Muscovites take a “selfie” in front of Shukhov Tower to protest against its impending demolition. Photo uploaded to Facebook.
Moscow's Shukhov Tower is an iconic symbol of the Russian capital, much like the Eiffel Tower represents Paris. Yet the Russian government is on the verge of dismantling it. This strikes many Muscovites as an aberration, and an online campaign to save the tower has highlighted the absence of any kind of policy to protect Russia's cultural heritage.
The Shukhov Tower, also known as the Shabolovka tower, was designed by Vladimir Shukhov and built between 1920 and 1922 on Lenin’s orders. Made of wrought iron like the Eiffel Tower and standing 160 metres tall, it was originally constructed to house a radio antenna.
Since 2009, several projects to restore the tower have been presented, to no avail. On February 25, the Ministry of Communications, the tower’s main shareholder, proposed a 3.7-million-euro plan to dismantle and move the tower. Several potential locations were floated, both in Moscow or other Russian cities such as Samara (1,000 km from Moscow). A decision was supposed to be made by late March because, according to the Ministry, the highly corroded tower is on the verge of collapse. 
Since then, architects, public figures in the arts and many others have mobilised to preserve the Shukhov Tower. Fans of the tower launched a selfies campaign, taking playful pictures in front to the tower to demonstrate their concern for their country’s cultural heritage.

“We are worried that the tower will be dismantled and then never rebuilt”

Photographer Natalia Melikova administers the “Constructivist project” website. Her online petition to save the Shukhov tower has garnered more than 11,500 signatures to date.
I fell in love with the Shukhov Tower through the work of photographer Alexander Rodchenko. This tower is the most emblematic monument of constructivism, an artistic movement from the Soviet period that influenced the construction of many buildings. The tower is a living witness to a part of Russian history.
We do not really understand the Ministry of Communications' reasoning. First, the reports of several independent experts show that there is no immediate risk of the tower's collapse. And even if that were to happen, it would collapse in on itself, which would limit the potential damage to nearby buildings. Finally, the tower never actually benefited from the 135-million-ruble (2.7 million euros) budget allocated for its restoration in 2011— not even a lick of anticorrosive paint was applied. We don’t know where the money went! I think the Ministry just wants to get rid of a monument that doesn’t bring in much revenue.
Muscovites protested on March 27 against the tower’s demolition. The white structure on the right shows what the tower might look like once rebuilt. Photo by Natalia Melikova.
"It’s as if you moved the Eiffel Tower from Paris to Marseille!”
It's basically impossible to completely dismantle a 10,000-piece tower and then build it back up to create an identical tower, especially because the tower’s architect did not leave any blueprints. It would just be a replica! Moreover, moving a monument that was conceived for a specific urban space is simply absurd from an architectural point of view. It’s as if you moved the Eiffel Tower from Paris to Marseille! More than anything, we are worried that the tower will be dismantled and then never rebuilt.
There are other recent examples of Moscow buildings that should have been renovated but instead were left to rot. Narkomfin, a residential building that was designed for communal life during the Soviet era, has been left to crumble for the past few decades. Nothing has been done to prevent this.
The debate around the tower shows that Russia does not have any clear policy in terms of restoring its cultural heritage. And yet, when I see the enthusiasm on social media to help save the tower, as well as the people who take it upon themselves to organise guided tours and to raise awareness, I realise that Muscovites are far more interested in preserving their heritage than our government is.
Volunteers have organised guided tours of the Shukhov Tower to raise public awareness about the structure’s historic importance. Photo by Natalia Melikova.
In late March, the Shukhov Tower received some very valuable support when Viktor Shukhov, the grandson of the tower’s architect, launched a petition against its demolition that garnered the signatures of several recipients of the Pritzker Prize, the “Nobel” prize for architecture.
For the time being, the tower’s fate remains uncertain. A project for a 50-storey building on the site is currently frozen. In the meantime, nonprofit organisations continue to campaign for the tower's renovation. They imagine a communal space that would welcome tourists and include a museum and coffee shops. The Russian government is supposed to make a decision on the tower's future on May 1.
Post written with Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron), journalist for the FRANCE 24 Observers.