UPDATE: The ArchCouncil of Moscow reports that the Melnikov House has been listed as a cultural heritage site of federal value, an important step in its conservation. The following article first appeared on ArchDaily on April 23rd, 2013.
Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, and Rem Koolhaas are among the many architects who have signed a letter pleading for the preservation of one of Konstantin Melnikov’s greatest works, the Melnikov House. As we reported in December of 2012, the Melnikov’s house 83-year old foundations have weakened considerably since the onset of neighboring construction. Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened “significantly” over the last few months.
Read more about the state of the Melnikov House, and what architects are doing to try and prevent its deterioration, after the break...
To get a clearer picture of the house’s state, Natalia Melikova, founder of the The Constructivist Project (which aims to photograph and preserve avant-garde architecture in Russia), went to visit the house and interview its current resident, Ekaterina Karinskaya, Melnikov’s grand-daughter.
Melikova describes the house’s new cracks as “clear, visible proof that the Melnikov House is in the zone of influence” of the construction (which city officials have previously denied). Moreover, Karinskaya isolated the construction of a nearby underground garage as the factor most likely to lead to the house’s collapse:
“Groundwater has flowed directly under the Melnikov House over the years and caused the ground to sink in several places (as much as 30 cm). As a result, the front facade is steadily sagging and the glass is cracking. The walls of the underground garage would go to a depth of 16 - 20 meters (52.5 – 65.6 ft), having the effect of a dam: the walls would block the path of the groundwater and flood the Melnikov House. This she says is the most imminent threat to the house.”
Another open letter, by Frederick S. Starr of Johns Hopkins University and Ginés Garrido of the Harvard University Graduate School of design, pleads not just for the preservation of the building (as a museum), but also of Melnikov’s archival materials as well: "We seek to encourage Russians to embrace and preserve this important part of their heritage, but also wish to remind them that the buildings and papers in question are part of the world’s cultural heritage."
It has gained some well-known signatories, including Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, Rafael Moneo, and Alvaro Siza (see the entire letter and list of signatories at arquitecturaviva.com), who "seek the preservation of the Melnikov house as a public museum and the fair compensation of the Melnikov family for their efforts to preserve it over the forty years since the architect’s death. [The signatories] seek, further, for all archival materials in Russia that relate to Melnikov to be preserved in one place, preferably at a museum adjacent to the house, where they will be open to architects,scholars, and the educated public.”
Of course, one of the reasons the house has been left to deteriorate has been due to controversy over the rightful ownership of the house (even among family members themselves), which has prevented the house from gaining landmark status and left it in a no-man’s-land of uncertain responsibility. The letter-writers and signatories are hoping that the increased attention (and Moscow's new mayor) will finally spur the government to take action, despite the uncertainty of the house's rightful owner.