Moscow gas plant: a monument which the city doesn’t need.

Here are the platforms of the Kursk railway station. 5, Nizhny Susalny lane. Are you here for the first time? So, don’t stand, come in! Plant complex looks like hiding from the glances from the lane. If you enter you’ll be rewarded with an avant-garde beauty, the breath of the history and with quiet silence in spite of close position of Garden Ring Road and the railway station.

Moscow gas plant
(Pic. 31.1 – Moscow gas plant.)

There is a monument of industrial architecture of the XIX-XX centuries in front of you: this is Moscow gas plant.On the territory of this plant you can see ancient gas holders and plant buildings, where inter-floor coverings were constructed by an engineer V.G. Shukhov. It’s not a clock on the gas holder; it’s an indicator which shows a tank fill level (you can find similar one on Viennese gas holders).

In the XIX century Europe changed kerosene lamps to gas ones. Russia, of course, was not going to get behind. Construction of Moscow plant nearby the Kursk railway station to produce “illuminating” gas began completely according to the Contract dated 24 of July, 1865

Moscow gas plant constructed according to typical “illuminating” gas producing plan of that time, where gas was produced by destructive distillation of coal (supplied from Great Britain). In the retort furnaces the coal was oxygen-eliminating heated by 1100 °С (the required temperature was obtained using producer gas worked out in special generators). The plant consisted of gas stoves, gas cooling and gas treatment building, building for meters and urban net gas pressure regulators, the main and support gas holders for gas storage.

First there was constructed a plant building – a construction which consisted of several workshops destined to produce gas from coal. Then two-story buildings grew up along Nizhny Susalny Lane: for an office and for workers. Gas holders (four brick-built structures of 20 m height, 10 m depth and 40 m diameter) were constructed upon the project of architect Rudolf Berngard, a professor of St.Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineers. The plant building was situated between the office building and gas holders. The railway station placed nearby simplified a gas supply to the center of the city and gave the possibility to supply coal by railways.

Dutch entrepreneur A.Buke and English engineer N. Goldsmith, they were the people who the biggest factory in the world producing “illuminating” gas is beholden to for its birth. Buke and Goldsmith won on a competitive basis a concession for Moscow illuminating by “fluid” gas. In 1865 they bought in the part of the gardens belonged to Kobylskaya sloboda placed on Chernogryazka stream and began the construction.
And already in the 25th of December, 1866 there was performed a testing lighting of Kuznetsky bridge. That happened! For the first time a gas lamp was lighted up at the Arkhangelsk cathedral near the Kremlin. In 1868 Moscow was illuminated by more than three thousand gas lamps equipped with simple flat flame burner with the luminous intensity of twenty lights.

In spite of successful launch, the English born enormous losses – inhabitants of Moscow were not in a hurry to start using expensive gas in their houses (required deep gas treatment and foreign coal didn’t make a final product chipper). Moreover, the rumors of gas harm were widely spreadded by kerosene sellers. The profitability of all this business was catastrophically low. The raise of the rent cost didn’t help, and in 1888 the concession passed from English Company to General French and Continental Illumination Society.

In 1893 there were constructed some additional buildings on the territory of the plant (the architects of the projects were M.K. Geppener, N.P. Milukov and M.P. Stepanov). In 1905 the plant transferred under the supervision of the City Council - the term of the contract expired. There was used coal from Donetsk; the ice of the distrust to gas fuel was broken, and gas started to be used in the industry and for domestic purposes more widely. By this time there were 9000 gas lamps functioning in Moscow and about 3700 private customers but the structure was fundamentally neglected, a net of gas pipelines was notably leaking (a quarter of annual expenses).

That is why in 1911 Moscow City Council decided to devote funds for Gas Plant reconstruction and development. Four million rubles were spent for the plant expansion - there was built one additional gas holder and six new plant buildings (a project of an engineer V.G. Shukhov). There were also constructed an instrumentation and retort rooms, water gas plant and ammonium plant, a building for gas cleaning and a counter plant. Office building was rebuilt. The reconstruction was finished in 1914, and the output capacity increased in one a half times.

In 1931 Moscow gas plant was reconstructed once again: there were build some supporting workshops and a gas generator building, there was also installed equipment for water and generator gas producing.

Moscow gas plant “fed” Moscow with gas till the middle of the XX century, later it was rebuilt to produce rocket nozzles and then to produce gas shutoff valves. “ARMA” Ltd became the owner of the territory, and the plant almost stopped any production activity in the end of ninetieth. Buildings of the enterprise were overgrown with new numerous additional structures, there were made windows and coverings in gas holders.

The production was completely stopped in a new millennium; the plant territory was occupied by the tenants: design-studios, art galleries, magazine staff, music groups and trade companies.

Plant complex, being a valuable city forming object, nevertheless isn’t secured from the oblivion. This is a monument which city seams doesn’t need. With a large dose of skepticism it’s possible to consider a development of Moscow gas plant territory according to European sample, like our former plants and factories in Soho and Chelsea areas.

Viennese gasometers
(Pic. 31.2 – Viennese gasometers.)

You will involuntary envy to the life of European industrial areas. Zimmering, for example (the eleventh region of Vienna) is always full of tourists who would like to visit inside of the gas holder. A local “Gasometer” complex is an original alliance of entertainment centers, residential space and shops. There was given a new life to gas holders in Vienna – an official opening of transformed complex was in 2001.

But, but, but …. Nobody in Russia is interested in profitability level, correlated with European cities, and in long-term investments. It’s easier to follow a way of demolition. It’s really sad but this is true. So, during reparation works there was lost an interior of plant’s constructivist palace of culture “Hammer and Sickle”, and the oldest wooden building in Moscow where bulletins and Napoleon’s appeals were printed during the war of 1812 was disassembled.

In August, 2008 Moscomnasledie historical-cultural expert council considered an application to protect Moscow gas plant as an example of industrial architecture. Decision was: only five gas holders and two buildings could be honored with the name of historically valuable city forming objects. As for the other buildings (which were quit numerous!), according to the council’s opinion, they didn’t have any value. So, the former Moscow plant producing “illuminating” gas was recognizes as unhistorical complex, and it wasn’t recognized as an example of industrial architecture which was needed to be protected by the law.

What are we going to see on the place of the plant? Will it be a modern neighborhood, or a big cultural center or a new office center? What the monuments of gas supply – big brick gas holder buildings are going to be turned to? To illuminated cylinders? As we know, primary objects in Moscow now are offices.

Contrary to Vienna, and Chelsea.
It’s really pity.
Historical buildings must not prove their right to life. It’s a demolition supporter who should prove his arguments. Independent gas supply on base of gas holder enters the lives of Russian people very fast, but its history stays defenseless. Will Moscow gas plant be able to survive?



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