31 May 2010

Moscow's Destructive Creation

Recently, I hosted a European friend in Moscow, eager to show him the city's magnificence and beauty.  My friend was unimpressed.  He said, "the city is not bad, but is is not London or Paris."  His words surprised me; then I realized that in my love for the city, I was casually overseeing some of the ugly reality around me. That ugly reality is one of a destructive creation.

Moscow has a strange habit. This historic, (potentially very) beautiful city has a habit of creating, then destroying what it created, sometimes rebuilding a replica of the destroyed object, and most often totally disregarding the beautiful past under the rubble of a flashy, new steel and glass structure.  Here are some examples:
  • Church of Christ the Savior was constructed to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon's invading army.  Its scaffolding was removed in 1860.  A sad 71 years later, the church was destroyed in 1931. A replica was resurrected in the 1990s in an attempt to undo the damage.
  • Over time, there were many triumphal arches in Moscow.  An example is the Red Gate.  Per Wikipedia,
    "The original arch on the site of Red Gates was built to commemorate the Battle of Poltava in 1709. Catherine I replaced it with a new structure in order to commemorate her own coronation in 1724. This arch burnt down 8 years later and was restored in 1742, for Elizabeth's coronation procession ... In 1753, the wooden arch was demolished and replaced with a stone one ... A large portrait of Empress Elizabeth, surrounded by a lambent halo, was replaced with a double-headed eagle for Nicholas I's coronation in 1825 ... They were demolished in 1928 [to make room for a road expansion]; their name survives in an eponymous Moscow Metro station."
      Another example is Moscow Triumphal Gate, which was completed in 1838.  At the time, this monument was world's largest cast iron structure and were meant to symbolize the glory of Russia's army.  In 1936, the historic gate was dismantled with plans to move them to Moscow Square Park. Later, during the German Siege of Leningrad in 1941, the cast iron blocks of the gate were used in creating an anti-tank defensive structure near the southern border of the city. Luckily, the gate was restored in 1960.
    • Then there are ample samples of "preserved" or neglected historical buildings. Sometimes the word "preservation" is taken seriously, but often it means that an older beautiful structure is demolished, save a wall or two, and a giant glass and steel office structure is built around it in a very profitable enterprise.  This type of preservation may fill certain pockets with money, but it should break all hearts. And if a historical building is lucky enough to be neglected, it stands abandoned, lonely and broken, and subjected to the forces of nature.
      There is a common theme in the city's history:  Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to rewrite history or modernize the city, but these revision attempts have come at the cost of not preserving the city's character.  In a way Moscow's destructive creation story reminds me of an anecdote about a glamorous but aging Hollywood star who was purported to have her erstwhile properly-placed anus on the back of her neck.  Apparently, the anus-creep was the result of multiple plastic surgeries that, while keeping some parts of her body firm, distorted the rest.  You see, over the ages, Moscow has been the victim of similar beautifying projects that have ultimately caused distortions.
      I contend that Moscow could have been - and still can be - as beautiful as Paris.  I only need three photos to drive the point home.  The top photos depict Paris and Moscow skylines respectively.  From this angle, they look similar.  However, a change in perspective, angle, and time shows part of the heart-wrenching distortion by which Moscow is abused.

      Moscow's disarrayed state make it Europe's Houston. Houston, Texas, while being a grand, thriving city like Moscow, also has the reputation of being and is visually unimpressive.  This is because Houston basically has no building codes.  As such, on a Saturday night, one can park his car next to a bar, get a fill, go next door to a strip club and sin some more.  When the sun comes up on Sunday morning, the same fellow can casually stroll next door to a church and replenish his soul, and then go next door for a breakfast buffet at Denny's to replenish his tummy.  This Houston experience can be rather convenient, but for the price of living in a rather unpleasant and disorganized city.  Regrettably, a similar experience is possible in Moscow. 

      Unlike Houston, Moscow has several centuries of history and there is still the potential to make Moscow more Parisian and less Houstonian. Please do pray for Moscow's glorious soul - and pray, I hope that we all do something about ending this destructive creation process.

      Houston Says:  Oh God!  Why Am I Such a Mess?


      1. Sad yet amusing. A rare form of literature, successful in this case.


      2. Some people trying to stop destruction of historical sites: