The first Soviet skyscraper project, Palace of the Soviets, was interrupted by the German invasion of 1941, at which point the steel frame was scrapped in order to fortify the Moscow defense ring, and the site was abandoned. Between 1947 and 1956, Boris Iofan presented six new drafts for this site, and also for Vorobyovy Gory on a smaller scale - they were all rejected. In 1946, Stalin personally switched to another idea - construction of vysotki, a chain of reasonably-sized skyscrapers not tarnished by the memories of the Comintern. As Nikita Khrushchev recalled Stalin's words, "We won the war ... foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there's no skyscrapers. If they compare Moscow to capitalist cities, it's a moral blow to us". Sites were selected in between January, 1947 (the official decree on vysotki) and September 12, 1947 (formal opening ceremony).
Nothing is known about selection of construction sites or design evaluation; this process (1947–1948) was kept secret, a sign of Stalin's personal tight management. Old professionals like Shchusev, Zholtovsky etc., were not involved. Instead, the job was given to the next generation of mature architects. In 1947, the oldest of them, Vladimir Gelfreikh, was 62. The youngest, Mikhail Posokhin, was 37. Individual commissions were ranked according to each architect's status, and clearly segmented into two groups - four first class and four second class towers. Job number one, a Vorobyovy Gory tower that would become Moscow State University, was awarded to Lev Rudnev, a new leader of his profession. Rudnev received his commission only in September 1948, and employed hundreds of professional designers. He released his draft in early 1949. Dmitry Chechulin received two commissions.
In April 1949, the winner of the Stalin Prize for 1948 was announced. All eight design teams received first and second class awards, according to their project status, regardless of their architectural value. At this stage, these were conceptual drafts; often one would be cancelled and others would be altered.
All the buildings employed over-engineered steel frames with concrete ceilings and masonry infill, based on concrete slab foundations (in the case of the University building - 7 meters thick). Exterior ceramic tiles, panels up to 15 square meters, were secured with stainless steel anchors. The height of these buildings was not limited by political will, but by lack of technology and experience - the structures were far heavier than American skyscrapers.
The effect of this project on real urban needs can be seen from these numbers:
- In 1947, 1948, 1949 respectively, Moscow built a total of 100,000, 270,000, and 405,000 square meters of housing.
- The skyscrapers project exceeded 500,000 square meters (at a higher cost per meter)
In other words, the resources diverted for this project effectively halved housing construction rates. On the other hand, the new construction plants, built for this project (like Kuchino Ceramics), were fundamental to Khrushchev's residential program just a few years later.
Read more about this topic: Seven Sisters (Moscow)
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