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Viktor Melnikov 1914-2006: following the death of the 91 year old artist, Viktor Melnikov, who will now lead the campaign to save his father's seminal home in central Moscow?

I was fortunate enough to meet Viktor Melnikov twice; both times at home, and both times within and surrounded by an extensive collection of his father's work--the frustrated Russian Constructivist architect, Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974). Viktor himself, of course, was not without his own identity, being a respected artist in his own right, sharing the platform with his father in a centenary exhibition at Moscow's Central House of Artists in 1990. He was, however, as always, more keen to talk about Konstantin, his much-cherished father.

Sitting at his dining room table, it was impossible not to be moved by his father's tangible presence; not only experienced through the apparently endless collection of artefacts, models and drawings--many of which were unique and previously unseen--but also through the spaces themselves; rooms that were frozen in time, and kept under Konstantin's watchful eye, observing at all times from a portrait that had taken his place at the head of the table. Throughout our conversations, the question that echoed with most resonance was, what could he have become? ... as Viktor described the architect's life in exile. Today, the echoes are amplified and seem to be asking, without Viktor, what will become of his home?

While iconic in form, the Melnikovs' house was very much the Melnikovs' home. It should be preserved in this way. As the manifest dream of a pioneering architect, built from fees earned during the design and construction of his famous Soviet clubhouses, it remained his dream home throughout his life. Viktor too, lived out his life in this place, and even after over 75 years of occupation, and despite his vastly diminished eyesight, he continued to describe the ability of the spaces to reveal new and apparently endless subtle qualities. Formed by two intersecting cylinders the house remains unique today, and contains spaces of unrivalled plasticity.

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Within the principal living room, the walls were adorned with the work of father and son. The so-called father's wall focusing on Konstantin's portrait of his wife sleeping in her first floor bedroom; the son's wall on Viktor's portrait of his father--both featuring the house's distinctive diamond shaped windows. As the passing years reduced the age gap between father and son, Viktor recalled how they grew to become close friends; a relationship that, for the time being at least, lives on in this powerful and harmonious spatial co-existence.

But, what now? With many well-recorded family disputes, the destiny of the Melnikov house is far from certain. While reports confirm that the house and archive have been left to the Russian State, through a will being executed by Viktor's daughter Ekaterina, his youngest daughter Elena is still staking her claim, despite having lost an appeal lodged in December last year. Only a matter of hours after Viktor's death, Elena is alleged to have arrived at the house with four armed guards and two lawyers, demanding that the house be closed up, accusing her old sister of stealing the archive. Clearly if the authorities remain indifferent to their responsibility to help preserve a sustainable future for the house, and, if the family don't destroy it between themselves, the house may come under increasing pressure from opportunistic and unscrupulous private investors.

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Unfortunately, in the not too distant past, Viktor was convinced that the government would prefer to see the house destroyed. This, of course, must not be allowed to happen. As an encapsulation of one of the world's most distinguished architects, the Melnikov house must be saved.

Ekaterina Melnikov can be contacted on +7 (495) 241-1873.

For further information please write to: info@maps-moscow.com or visit the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society at www.maps-moscow.com. Photographs: Rob Gregory.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:obituary; Death of Viktor Melnikov
Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:617
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