Squabble over Branly
Paris authorities resist the building of an ambitious “spiritual center” by the Moscow Patriarchy at the center of Paris. Its extravagant design will destroy the architectural ensemble of the French capital.
“Novaya Gazeta” has covered on several occasions the arguments and passions brewing over the building of the Moscow Patriarchy new center abroad in the center of Paris, which will include the temple, belfry, administrative and study buildings. On February 3 last year, the Russian Federation, using some diplomatic and financial maneuvering, has won the tender to develop a plot of land on Quai Branly. About the same time the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation took upon itself main construction responsibilities, although the center will be used by the Moscow Patriarchy and not by the government. The plot sits in the very heart of Paris on the territory designated by UNESCO as part of the World Cultural Heritage. This is why the difficulties began to happen.
The ambitions of the concept have determined the ambition of its implementation. A joint project by the Russian Arch Group (Michael Krymov and Aleksei Goriainov) and French SADE Sarl (Manuel Nunez Yanowsky, born in Odessa) won the competition. Bouygues, a French company, became general contractor while the Administration of the President of Russia became client, although the Administration kept emphasizing that it would not reject individual charitable contributions for such a “sacred deed” (so far there is no information about such contributions). The construction was scheduled to begin in January this year, but it did not happen.
Project’s difficulties began immediately after the victory at the competition: for starters, Manuel Nunez Yanowsky found the way to remove his Russian colleagues from the lucrative project. The paradox is that, as it happens, they invited the French architect to participate in the competition since a European license was required. During the year after that, the French architect secretly was making amendments to the winning concept. And now, once the documents have been submitted, the Office of the Mayor of Paris refused to allow the scheduled beginning of the construction. Mayor Bertrand Delanoe declared that the proposed project is “window dressing,” for which, unfortunately, the new Russians are famous in the West. And Daniel Struve, a member of a famous family, on behalf of the Russian emigres said that he was ashamed by his post-Soviet compatriots’ attitude. (In the name of fairness we should note that member of the jury Prince Golitsyn voted in favor of the original project). But the Administration of the President will not back up. Its spokesperson Victor Khrekov indicated that “the decision is made by the Office of the Prefect of Paris, which does not answer to the Mayor’s office. The plot of land is ours; we have got to build something on it. The ball is on the Office of the Prefect’s side.”
“Novaya Gazeta” asked architects Mikhail KRYMOV and Aleksei GORIAINOV to comment on the situation.
We believe that the project currently developed by architect Nunez Yanowsky does not correspond to the main ideas of our concept and that its main qualities have been lost. We agree with MayorDelanoe that the building should not be built as it is now presented.
Unfortunately, we have been removed from the project development. Manuel Nunez Yanowsky, whom we invited to participate in the competition, breached our agreement and, once our joint concept won the competition, decided to develop the project on his own.
But the project was inherently quite complicated and required a lot of work in order to make it fully fit the place, function and the moment in time. And, of course, such additional work could bear fruits only with its authors’ participation. As a result, the complex architecture has been simplified, proportions have been broken, main ideas have not been expressed. Now this is a completely different project, which only nominally relates to the winning concept.
We believe that the project’s significance is enormous, considering its unique location and cultural mission. It is important that the Russian side be respectful of French culture. Thus, at all stages the approach must be very serious and adequate. Good modern architecture, an expression not much favored by the Russian bureaucrats, must become an operative sentence. We wish that the Russian cultural center building is accepted by the international public opinion. Perhaps, it is worth to reformulate the task and organize a new competition, widely publicizing it among Russian architects. Russia must change its image as a country where only power and money rule and this project is a good occasion for such changes. However, so far everything develops according to the usual scenario.
Author: Alexander Soldatov
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