Unique Khrushchev-Style Residential Complex at Academicheskii Under Threat

Natalia Poletaeva

Dear friends! I’d like to introduce you to a unique architectural complex in Moscow, whilst I can, as plans are in place to demolish it. Here is some history, information and photos about this ‘experimental’ area.

Housing for the 9th section of New Cheremushkii district of Moscow was designed and constructed from 1956-59. Natan Osterman was the chief architect. The project was experimental in that architects strove to find the best architectural solutions, combining simplicity and low construction methods with comfortable living conditions. All of the buildings are slightly different as architects strove to find optimal solutions.

With the construction of this project, a new age of mass housing construction known as ‘Khrushchevskii’ commenced.  The first Moscow ‘Khrushchevka’ block is number 16, Grimay street, right behind the ‘Ülan-Bator’ cinema. This is a unique architectural ensemble with 4-storey houses, administrative buildings, beautiful yards, fountains and a rich variety of trees and plants. The baton was picked up by Lagutenko Vitalii Pavlovich, who is world famous for his 5-storey houses.

The centre of this area of Moscow is the ‘Ülan-Bator’ cinema, opened in 1959 as cinema  ‘Raketa’ and then later renamed in honour of deepening friendship between the USSR and Mongolian People’s Republic.

For many years the cinema was the cultural centre of the whole region. Old-timers remember the times when, as children, they went to see cartoons there in the mornings or children’s movies after school, and then after many years went there together with their own children. Attendance rates dropped in the 1990s when the cinema’s popularity fell amongst teenagers.

Right now, the cinema is empty and forgotten. The building is closed, but one can see a lot of interesting things through the large windows: beautiful marble decoration of the hall, large scale Mongolian chasing, columns decorated with old advertisements of films and actors’ pictures.

It is, however, absolutely possible that ‘Ülan-Bator’ could remain the cultural centre of the region. It was only by chance that, in 2018, residents of the region learned that in 2015 ‘Ülan-Bator’ together with 38 other old cinemas in Moscow was sold by the Moscow government to the private investor ADG group, owned by Grigorii Pecherski. ADG plans to construct a shopping centre there. Yippee! We will get shops and fast-food instead of culture.

When residents found out about this news, everybody was shocked. Most countries are interested in preserving unique examples of history and architecture, and the ‘Ülan-Bator’ certainly qualifies an example of a unique project. Everyone who has seen the cinema building clearly understands that it would not be difficult to reconstruct it for the use of local residents – for instance, children’s studios, a fitness centre, a local museum, local exhibitions, a retro-café from the Soviet past. Many of us are feeling nostalgic, nostalgic for something different.

Creative residents of the region have even prepared a project for reconstruction of the cinema and the surrounding territory. ADG group intends to raise the cinema to the ground and build a new building twice as high higher and twice as large.  And this box which some have called a glass coffin because of its glass façade will ruin the architectural unity of the region. Unlike the ‘Ülan-Bator’, the shopping centre will not be a community centre.

Residents of the region are against this new development! They want to save the historical part of Moscow and in particular, this historical building, not for mercantile reasons, but for the soul and heart. 

Local residents are ready to protect their favourite cinema from demolition. If Moscow government hear their demands, it will mean that Sobyanin’s slogan: ‘The main thing is Moscow, the most important thing in Moscow — are Muscovites’ are not just empty words. The most beautiful time for talking a walk in the region is the spring, when everything is blossom, or during a golden autumn –‘Russian  Indian summer.’ BUT you may be too late – barbarians are destroying the beauty now. I recommend you to view this unique area of Moscow with its cinema now.