Gothic Stalinist Soviet Skyscrapers | The Thinking Blog ~ Knowledge Grows When Shared
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27 August 2007

Gothic Stalinist Soviet Skyscrapers

Some Never Built, Some Standing Today. Many grandiose Stalinist architectural projects churned out from the mid 1930s to the early 1950s. However, the projects came at staggering costs such that most never got beyond the drawing board, at a time when the country was lying in ruins. Stalinist architecture is not, per se, an architectural style characterized by its distinct appearance. Instead it describes an architecture that resulted from the way the state communicated with the masses through its constructions, using them as an expression of state power.

The combination of striking parade monumentalism, patriotic art decoration and traditional motifs has become one of the most vivid examples of the Soviet contribution to architecture. The ensemble that a Stalinist building will contain can be very broad, not only in the overall motif, but also in the technology that lies underneath the rich decorations.

In the Soviet policy of rationalisation of the country, all cities were built to a general development plan. Each was split into districts, with allotments drawn based on the city's geography. Projects would be drawn up for whole districts, visibly transforming a city's architectural image. It relied on labor-intensive and time-consuming masonry, and could not be scaled up to the needs of mass construction. When the time finally came to tackle the housing crisis, this inefficiency spelled the end of Stalinist architecture and a turn to mass construction while Stalin was still alive and active.

Moscow Master Plan (1935)

Moscow architecture undoubtedly occupies a central place in domestic construction of the socialist epoch. Among the far-reaching projections, the 1935 General plan for the reconstruction of Moscow overshadowed all others. According to this plan, Moscow was to become the showpiece capital of the world's first socialist state. The General plan envisaged the development of the city as a unified system of highways, squares and embankments with unique buildings, embodying the ideas and achievements of socialism. This plan contained a number of major flaws, especially in connection with the preservation of the historical heritage of the city.

People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry (1934)

A competition for the design of a building to house the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry (Narkomtyazhprom) on Red Square was announced in 1934. The construction of this grandiose complex of 110,000 m3 on an area of 4 hectares would have resulted in a radical reconstruction of Red Square and adjacent streets. Twelve entries were submitted for the first stage of the competition. The impressive plans drawn up by the brothers A. and V. Vesnin - leaders of the constructivist (futuristic) movement - were not noted by the jury, along with a number of other entries.

Palace of Soviets (1934)

The Palace of Soviets was planned to be a supertall skyscraper. If built, it would have become the world's tallest structure. Its height was to reach 415 metres — higher than the tallest buildings of the time, the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, The building was to be topped by a 100 metre statue of Lenin. The idea of constructing a building which could be a symbol of the "imminent triumph of communism" in the capital of the world's first state of workers and peasants was mooted in the 1920s. The chosen location was the site of the demolished Church of Christ the Saviour. The competition was launched in 1931 and carried out in stages. Overall, 160 entries were submitted, including 12 commissioned ones and 112 project proposals.

Hotel of the Moscow City Soviet (1931)

A closed competition for a 1000-room hotel was held in 1931, conforming to the highest criteria of the time. Of the six plans submitted, the best was judged to be the work of young architects L.Savelyev and 0.Stapran. Architectural publications carefully monitored all the stages of design from the point of view of urban planning. This building had immense significance since it was located at the intersection of the city's main thoroughfare, Gorky Street, with the projected new "Ilyich Avenue", an enormous street which would lead to the Palace of Soviets.

Palace of Technology (1933)

The project called for a complex of scientific and technical institutions, it was to be in the the capital city of a country which was being actively industrialised by a central administration called upon to "arm the masses with the achievements of Soviet industrial technology, agriculture, transport and communications." A site on the banks of the Moskva river was selected as the location for this Palace. The industrial resolution selected by A. Samoylov and B. Yefimovich was not a tribute to a constructivisim which was receding into the past, but rather an illustration of the "technocratic" character of the subject.

People's Defence Commissariat (1933)

Architect L.Rudnev's buildings are among the most noticeable in Moscow. For buildings of this profile the architect developed a specific style, conveying an impression of grim impregnability and crushing might to correspond to the official image of the Red Army. The project of a building on Arbat Square, which was only partly realised, reflects the architect's transition from the oppressive grandeur of the People's Defence Commissariat constructions of the 1930s to the buoyant pomposity which became a hallmark of the architecture of the 1940s and early 1950s.

The Aeroflot Building (1934)

In 1934 the crewmen of the ice-breaker Chelyuskin were adrift on an ice-floe after the ship went down in the Sea of Chukotsk. In the summer of the same year Moscow greeted the courageous survivors and the pilots who had rescued them, and who were the first to be granted the "Hero of the Soviet Union" award. The traditions of socialist life demanded the perpetuation of the memory of this outstanding feat in monumental form. The "Aeroflot" building was planned by architect D. Chechulin to the glory of Soviet aviation. Hence the sharp-silhouette, "aerodynamic" form of the tall building and the sculpted figures of the heroic airmen crowning seven openwork arches, perpendicular to the main facade and comprising a distinctive portal.

The House of Books (1934)

The plan of the House of Books is typical of early 1930s perceptions of a building. A trapezoid tall silhouette, simplified architectural forms and an abundance of sculptures on all parts of the building. Architect I.Golosov found interesting solutions in the spirit of the Soviet classicism. His work is distinguished by features which are designated "symbolic romanticism". He said that "the architect must not be bound by style in the old, historical sense of that word, he himself must be a creator of style... One must establish only absolute tenets, those which are inevitable, true and unchanging. There are many such, and these tenets, as vehicles of absolute values, are equally applicable to classical and contemporary architecture"

The Arch of Heroes (1942)

At the height of the Second World War, the newspaper "Literatura i Iskusstvo" (Literature and Art) wrote: "The competition for a monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War is drawing to a close. Some 90 projects have been submitted by Moscow sculptors and architects. Overall, more than 140 entries are expected". The demands of the competition included, inter alia, a monument "to the heroic defenders of Moscow." The choice of a putative location for the monument was left to the competitors. The designer of the Arch of Heroes, architect L. Pavlov, suggested erecting the monument on Red Square. The monument was, of course, never erected.

Legacy and Revival

In 1947, the Soviet government adopted a resolution concerning the construction of high-rise buildings in Moscow. By the early 1950s, tall buildings had been erected (see below). Albeit smaller than the projects above, nevertheless very impressive. Note the striking similarities between the style of architecture, especially the resemblance of current White House in Moscow to the Aeroflot Building project above.

Only the construction of a 32-floor administrative building in Zaryadye, which was envisaged as one of the salient features of the silhouette of the central city skyline, was not completed. Work on it was stopped after the 1955 resolution of the Central Committee, which condemned "excesses and over-ornamentation in architecture" and signalled a new era in Soviet architecture. The work which had been done was dismantled, and the hotel Rossiya was built on the foundations in 1967.

Zaryadye Skyscraper

Hotel Rossiya

Hotel Leningradskaya

Hotel Peking

Hotel Ukrania

Moscow State University

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Heavy Industry (Red Gates Building)

Academy of Sciences

Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of the Parliament

Triumph Palace

White House

Residential Buildings

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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