Moscow’s architectural heritage has been beset by the twin giants of rapacious developers and obliging officials. But now the face of the city is threatened by a smaller, yet bigger, menace.
The crackling drooling metal boxes of air conditioners became the ultimate symbol of the New Order in Moscow – almost like teenagers with acne that, legend has it, never walked the cobbles of Red Square until the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991 ushered in the age of chaotic bandit capitalism.
But now the faces of Moscow’s buildings are erupting again after City Hall declared last week that tenants no longer needed planning permission to install an air conditioner on the exterior wall of their apartment, regardless of the amount of masonry that must go to accommodate it.
The move has angered the defenders of Moscow’s built fabric, who say the metal boxes will spread across the city’s buildings like an ugly rash.
“In the past architecture was a visualized battle between the horizontal weight and vertical resistance. Now it’s the battle of the wall against the hammer and protruding rusty box,” travel guide author Alexander Baunov wrote in an article for the Bolshoi Gorod magazine.
For one month last summer – so thick with acrid smoke there was a campaign to give up sight at all – it took up to $5,300 and a bureaucratic nightmare to hang a dripping ventilator outside your window.
Others say that while air conditioning ought not to be chucked out of the window, it should not destroy whatever pre-Napoleonic or modernist masterpieces survived Stalin and Luzhkov.
“There is the technology – more expensive, of course – to avoid doing it in this vandalistic and stupid way,” architecture student Liza Kriman says. “Just stay away the facade, not only out of respect for the architect but also because it’s important to preserve the ambience the facade creates.”
“The way things are now, the entire city is going to be sucked into air conditioners!” she says.
Air conditioners’ defining moment came last August when the Russian capital was gripped by a record-shattering heat wave and wildfire smog, and many people thought at that stage that their careers on the grey soil of Russia were coming to an end, but then – almost overnight – the thermometer plummeted to just above zero, and didn’t we look stupid in our plastic sandals and Bermuda shorts.
But while the prospect of Moscow moving into sub-tropical climate any time soon is almost subzero, Muscovites say an air conditioner is nothing to be ashamed of.
“The city has been turned into a rubbish dump by politicians,” says Vitaly, a resident of Moscow’s upmarket Petrovka Street. “What are we ordinary people supposed to do? I’m not going to choke to death when the smog hits us this year, I’ve got [an air conditioner] now and I feel safe.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW, April 14 (RIA Novosti, Alexei Korolyov)