, after which a policeman came and ordered the workers to remove the scaffolding from the Melnikov House territory. A representative of the developer at first denied being aware of the scaffolding work and then expressed disbelief at the complaints, because the scaffolding would be temporary after all and have no effect on the house. Read the full story here.
 
April 26, 2013 photo (right): Workers illegally entered Melnikov House territory to set up scaffolding

 

May 15: An exhibit displaying concepts for the Melnikov House museum opened at the Schchusev State Museum of Architecture organized by both the museum and Project Russia. At the close of the exhibit on June 15, the official results of the competition will be made known.
 
The purpose of the contest – gathering ideas about the creation of the museum, as well as attracting public attention to the problem of preserving the Melnikov House.
[…]
The format of the contest-consultation plans for the absence of a single winner. The jury, which is to be attended by representatives of government, professional and expert communities, and the granddaughters of the architect Melnikov will select the five best qualified projects and comment on their choices. The authors of these projects will be brought to the working group for the creation of the museum.
(Translation from the competition description)
 
The Schchusev State Museum of Architecture has written a letter to Moscow Mayor Sobyanin which can be signed here.
 
In order to save a unique monument of history and culture "House and Studio of architect K. S. Melnikov" we ask you, dear Sergei Semenovich, to immediately stop all construction work in the area of ??the protected zone of the Melnikov House and to create an independent group of experts to determine the current state of the monument and assess the negative impact of the work in the area of the protected zone on the house.
 
May 26: “Days of History” retro-festival will be held in Hermitage Garden in Moscow. Moskva Kotoroy Net (“Moscow, which is no more”) is organizing an exhibition of photographs of the Melnikov House and will show a film.
 

Despite all the commotion about the Melnikov House created in recent months, the developer still claims that the house does not fall in the zone of influence of the construction work and cites the report by NIIOSP N.M. Gersevanov that has allowed construction work to continue. In an article by Russia Beyond the Headlines, Natalya Samover points out that the Gersevanov Institute is“famous for providing the conclusions that their customers want.”

 
In the opinion of NIIOSP N.M. Gersevanov experts, the Melnikov House is being destroyed not because of a nearby pit, but because of the lack of "proper maintenance and timely capital repairs" for the duration of 83 years.
 
Essentially, the report concludes that the owners and the Melnikov House itself are at fault for the poor condition of the house. Then what does it mean when a house that has indeed survived 83 years has its condition worsen significantly, at exactly the same time that heavy-handed demolition works were carried out and the beginning of construction activities? Not only have the rate of new cracks increased, but horizontal cracks have started to appear (horizontal cracks result from ground subsidence). This cause and effect evidence is being conveniently ignored.
 
May 13, 2013 photos (right and below): Within the last few weeks, damage to the facade has become even more noticeable, evidence of subsidence. Cracks in the foundations are expanding, porch is crumbling.

 

In 2006 when Trust-Oil began the plans for the complex, work was halted due to the report Survey of Structures, Foundations and Soil Footing Condition for House – Monument to Architec Konstantin Melnikov Located at the Address: 10 Krivoarbatsky Lane, Moscow conducted by the Education and Science Ministry of the Russian Federation, Moscow State Construction University. In this report it was made clear that the house is in a fragile condition and because of the high geological risk agrea, construction in the vicinity of the Melnikov House is inadvisable – this report is now being ignored. 
 
 
 
 
This is the last item listed in Findings:
 
24. Due to the design solution for the building surveyed never providing for its functioning at possible emergency loads in the high geological risk area, any construction in the vicinity of the building surveyed, including the construction in the plot adjoining the site from the Arbat Street side of the multipurpose shopping mall planned by Trust-Oil Company can provoke intensification of the soil settlement and the surface caving which will be an unfavorable and inadmissible factor for Architect Melnikov’s house preservation. In addition, it should be noted that the construction of the multipurpose shopping mall with extensive underground structures is planned for the karst-prone area where the Carboniferous age primary deposits subside sharply. Development of subterranean spaces in such areas is inadmissible due to hazard of subterranean slides occurring in the overlying mass of water-saturated sand Quaternary deposits.

May 13, 2013 photo (above): Melnikov House is surrounded by new developments.

 

The Russian media caught on to the story of international organizations sounding a Heritage Alert for the Melnikov House on the morning of April 15, and by the afternoon, a second wave of articles with the same message, “the construction site does not affect the Melnikov House” came out in reply. There are now two reports with conflicting conclusions. The report that gave the go ahead to the construction work was ordered by the developer, recently approved and one that is only referred to but not shown to the public. One of the demands by leading international organizations for heritage protection of the 20th century heritage is a new, independent report:
 
A detailed hydro geological research, a full structural appraisal and monitoring of the Melnikov House site and its surrounding area to establish and assess the detailed impacts of potential development and identify mitigation measures.
 
So much as the local and international community express their concerns, no results will happen until the Russian government recognizes the value of architecture from all different types of styles and time periods, change their attitude towards the purpose and benefits of preservation, and take on a more active role in the ownership of monuments. The recent international pressure needs to be combined with local pressure to show the Russian government why cultural heritage matters, why an iconic Russian masterpiece that is admired around the world is more important than a new commerical development.
 
The past two months have demonstrated that the Melnikov House is indeed worthy of world importance. Clearly it would be a loss not only for Russia and even more tragic since this loss was preventable.
 
April 26, 2013 photo (above): The past two months have demonstrated that the Melnikov House is indeed worthy of world importance.

 

Postcript: Revival of Docomomo Russia
 
The Russian chapter of Docomomo is in a process of revival. In March 2011, a small group of professionals came together to make the group more active and work closer with Docomomo International. Two years later, the group has its sights on another reorganization to take advantage of the momentum of increased interest in modern architecture and a more active civil society. At the top of the list, Docomomo Russia is looking to add new members and will hold a meeting in the near future to discuss a program to further develop and expand the activities of the group, including working more closely with the international community:
 
Of course, we can only highly welcome any initiatives of colleagues from other countries in the protection of Russian heritage, and are happy to cooperate in this matter.
Anna Bronovitskaya - Secretary General of Docomomo Russia (http://docomomo.ru)
 
A year ago, Docomomo Russia sent a letter in support of Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago. Chicago Landmark Commission recently gave Northwestern University approval to demolish Prentice Women's Hospital. In the article “Mashing Modernism” on the World Monuments Fund website, the concluding paragraph perfectly sums up the paradox that puts the 1929 Melnikov House in Moscow and the1975 Prentice Hospital in Chicago in the same fight for survival:
 
Why it always takes a battle, one which is often lost, to give modernism its due is a mystery. Modernist buildings are as much a part of the continuum of architecture as any other building style. Without their preservation that thread will be broken-- both in the United States and abroad-- to our collective loss.  
 
Click here for a PDF about the history of preservation in Russia.
 
_______________________________________________________________________________
An archive of articles about the Melnikov House since April 2013 can be found on The Constructivisit Project website.


May 13, 2013: Construction processes are well underway without a halt to the work in sight. | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 13, 2013: Wall of piles in the construction area closest to the Melnikov House is cleary visible, the “dam” is in place. | Source: Natalia Melikova
Neighboring buildings are feeling the construction effects too: a new building built in the 2000s is covered in cracks. | Source: Natalia Melikova
April 22, 2013: Wall of piles already in place which effectively will act as a dam for groundwater. | Source: Anna Medleva's architectural studio "Architectural Policies", D. Nurullin
April 22, 2013: Digging underground has already begun in various places, piles are prepared for the foundations. | Source: Anna Medleva's architectural studio "Architectural Policies", D. Nurullin
April 18, 2013: Karinskaya received a letter from the President's office - Melnikov House issues are Moscow gov's responsibility | Source: Natalia Melikova
April 26, 2013: workers illegally entered Melnikov House territory to set up scaffolding | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 13, 2013: Within the last few weeks, damage to the facade has become even more noticeable, evidence of subsidence | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 13, 2013: Cracks in the foundations are expanding, porch is crumbling | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 13, 2013: Melnikov House is surrounded by new developments | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 13, 2013: “Not in the zone of influence” … Melnikov House & the construction site in one photo. | Source: Natalia Melikova
April 26, 2013: The past two months have demonstrated that the Melnikov House is indeed worthy of world importance. | Source: Natalia Melikova
May 15, 2013: Karinskaya signing the Shchusev State Architecture Museum letter to Sobyanin to save the Melnikov House. | Source: Natalia Melikova
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