SKETCHES FROM MOSCOW: A CITY WITH A MISSION
Maria Volkova & Nina Solovieva
“You cannot love an impersonal city. However correct facial features might be, to love it, there must be some personality – an individuality, an uncommon expression.”
Red Square, by Vasilii Kandinsky, 1917.
Moscow first appeared in the annals of history in the XII century. It was an age dominated by the Mongol invasion and the jostling for power among the different polities that would constitute a unified Russia. Later on, the transfer of the Russian Orthodox Church’s see to Moscow in 1325 and the fall of Constantinople in 1453 conferred upon the city the un-official status of a Third Rome. It was also becoming the capital of Tsarist Russia and its expanding Empire. Nation- building and messianic ambitions went, therefore, hand in hand since its origins. The interregnum motivated by the founding of Saint Petersburg and its conversion into the Russian capital in 1712 by Peter the Great ended as soon as the Bolshevists decided to give back to Moscow its prominent position in 1918, this time as the epicenter of the new Soviet state and a worldwide Revolution. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian Federation, Moscow has retained its national preeminence and it is positioning itself as a major cosmopolitan metropolis.
As a result of its rich and complex history,
Moscow is visually polyphonic. The voices of many monuments sound all together and each in its own way.
Tent-roofed temples, classicism, modernism, eclecticism and constructivism have shaped the unique look of the capital. Over the centuries, Moscow has been one of the centers of the latest architectural trends. We now invite the reader to a leisurely stroll through some chapters of its fascinating urban history from the early XXth century to our days.
View of Moscow at the end of the XIX century.
The turbulent events of the early XXth century changed Moscow’s traditional urban outlook considerably. The revolution and anticlerical wave at the beginning of the last century led to the loss of many architectural monuments, particularly those with a religious significance. In total, more than 400 churches in Moscow were destroyed at the time. The city’s skyline ‘dipped’, so to say, as a result. It took time and vision to ‘lift it up’ again, partially, to symbolize its self- proclaimed status as the capital of a brave New World in the making. It is not surprising that 7 high-rise buildings, the so called Vysotki or Stalin’s skyscrapers, were erected during the reconstruction project that set new urban planning guidelines and determined the main trends in urban environment development from the 1930s until the 1960s, all in accordance with the Socialist neo-Classical style favored by the Soviet dictator.
Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931. The site was marked to host the new Palace of the Soviets in the Stalinist style. The II World War interfered with the plan and finally the place became the world’s largest open-air swimming pool.
A 1980 image of the swimming pool in lieu of the Palace of the Soviets that was never built.
The new Cathedral of Christ the Savior as consecrated in 2000 on the site of the original one that was demolished in 1931. Moscow’s landscape rises again…
Before Stalin imposed a new orthodoxy, the quest for a radical change from the past found a fitting expression in the stylistic movement known as Constructivism. It originated in the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s in the USSR on a wave of industrialization and the emergence of a new philosophy of space and architectural plastics. Constructivism was greatly influential for a while, but it fell into disfavor after the plenary session of the Union of Soviet Architects in 1937. Its basic tenets evolved from the avant- garde movements in pre-revolutionary Russia and were embraced by several artists united in the early 20s around the Institute of Artistic Culture, the Inkhuk. Basically,
constructivism in architecture and urban planning sought to bridge the gap between the arts and industry; beauty and technology; space and movement all at the service of the socialist ideal. It was about bringing the ethereal experimentalism of the avant-garde down to the Soviet earth.
Vladimir Tatlin design for the Monument to the III International, 1919.
Although the peak period of constructivism lasted for a relatively short time, it gave the world such remarkable names as Tatlin, Melnikov, Leonidov, Ginsburg, Golosov, Barkhin and the Vesnin brothers. Despite the ulterior Soviet authorities’ criticism, many constructivist buildings in Moscow have survived to this day, among others: the Burevestnik club; the Rusakov club; Melnikov’s house; Iofan’s notorious “House on the Embankment” and the house-mansion of Nikolaev. In total, more than 100 buildings of that era remain in the city.
House on the Embankment, by Boris Iofan.
The Rusakov Club, by Konstantin Melnikov.
Among the constructivist innovations, the “open space office”, a designing principle where a working space is not divided into separate offices, proposed by Ivan Leonidov in the 1920s, quickly took root abroad and “returned” to Russia as an imported product. The famous House of the Architect Melnikov on Krivokolenny Lane was built on the principles of free planning, a very popular method for building a living space.
The House of Architect Melnikov.
Since 1937, however, a commitment to return to the classical heritage was made and, interestingly, Stalinist architecture formally revived it. The totalitarian policy of the state aimed for order, symmetry and hierarchy, and did not tolerate deviations from the system. Functionality and laconism were sacrificed to this idea, although many works of Stalinist architecture ornament the streets and squares of Moscow as the result of a wave of romantic fascination with the Renaissance classics in the 1930s.
The Moscow State University building; the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building; the River Station building; the Park Gorky ensemble; the Russian State Library building… the list goes on and on.
The Kotelnichevskaya Embankment Building.
All the seven skyscrapers that formed the concept for the 1937 reconstruction plan of Moscow were laid in one day, when Moscow celebrated its 800th birthday. The primary emphasis was placed on the Moscow University building (designed by architects Rudnev, Chernyshev, Abrosimov and Khryakov).
Moscow University, on Lenin’s Hill.
The seven Stalinist skyscrapers have become a worthy frame for the ensemble of the Moscow Kremlin. Each building crowns one of seven hills, echoing the topography of the city.
But by the end of the Stalinist era, many architects were against “architectural excesses” and the country had set its sights on providing comfortable housing. Released from the burden of décor, the buildings “acquired musculature”. This minimalism echoed in part the constructivist houses of the 1920s. However, mass construction was primarily oriented towards utility, and only then for strength and beauty.
During the Khrushchev period, the “Khrushchyovkas” in Moscow fulfilled its mission to move the population from communal apartments to separate housing, but formed rather dull bedroom communities around the center of the city, usually grouped in its industrial zones. Planning decisions were dictated by the minimization of construction costs, at the expense of comfort. Many norms and rules were forcibly “optimized”, including a ban on the absence of an elevator in five-story buildings.
However, despite the colorlessness of mass construction, several buildings and structures from this period are impressive, interesting projects. The CMEA building on Kalinin Avenue (now Vozdvizhenka), the television tower in Ostankino, the Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin, and the hotel complex Rossiya (now demolished), are just a few examples worth mentioning.
Hotel Rossiya, now demolished.
The Ostankino Television Tower.
Although controversial in many respects, they are monuments of their era and have the same right to exist as Stalinist skyscrapers or empire-style mansions.
Perhaps in a few decades, the current large-scale projects will also face harsh criticism for not fitting into Moscow’s silhouette and their lack of artistic value. Characteristics of Moscow’s new architectural appearance at the beginning of the 21st century are bright and unusual ideas, the search for and expression of new forms, and the finalization of several older projects. The frankly intimidating originality of some facilities’ conceptual designs was typical during the early 2000s in Moscow.
For example, architectural refinement can be found in the form of an egg-shaped house along Mashkova Street in the center of Moscow (architects S. Tkachenko and M. Gelman) and in a building on Grizodubova street, shaped like an ear or a sail, whichever is most pleasing to the viewer.
Buildings in Grizodubova Street.
Egg-shaped House along Mashkova Street.
The Moscow City complex, a real city of skyscrapers developed on an old quarry site, causes much discussion. The world’s leading architects were involved in the skyscrapers’ design from the outset, so the buildings in the business center have been repeatedly nominated for and have won various architectural prizes. The district became a new landmark in Moscow, one of the most prestigious places in the capital.
The Moscow City Complex.
Modern buildings in Moscow are diverse in style. As a rule, they are an unmistakable mixture of distinctive styles and trends. An example is the apartment house “Patriarch”, a 12-story, single-entrance, residential monolith built in 2002 in Patriarch’s Ponds. There is a simplified tower inspired by a project from the 1920s on its roof, the tower-monument to the Third International, by the artist V.E. Tatlin, which we have already mentioned. For all the controversy surrounding the project, the building has become an integral part of Patriarch’s Ponds.
The Patriarch Apartment House.
Of course, all these are just lines in the architectural biography of the capital, but even so, it is striking just how fascinating and full of mystery the history of Moscow’s architecture is. In fact, the capital of Russia is changing before our eyes. Large-scale projects in the transportation and social spheres are being built amid a profound reconstruction of the entire shape of the metropolis. Over the past few years, the city has been implementing colossal city-planning projects, such as new roads, metro stations, parks, and cultural centers.The transformations include not only the physical outlook of the city, but also the very atmosphere of the capital and the psychology of its inhabitants. In only seven months in 2016, 31 km of roads, 10 pedestrian crossings and 18 permanent structures were built in Moscow. Similar volumes and rates of construction have become commonplace over the past few years.
View of Moscow at night.
In terms of sheer infrastructure construction, Moscow is comparable to the Chinese megacities. The Moscow subway is undergoing a new phase of renovation. The third circuit is set to give a new impetus to the development of former industrial zones, where the transport and transfer hubs will be located to relieve currently congested traffic flows.
When defining the development strategy of the city in the coming years, Moscow’s authorities decided to follow the global trends and, therefore, a special emphasis is placed on the development of pedestrian and bicycle areas. As a result, many streets in the center of Moscow became pedestrian streets and the sizes of roadways and sidewalks have been readjusted for many of them. Today, pedestrian areas in Moscow occupy more than 100 km. By creating these, in conjunction with an earlier removal of advertising banners, authorities have made sure that Moscow’s streets look much more spacious.
Bicycle areas in Moscow.
Parks have also become an ideal platform for exhibitions, concerts, competitions, festivals, and sports. “Zaryadye” Park, which is being built on the former site of the Rossiya hotel, is a landmark project to create a unique public space near the Kremlin walls for recreation, cultural leisure and entertainment for children and adults. As the largest parkland, with 10.2 hectares and entertaining “stuffing”, it will become a center of attraction for residents and visitors of the capital. The creators of the Zaryadye park concept set a goal to create a space in the very heart of Moscow, where the core values of modern Russia will be upheld – a territory of discoveries, innovation, and respect for history and nature. The main feature of the park will be that all its installations will “hide” under the landscape. In this case,
the green space of “Zaryadye” will not be monotonous, as the entire territory of the park will be divided into four climatic zones pertaining to different Russia’s ecosystems: a mixed forest, a northern landscape, a steppe and flood meadows.
Another feature of the new park is a picturesque view of the Kremlin, which visitors to “Zaryadye” can admire from the “floating bridge” over the Moscow River. This “green structure of the century” was completed in September 2017, on the Day of the City.
The city’s riverwalks, dressed in granite in the 30s, are also being updated. Pedestrian areas have appeared recently near the “Muzeon” Park of Arts and the Central House of Artists, and the embankment of Gorky Central Park was reconstructed. Gorky Central Park, officially opened on August 12, 1928, on the site of the Golitsynsky Estate to preserve the historical collection of the palace and two rotundas on the embankment, is a vivid example of Stalinist architecture. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the park is experiencing a new round of development. The embankment has been reconstructed in a modern style, flowing smoothly into the Muzeon Park of Arts, the center of contemporary art, music and cinema.
Muzeon Park of Arts.
The city is initiating many other renovations, such as the reconstruction of the Luzhnetskaya embankment and triumphal square. Projects have been implemented very quickly, creating an incredibly interesting and fully-fledged public space in the city center that has a striking architectural appearance and valuable functionality.
And in preparation for a new challenge ahead, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow, sports facilities are being built and reconstructed. For example, the stadium “Otkritie Arena”, the Luzhniki Stadium, and the Dynamo Stadium.
Stadium Otkritie Arena.
The development of new spaces is proceeding at an active pace. Over the recent years, the boundaries of Moscow have expanded significantly, creating new modern neighborhoods with a well-designed infrastructure aiming at the maximum comfort of their residents. In Moscow´s past, vision and livability were often at odds. It has no longer to be the case as the city moves confidently into the XXI century and so we are heartened by the new, large-scale programs for the development of Moscow waiting for us.