Melnikov House, the debate!

Tuesday’s public debate “Melnikov House. Scenarios of fate” … explained a lot. Well, sort of. Here are some observations and notes I took down. Though my first choice would be to get lost in the streets of Moscow searching out and photographing architecture, it’s been terribly interesting, and unfortunately very frustrating, to follow the current situation of the architecture I am so fond of photographing. Here’s my take on some informal journalism, with some opinionated commentary of course:

A unique house, not a unique situation.

First off, I really enjoyed the moderator, A. M. Muratov, chief editor of «Проект Россия» (Project Russia). He masterfully weaved through the many disagreements and interruptions among the speakers. He also came to the conclusion that this is really a very ridiculous situation, and I’d have to agree. I hope to explain this statement by the following conveniently organized list:

1. No one denies the importance of the Melnikov House. Everyone wants what’s “best” for the house.

2. What’s stopping anything from being done, is a matter of ownership & accountability.
(a lot of finger pointing & shrugging of shoulders)

3. Ekaterina (K. Melnikov’s granddaughter currently living inside/protecting the famous house) very smartly pointed out that “we are having the wrong discussion.” Ownership issues need to be settled in court, and the urgent issue at hand is to stop the nearby construction. (I agree, it’s pointless to discuss the future of Melnikov House when its very existence is threatened by on-going construction work, next door)

4. Muratov asked this very logical question: how can the construction work be stopped? Answer: by showing the damage that Melnikov House has incurred as a result of the said construction work. What’s needed: expert examination/documentation of the damage. So it’s been agreed to have this organized and carried out, hopefully in the near future!

5. This was mentioned numerous times: охрана обязательство – protection obligations

6. One speaker tried to get at the root of the problem: What’s happening with the Melnikov House is not a unique situation (while the house itself is truly unique). The government seems to have a funny (not haha – funny, but strange – funny) attitude towards architecture as cultural heritage worth spending money on. Whereas in other parts of the world, historical buildings are viewed as an asset, it’s proven to be the exception not the rule here. As was written in a Moscow Urban Forum article not long ago, “Alexander Kibovsky, Head of the Moscow City Department of Cultural Heritage, admitted that Moscow is facing a problem: cultural sites are still thought to be a drag rather an asset.

7. What I can gather from all that was said, is that all parties are in agreement (agreement!) that the house should have ONE owner, and that one owner should be the government.

8. What’s curious, and this is pure opinion: if the government has admittedly not a very good record of protecting architectural objects, then why is everyone so eager to hand over everything to the government? Just because a building has a plaque on it that says “охраняется государством” (protected by the state) for some reason that does not equate to “охрана обязательство” (protection obligations) in practice. Now, if I were the government, and Melnikov House was one of my subjects that was under my protection, I’d be pretty mad that some ambitious new development project, is ruining my investment! Melnikov House should be viewed as an investment without a price; its value based simply on the idea of the house. Or in other words, the monetary value of the multifunctional complex to come should not outweigh the cultural value of Melnikov House.

9. Some other curiosities: if this was a public debate, why was it only publicized the day before the event? The public consisted of at most 30 audience members, plus speakers. Speaking of which, not only was the public not timely informed of this event, but Ekaterina (kind of a crucial personal in this situation, considering she is one of the owners) was not even invited to the event, and only when she herself decided to go listen to the debate, was she included at the last minute into the program as a speaker. Curious!

10. A good end to this list, is a comment from an audience member that can be summed up as, “less talking, more doing!” Agreed.

So, might I suggest a halt to the construction work while some things are sorted out? Give experts the time to do their examinations, and hey, it’s winter in Moscow, -20 promised next week, so why not give the construction workers a break too? Looks like a win-win for everyone! (except those eagerly waiting for the multifunctional complex + underground parking garage).

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