In 1805 the whole estate was sold to a merchant named Ustinov and underwent some structural changes. With new Empire-style façades, it became one of the cultural salons of the city, frequented by the Vyazemskie brothers, Aleksandr Pushkin and Denis Davydov. In 1845 the management of the building was handed on to the Ministry of Finance and two floors were added to the former coach house. After the October Revolution, the complex was acquired by the Central Committee of the CPSU (1920), then moved to the Gosplan (Agency for Economic Planning of the USSR) and then to the Ministry of Justice, to be finally used as a collective accommodation for popular housing in 1930. Immediately after World War Two, part of the main building was intended for the Museum of Architecture, requiring a restoration made difficult by the fact that the lodgers continued to live inside it. The last tenant left the building only in 1961. After a fire in the 1990s, the building ended up in a state of decay which is at the origin of the name Ruina with which it is known today.
However, David Sarkisyan, the charming director of the Museum from 2000 to 2009, began to display the Ruina to his guests as a work of art, an attraction. Despite all the problems and the state of degradation, he was able to grasp the specificity of the building and proceeded with the restoration without waiting for funding: he installed temporary protections on the window spaces, had the roof repaired (it was partially destroyed by the fire), laid some planks on the ground and began to set up exhibitions in this wing too. Although there was no heating system – with -15 °C outside, inside there were -5 °C– visitors seemed to be willing to stay inside for hours: a mysterious and engaging atmosphere was perceived. Alexander Brodsky thus recalls the first exhibition of 2002, an exhibition of icons: «On the second floor, there were no ceiling beams, windows, or even proper flooring. You had to carefully step over the vaulted ceilings of the former stables. Although it looked amazing, it wasn’t quite safe. So, they added planks and boardwalks for people to walk on. I remember when the icons and ornamented wooden parts from a destroyed church were being exhibited here. The displays were hung below the ceiling in a space between the second and third floors. People climbed to the upper level of the wing to take a look at them. It was cold – the building was unheated – but nobody seemed to mind. It was one of the most memorable exhibitions I have ever seen»1.
Another important exhibition was organized in 2008 as part of the Moscow Architecture biennial. The title Persimfans was borrowed from the name of the famous experimental orchestra without conductor, active from 1922 to 1932, and it was a sort of metaphor for a collective exhibition of twelve architects. As curator of the exhibition, Sarkisyan did nothing but choose the twelve architects, who in turn found a perfect agreement between them, as happens in a symphony orchestra, where each instrument is at the same time self-sufficient and in harmony with the others, producing a coherent musical texture. The staging was designed by Aleksandr Brodsky and Yuri Grigoryan (Meganom studio) and consisted in the creation of a system of walkways and platforms. Sarkisyan has compared the participants to “photons” with intertwined connections, just as architects belonging to the same school of thought interconnect with each other.
After Sarkisyan’s death, his office, located in a room of the Ruina, became a permanent exhibition, a memorial; moreover, the whole building is often associated with him. Even with the arrival of the new director, Irina Korobyina, the Ruina has continued to host exhibitions, such as the one curated by Narine Tyutcheva (Rozhdestvenka studio).
Tyutcheva felt that the building had a very strong feature that could not be ignored by using it exclusively as a simple “container” of exhibitions, and thus decided to organize an event dedicated to the building itself and, more generally, to the concept of ruin in the history of architecture. At the end of the exhibition, the museum director announced a restoration project to bring back the Ruina to its state previous to the abandonment. This involved, almost trivially, the simple division of the spaces into small rooms, as they were originally, the remaking of the decorative elements of the façade and the construction of slabs.
Tyutcheva intervened with a counter proposal, in line with the most perceived culture of restoration: preserving all traces of the passage of time, without privileging one or the other, in order to allow and facilitate the reading of the overlapping layers of history, as if they were a document.
The aim of the intervention was to preserve as much as possible the original materials and elements and the indivisibility of the open spaces on each floor, leaving the vents free of overly fractionated fixtures, not only facilitating communication from the “inside” to the “outside”, but also giving a new value to the atmosphere of the space, letting the outside in. Actually, after the intervention, the structure appears “naked” in front of the visitor. The insertion of new elements was done in the sign of reversibility: all the integrated structures can be easily dismantled as needed.
«When we were repairing the brick-work – Tyutcheva says –, I demanded that every old brick that hardly holds should be removed, cleaned, shelved, studied for stamps, checked for strength, and then, if possible, returned to its place. We discussed each and every crack. To cut a long story short, I believe that we did a fine job on the brickwork. […] There was another totally unique aspect during replacement of the roof. We decided to remove props and other temporary structures from the entire top floor – when making this decision, we were, among everything else, guided by the rules of constructive statics – and to frame the stairs with 18-meters trusses. We understand that this is an industrial size. It was no problem to build these trusses from laminated wood in our production area. But the surrounding area was hardly big enough for bringing in machinery and then lifting and mounting the trusses. In fact, it was impossible both physically and technically. We had to produce wooden trusses manually from small elements right on the spot. I could not believe till the end that this could be done. In addition, we have to realize that the project was funded by the state and our financial resources were very tight. […] However – she infers at last – we were able to achieve more or less what had been planned»2. «Our main success was not solving these complex construction issues. It was completing our plan to make the wing appear as if nothing had changed. A member of the Moscow Architecture and Urban Planning Committee once commented: “Good job sweeping the floors and changing the lightbulbs”. That was exactly the effect that we wanted to achieve»3.