By Natalia Melikova of the Constructivist Project
The Shukhov Tower on Shabolovka Street in Moscow made its first radio broadcast on March 19, 1922 and its first television broadcast on March 10, 1939. The first and largest of Vladimir Shukhov's hyperboloid towers, it is recognized as an engineering marvel and a masterpiece of constructivist architecture. In its 92 years of existence, it has come to be a symbol of progress, industrialization, and mass communication. With threats of dismantlement coming in just the last eight weeks, the Russian and international community have rallied behind its preservation.
Image (left): Shukhov tower in its current location. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
The Ministry of Communications announced on February 4, 2014 that their property, the famous but neglected Shukhov Tower, is in a dangerous state. They feared that due to the tower's advanced deterioration, the tower posed a serious threat of collapsing onto the surrounding neighborhood. Though discussion of the tower's critical condition and need for restoration has being ongoing for many years, according to the Ministry of Communications, there was now only one way to avoid disaster and “save” the tower, and that was by promptly taking it apart and considering a new more visible location for the reconstructed tower.
Earlier this March, a Public Chambers session was held, where experts from various fields overwhelmingly agreed that even with corroded elements the tower remains in a stable condition and that dismantling of the tower is not only unnecessary for restoration but also dangerous for the tower. The suggestion to consider a new location for the tower was also dismissed. However, the draft Government Decree that appeared later that day reflected only the Ministry of Communications proposal for a two stage reconstruction-restoration, with the dismantling of the tower followed by reassembly at a new location.
Image (right): Close up of the tower. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
With the exception of the Ministry of Communications, it appeared that the vast majority of experts and the public were against the dismantling of the tower, equating this course of action as the demolition of the tower, as the irreversible destruction of one of Moscow's famous landmarks. Because the draft Government Decree was worded in favor of dismantling and relocation, and Moscow’s notoriously bad track record when it comes to protecting cultural heritage, the fast approaching threat of losing the tower struck a nerve with the public.
RALLYING IN DEFENSE OF THE TOWER
While there were news reports that fixated on the dangerous condition of the tower, helping to spread fear and confuse the public, a large number of articles dedicated to the defense of the tower provided strong arguments on why dismantling and relocation were not options if the tower were to remain a monument. See the arguments and more detailed analysis of the situation here.
Image (right): Photo of one of the tours. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
Joining the efforts of the Shukhov Tower Foundation, numerous architectural organizations including Docomomo International and ISCOMOS ISC 20C, cultural institutions, public figures, historians, architects, activists and concerned citizens offered their support to the tower. In addition to publishing articles, writing letters to the authorities, and collecting signatures, a public interest campaign was launched around the Shukhov Tower site and throughout Moscow. The effort to inform the public took many forms and included free tours by historians and architecture specialists on the history of the tower and the surrounding neighborhood, social media groups organized ideas and coordinated actions as well as new art-related initiatives visually communicating the campaign to save the tower.
Image (right): Close up of a guide explaining one Shukhov's other towers. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
Informational leaflets were also handed out and placed at cultural institutions throughout the city, which listed both the reasons why the tower should not be demolished, and also why Shukhov Tower is so special:
The radio tower on Shabolovka Street in Moscow is one of the most famous works by the great Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov. It is a symbol of modern engineering design. It is a masterpiece of 20th century architecture, it is comparable to the Eiffel Tower – and that is not an exaggeration. The Shukhov Tower is on the cover of many European books on architecture and engineering art. Many structures, telecommunication masts, and antennas around the world are designed based on the principle of Shukhov's hyperbolic design. But our Shabolovskaya tower is the most famous and unique, and it was the first. It is our pride, it is our history.
The response from the international community is an indication of the gravity of the matter. It also demonstrates that interest in the fate of Russia's Eiffel Tower is not limited to the boundaries of Moscow. In addition to an open letter by well-known architects and specialists to President Putin expressing their concern for the tower's fate, a wave of foreign publications helped to spread the message.
Image (right): Handing out the leaflets. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
The campaign to save the tower has mobilized, united, and rallied people together. The severity and urgency of the threat that the tower may be demolished has worked in favor of its protection, it has elicited a concentrated, passionate response. Despite the positive momentum in favor of saving the tower, the information war continues as demonstrated in this recent article in which the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network, owner of the Shukhov Tower, defends its initial position.
Image (right): Collecting signatures. Credit: Natalia Melikova.
Publications such as this give all the more reason to actively discuss and promote the preservation of the tower in anyway each of us can. The events of the past two months have proven that if people did not spend much time thinking about the tower before, then most likely they have some opinion about it now.
As we wait for a decision on the tower's fate, one should note that 2014 is the “Year of Culture” in Russia. A good omen – Russia's Eiffel Tower!
The Change.org petition against the dismantling of the tower currently has nearly 10,000 signatures. You can add your name to the petition here.