Architects unite in open letter to protect Melnikov House

Architects unite in open letter to protect Melnikov House
Melnikov House. Photograph: Nikolai Vassiliev under a CC licence

18 September 2014
Text Nadia Beard

More than 60 of Russia’s best-known architects, artists, filmmakers and journalists have penned an open letter to Vladimir Medinsky, the Minister of Culture, in a bid to halt plans to turn Moscow’s iconic Melnikov House into a museum. The house, a masterpiece of avant-garde architecture, has been the subject of a bitter feud between the two granddaughters of the architect, Konstantin Melnikov, who are divided over the fate of the property.

The letter, published this week, slams last month’s eviction of the building’s residents — Melnikov’s granddaughter, Yekaterina Karinskaya, and her family — who were surprised when security personnel broke down the front door, sealed up the house and, she claims, stole valuables and money. The letter, whose signatories include eminent architect and artist Alexander Brodsky, journalist and historian Grigory Revzin and curator of the Moscow Museum Evgeniya Kikodze, urges the Schusev Museum of Architecture, which is responsible for the development of the house, not to open the house to visitors before extensive reconstruction is complete.

“There is no doubt that a museum cannot be established on the basis of such legally dubious action, direct force, and speed,” the open letter reads. “The plans of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture include the swift opening of the house to visitors (in November 2014), however this simply cannot be done before scientific restoration is carried out. Without restoration the house could be lost within a short time; the position of the Schusev State Musuem of Architecture goes against the main ambitions of the creation of the Melnikov Museum — the preservation of a unique building.”

The letter asks Medinsky to suspend all activities in Melnikov House, apart from emergency conservation measures; to create a commission, including lawyers representing all parties of the conflict, to establish a plan for the museum’s development; and to create an expert council comprising museum experts, designers and 20th-century architecture specialists.

The letter concludes: “Melnikov House is a world heritage site; the entire architecture community are now watching the situation of the monument with worry and astonishment. We ask you to oversee the peaceful settlement of the conflict, thus preserving the cultural heritage of the country and the reputation of the cultural and architectural communities in Russia.”

Melnikov House comprises two interlocking cylinders, and is widely considered to be one of the best remaining examples of private housing throughout the Soviet period.

See also:

Melnikov House to be turned into a museum

Residents of Melnikov House evicted as renovations get underway

Melnikov House: a video report on the past, present and future of a Modernist icon