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View from a distance
Architecture historian Vladimir Paperny, author of Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two (Cambridge University Press) and head of a graphic design studio in Los Angeles, analyses the architecture of Moscow. Interview by Lara Kopylova .

What does Moscow mean to you as an image?
For me Moscow is an agglomeration of fragments of ambitious projects not one of which (fortunately) has been properly completed.
 
 
 
Does the new Moscow architecture have parallels with politics – for instance, with the strengthening of the ‘power vertical’ under President Putin?
I don’t think so. Putin has been more interested in St Petersburg; Moscow has been left to Luzhkov. And Luzhkov’s ‘vertical’, if we’re to believe the Western press, is a matter not so much of power as of corruption – with the latter tending to be directed underground, into bears standing in trenches, subterranean shopping centres, and underground garages.
 
What has the Moscow City business district with its glass skyscrapers added to the image of Moscow? What does Norman Foster’s planned Russia Tower mean from the point of view of semiotics?
In his article ‘It was fun before the money ran out’ Nikolay Urusov, the architecture critic of the New York Times, has written that the architectural renaissance of the last few years has resulted not in the construction of hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure, but in the creation of symbols of vain ambition and in glorification of the power of money. This was a ‘poisonous cocktail of vanity and self-deception’. I think these words can be applied to Moscow City too.
 
In Moscow there are buildings where historical details have been used with deliberate irony. Does the architecture of Moscow come across as ironic?
It comes across as mockery. Mockery differs from irony in that the person speaking has no point of view. The worst examples are Patriarch, Stol’nik, and Faberge’s Egg [all new buildings in Moscow]. It’s as if the authors are saying, “The rabble will accept everything at face value, and we guys will have a good laugh.”
 
Compare, if you would, the ecological state of Moscow with that of other megalopolises.
When acquaintances of mine come from Moscow to our smog-infested Los Angeles, their first reaction is, “What clean air!” In terms of air quality Moscow is close to Mexico. Shanghai is possibly worse, but I’ve never been there.

 


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