Shukhov Tower Watch Day Press Conference on Saturday, March 19, Put a Spotlight on the Current Threats to the Structure and the Advocacy Efforts to Save the Modern Icon
А two-day celebration to mark the “birthday of Shukhov Tower” was held in Moscow on March 19 and 20. The tower, located in the Shabolovka district of Moscow, was designed by the great Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov. Once known as the Comintern Tower, it is now most commonly known as the Shukhov Tower. The organizers of the event selected March 19 to commemorate the date that the first signal was transmitted from the tower, 94 years ago, on March 19th, 1922, even though the tower was officially deemed completed only on March 21.
Shukhov Tower was the focus of weekend’s events, which included specially-organized free tours that explained the history of both the tower itself, and the surrounding avant-garde neighborhood. Additional activities took place at the Avant-Garde Center, located in a library near the tower. It was at the Avant-Garde Center that a jointly-organized press conference was held. The press conference was attended by visitors, participants of the tours, and neighborhood residents. Guests were at the same time inspired and alarmed by what they saw happening to the urban fabric of the Shabolovka district.
The press conference was opened by Joshua David, the President of World Monuments Fund. World Monuments Fund was key in providing a reason and opportunity to organize the Watch Day events, as the Shukhov Tower has been included on its 2016 Watch, which features at-risk cultural heritage sites around the globe. This year, Shukhov Tower is one of 50 sites on the Watch, including the ruins of ancient Petra and the cultural heritage sites of Nepal that were destroyed by last year’s devastating earthquake. The two-day event in Moscow was part of Watch Day, a World Monuments Fund initiative that provides cultural heritage sites on the World Monuments Watch an opportunity to engage with their local communities. Joshua David noted the importance of preserving such monuments and highlighted the difficulties of protection and restoration, which are common to modernist sites around the world.
During the press conference, Nikolai Vassiliev, the general secretary of the Russian branch of Docomomo (a non-profit organization devoted to the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement), described the history of inquiries addressed to various authorities of the project about the works that have been carried out at Shukhov Tower, to which he has received only runaround replies. Two years ago, it was proposed to simply disassemble the tower, leaving Shabolovka without its almost century-old symbol due to the reluctance to invest in the tower’s restoration. Now, the owner is carrying out “stabilization works”, causing concern among experts. Inside the elegant openwork hyperboloid, a crude metal support structure has recently appeared, as either a corset or a crutch for Shukhov’s creation. However, the issue is not about the aesthetics of the design, but rather about the fact that the project is closed off. In other situations, Vassiliev and others argue, it might have been possible to accept this, but not in such a situation where it is known that the owner has not looked after the tower over the course of many years, and recently even attempted to disassemble it, which effectively would have been its destruction.
Representing Archnadzor, Rustam Rakhmatullin put forward another important issue at the press conference - the symbolic attitude towards the tower. Is it an urban monument, like, for example, the Pushkin statue, or is it a museum structure, in which case direct access to the tower would be important? It is a paradoxical situation: near the tower there is a sign that states the tower is an architectural monument and is protected by the state, but no one can read this sign since it is located in the middle of a restricted access territory. To see the legendary view of the sky through the tower’s lace-like structure, one would now have to look at archival footage of the “Little Blue Light” TV show, which featured this iconic perspective of the Shukhov Tower, or printed on the cookies that the organizers ordered specially for the tower’s birthday celebration.
Tatiana Vinogradova, Doctor of Architecture, made a special trip to Moscow for the press conference. Tatiana has devoted her life to saving another Shukhov hyperboloid - a former electricity pylon that stands on the Oka river near Nizhny Novgorod. A year and a half ago, this tower received an upgrade in status as a federal monument (the Shukhov Tower in Moscow only has regional status), and is currently being perfectly restored. Tatiana showed fascinating slides, talked about the first Shukhov tower, which was built 120 years ago for the Nizhny Novgorod Fair, as well as other structures by the great engineer in Nizhny Novgorod. Last year, even a new masterpiece was found - a pavilion structure which has become a port warehouse.
Additional activities for Shukhov Tower Watch Day also took place at the Avant-Garde Center. Participants watched documentaries about Shukhov the engineer and celebrated the 94th anniversary of the tower with refreshments, a birthday cake, and the previously mentioned cookies. Watch Day organizers distributed pins and postcards made for the event. All this talk influenced the audience so much, that in the end no one dared to cut the center of the birthday cake, on which was printed a picture of the tower; the image remained intact despite the tempting chocolate cream below.
On the second day of the weekend, the presentation for the book “Что придумал Шухов” (“What Shukhov Invented”), recently published by Art Volkhonka, was held at the Avant-Garde Center. The author, Airat Bagautidinov, a historian of engineering, was present. The book was published after a successful public fundraising campaign, which once again confirms the interest in the heritage of Shukhov. The book is intended primarily for family audiences and young readers, who after listening to the author of the book, then celebrated the tower’s birthday by creating a poster with the group Suprematicus and by assembling a model section of the tower with their own hands.