Russian Architecture - Postwar Soviet Union

Postwar Soviet Union

See also: Postconstructivism

Stalinist architecture put a premium on conservative monumentalism. During the 1930s there was rapid urbanisation as a result of Stalin's policies, and there was an international competition to build the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow at that time. After 1945, the focus was on both rebuilding structures destroyed in World War II and erecting new ones: seven high-rise buildings were built at symbolic points in the Moscow area. The construction of Moscow University (1948–1953), by Lev Rudnev and associates, is particularly notable for its use of space. Another example is the Exhibition Centre in Moscow, built for the second All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV) in 1954. This featured a series of pavilions, each decorated in representative style. Other well-known examples are the stations of the Moscow and Saint Petersburg Metros built during the 1940s and 1950s, famous for their extravagant design and vivid decoration. In general, Stalinist architecture changed the appearance of many post-war cities; much survives to this day in central avenues and public buildings.

Following Stalin's death in 1953, social and political changes rocked the country; construction priorities and architecture were also affected. In 1955 Nikita Khrushchev, faced with the slow pace of housing construction, called for drastic measures to accelerate the process. This involved developing new mass-production technology and removing "decorative extras" from buildings. This put an effective end to Stalinist architecture; however, the transition was slow. Most projects in the planning state or under construction by 1955 were directly affected; the result, at times, was entire areas becoming esthetically asymmetrical. A well-known example occurred in the postwar reconstruction of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in which the planned Kreschatik avenue and its central square (Ploschad Kalinina) were to form a single rich space enclosed by Stalinist construction. However, as the buildings enclosing the latter were in completion, the architects were forced to alter their plans and the area was left unfinished until the early 1980s. In particular Hotel Ukrayina, which was to crown the square with a look similar to one of Moscow's "Seven sisters", was left as a solid shape without a top spire or any rich external decoration.

Nevertheless, as the buildings became more square and simple they brought with them a new style fueled by the Space Age: functionality. The State Kremlin Palace is an hommage to an earlier attempt to bridge rapidly-changing styles dictated by the state. The Ostankino Tower, by Nikolai Nikitin, symbolizes technological advances and the future. In addition to simpler buildings, the 1960s are remembered for massive housing plans. A typical project was developed using concrete panels to make a simple, five-story house. These Pyatietazhki became the dominant housing construction. Although rapidly built, their quality was poor compared with earlier housing; their monotonous appearance contributed to the grey and dull stereotype characteristic of socialist cities.

As the 1970s began, Leonid Brezhnev allowed architects more freedom; soon, housing of varied design was built. Blocks of flats were taller and more decorated; large mosaics on their sides became a feature. In nearly all cases, these were built not as standalone construction but as part of large estates (French: housing massif) which soon became a central feature of socialist cities. Public buildings were built with a variety of themes. Some (like the White House of Russia) made direct connections to earlier 1950s architecture, with a white marble-faced exterior and large bas-reliefs on the wings.

  • All-Russia Exhibition Centre

  • Chelyabinsk Opera House

  • House of Soviets

  • School 518

  • Ostankino Tower

  • Moscow Metro

  • Moscow White House

  • Khrushchyovka, in Tomsk

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