Muscovites mourn the end of Brezhnev's 'revolting mastodon'

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The Independent Online

One of Soviet Communism's most hideous architectural landmarks, the monolithic, 2,700-room Hotel Rossia in central Moscow, is to be torn down, almost 40 years after it first blotted the capital's Brezhnev-era skyline.

The largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1967 and still the biggest in Europe, the Rossia has been condemned by Moscow's demolition-minded Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The Mayor, whose wife is a billionaire property magnate, believes the hotel is too unsightly to occupy its prime riverside site, a stone's throw from the Kremlin's red-brick walls and the undulating cobbles of Red Square.

The enormous building is to be replaced with "a multi-functional complex" including a new hotel with at least 2,000 rooms, extensive underground parking and various entertainments. A competition to come up with a design is open until October and demolition is expected soon afterwards.

Few architecture lovers will shed tears for the Rossia, although, bizarrely, Muscovites appear nostalgically attached to the concrete and glass hulk. A poll by the radio station Ekho Moskvy found only 28 per cent of listeners favoured demolition.

Aleksei Komech, head of Moscow's Institute of Art History, who has often criticised Mr Luzhkov for tearing down other Soviet-era buildings, said: "I welcome its demolition and I'm waiting for a new project." He called the hotel "a revolting mastodon" and said it would be wonderful to use the opportunity to rebuild the area as it used to be, albeit with modern architecture.

Mr Komech said he feared the Rossia's foundations were so vast the city might be tempted to keep them and build something of an equally inhumane scale.

Tearing down the Rossia will be a huge task that will disrupt the heart of Moscow for months. Often compared to a 1960s car park, the building covers 32 acres and is made up of four 12-storey buildings and a 21-storey tower.

The hotel has had at least 10 million guests, including two million foreign tourists. Customers prize its central location, its stunning views and its reasonable prices but usually complain of getting lost in its Orwellian corridors and say the rooms are a throwback to the Soviet Union.

The hotel does have typical Soviet-style "all-in-one" facilities including nightclubs, a 2,500-seat concert hall and a cinema. Dmitry Chechulin, the designer, one of Stalin's favourite architects, was told the hotel was supposed to dwarf its guests in true monumentalist, Stalinist fashion.

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