Moscow musings. By Andrew Graham-Dixon.


I was in Moscow for a week over the summer, revisiting some of my favourite places and museums in the city as well as making some new discoveries – as I always seem to do in Russia, where so many overlooked treasures are still to be found hidden in plain sight, victims of neglect or indifference or just plain ignorance. The highlight of my trip was an unscheduled visit, suggested by friends, to a building I had never seen before (to my shame I had never even heard of it before): namely the so-called Melnikov House, formerly the private residence of a leading architect of the Russian avant-garde, one Konstantin Melnikov. During the mid 1920s, when he was at the peak of his short-lived popularity with the ruling Communist regime, Melnikov somehow managed to secure a prime plot in the centre of town with permission to build. The house that he created for himself and his family, formed from two interlocking cylinders of brick clad in a white façade, is quite simply one of the wonders of early modern architecture: not a single ivory tower but two, twinned to shape a kind of urban fortress or citadel for the creative soul.


Pierced by some 60 hexagonal windows of the architect’s own unorthodox design, from the outside the house has something of a honeycomb about it. Inside, it is part refuge, part temple, designed to protect and nurture the sacred activities of the Idealistic Architect. To rise through the different levels of the house, by a slightly rickety circular staircase, is to make a spiritual ascent of sorts. From the ground floor, devoted to worldly activities like cooking and washing, you move upwards to the realm of sleep and dreaming: a grand circular communal...

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