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The collapse of Russian architecture.

                     Looters in Yekaterinburg.

Violating the law has become a mournful tradition amongst city government of Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation. Especially it concerns the issue of city planning and urban architecture. The extreme corruption of the city authorities and its merging with developing and construction  business causes the tragic situation, where the majority of the historical buildings vanish from the city landscape, being totally demolished or “reconstructed” that way, that the remnants of an historical or architecture monument hardly appear in the new steel and glass building facade.


The prehistory of the matter.

Yekaterinburg is a major city of the Sverdlovsk region in the central part of Russia. It is the main industrial and cultural center of the Urals Federal District with a population of 1,398,889 (2012) making it Russia's fourth-largest city. The city was founded in 1723 so that in 2012 it celebrates its 289th anniversary. The history of the city is renowned by several significant events. Such as the murder of the last Russian Tsar family by Bolsheviks, the temporary residence of the participants in the Decembrists Revolt during their exile in 1820th, and others.

The most considerable architectural trait of the city is its Constructivism monuments and buildings, set in 1920 - 1930th. The architecture of constructivism originated in Russia, just before the revolution of 1917, being an analog and even a precursor of German Bauhaus and Dutch DeStijl. Its influence was pervasive; however, it has its own unique style, closely related to the art of socialist realism, dominated in Soviet Union in that time. In the Constructivist philosophy the art should have a social use. This style is characterized in the architecture by the domination of the form and volume, rejecting any artificial decoration. Hence it can be concluded that the Constructivism, in fact is the direct predecessor of all modern architecture. The uniqueness of Yekaterinburg architectural collection of Constructivism is acknowledged by the world's most competent specialists in this domain.

   Vandalism and corruption in the City Hall.

In accordance with the above, the total demolishing of the historical part of the city, that has been taking place for several recent years, is the issue, which causes the greatest concern within the local community. In particular, the very first building made in the style of Constructivism in the Urals district ("Passage" store, formerly known as commodity exchange building (1916)) is now being barbarously "reconstructed". This "reconstruction" implies absolute demolition of the whole structure (both supporting frame and facades) and building a brand new edifice that has nothing in common with the old "Passage". Corrupted city authorities allow the notorious developer company "Malysheva 73", largely known by its overall vandalism towards historical monuments, to bulldoze this unique house. They also use excavators. Whereas this building is the first one in that part of Russia, using the concrete supporting frame, that marks it as an epoch-making phenomenon for Urals Region.

The Community Chamber, which is supposed to monitor and control any process, related to such a global change in the city’s appearance kept silence at the beginning. After that, when the rally on the streets and boom on the Internet almost reached its extreme position, the Community Chamber finally gathered and after public hearings on both sides made its unanimous decision… to proceed the demolishing! By the way, this was the first time, when the townspeople heard of such an organization and none of its members is well-known for the moment. Mostly they represent the top management of large local enterprises. One of the demolition lobbyists, notorious journalist Daniil Makeranets made Freudian slip of the tongue, during the public hearings. He said “The defenders of the old Passage always refer to some petty laws”. If I’m not mistaken, the word “petty” means “unimportant”, “inconsiderable”. Oleg Skvortsov, the member of the Chamber, called the Passage defenders “the opposite side” and “unprofessionals”, whilst the majority of them are the professional architects and art historians with great experience. Another member said more: “You, the antiquity lovers, should better have a whip-round to restore the other antique trash in the city, than to run a rally in the central square”  he must have forgotten, that every little townsman is a taxpayer and every member of the society had already had this “whip-round” by paying taxes. The land, on which the Passage is located, is a municipal property, so the people of Yekaterinburg has the right to decide, in what architectural environment they would raise their children. The building of Passage is officially recognized as an architecture and historical monument. The protection of the sites of this category is regulated among other things by the “Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe” (1985) which Russia had signed.

What can we do?

Developers claim, that their bulldozing activity is not a demolition, but a reconstruction. That is an obvious lie! They intend to conserve several parts of some facades, removing them from their places, cutting the brick walls to pieces and placing those pieces into the new glass and metal structure. This is the direct violation of the above-mentioned Convention, which states in its Article 5: "The monument is inseparable from the history to which it bears witness and from the setting in which it occurs. The moving of all or part of a monument cannot be allowed except where the safeguarding of that monument demands it or where it is justified by national or international interests of paramount importance."

 Is it possible to stop the vandals? This particular building is already half-ruined (“Malysheva 73 suspended its demolition works for a short term due to the social activity), but maybe it’s not too late to change the whole situation? Could any international organization influence the Chief architect of the city Mr.Viatkin, the city Mayor, the Governor Misharin, or any other, responsible for the decision on the matter.

It should be noted, that there are good developments in the situation, "Malysheva 73" begins to act with more caution. The community of Yekaterinburg just needs some competent help from the outside. The international architectural community should assess what is happening in that city, in order to prevent further destroying of the other architectural monuments, some of them having a global value.


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