Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas and Kengo Kuma
join fight to save Moscow's Shukhov Tower


News: architects including Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne and Elizabeth Diller have launched an urgent appeal to Russian president Vladimir Putin to halt demolition of Moscow's iconic Shukhov Radio Tower.

The group is among a host of names from the fields of art, architecture and engineering to have signed an open letter to Putin calling for the preservation of the 160-metre conical steel structure, which was completed by Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov in 1922 and has been dubbed as the Russian equivalent of the Eiffel Tower.

Written by historian Jean-Louis Cohen and photographer Richard Pare, both experts in Soviet architecture, the letter claims the tower represents "a unique contribution of Russian engineering genius" and "an essential part of Moscow's heritage".

It reads: "The Shabolovka Radio Tower, the largest such structure ever built, remains as Vladimir Shukhov's masterpiece and his monument. It is one of the emblems of Moscow, and one of the superlative engineering feats of the twentieth century, still influencing and enriching technical and architectural ideas globally."

Moscow's Shukhov Tower
Moscow's Shukhov Tower - image courtesy of Shutterstock

The text also notes that the tower's replacement could take advantage of a planning loophole, allowing it to bypass the city's usual nine-storey height restriction and extend up to 50 storeys, presenting "a golden opportunity for a cynical modern Erostratus".

Other prominent figures to have signed the petition include Tate director Nicholas Serota, Columbia University's Robin Middleton, Canadian Centre for Architecture founder Phyllis Lambert and Royal Academy of Arts curator Kate Goodwin.

The campaign to save the tower was launched following an announcement on 25 February that the Russian State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting had agreed to dismantling the steel diagrid, having left it to deteriorate for years.

In 2009 Putin had expressed support for restoring the tower and transforming it into a tourist attraction. The following year Norman Foster put his backing towards a campaign to save the "structure of dazzling brilliance and great historical importance", thought to have inspired the Gherkin skyscraper.

See the complete letter below, or see a full list of signatories here:

An open letter to President Vladimir Putin concerning the fate of the Shukhov Radio Tower on Shabolovka St. Moscow.
March 13 2014

Respected President Vladimir Putin,

On February 25, 2014, the Russian State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting agreed to the dismantling of the celebrated Shabolovka Radio Tower in Moscow, designed by the engineer Vladimir Shukhov and completed in 1922. No conclusive evidence of danger has been demonstrated, although deferred maintenance has had negative effects on the surface of the structure. This superlative work of modern engineering and architecture has withstood the test of time both in its structural innovation and as a symbol of the city of Moscow thanks to the genius of its designer and builder, Vladimir Shukhov, who is generally considered the Russian equivalent of Gustave Eiffel.

Built in order to broadcast wireless programmes of the early Soviet era, the transmitting tower was developed from the research into hyperboloids undertaken in the late 19th century by Shukhov. Using variants on the basic form, hundreds of water tanks, electrical pylons and lighthouses were erected throughout Russia. So brilliant was the concept that the design was even incorporated into US Navy dreadnoughts where the structural type was used for constructing observation and communications masts. The Shabolovka Radio Tower, the largest such structure ever built, remains as Vladimir Shukhov's masterpiece and his monument. It is one of the emblems of Moscow, and one of the superlative engineering feats of the twentieth century, still influencing and enriching technical and architectural ideas globally. Yet this masterpiece, featured in all the histories of engineering and architecture, is now threatened with being torn down in order to be replaced by new construction. The opportunity presents itself for a speculative developer to take advantage of the fact that, under present planning regulations, it is permitted to build to the same height as an existing structure on any particular lot, without the requirement for any further planning permission. Most of central Moscow, in which the Radio Tower site is included, is restricted to nine stories, approximately 25m. The Radio Tower at 150m, should it be replaced, would permit a structure of about 50 stories, a golden opportunity for a cynical modern Erostratus.

Dismantling the tower and storing its components in order to rebuild it later, even if it were possible to do so, would be extremely hazardous, as there is no guarantee that reconstruction will even be possible. Most importantly, the link of the tower to the Shabolovka neighbourhood, a distinguished housing scheme of the heroic early Soviet period would be lost, also lost would be its function as a key component in the Moscow panorama and cityscape. The hypothetical structure, if it were to be recreated elsewhere, would lose much of its historical significance and all of its urban context.

Respected President Putin, we are urging you to take immediate steps to assure the preservation of this essential part of Moscow's heritage, a unique contribution of Russian engineering genius to world culture. Instead of being dismantled, there is an urgent need for its careful conservation along international standards and to nominate this masterpiece into the UNESCO World Heritage List. This necessity has been discussed by national and international experts for decades. Please assure that this great structure be permitted to remain as a beacon and symbol of progressive, forward looking civilisation.

  • saveShabolovka

    It would be a travesty for this structure to be demolished! A key building for lovers of not only Constructivism but all Modernism. A building quintessential of Russia’s pivotal movement into the modern era. Russia would be foolish to destroy one of its few great surviving Constructivist pieces of history.

  • George

    Ask Putin if he cares! NOT!

  • The comparison to the Eiffel Tower is promising. It looks somewhat like it but does not function like it. The best way to preserve this structure is to come up with ideas to utilise it for public use.

    This way they’ll garner more public interest in the preservation of the tower, rather than just a handful of idealistic professionals.

  • Romain_M

    An idea that Sukhov first submitted to the public at the Panrussian Exhibition of 1896. How precocious was the engineer!

    Given that Le Corbusier wouldn’t officially play around with paraboloids until 1958 in Brussels, should it please Putin to keep this symbol of Russian engineering might? He could argue that Russia has been one-upping the West since the 19th century, quite apt given the times.

    PS: there aren’t enough Paraboloids and Hyperboloids in the “See Also” section!

  • Eynak East

    Military mite might just blight this structural integrity, integral to the historical journey of architects a-plenty.

    Yeah Putin don’t care as he’s got eyes on an invasion. Maybe of importance this engineering flair pre-everything else to jump so high in the air, we gotta care, we gotta lay it bare, the Russian bear don’t take no time on open letters from go getters, just responds to… Well money I guess. So fess up and don’t go less up. Safe.

  • SaveFerris

    Elizabeth Diller has since withdrawn her opposition to the demolition after DS+R was announced to be the new designer for the building taking it’s place.