Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Remember Arkanoid? It’s back—to illustrate a real-life architecture crisis.
In the finest of Russian traditions, a Russian news organization has taken an urgent cause and packaged it in an exceedingly arch way.
The cause: The incredible rate at which historic Russian architecture is disappearing in Moscow. With the aid of the last two mayoral administrations, developers have cleared away hundreds of architecturally significant buildings, some of them dating back centuries.
The package: the classic arcade game known as Arkanoid or Breakout.
The notion of historic preservation did not carry over with Russia’s transition to democracy. The rise of the oligarchs in the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in Moscow’s wealth, which brought with it incredible development—sometimes heedless development. The plutocratic demolition of historic buildings, mostly under former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzkhov from 1992 to 2010, has transformed the city in some lamentable ways.
It’s not just the avant-garde stuff, the buildings championed by pointy-headed architecture nerds (although developers are plowing through these buildings, too). The debate about historic preservation in Moscow looks nothing like debates in the U.S., which typically focus on single historic buildings. In Moscow, development threatens entire neighborhoods. Leonid Kazinets, a Moscow developer, recently declared that “70 percent of the buildings in the [historic] centre are of absolutely no interest” to the public, according to Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point, a publication put out by the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society.
But why read a report when you can play a game? In the Archanoid app, every block represents a building lost since the 1990s. As you tear through each level, you rack up special achievements, including parking lots, replicas, a bulldozer, and Yury Luzhkov’s famous cap.
There are more than 500 buildings in all, including the Bolkonsky House, which was home to the Nikolay Sergeievich Volkonsky, Tolstoy’s grandfather. (You may recognize him as Nikolay Andreyevich Bolkonsky in War and Peace.) Parts of that historic 18th-century manse have now been razed, Meduza reports.
“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you,” Tolstoy wrote. That was his single-best piece of advice for people. A bit maudlin, maybe. But it could be an anthem for Moscow preservationists. And maybe Archanoid addicts.