Thursday, 6 June 2013

Can Soviet hotels halt the destruction of Moscow?

A recent report in the Moscow Times suggested that there was now a preference for renovating Soviet era hotels rather than demolish and reconstruct them.

Is this a sign that the tide is turning against the trend of the last twenty years of demolishing buildings- irrespective of their architectural merits or historical value? I certainly hope so. There has been vandalism on a grand scale over recent years - especially in the capital, Moscow, and Muscovites have mourned the loss of their architectural heritage - even despite the fact that some of these buildings, Soviet-era ones, were themselves erected on the spot where similar level of destruction had previously taken place - ancient buildings destroyed and historic neighbourhoods cleared to make way for Soviet modernist thoroughfares (eg Novy Arbat), monumentalism, socialist realist buildings and Stalinist wedding cakes etc.
Much of this modern destruction has taken place for spurious reasons often under corrupt or questionable practices of awarding construction contracts, building permits. Some have had damage inflicted upon them deliberately eg arson in order to leave no alternative to demolition, others have been destroyed only have a replica (often a pale imitation of the original) built in its place - derided as "mock heritage" or "sham replicas" (The Hotel Moscow springs to mind here).
Pressure groups have arisen to call a halt to what appears to be wanton destruction and irreversible changes to the character of streets and neighbourhoods.  Moscow Preservation Society is one such group

While it is often cheaper build from scratch than to renovate an old building and equip it to modern standards and conveniences, it seems that in the hotel industry at least, the desire for a quick turn around and short lead time to revenue generation is driving developers to renovate soviet era hotels rather than demolish and rebuild.  New construction can take 15 to 20 months, whereas renovation could take as little as nine months, according to statistics from the St. Petersburg-based construction company STEP.   In addition, the old hotels can even continue operating on some floors while other parts are undergoing renovations.  
But in some cases renovation is not the best option - the carcases of Soviet-era hotels , with their relatively small rooms and low ceilings, places a physical restriction on developers; it is difficult to incorporate modern features into an existing structure while meeting the space and convenience needs of the modern traveller.

I would hope that the  trend to renovate rather than destroy continues and expands beyond the hotel industry.  Perhaps these commercial pressures facing developers will help to avoid a repeat of the destruction of old buildings that took place under Stalin, and will be encouraging for the growing conservation movement in Moscow.  There are grounds for optimism. The Moscow Preservation Society made up of locals and foreigners, admits that the Russian government is not used to listening to pressure groups, but says consciousness, via newspapers and blogs, is growing.  

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