[planned Dynamo Moscow Stadium]

It really does look like the new stadium for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow is eating the historic stadium built for the 1928 Olympics. Or maybe sitting on it. Suzanne LaBarre of Co.Design compared the new stadium to “a parasitic UFO,” which seems an apt, if unappetizing, metaphor. The stadium design fits two new stadiums neatly within the perimeter ring of the 1928 stadium. Karen Cilento writes in Arch Daily that the project “preserves the essence of the historical structure and its perimeter façade, while upgrading the facility to meet contemporary functional requirements.”

It’s an odd take on preservation, but it’s preservation of some sort. Yes, it will change the building’s context radically. Sure, the enormous beehive addition will dwarf the historic stadium. OK, the design is a little – strange – and doesn’t seem to acknowledge the scale and rhythm of the existing stadium. So it probably wouldn’t last more than one round in a ring with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

Yet it keeps the building’s historic use, re-energizes it as a modern sports facility, and won’t confuse people about what’s historic and what’s not. Though publicity and good urban design aren’t defined as historic preservation, they are fine goals, and this project will achieve both. It will bring hundreds of thousands of people into the stadium and connect the building to the surrounding urban grid, enhancing its prospects for future use.

It’s true: Most historic landmarks don’t need a modern addition bulging above their belt [cornices]. Yet this is a good reminder of the historic environment’s potential to adapt to change and to contribute to the richness of everyday life, and of our need to be flexible and imaginative in how we marry the old and the new. Preservation isn’t a black-and-white, yes-or-no, restore-or-demolish choice. Most of the time, it involves lots of grays, maybe-if-thens, and save-some-lose-some. We debate; we compromise; we acknowledge limited resources and changing needs. In adapting the principles of preservation to each building and situation, we might end up with a project like this funny overgrown mushroom. And that genereally would be a good thing – even if it leads to metaphors best avoided.

[Dynamo Moscow Stadium today]

[close-up view of the new stadium design]

For a bonus sports moment from the Dynamo’s broadcast box in 1948, click here.