THE CLOSING CHAPTERS in the history of the Russian estate were written a century ago; what remains of the structures today has come to us through sheer architectural momentum. This momentum propelled the estate past a 20th century of revolution, war, disuse and neglect, and into a certain post-historical time, where present and future are marked only by the pace at which the changing seasons take their toll on the buildings, returning them to nature. Many people find this regrettable—and I do too, sometimes—but the fact is that it’s a natural, inevitable process, and not without a certain bright side.
In a way, these palaces give a much more tangible sense of history in their vacant, neglected state than if they were meticulously restored museums bulging with period decor and little signs explaining what everything is. In a museum, everything’s there and done for you; you don’t need to imagine anything. In one of these places, there’s nothing there, only hints, remnants, and things implied; the most insignificant detail becomes a lens and your imagination is free to peer back through the nostalgic glass into times past...
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much hope for these buildings. A few might be restored, but most won’t. There are just too many of them, they’re too inconveniently located and too useless for any practical purposes to be turned into anything viable, even if there was the funding, which there’s not. Some of the major estates have been nicely restored; you can visit them. As far as the rest go, they’ll eventually disappear. That’s sad, but in some ways a memory is more dear than the actual thing.
I hope that my project will give some of these estates a chance to say a few last words about themselves before they slip away, to be remembered as the grand structures they’ve always seen themselves as.
If you’d like to read in more detail about how estates developed in Russia, and what brought about their demise, I’ve written a little article about this, “Remnants of Empire.”