THE EMPIRE STYLE IN SOVIET ARCHITECTURE

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Опубликовано в библиотеке: 2021-08-31
Источник: Science in Russia, №3, 2010, C.71-79

by Anastasia FIRSOVA, Shchusev State Museum of Architecture (Moscow)

 

Gaining the Crimea Peninsula and the Northern Black Sea Region in consequence of the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1768-1774 and 1787-1791 and also the territories of present Belarus, Western Ukraine, Lithuania and a part of Latvia as a result of three partitions of Poland (1772-1795), Russia emerged as a great power. Her architecture responded to this sea change by the Empire style, the closing and consummate stage of classicism, which staged a comeback a century and a half later, in what became known as the Soviet Empire style that rose to pre-eminence thanks to other epic events, namely, the victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War of 1941 -1945 and her world power status.

 

The home town-planning art of the 1940s-1950s was grand, monumental and large-scale: it reflected the might of the victorious nation, and, therefore, turned to classical heritage.* If the previous period of Soviet architecture, characterized by the pre-eminence of the art deco style**, was tolerant of creative search, now those "at the top" prescribed uniformity. In partic-ular, the idea of Moscow as a single complex lay at the

 

 

See: Z. Zolotnitskaya, "Lofty Simplicity and Dignity", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2009.-Ed.

** In the 1930s the domestic version of the Pan-European art deco style held sway; marrying constructivism and neoclassicism with its formal lines, geometry, monumentality and simplicity, it was described as updated brand of classicism in Soviet historiography. See: A. Firsova, "Art Deco in Russia", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2010.-Ed.

 
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root of seven high-rises built as cityscape symbols. Each tower had a town-planning mission of its own and evolved as a neighborhood's nucleus inscribed into the city's radial-circular pattern. The whole idea was based on Russian architectural tradition, with churches and bell-towers as landmarks of the cityscape.

 

The ensemble of Moscow State University (architect Leo Rudnev et al., 1949-1953) was the largest among those high-rises. It was the first major project in the city's new southwestern district building space. A grand, monumental structure that has become part and parcel of the Moscow cityscape, its symbol.

 

The 27-story building of the Ministry of Foreign Af-fairs on Smolenskaya Square (architect Vladimir Gelf-reich et al., 1948-1953) is rather of local significance. The broad pivotal structure kind of elevates the axial perspective of the square rising gently to the Garden Ring Road from the Borodinsky Bridge across the Moskva River. The tower's massive pylons accentuate its façade; its exterior décor is moderate and restrained.

 
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In 1952 Joseph Stalin inspected the projects and demanded that the skyscrapers should be topped by pavilions to harmonize with the skyline of old Moscow. It was quite difficult to put this idea into life for the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a com-promise was to be reached between the pyramidal sur-mount suggested by Stalin and the frontal spread-out of the tower. Besides, the main edifice put up by that time could not withstand additional load. Therefore, the architects decided to simulate the solidity of the sur-mount, i.e. to build a pavilion of thin copper sheets painted as stone and fixed to a light steel frame.

 

Historical associations are a salient part of the 17-story Leningradskaya Hotel (architects Leonid Po-lyakov and Alexander Boretsky, 1949-1953). Like an apex stone* it rounds up the space of Komsomolskaya

 

 

* Apex stone or lock is a wedge-shaped stone at the top of vault or arch. It is often turned into a decorative element and is typical of classi-cism. -Ed.

 
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Square with its neo-classic* building of the Lenin-gradsky Railway Station (architect Konstantin Ton, 1849), the buildings of the Yaroslavsky Railway Station (Fyodor Schechtel, 1904-1907) and the Kazansky Railway Station (Alexey Shchusev, 1913-1940), both erected in the Russian romantic modernist style**. In a bid to preserve the existing ensemble, the hotel's archi-tects turned to architecture of the end of the 17th century. "I spent much time in search of the idea, how to take up Shchusev's ideas and his architectural motifs, and to accomplish it with a grand structure", said Polyakov. "I believe any other style is out of question at this place. I think that in some instances new Soviet architecture and its stylistic characteristics can be based on the best traditions of our national architecture. I do not say that the wonderful "Naryshkin baroque"*** would be proper in Leningrad, it would be rather ab-surd. But it is in place here in Moscow.

 

The 24-story apartment house on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment (architect Dmitry Chechulin et al., 1948-1952) closes the Moskva River perspective, and another high-rise erected elsewhere, on Vosstaniya Square (the present Kudrinskaya Square, architect Mikha-il Posokhin et al., 1950-1954), is a pivotal center of this part of the Garden Ring Road. Miles away to the east, on Krasnye Vorota Square, an administrative and resi-dential building of the tier type was put up (architects Alexey Dushkin and Boris Mezentsev, 1949-1953); the tower's lower wings are in harmony with the surround-ing cityscape in this section of the Garden Ring Road. Towering not far from the Kievsky Railway Station, is the Ukraine Hotel (architect Arkady Mordvinov et al., 1950-1956), a controversial structure compared with the other high-rises: its classicist style is out of keeping with the dimensions and proportions of the structure, and its profile is out of harmony, too.

 

 

See: T. Geidor, "Diversity of Styles in Russian Architecture", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2009.-Ed.

** See: T. Geidor, "Russian Architecture of the Silver Age", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2009.-Ed.

*** See: T. Geidor, "Masterpieces That Endure", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2009.-Ed.

 
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The underground railroad, metro, occupied a prominent place among the symbols of architecture. It was more than a rapid transit system: its decorative interiors plugged the nation's accomplishments. Palatial underground stations built in the post-war years both in Moscow and in Leningrad were a trend. All that called for monumentality, expensive materials and rich décor.

 

Despite the wartime hardships the third stage of the Moscow metro (completed in 1945) was constructed at a higher technological level than the first two stages built before the war*. Designed and built in the grim war years, these stations breathe of the foretaste of Victory, joy and faith in the power of the nation. Simultaneously there were ideological, propagandistic implication

 

 

See: F. Petrov, "I Have the Honor to Be a Prospector...", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2006.-Ed.

 
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imposed from the very start (1935), for subway stations to be showcases of the new, proletarian ideology.

 

Komsomolskaya-Koltsevaya, the most pompous underground station in Moscow (1952), was conceived by architect Alexey Shchusev as a war glory memorial. Great mosaic panels created by artist Pavel Korin are in the vault of the platform hall. The imposing a la Na-ryshkin baroque style is consonant with the Russian cultural tradition. These motifs, rather festive than monumental, chime with the interior décor of the Shchu-sev-built Kazansky Railway Station on Komsomol-skaya Square.

 

War glory motifs also predominate in the appearance of the Oktyabrskaya-Koltsevaya station (Moscow, architect Leonid Polyakov, sculptor Georgy Motovilov, 1950). The author was right by choosing the Russian Empire style of the 1810s: his creation is unique in candor, naturalness, and emotional and stylistic unity. The architect's smart technique applied in the metro for the first time, namely, a lovely arch ornate with an Empire grillwork and a patch of blue sky behind it, calls up the image of an open skylight, kind of filling the underground space with air. Passengers may relax and feel at ease.

 

Polyakov conceptualized a similar design for the Pushkinskaya station in Leningrad (1954-1955). He installed a sculpture of the great poet Alexander Pushkin made by Mikhail Anikushin in an illuminated niche against the background of a panel-painting (artist Maria Engelke) at the end of the platform hall. In gen-eral, the designers of the first stages of the Leningrad underground railroad (1954) adhered to traditions of St. Petersburg classicism. Such tendency was most pro-nounced in the decoration of the Baltiyskaya station (Mikhail Benoit et al.).

 

No less imposing is the Arbatskaya subway station (Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line) in Moscow, another work of Polyakov and his colleagues put into service in 1955. A masterly use of the Naryshkin baroque heritage comes to the foreground in its composition and décor. It is hard to believe that this luxurious, even somewhat "gaudy", bombastic station was designed by the same author as the formal Oktyabrskaya station.

 

The Volga-Don Shipping Canal (corporate authors headed by Polyakov, 1950-1952) was the most notable achievement of the post-war years in hydraulic engi-neering. The canal had to solve many navigational, power, irrigation and agricultural problems. Above all, it was to connect major rivers of European Russia and turn Moscow into a port of five seas. The watercourse ran through the places of intense battles of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, from Stalingrad through the Don steppes on to the town of Kalach in the west. It was conceived as an extended war memorial, a path of glory of sorts.

 

Here Polyakov took the Russian Empire style as a model. All parts of this grand complex are unified by a common style (unlike the Moskva-Volga Canal laid in

 
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1933-1937 and designed by different architects) and express a single emotional élan a single image seen both in the overall design and in the individual components, such as the tracing of windows and doors, lighting lamps, metal lattices and chain gates. This wonderful historical monument carries on the glorious tradition of national architecture glorifying epic victories of the Russian arms.

 

Such style was not only natural to Polyakov as a cre-ative personality. The Soviet Empire style he furthered became the main trend for the nation in the first post-war decade. It was he who in the 1930s created a mas-terpiece of the national art deco style, namely, the archway of the northern entrance to the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (the present All-Russia Exhibition Center); in the 1950s he was the architect of the Volga-Don Canal, the most imposing, striking and perfect example of the post-war Empire style. Even

 
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though dozens of architects, engineers and several design institutes took part, a single ensemble was formed thanks to its chief architect Polyakov, as testi-fied by archival records and participants.

 

The All-Union Exhibition compound was rebuilt in the early 1950s. Open spaces built with elegant, grace-ful pavilions typical of landscape architecture were replaced with an enfilade of squares. What was viewed as an ideal city emerged-formal, monumental and grand. The pavilions were opulent in their décor based on variations of the classical order or ethnic cultural motifs of constituent Soviet republics.

 

After Alexander Vlasov was appointed Moscow chief architect in 1950, the construction of a residential community on Kaluzhskoye Highway (the present Leninsky Avenue) was continued, as envisaged by the general urban development plan of 1935. The new res-idential area was devoid of ornamentation. Nonethe-

 
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less, ideology was still prioritized, as in the 1930s, in monumental structures flanking the avenue. As a matter of fact, emphasis was put on major thorough-fares, avenues of mass holiday processions. Such pro-jects boosted the architect's professional reputa-tion.

 

In Leningrad, the old traditions of St. Petersburg classicism were carried on. Local architects opted for mansions on a rustic foundation (with wall finish simu-lating massive masonry), their upper stories in the order style. Residential houses put up in Suvorovsky Avenue (architects Mikhail Benoit and Ivan Fomin, 1950) fac-ing a plaza conform to this cannon.

 

Similar houses were erected in Moscow, too. Designed by Ivan Zholtovsky and his followers (the ar-chitect turned eighty early in the 1950s), these build-ings in the Neo-Renaissance style materialized the conceptual postulates of this trend. For example, the façade of an eight-story apartment-house, rising on Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya Street (1950), incorporated the motif of the Florentine Palazzo Gondi (architect Giuliano da Sangallo, 1490) with its sophisticated nuances, though one can see immediately that a 20th century architect changed the building's proportions. However, he did not sacrifice certain essential cannons of his style and married it to the urban development master plan; he merited a State Prize for this apart-ment-house rising in one of Moscow's main thorough-fare.

 

In 1952 another Zholtovsky apartment-house was built on Smolenskaya Square. The ground floor of its corner houses a subway station. Thus, the idea of asym-metrical composition was born. The architect used this approach with good effect by crowning the building with an elegant pinnacle, its upper part resembling lanterns on the domes of Italian cathedrals. The archi-tect wrote: "What makes the architectural skyline of a city attractive and memorable? Suddenness! Mono-tony is tiresome, and so diversity, better sudden, is needed... One ought to bear in mind that people must live comfortably and work with a will in well-appointed houses."

 

Unfortunately, the post-war Empire style had a short life, and it faded away by the mid-1950s. Lush décor quarreled with harmony. Fresh ideas were much in need.

 

Meanwhile new challenges came to the fore, and one was to provide people with adequate housing shortly. Labor-intensive and expensive brick buildings like those in Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya Street or Smolenskaya Square could not solve the housing problem. Industrial flow-line methods of construction and unification of the building code were needed. Nevertheless, the gov-ernment decree of 1954 "On Elimination of Excesses in Design and Construction", which condemned the neo-classic forms as the main obstacle in social task solving came like a bolt from the blue. But strange as it may seem, it was Zholtovsky, a champion of the classi-cal style, to be one of the first to suggest large-panel construction. In 1952-1954, 12 projects were devel-oped in his studio, combining individual and standard solutions, while not sacrificing the esthetical side of architecture. Prefabricated parts were to be used for housing construction with only moderate décor for the first and upper floors. This helped avoid monotony intolerable to Zholtovsky and, at the same time, keep architectural unity.

 

Unfortunately only the first part of this promising dual concept was realized, namely, standard wall panels for a room or for one and two windows, but none of Zholtovsky's projects was implemented in full. But their rational ideas came to stay, namely, clean surface of walls, open joint between panels, absence of exten-sion cornices, concentration of decorative elements downstairs and upstairs, split-level shops on ground floors beyond the façades, and so on. Now only a min-imum of amenities was in order, something that result-ed in drab standard reduced to an absurdity. Not only elements but also entire houses were duplicated on a mass scale. All that led to dull monotony and made res-idential estates inhospitable. Architecture as an art seemed to be dead for 30-35 years to give place to utili-tarian, uniform construction.


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© Anastasia FIRSOVA () Источник: Science in Russia, №3, 2010, C.71-79

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