El Lissitzky printing plant and Zhurgaz house
MONEY AND POWER AGAINST ARCHITECTURE
El Lissitzky printing plant and Zhurgaz house are under threat of destruction
Your help in protecting these landmarks is urgently needed!
In 2007 staff members of the Russian Avant-Garde Fund discovered in a Moscow archive previously unknown blueprints for the printing plant of JSC Ogonek authored by El Lissitzky, a luminary of 20th-century art.
The grandiose plan, reminiscent of Lissitzky’s famous “horizontal skyscraper” projects,was not realized in full. Only one of the three planned buildings has been built. Lazar (El) Lissitzky, a canonical figure of 20th-century art history, is known primarily as an author of drawings, posters, and illustrator for leading art exhibitions. El Lissitzky’s architectural designs are well known to art historians, but most of them have not been carried out. The JSC Ogonek printing plant (1930) is likely to be the only extant building based on the blueprints of this master.
In 1935 a five-story apartment building was erected near the printing house based on designs of Barsch and Zunblad (constructivist architects best known for designing the Moscow Planetarium) for members of the Journal–Newspaper Association (Zhurgaz), which counted the Ogonek journal among its members. The Zhurgaz house is a work of late constructivism. It combines tape-like window rows with a colored cornice, ornamental patterns, and columns. Its well-preserved details include cast landing floors with marble inlays and coffered stairwell ceilings.
The founder of the Journal-Newspaper Association Mikhail Koltsov lived in the Zhurgaz house with his companion, the German journalist Maria Osten and adopted son Hubert L’Hoste, the protagonist of the once famous illustrated book by Maria Osten “Hubert in Wonderland”. When Mikhail Koltsov was arrested in 1938, Maria Osten, then living in Paris, braved the dangers to return to Moscow, hoping to save one who was dear to her. The 18-year-old Hubert, having now grown up in the “wonderland”, didn’t dare to let in his stepmother, wife of an “enemy of the people”.
The printing plant of Ogonek and the Zhurgaz house, which are located in the center of Moscow, on the First Samotechniy Lane (1 Samotechny pereulok, houses 17 and 17-A) , have on 21 August of 2008 passed the inspection of Moskomnasledie (the committee for cultural heritage of the city of Moscow) and were recognized as cultural heritage sites of the city of Moscow (historical and architectural landmarks).
Both buildings are now in critical danger, since their sites have come into the sphere of interests of the Moscow construction industry and their existence interferes with execution of “investment projects”. The civil and housing law of Russian Federation is in practice incapable of protecting the rights of tenants in such cases. Employees of relevant offices openly admit that the top priority in their work is to carry out directives of the municipal government of Moscow.
On 12 of October, 2008, the Lissitzky printing press was set on fire, despite being surrounded by a solid wall. In the Moscow construction industry roof destruction by arson is an all-too-common expedient of land takeover. Moskomnasledie responds to appeals from the public with helpless inaction, while those who have a stake in other plans for the land patiently wait while the architectural landmark deteriorates to a state liable to demolition.
In the meantime, the Russian Film Industry Union (led by Nikita Mikhalkov) and JSC INTECO (led by Elena Baturina, the wife of Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov) are building an enormous, fully commercial apartment house in the inner yard of the Zhurgaz house, with numerous violations of regulations. The planned house is 44 meters high with a two-level underground 99-space parking lot, with the area allotted for construction being 0.315 hectares. The side outer wall of the Zhurgaz house has been turned into a part of construction site enclosure.
Heavy machinery passes by it dozens of times per day. In violation of law, the recognized architectural landmark has not been allotted a protective zone and all of the area around the house has been turned over to the construction site. Even more critically, for purposes of supplying the planned house with hot water, a project has been approved to route the municipal heating system through the walls and basement of the Zhurgaz house using pipes of a prohibited diameter (630/800 mm), temperature of 150ºC, and pressure of 9 atm. The pipes include welded joints. Any rupture would lead to catastrophic consequences for the Zhurgaz building and its residents. This detail, however, has not be sufficient to prompt even the slightest reduction of the planned 4300 squared meter area of the underground parking lot.
One may ask how this project was approved. Review of documents on which approval was based reveals gross improprieties and falsifications. Perhaps this question would be naive.
On 22 December 2009, a new, specially constituted commission catering to the interests of the Moscow construction industry recommended elimination of the Lissitzky printing house from the list of cultural landmarks under state protection.
Construction work next to the Zhurgaz house has been resumed.
Your help in protecting these landmarks is urgently needed!
You can help by sending a letter to the minister of culture of the Russian Federation Aleksandr Avdeev and to the mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov.
Aleksandr Avdeev, Minister of Culture, Russian Federation.
Russia, 125993 GSP-3, Moscow, Maly Gnezdnikovsky per., d. 7/6, str. 1,2
Fax: +7 495 629 72 69
Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow.
Russia, 125032, Moscow, Tverskaya, 13
Fax: +7 495 620 20 70
(chairman of Zhurgaz condominium management)
Russia, 127473, Moscow, 1 Samotechny per., 17A kv. 3
Fax/phone: +7 495 681 27 65
Cell phone: +7 916 189 63 31
(chief curator of “Russian Avantgarde” Heritage Preservation Foundation)