Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Landscapes of Power – Moscow

Peter the Great Statue, MoscowBy Alexander Leo Phillips

On Tuesday 28th September Yuri Luzhkov was sacked after 18 years as Moscow’s mayor.  Given the secretive nature of Russian politics, the ongoing spat between Luzhkov and Putin/Medvedev was unusual  not only for its viciousness, but also for the publicity it received.  Accused of mismanagement and corruption he was offered a simple choice – jump or be pushed.  The charges against him have yet to be proven, with supporters claiming that it was his popularity which saw him removed, as he was seen as a threat to the Kremlin.

Luzhkov came to power as the Iron Curtin fell and since that time oversaw the massive redevelopments of Moscow’s centre and the establishment of a new financial district.  These changes attracted a great deal of praise, but also their fair share of criticism due to the destruction of historic landmarks that the redevelopments left in their wake.   However, the most visible legacy of his power is doubtlessly the ‘300 years of the Russian Fleet’ monument, more commonly known as the Peter the Great Statue (pictured).

Standing taller and heaver than the Statue of Liberty the monument has been voted the 10th ugliest structure on the planet and become a symbol of Luzhkov’s  power. Now that he has finally been ousted plans are afoot to dismantle it and move it away from the public gaze.  Such a move can be read simply as the removal of a controversial work of art, or as something more sinister as the power of Kremlin exerts itself beyond its traditional boundaries. After all, Muscovites have been left with little doubt that their new mayor will be someone with a little more official approval.

The role architecture plays in the domination of landscapes is nothing new to Human Geography.  Across the globe Geographers have studied how the design of buildings has been implemented to give an unrivalled physicality to the power relationships which dictate the political, economic and cultural structures which inhabit our built environment.  In Transactions’ current issue Maria Kaika has explored London’s changing skyline and how its shift from the traditional to revolutionary designs like the Swiss-Re tower (the Gherkin) is symptomatic of the recent institutional reconfigurations of the Corporation of London.  She argues that “the internationalisation of London’s economy after the 1970s challenged the Corporation’s insular character… [And responding to the threats from ‘foreign companies’] the Corporation reinvented itself with an institutional reform [strategy,] and re-branded its identity… as an outward-looking institution, open to London’s new transnational élites” (2010:453).

Kiaka, M. 2010. ‘Architecture and crisis: re-inventing the icon, re-imag(in)ing London and re-branding the City’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (4), pp. 453-474.

Profile of Yuri Luzhkov.

More information on the ‘Peter the Great Statue’.

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