A letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:
Russia Slowly Destroying Architectural Gems
October 23, 2007; Page A17
In regard to Ada Louise Huxtable's Oct. 3 Leisure & Arts article "Soviet Modernist Architecture Is Rediscovered at MoMA":
In discussing my work, Ms. Huxtable wrote: "After decades of suppression and denial by the Soviet Union that they even existed, 74 of these lost and forgotten buildings have been rediscovered and documented by the photographer Richard Pare. He has traveled across the former Soviet Union from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Kiev, Kharkov, Baku, and Sochi along the Black Sea, making nine trips over 14 years in search of his subject."
I regret to report that major changes have come to my attention since the show opened. Two structures that Ms. Huxtable particularly singled out, the Red Banner factory in St. Petersburg and the bakery in Moscow, now face an uncertain future. The factory is abandoned, its present status unknown, and the bakery was stripped of its machinery to be turned into a "cultural centre." The bakery chimney, a landmark in the area, will be destroyed. After more than 70 years of virtually continuous operation, a miracle of efficiency has been swept away.
Other recent losses include the Pravda newspaper building, burned down about 18 months ago. Elsewhere the Dinamo Club diving board in Kiev has disappeared, the Palace of the Press in Baku has been renovated with predictable results, and the Gosprom Complex in Kharkov has been painted and fitted out with new windows.
The destruction and disintegration of the Avantgarde legacy all over the old Soviet Union continues unabated, with only a handful of encouraging signs. The most significant is the arrival on the scene of the Russian Avantgarde Foundation, which is setting about a major conservation effort to restore the Melnikov House.
In Moscow there are such pressures on the existing fabric of the city that it has become unrecognizable since my first visit in 1993. It is a calculated assault led by greed and vanity. Nothing is immune to the destruction, and the laws regarding listed buildings and heritage sites are being undermined or subverted.
Many key buildings, even those that survived the fire of 1812, have recently disappeared. It is wiping out the heritage and urban texture of the city and tearing at its very heart. In contrast, what is being erected to replace the demolished buildings is brash and inappropriate, an attack on the character of the city as significant as the onslaught of destruction that precedes it.