By John Varoli
Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The grandchildren of Soviet
architect Konstantin Melnikov are fighting a legal battle over
the family house he built, a Moscow landmark in urgent need of
Viktor Melnikov, an artist and the last surviving child of
Konstantin, died Feb. 4 at the age of 91, precipitating the
dispute among the heirs. The three-story house off Moscow's
Arbat Street, where Viktor lived until his death, was built in
the 1920s in the severe and unobtrusive constructivist style. It
is made of two joined cylinders and resembles a figure of eight
from above. The back is adorned with honeycomb windows.
``Repairing the structure will be very difficult and
expensive,'' said Ekaterina Melnikova, Viktor's eldest daughter
and the executor of his will. She is the plaintiff in the case,
which is scheduled to go to court on March 16, and favors
handing the house over to the state. ``Our family doesn't have
the means to maintain the house, and I don't know of anyone else
who is capable of managing it properly.''
The house was built during a brief period of freedom
following the Russian Revolution. When Stalin solidified power
in the late 1920s, art and architecture also succumbed to his
iron rule. Konstantin Melnikov's experimental approach to
architecture fell out of favor with the Soviet authorities and
he was never allowed to build again.
``The Melnikov House is an international icon of modernist
architecture,'' said Clementine Cecil, the director of the
Moscow Architectural Preservation Society, a U.K. citizen and
Moscow resident. ``Melnikov was one of Russia's most original
and outstanding architects; there are more books written about
him than any other Russian architect of the 20th century.''
Though Viktor was resident in the house until his death, he
owned only half of it. His sister, Ludmila Melnikova, owned the
rest. She died in 2003 and her son, Alexei Ilganaev, inherited
her share. Viktor's death has split the heirs into two camps,
each with their vision of the house's future.
Opposing Ekaterina is her sister, Elena Melnikova, who lays
claim to Viktor's half of the house and has teamed up with her
cousin Ilganaev. They say that they also want to preserve the
building as a museum to Konstantin Melnikov, though they are
only prepared to do so if the state can prove it will look after
the house, according to Alexander Christovsky, the lawyer for
Elena and Ilganaev. Ekaterina wants the house to commemorate
both Konstantin Melnikov and her father.
Chistovsky agrees that renovation is needed to save the
254-square-meter (2,734-square-foot) house. Nearby construction
of an apartment building has caused structural damage, there are
cracks in the walls and water is seeping into the foundation.
The Moscow Architectural Preservation Society says the city
government has a bad track record in historic preservation,
often giving developers permission to destroy state-protected
landmarks. As many as 300 historical buildings have been
destroyed in the past 15 years under the guise of
``restoration,'' the society says. The World Monuments Fund has
also placed it on the 2006 list of 100 most endangered sites.
``The Melnikov house needs to be treated with kid gloves,
and the worse thing that could happen is that it falls into the
hands of the Moscow city government and is badly restored,''
said Cecil. ``There is almost no experience in Russia of
restoring modernist buildings which are notoriously hard to
restore due to the use of `experimental' materials when the
structure was originally built.''