Constructivist reconstruction: Narkomfin restoration finally gets going

Constructivist reconstruction: Narkomfin restoration finally gets going
The Narkomfin block in Moscow

15 August 2017

Restoration has finally got underway on the iconic Narkomfin building in central Moscow, after years of neglect and deterioration.

Originally built in 1932 as part of Moscow’s efforts to house its rapidly increasing population, the building stood not only as a quintessential example of Constructivist architecture, but also as a symbol of grand, ideological change. Narkomfin’s very structure embodied communist ideals, where kitchens and living spaces were communal and the building’s design was an attempt to inspire a more socially collective existence.

However, upon completion, the emancipatory values that the building’s design was meant to inspire were deemed “leftist” or “Trotskyist”, and so began the communist symbol’s gradual fall from grace. There is perhaps no better illustration of this than what happened to the building’s rooftop; what was originally planned to be a recreational space was transformed into a penthouse apartment for the commissar of finance, Nikolai Milyutin.

Since then, Narkomfin has undergone various transformations, and now is a hotspot for young creatives and trendy businesses. A yoga space and falafel shop now rub shoulders with empty hallways and derelict apartments. The prevailing narrative is that Narkomfin must be saved not for its historical significance, but for its architectural prowess and the opportunities it affords artists and businessman alike to create and work.

The new restoration, finally underway, is headed up by Alexey Ginzburg, the grandson of the building’s initial chief architect, Moisei Ginzburg. While some in the industry are concerned its authenticity will be compromised, others are rejoicing that that some desperately needed love and life is finally being put back into the walls of this historic building.