Moscow is a city where skyscrapers and modern business centres rest happily beside centuries-old buildings and mansions that used to be the homes of merchants and princes. Much work is under way to preserve the city’s unique heritage for future generations and adapt historical buildings for modern use.
More than 900 buildings and other landmarks have been renovated since 2011, with 182 of them completed this year. As usual, the best projects have received awards in the Moscow Restoration competition. The projects included: Baron von Rekk’s estate mansion on Pyatnitskaya Street, monuments to Alexander Pushkin and Maxim Gorky, the flower beds of the VDNKh, the Ostafyevo estate, and many others.
They competed in the Best Project, Highest Quality and Best Organisation of Works, and Best Research Work categories.
House with lions: late modernism mansion
Baron von Rekk’s estate mansion, also known as the House with Lions, was voted best restoration project in 2017 by Muscovites on the Active Citizen website.
The mansion on Pyatnitskaya Street was built in 1897 on commission from Wilhelmina Rekk, the wife of Yakov Rekk, the head of the Nikolskiye Ryady Partnership and the founder of the Moscow Trade and Construction Joint-Stock Company. The building is generously decorated with mouldings and has a monumental portico, columns, and a front window with two caryatids. The left part of the building is an octagonal tower with round windows and a scaled dome of a sophisticated shape.
The mansion received its unofficial name due to the sculptures of lying lions on both sides of the front portico.
Several finely decorated great halls inside the building have been preserved: the mirror hall, the Mauritanian hall, the baroque hall, the music hall, and the entrance hall. The restoration work included taking down the partitions between them, renovating the windows, doors, parquet, moulded plaster décor with gold and silver plating, and the paintings on the cartouches and under the dome in one of the halls.
This is one of the few remaining Russian country estates in the Moscow region from the turn of the 19th century. The property belonged to Princes Vyazemsky and their heirs for a long time. Ostafyevo was also home to Nikolai Karamzin, the author of The History of the Russian State, who lived and worked here for a long while.
The estate has changed a lot over the 200 years of its history, with the interior almost completely dilapidated. In 2011, the restoration began. The belvedere above the main house was rebuilt, which gave back the palace-style look to the architectural complex.
The stoves were covered with ceramic tiles; the architectural detail of the ground and first floors was recreated; and columns of the smaller order were installed in the bedroom and the sitting room. Renovators used photographs from the early 20th century to restore the geometry of the vault, the cultured marble, and the semi-circular window in the oval hall.
The building was also adapted for modern use. A conference hall was designed into the semi-basement; and the stairway addition of the eastern risalit was fitted with a hydraulic platform for visitors with disabilities. The main bulk of the restoration was completed in 2016; the park with the Temple of Apollo gazebo was renovated in 2017.
House with mouldings
The house in Denezhny Pereulok, which was home to the merchant Nikolai Bol and the owner of one of the biggest music publishing companies in pre-revolution Russia, Karl Gutheil, was rebuilt in 1887. It had previously been a one-storey Empire-style wooden structure.
As designed by architect Vladimir Gavrilov, the main entrance was built from the street side with a mezzanine and a balcony above it, and the façade was decorated with somewhat classicistic mouldings.
Composer Sergei Rakhmaninov would often come to this house in the 1890s to see his friend and publisher Karl Gutheil. After the revolution, the mansion housed the New Moscow publishing company, and later—communal flats. By the 1960s, the balcony on the façade was gone, and the stoves were disassembled. In the late 1980s, the building was refurbished and transferred to the Foreign Ministry but within 20 years, the mansion needed emergency repairs. The reconstruction began in 2016. The façade, roof and floors were restored; the mouldings and interior finishing renovated; and a new electrical and a ventilation system installed.
Rouble per square metre: City and investors benefiting from restoration programme
Two restoration projects, that were completed this year under the city’s ‘One rouble per square metre’ programme subsidised lease rate programme, were nominated. The main wing of merchant Mark Gusev’s estate and the house of merchant Nikolai Baoulin were adapted for modern use.
The buildings were virtually on the brink of collapse. Merchant Mark Gusev built his estate on Bolshaya Polyanka Street in 1822. In 1857, the property passed to Aleksei Zaitsev who also belonged to the merchant class and who opened a tea shop, a wine cellar and a vodka distillery there. In 1880, Karl Ferrein opened a pharmacy in the house. In the 20th century, the building received a water supply system, a drainage system, and electricity. But generally the house was about 58 percent rundown by 1999.
The house of merchant Nikolai Baoulin on Nikoloyamskaya Street was in even worse condition.
In 2012, it was in a partially ruined state. The roof, part of the wall of the main façade, the cartouche, and the attic were entirely gone.
The house has a long history. Records show that the foundation of the eastern wing had stone halls with a basement dating back to the late 18th century. The halls had cloistered and barrel vaults. After the fire in 1812, the house was expanded with a first floor and another wing along Nikoloyamskaya Street. In 1885, the house was combined with a two-storey stone residential addition and a one-storey utility building; a complete overhaul was performed, and the façade with a small intricately shaped fronton in the middle were restored. In the 1860s, the mansion was transferred to Nikolai Baoulin, who set up a headscarf company in the vicinity. The building was divided into flats during the Soviet Union.
The reconstruction was quite extensive. The late 19th century floorplan was recreated, including the main load-bearing wall and rooms; and the stoves, cornices, and parquet flooring were rebuilt. The historical vaulted halls on the ground floor were preserved. The main staircase with dolomite steps was renovated based on photographs. Jambs, metal overhangs above the entrances, the parapet grille, and the entrance gate were all rebuilt.
Epitome of classicism
The mansion on Petrovsky Boulevard was built in the second half of the 18th century on commission from the State Councillor Yevgraf Tatishchev. It was a two-storey building with two wings and a courtyard outbuilding. The estate remained in the family until the middle of the 19th century when it was refurbished by its new owners. The house got a third storey, with the basement turned non-residential.
After the October Revolution, the main house was repurposed as a polyclinic and later housed a reflexology research institute. The restoration included the main staircase, the barrel vaults on the ground floor, and the mouldings, as well as the marble columns and a new roof.
Rich history of the house in Petroverigsky Pereulok
The city mansion once known as the house of Pyotr Botkin also received a new look. The main house, outbuildings, and fence were renovated.
In 1803, the mansion was bought by former director of Moscow University, Ivan Turgenev (father of the historian Alexander Turgenev and the Decembrist Nikolai Turgenev), who opened a literary salon there. Nikolai Karamzin, Vasily Zhukovsky, Vasily Pushkin were among the family’s guests.
The mansion was seriously damaged in the fire of 1812; in 1832, the unrestored property was sold to tea merchant Pyotr Botkin. He once again made the house one of the centres of cultural and social life in Moscow. It welcomed Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Herzen, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Vissarion Belinsky, and Afanasy Fet.
The mansion was nationalised in the wake of the October Revolution. It was a place for Comintern courses and for training the Red Army personnel; later it housed a kindergarten.
Civil architecture: Kokorev’s hotel and a public library
The Kokorevskoye courtyard on Sofiyskaya Embankment and the State Public Historical Library won the competition’s civil architecture category.
The Kokorevskoye courtyard was a hotel with shops and wholesale stores built in the early 1860s by the entrepreneur and patron of the arts Vasily Kokorev. It offered 315 rooms ranging from 30 kopecks to four roubles per day. The retail section had 20 shops.
Over the years, the hotel accommodated a US Congress delegation, writers Pavel Melnikov-Pechersky and Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak, artists Ivan Kramskoy and Vasily Polenov, writer Leo Tolstoy and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
In 1889, the courtyard was sold due to financial difficulties, but the hotel stayed open until the revolution. The building was then transferred to the Defence Ministry and grew by several additional floors.
The “residential building of the 18th and 19th centuries” with the State Public Historical Library was also restored this year. The restoration included the façade and interiors and updating the library’s equipment.
Garden and park design: flowerbeds and bridges
Landscape architects and designers spent an entire year working to perfect the flowerbeds of VDNKh. Their goal was to recreate the flowerbeds from the park/exhibition centre back in 1954. They managed to restore the flower and greenery patterns and used the same plants that grew in the middle of the 20th century, but the plants are more resistant to the modern climate. A total of 50,000 bushes, 200 trees, and over 2 million flowers were planted over a total area of 20,000 square metres.
The Neskuchnoye estate complex became yet another significant renovation project, with the restoration of the two brick bridges and one stone bridge, which were built over a large gully in the beginning of the 19th century.
Monumental art: Alexander Pushkin and Maxim Gorky monuments
It took a year to restore the Alexander Pushkin monument. The chain around it was rebuilt in the summer 2016; the renovation of the base and steps began in the spring this year. The statue was cleaned from dirt, soot and smoke; the mastic sealants covering the flaws and defects of the metal were removed; and a special agent was applied to the surface of the statue to even out the colour and eliminate blotches.
The experts also decided to preserve the patina, the greenish colour that occurs naturally from oxidation. They used a chemical patina application (artificial aging method).
Meanwhile, this year, the Maxim Gorky monument returned to Tverskaya Zastava Square, its original home. Initially, the monument was set up in the pocket park in front of Belorussky Railway Station in 1951. That was where the writer arrived from Italy and where he made his first speech after his return. In 2005, the monument was removed from its base and taken to Museon Arts Park because there were plans to change the traffic pattern on the square, but now the monument is back.
The restoration had a few stages. First, the experts removed corrosion, wax and outer coatings and eliminated other surface defects. Then they reinforced the framework and mounting of the base and treated the surface with a decorative finish. The restoration was coupled with the simultaneous reconstruction of the stylobate granite blocks.
Bely Gorod and Zaryadye Park
Ten years ago, a section of the Bely Gorod (White City) wall was discovered during archaeological research and was conserved. The limewashed brick wall was the third defensive belt after the Kremlin and the Kitai-Gorod walls. It was built at the end of the 14th century and was gradually disassembled throughout the 18th century as the city grew bigger and the brick was needed to build mansions.
In 2017, a museum in the open was set up on Khokhlovskaya Square. The largest remaining section of the wall was closed off in glass, and an amphitheatre with wooden seats for rest was built around it.
A section of another ancient wall—the Kitaigorodskaya wall—was discovered in the process of creating Zaryadye Park. Now this 16th century section is part of the rebuilt pedestrian underpass beneath Moskvoretskaya Embankment. The exhibition of this unique museum includes other archaeological discoveries from Zaryadye Park construction as well.
Ensemble of Smaller Moscow Belt Railway stations
The Smaller Moscow Belt Railway was built in 1903-1908. The stations and outbuildings were all designed in the Moscow Art Nouveau style. Most buildings were gone by 2012 when the Moscow Central Circle rail project began, but the renovators managed to restore the remaining ones. You can now enjoy them from the window of the train. They include, for example, the two-storey railway station by the Vorobyovy Gory metro station with a waiting room and a café, or a two-storey building, two residential buildings, a guard house and a goods shed at Kanatchikovo station.
Moscow Restoration competition
The Moscow Restoration competition was first held in 2011. Since then, over 300 restoration companies, project organisations, and other restoration experts have taken part in it.
Last year, 40 participants received awards for restoring 25 cultural heritage sites. Last year’s winners included Berg’s House, Levenson’s print shop, Kazansky Railway Station and the Donskoi Monastery cathedral.