"Russia’s Eiffel Tower" Saved, for Now

Moscow drafts measures to keep the historic Shukhov Tower in its place.

After months of protests by preservationists and the international architecture community, Moscow’s Shukhov Tower has been saved from dismantlement. The iconic structure and hallmark of Soviet constructivism had been threatened by demolition for fear of its collapse. On July 10, the city’s cultural heritage department drafted conservation measures to ensure that the tower’s architectural form, hyperboloid design, structural members, and location be preserved. News of the motion was delayed until newspaper Izvestiya reported the decision late last week.

Earlier this year, Russia’s Federal Ministry of Communications and Mass Media had advised that the erstwhile radio tower, following years of neglect, should be dismembered and reassembled at a future date, perhaps at another site. This despite the structure’s widely-acknowledged status as an enduring cultural work. Architects reacted with swift action, petitioning Vladimir Putin to step in to resolve the issue in favor of Russia’s constructivist legacy.

Critics alleged that efforts to dismantle the landmark disguised more cynical plans. Andrei Klychkov, leader of the Communist party faction in Moscow’s municipal parliament, averred that the removal of the Shukhov Tower would benefit real estate developers, whom he accused of having outlined a high-rise mixed-used complex for the site, located near the Kremlin. The city’s zoning laws regulate the height of new buildings, generally limiting their rise to 40 meters (131 feet), or the height of the building they are replacing. Given this loophole, a new development built in place of the tower’s place could stretch up to 160-meters (525 feet), unheard of by Moscow standards. The Moscow Times estimated such a project to be worth close to half a billion dollars. 

In June, the city unveiled an unorthodox, but extremely successful tactic to gain public support for the structure’s preservation. An online referendum polled Muscovites about the issue, asking if “Russia’s Eiffel Tower” should be dismantled or saved. Of the nearly 80,000 respondees, who logged their vote via a smartphone app, 91% felt that the tower should stay put.

Preservationists can breathe a sigh of relief, but the battle is only half-won. The structure, which ceased functioning in 2002 and hasn’t been properly maintained since the fall of the Soviet Union, is in desperate need of repair. While reports of its imminent collapse seem to have been exaggerated, no one would deny the necessity of a thorough restoration. Moscow’s City Hall has sanctioned the tower as a protected heritage site, and by doing so, has paved the way for restoration work. How soon such work commences, however, remains to be determined.

Read more about the Shukhov Tower’s historical value here.

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