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Moscow Architectural Icon’s Future Will Be Decided by an App

by Laura C. Mallonee on June 30, 2014

Shukhov Tower (image courtesy of Sergey Norin on flickr)

Vladimir Shukhov Tower (1922) (image via Sergey Norin/Flickr)

The fate of the Shukhov Tower, an early architectural tribute to Communist Russia, could be decided by ordinary Moscovites with smartphones. Designed by Constructivist architect Vladimir Shukhov, the radio tower was erected on Lenin’s order in Moscow in 1922 as a monument to the October 1917 Revolution. While encouraging citizens to engage with their cultural patrimony is an exciting trend, it’s a little less so when we’re talking about a poll that could actually lead to the ruin of an architectural icon.

It all started last December, when the newspaper Izvestia quoted Communications Minister Nikolia Nikiforov saying the government planned to dismantle the tower. In the last decade, it had fallen into disrepair, with scraps of rusty metal allegedly flying off in the wind. But citizens protested, taking selfies in front of the structure and signing their names to a petition started by photographer Natalia Melikova.

Moscow officials have since chosen to put the decision to an electronic vote. According to the Moscow Times,

Votes cast using the iPhone and Android application will be “taken into consideration” by the City Hall, according to the description of the vote, which runs through July 6.

Shukhov Tower (image zhsh via on flickr)

Shukhov Tower (image courtesy of zhsh/Flickr)

The city has a track record of following the outcomes of such polls, despite the fact that the most popular one only drew 335,000 voters from Moscow’s 14 million–strong population. And given the opposition already expressed, it’s a little strange they even need to take a poll at all. In 2006, the renowned architect Norman Foster petitioned UNESCO to add the tower to its World Heritage list. And this past March, the Guardian reported that 38 other architects, including Rem Koolhaas, Tadao Ando, and Kengo Kuma supported the measure. Even Elizabeth Diller — one of the architects involved in the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum, a newer, differently iconic structure whose removal nonetheless solicited similar arguments — backed the appeal.

Regardless, according to the Moscow Times, whoever ventures to vote on the tower’s fate will be able to decide between two possible outcomes:

Options available to voters include refurbishing of the 160-meter “Russian Eiffel Tower,” or dismantling the slowly crumbling hyperboloid structure for repairs, with the possibility of an eventual relocation.

But, as Konstantin Mikhailov of conservationist group Arkhnadzor told the paper, the second option comes despite two independent studies which found that any attempt to dismantle the tower would destroy it. It’s not surprising to learn that some, including the architectural critic Grigory Revzin, see the attempted relocation as a ploy to clear the land for a potential $440 million real estate development.

That a 92-year-old historical landmark could be destroyed if the crowd so chooses has angered some. Vladimir Shukhov Jr., great-grandson of the tower’s creator, told the newspaper, “You just do not poll people on heritage.”

But apparently you do — and not just in Russia. The Louvre has crowdfunded many of its restorations, including, last year, the conservation of its “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” Back in January, Italy crowdsourced the decision as to which of eight pre-selected artworks it should conserve (only 2,326 people voted in that poll, and most of them were women). And in February, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston also crowd-curated its exhibition Boston Loves Impressionism.

And, hopefully, given Moscovites’ original outraged responses to the proposed dismantling, the Shukhov Tower may still be around for a long, long time.

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