New East Digital Archive
Ride the roof
The secret skateboarding paradise on top of Moscow's Soviet-era buildings

Crack. The window is broken. It’s time to put away the screw-driver and get in. As we pass our skateboards and backpacks through the tiny opening, balancing on the thin parapet on the third floor, we make out the security car parked outside. It’s almost 4am, so we really don’t have much time left — daybreak is near.

We are in VDNKh, a modernist exhibition centre which opened in 1939, heading to the top of the Moscow pavilion. The structure was designed for the Montreal Expo in 1967 and transported to Moscow a year after. Constructed from a metal carcass and a glass façade, the pavilion is one of the best examples of Soviet modernism in the city. The building was slated for demolition a couple years ago but has, instead, undergone an endless round of renovations. Much of the building is vacant, except for the presence of security guards on the ground level.

Moscow’s landscape is filled with Soviet-era buildings, many of them shuttered after the privatisation programme of the Nineties. Built for the people’s benefit, they are now shut away off from public access, patrolled by security guards, most of whom never dream of exploring the upper floors.

But it is the roof of the Moscow pavilion that brings us here. Because of its concave shape the roof looks like a giant skate ramp. My friends and I want to see if it can perform like one too.

Silently, we creep through the third floor of the pavilion. The glass walls crackle as we step on the floor. This building is a real wreck. We climb a ladder and then another one that leads us directly to the roof. Scrambling through the messy attic we see some tools left by the workers from some unknown previous period. They are covered in dust like the fragments of a bygone civilization.

Finally we’re on top of the roof. It’s much better here. A cold wind blows through our hoodies.

One of my friends sweeps down the ramp on his longboard. The panoramic view from the roof peak is just awesome — the huge Ferris wheel in Gorky park has never seemed so close.

Looking at the view makes me think of the illicit promise at the top of some of the city’s other modernist buildings. Moscow’s Olympic swimming pool has a half-pipe style roof that might also be ideal for skateboarding. Same with the invitingly curved roof of the old Pravda newspaper building.

Post-privatisation, it feels like the only way to access the centre of Moscow is with money. For youngsters like us, climbing roofs, walking the tunnels of the Metro by dark, skateboarding restricted areas – they’re all ways of taking back the city. It’s our idea of freedom.

Text: Andrey Urodov
Image: Pasha Volkov

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