Shukhov Tower, Modernist Moscow Landmark, Escapes Demolition


The city of Moscow issued a conservation order this week to protect the Shukhov broadcasting tower, an iconic Soviet modernist masterpiece that was originally designed to top the height of the Eiffel Tower.

The steel tower, which stands over 500 feet tall, was built in the early 1920s, during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922). It was commissioned by Lenin and designed by the ingenious Russian architect and engineer Vladimir Shukhov (1853-1939). The original plan called for a height of over 1,100 feet (the Eiffel Tower is 986 feet tall), but Shukhov had to readjust the design as a consequence of a steel shortage.

The tower once served as Moscow’s principal radio tower and became the main transmission facility for Soviet television. The hyperboloid structure influenced many 20th-century architects, including Pritzker Prize winner Norman Foster, who paid tribute to Shukhov’s innovative design in the ovoid shape of his 30 St Mary Axe Tower in London, commonly known as “The Gherkin.”

In recent years, the condition of the tower severely degraded due to neglect, and city officials have called for its demolition. The Moscow Times reported that real estate agents had examined the potential development of the site and proposed to dismantle the tower and rebuild it elsewhere.

The question of the tower’s future sparked a lively discussion in Russia and beyond. In March, a group of leading international architects, including Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Rem Koolhaas and Elizabeth Diller, signed a public petition—addressed to Vladimir Putin—to protect the tower.

This week’s resolution will remove the threat of demolition and launch a plan to renovate and restore the structure, along with registration in the federal list of protected heritage sites. The success of preservation activists also reflects the growing interest in the preservation of Soviet-era architecture. Another recent example is the conservation order granted to the Konstantin Melnikov House in Moscow (completed in 1933), the foundations of which have been threatened by nearby construction.