Natalia Melikova: Factories on the Moscow River Should Be Preserved
Last December the Museum of Moscow hosted the Factories on the River photo exhibit. The Archcouncil of Moscow portal talked to the project’s photographer Natalia Melikova, author of the Constructivist Project, about the main industrial objects on the river and their condition.
— Natalia, how did you come up with the idea of capturing all the factories on the Moscow River?
— The project’s idea belongs to Marina Khrustaleva, architectural historian and board member at the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS). As fas as I understand, at first Marina didn’t really think about turning it into an exhibition. She simply tried to capture the condition the great industrial ensembles were in, to take an inventory of the buildings that were neglected for years. In other words, to sum up information about this almost unknown, but very significant part of Moscow’s architectural heritage.
About six months ago Marina approached me about creating this series of photographs and I immediately said yes, because I’m happy to use any opportunity to study Moscow buildings that date back to the early XX century. And since this year the Moscow River became the subject of a large-scale urban planning competition, Marina Khrustaleva put forward the idea of presenting the results of our work as an exhibition.
— How did you manage to shoot all that? I mean we’re talking about the areas that are huge and often restricted.
— I’d say they’re all restricted. I couldn’t get to any of the factories. But that wasn’t the task at hand: the riverfront facade of each building needed to be photographed so I took all the photos from the opposite bank. We had so little information on some of the factories that very often I simply had to take a wild guess. Marina provided me with a map of the factories’ approximate locations. With the majority of the venues we had no idea whether they were still there and in what condition. It was ridiculous, really: I would take a picture of a building with my phone and send it to Marina to make sure this was what we were looking for, and only after that did I pull out my camera.
— Are you saying that it wasn’t always possible to tell that the building in front of you actually used to be a factory? Judging by your photos, one can assume that you were not really impressed with the conditions you found the buildings in...
— The overwhelming majority of the factories are in really dire shape. Some are virtually gone. It’s not a secret that almost none of those buildings are designated landmarks, so they are disintegrating right before our eyes. It’s incredibly sad because each factory represents a unique architectural ensemble. They have this truly authentic industrial atmosphere that attracts tourists and citizens everywhere else in the world.
It’s naïve to expect every factory to become a center of attraction as important as, say, Red October or ArtPlay, but undoubtedly they still have great potential], especially if we take into consideration their location on the river.
— What was your impression of the river itself and the waterfront?
— They are forsaken spaces, abandoned by the city. There is car traffic there and technically there are sidewalks too, but nobody ever uses them. I photographed more than 20 venues and walked dozens of miles along the river, but hardly saw anyone. And that was in September and October, when the weather is fairly nice and mild, and good for strolling.
The riverfronts outside the historical centre of the city are so quiet, empty and neglected that I couldn’t believe I was still in Moscow when I was walking there. And that was despite the fact that I only photographed the factories within the Third Ring Road, from the Moscow City to the ZiL factory.
— One of the main messages of your exhibition, besides the condition the factories are in, was the conclusion that those buildings are not visually integrated into the urban space and have no connection with the river.
— In this regard I put my hopes on the recent competition. Re-integrating the factories and the riverfronts where they are locatedinto the urban space can not only give new life to the designated landmarks but also transform whole districts, and create inviting, redeveloped territories. All this will make Moscow a more comfortable and livable city.