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The late Bruce Chatwin gave a characteristically entertaining report of his 1973 visit with Konstantin Melnikov, at Melnikov’s cylindrical house in Moscow. The account is worth reading in full

In January 1973, on a morning of Stygian gloom, I called on Konstantin Melnikov, the architect, at his house on Krivoarbatsky Lane in Moscow . . . . [M]y visit to Mr Melnikov was the high point of the trip, since, by any standards, the house itself is one of the architectural wonders of the twentieth century.

. . . . Melnikov’s house — or rather pavilion in the French sense — is set well back from the street, a building both Futurist and Classical consisting of two interlocking cylinders, the rear one taller than the front and pierced with some sixty windows: identical elongated hexagons with Constructivist glazing bars. The cylinders are built of brick covered with stucco in the manner of Russian churches. In 1973 the stucco was a dull and flaking ochre, although recent photos show the building spruced up with a coat of whitewash. On the front façade above the architrave are the words KONSTANTIN MELNIKOV ARKHITEKTOR — his proud and lonely boast that true art can only be the creation of the individual, never that of the committee or group.

melnikov house

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If you happen to be in Moscow, drop everything and visit the Vkhutemas gallery, on Rozhdestvenka Street, where you can join the fight to preserve the iconic Melnikov House –

melnikov house

The innovative cylindrical house, designed in the late 1920s by Russian avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov, is at risk of destruction. A group of developers — the almost-too-perfect-to-be-real Trust-Oil company — is building a large commercial complex just behind the house, with multiple levels of underground parking; the construction is reportedly causing the house’s foundation to sink. Preservationists claim that the work has opened numerous serious cracks in the house’s load-bearing walls; some fear the structure will collapse.

Tonight’s gallery event aims to draw attention to these threats. It will include a film, an interactive performance, and a press conference about the ongoing effort to protect the Melnikov House from destruction.

If like most of us you’re not in Moscow, you can still help. First, learn about Melnikov, his house, and his larger body of work; peruse Melnikov’s models and sketches; listen to a reading of the late Bruce Chatwin’s account of a 1973 visit with Melnikov; immerse yourself in Russian Constructivism, and then — if you’re duly impressed — consider signing a petition urging the mayor of Moscow to take immediate action to preserve the Melnikov House. Or visit the Constructivist Project, which advocates for the protection of the Melnikov House and other Russian modernist buildings, and learn what else you can do.