Conservation Russian Federation

Moscow’s Shukhov radio tower could be lost forever

Restoration is urgently needed to save the avant-garde masterpiece, says the architect’s great-grandson

The 90-year-old Shukhov radio tower is regarded as an architectural masterpiece of the Russian avant-garde and has influenced contemporary architects including Norman Foster

The Shukhov radio tower in Moscow is in dire condition and may be lost if it is not properly restored soon, according to Vladimir Shukhov, the great-grandson of the engineer and architect (also called Vladimir Shukhov) who designed the structure. The 90-year-old tower is regarded as an architectural masterpiece of the Russian avant-garde and has influenced contemporary architects including Norman Foster.

“If the tower is not put into order, or if real work on it – on a professional, international basis – is not begun by the 160th anniversary of Shukhov's birth, which will be celebrated [in August 2013], it would be simpler to order that the tower be demolished, so that it shames neither my ancestors nor our country,” Shukhov said at a news conference in Moscow in March.

Shukhov is the president of the Shukhov Tower Foundation, which is fighting to save the 160m-tall hyperboloid tower. It was commissioned by Lenin and constructed between 1920 and 1922 using a lattice shell technique that Vladmir Shukhov patented and first applied to structures for an industrial and art fair in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896.

For many years, the Shukhov tower was the main transmission tower and emblem of Soviet television, before it was replaced by the Ostankino television tower. Although the Shukhov tower is in Shabolovka, a central Moscow district, there is no access for visitors because it is still controlled by the state’s radio and television transmission agency and the grounds are occupied by several organisations.

In 2010, Foster described the tower in an open letter as “a structure of dazzling brilliance and great historic importance”, warning that it requires “urgent attention” to save it. The tower inspired Foster's skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe (known as the “Gherkin”) in the City of London, which opened in 2004, and the 600m-tall Canton Tower (formerly the Guangzhou TV and Sightseeing Tower) in China, designed by the Dutch architects Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit, which opened in 2010.

Last year, the then prime minister Vladimir Putin ordered the allocation of Rb135m ($4.3m) to reconstruct the Shukhov tower, but Vladimir Shukhov believes that reconstructing rather than restoring the structure could result in an unsatisfactory modern replica. Shukhov says that Russian officials have not sought the input of foreign experts who are ready to work on a plan for the tower for a nominal fee, and that the European Union has allocated a comparable sum just to study his great-grandfather's design heritage. “There is a lack of understanding [at] state level of the importance of this monument,” Shukhov says.

In April, the United Metallurgical Company, a Russian metals conglomerate that supports the preservation of Shukhov's designs, published a book of his photographs of early 20th-century Russian industrial sites and everyday life. Shukhov’s family managed to save his photo archive during the Soviet era.

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