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.

(Meduza)

Archanoid, a mobile app produced by News Arcade for the Meduza media company, lets you blithely demolish Moscow. Just like if you were Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin!

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.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: Mayor Luigi Brugnaro walks on St Mark's Square as exceptionally high tidal flooding engulfed the city.
    Environment

    Venice Faces ‘Apocalyptic’ Flooding

    Seasonal acqua alta reached the highest level since 1966, leaving two dead and devastating damage. The city’s ambitious flood barrier isn’t ready yet.

  2. A view of a Harlem corner.
    Equity

    How Ronald Reagan Halted the Early Anti-Gentrification Movement

    An excerpt from Newcomers, a new book by Matthew L. Schuerman, documents the early history of the anti-gentrification and back-to-the-city movements.

  3. photo: A woman crosses an overpass above the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, California.
    Transportation

    Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic

    In an excerpt from the new book The Future of Transportation, CityLab’s Laura Bliss adds up the “price of anarchy” when it comes to traffic navigation apps.

  4. a bike rider and bus riders in Seattle.
    Perspective

    There’s No App for Getting People Out of Their Cars

    “Mobility as a Service” boosters say that technology can nudge drivers to adopt transit and micromobility. But big mode shifts will take more than a cool app.  

  5. photo: A metro train at Paris' Gare Du Nord.
    Transportation

    Can the Paris Metro Make Room for More Riders?

    The good news: Transit ridership is booming in the French capital. But severe crowding now has authorities searching for short-term solutions.

×