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Stalinist Architecture Socialist Classicism Russian Architecture Neoclassical architecture

See also
Beijing Military Museum   Apartments, Moscow
The Moscow State University (1953) by Lev Rudnev and Nikolai Nikitin    
Party Building, Sofia, Bulgaria    

Main building of the Moscow State University

Stalinist architecture (also referred to as Stalin's Empire style or Socialist Classicism) is a term given to architecture of the Soviet Union between 1933, when Boris Iofan's draft for Palace of Soviets was officially approved, and 1955, when Nikita Khruschev condemned "excesses" of the past decades and disbanded the Soviet Academy of Architecture.
It is interestingly similar formally to mediaeval and later Russian Orthodox church architecture, and it must ultimately have Byzantine roots. It is an eastern take on a mix between Beaux-Artes, Skyscraper Gothic and Constructivism.


Typical Stalinist: Peking Hotel in Moscow, 1946-1955

One of the 22 rejected projects for Kiev's reconstruction

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 Motherland Calls, 85m, Stalingrad-Volgograd, 1967, Yevgeny Vuchetich and Nikolai Nikitin.

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.

Every point in a design had to gain the approval of the state. Criticism of a project could vary from minor recommendations to total disapproval. As a result many had to be modeled and remodeled many times. This also had a direct effect on the architects themselves, many of whom would later describe this period not by what was actually built, but on what they were not allowed to include. For example, the floral motifs of Art Nouveau were never allowed.

The interaction of the state with the architects would prove to be one of the focal points of this time. The same building could be declared a formalist blasphemy and then receive the highest praise the next year,[1] Authentic styles like Zholtovsky's Renaissance Revival, Ivan Fomin's St. Petersburg Neoclassical Revival and Art Deco adaptation by Alexey Dushkin and Vladimir Schuko coexisted with pale imitations and eclectics that became a symbol of that era.


Wet stucco over masonry. Early elite block, Patriarshy Ponds, Moscow. Art deco adaptation by Vladimir Vladimirov

A sanatorium in Saratov, very common provincial application of Stalinist style

In terms of construction methods, most of the structures, underneath the rich wet stucco walls, are simple brick masonry. Exceptions were Andery Burov's medium-sized concrete block panel houses (such as the Lace building, 1939-41) and large buildings like the Seven Sisters which necessitated the use of concrete. The masonry naturally dictated narrow windows, thus leaving a large wall area to be decorated. Fireproof terra cotta finishes were introduced in the early 1950s.[2] though this was rarely used outside of Moscow.[3] Most of the roofing was comprised of traditional wooden trusses covered with metallic sheets.

Around 1948, construction technology improved – at least in Moscow – as faster and cheaper processes become available. Houses also became safer by eliminating wooden ceilings and partitions. The standardized buildings of 1948-1955 offered the same level of housing quality as the Stalinist classics and are classified as such by real estate agents, but are excluded from the scope of Stalinist architecture. Ideologically they belong to mass housing, an intermediate step before Khrushchyovka.

Stalinist architecture does not equate to everything built in Stalin’s era. 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.

Although Stalin rejected Constructivism, completion of constructivist buildings extended through the 1930s. Industrial construction, boosted by Albert Kahn and later supervised by Victor Vesnin,[4] was heavily influenced by modernist ideas. It was not as important to Stalin's urban plans, so most industrial buildings (excluding megaprojects like the Moscow Canal) do not fall into the Stalinist category. Even the first stage of the Moscow Metro, completed in 1935, was not on Stalin’s watch list, and so included substantial constructivist input.[5]

Thus, the scope of Stalinist architecture is generally limited to urban public and residential buildings of high and middle quality, excluding mass housing, and selected infrastructure projects like the Moscow Canal, the Volga-Don Canal, and the latter stages of the Moscow Metro.

1931 House on Embankment by Boris Iofan. A home for Stalin's elite, but not Stalinist architecture yet.

Background (1900-1931)
Before 1917, the Russian architectural scene was divided between Russky Modern (a local interpretation of Art Nouveau, stronger in Moscow), and Neoclassical Revival (stronger in Saint Petersburg).[6] The Neoclassical school produced mature architects like Alexey Shchusev, Ivan Zholtovsky, Ivan Fomin, Vladimir Schuko and Alexander Tamanian;[7] by the time of the Revolution they were established professionals in their forties, with their own firms, schools and followers. These people would eventually become Stalinism's architectural elders and produce the best examples of the period.

Another school that emerged after the Revolution is now known as Constructivism. Some of the Constructivists (like the Vesnin brothers) were young professionals who had established themselves before 1917, while others had just completed their professional education (like Konstantin Melnikov) or didn't have any. They associated themselves with vocal groups of modern artists, compensating for lack of experience with public exposure. When the New Economic Policy turned the nation to post-war reconstruction, their publicity paid off in the form of real architectural commissions. Experience did not come overnight, and many constructivist buildings were fairly criticized for irrational floorplans, cost overruns and low build quality.

For a short period of time in the mid-1920s, the architectural profession operated the old-fashioned way, with private firms, international contests, competitive bidding and paper wars in professional magazines. Foreign architects were welcomed, especially towards the end of this period, when the Great Depression cut down their jobs at home. Among theses were Ernst May, Albert Kahn, Le Corbusier, Bruno Taut and Mart Stam.[10] The line between traditionalists and constructivists was not clearly defined. Zholtovsky and Shchusev hired modernists as junior partners in their projects, and at the same time incorporated constructivist novelties in their own designs.

Urban planning developed separately. Housing crises in big cities and the industrialization of remote areas called for mass housing construction, development of new territories and reconstruction of old cities. Theorists devised a variety of strategies that created heated politicized discussions without much practical output; State intervention was imminent.

The beginning (1931-1933)

Textile Institute (Moscow), constructivist building completed 1938

Stalinism by a Constructivist, Ilya Golosov: Moscow, completed 1941

Theatre of the Russian Army

Stalin's personal taste in architecture and the extent of his own input remains, for the most part, a matter of deduction, conjecture and anecdotal evidence. The facts, or their reflection in public Soviet documents, revolve around the Palace of Soviets contest of 1931-1933:

February 1931: Leading Soviet architects receive invitations to bid for the Palace of Soviets concept.
June 1931: The Party Plenum authorize three megaprojects: the reconstruction of Moscow, the Moscow Canal and the Moscow Metro.
July 1931: Architects present 15 concepts for the first contest and a second, open, international contest is announced.
February 1932: The prize for the second contest is awarded to 3 drafts (Iofan, Zholtovsky, Hector Hamilton). All modernist designs are rejected.
March 1932: 12 architects receive an invitation to a third contest.
April 1932: The Party outlaws all independent artistic associations. Victor Vesnin is assigned to lead the official Union of Soviet Architects.
July 1932: 5 architects receive an invitation to a fourth contest.
August 1932: Stalin (then in Sochi) writes a memo to Voroshilov, Molotov and Kaganovich. He explained his vision of contest entries, picked Iofan's draft and proposed specific changes to it. This memo, first published in 2001, is the basis for all conjectures on Stalin's personal input.
February 1933: The fourth contest is closed with no winner announced.
May 1933: Public approval of Iofan's draft.
September 1933: All Moscow architects are assigned to 20 Mossovet workshops, most of them headed by traditionalist architects (Shchusev, Zholtovsky etc.).
The architects invited to lead these workshops included traditionalists - Ivan Zholtovsky, Alexey Shchusev, Ivan Fomin, Boris Iofan, Vladimir Schuko - but also practicing constructivists: Ilya Golosov, Panteleimon Golosov, Nikolai Kolli, Konstantin Melnikov, Victor Vesnin, Moisei Ginzburg and Nikolai Ladovsky. This set an important trend that lasted until 1955. Stalin chose Iofan for one project, but retained all competing architects in his employ. As Dmitry Khmelnitsky put it, "Comparison with Nazi architecture works to some degree, yet there is a major difference. Stalin never picked a single architect, or a single style, as Hitler picked Speer. No elite group could claim victory ... neither constructivists, nor traditionalists... Stalin forged his "Speer" from whatever he could find."

Another important point is that before cracking down on independent groups, Stalin's megaprojects created thousands of professional jobs. As a result, the once-vocal youth were absorbed into real-world practice, and abstained from discussions, just like their elders. They had jobs to do.

Pre-war Stalinist architecture (1933-1941)

Early Stalinism (1933-1935)

Statue in front of Ilya Golosov's building

The first years of Stalinist architecture are marked by stand-alone buildings, or, at most, single-block development projects. Building up vast spaces of Moscow proved far more difficult than razing historical districts. The three most important Moscow buildings of this time stand on the same square, all built between 1931 and 1935, yet each draft evolved independently, with little thought given to overall ensemble (see prewar movie stills 1936 1938 1939). Each set its own vector of development for the next two decades.

Mokhovaya Street Building, by Ivan Zholtovsky, 1931-1934

The Mokhovaya Street Building by Zholtovsky, an Italian Renaissance fantasy, is a direct precursor of post-war exterior luxury (Stalin's "Empire" style). However, its size is in line with nearby 19th-century buildings.

Moskva Hotel, by Alexey Shchusev, 1932-1935

The Moskva Hotel by Alexey Shchusev. This line of development was uncommon in Moscow (a tower on top of Tchaikovsky Hall was never completed), but similar grand edifices appeared in Baku and Kiev. Slim Roman arches of Moskva balconies were common all over the country in 1930s. After the war they persisted in southern cities but disappeared from the Moscow scene.

STO Building, by Arkady Langman, 1932-1935

Finally, Arkady Langman's STO Building (later Gosplan, currently State Duma): a modest but not grim structure with strong vertical detailing. This style, a clever adaptation of American Art Deco, required expensive stone and metal finishes, thus it had a limited following - the House of Soviets in Leningrad, topped out in 1941, and Tverskaya Street in Moscow.
А separate line of development, called "early Stalinism" or "Postconstructivism",[13] evolved from 1932 to 1938. It can be traced both to simplified Art Deco (through Schuko and Iofan), and to indigenous Constructivism, slowly migrating to Neoclassicism (Ilya Golosov, Vladimir Vladimirov). These buildings retain the simple rectangular shapes and large glass surfaces of Constructivism, but with ornate balconies, porticos and columns (usually rectangular and very lightweight). By 1938, it went out of style and didn't recover after the war.

Norhern River Terminal of Moscow Canal, by Alexey Rukhlyadev, 1937

Moscow Master Plan (1935)
Stand-alone projects threatened to become a mess of styles and sizes. In July, 1935 the State evaluated the results and finally issued a decree on the Moscow Master Plan. The Plan, among other things, projected a clear message of Stalin's urban development ideas:

New development must proceed by whole ensembles, not by stand-alone buildings.
City block size should increase from the current 1.5-2 to 9-15 ha.
New development must be limited in density to 400 person per 1 ha.
Buildings should be at least 6 stories high; 7-10-14 story on first-rate streets.
Embankments are first-rate streets, only zoned for first-rate housing and offices[14]
These rules effectively banned low-cost mass construction in the old city and "first-rate" streets, as well as single-family homebuilding. Low-cost development proceeded in remote areas, but most funds were diverted to new, expensive "ensemble" projects which placed facades and grandeur above the real-world needs of overcrowded cities.

Moscow Avenues (1938-1941)

Rosenfeld's twin towers in Dorogomilovo, 1946 completion of 1938-1941 development plan

In the late 1930s, the construction industry was experienced enough to build large, multi-block urban redevelopments - although all of these were in Moscow. The three most important Moscow projects were:

Gorky Street (Tverskaya), where Arkady Mordvinov tested the so-called "flow methode" of simultaneously managing building sites in different stages of completion. From 1937 to 1939, Mordvinov completed rebuilding the central stretch of Gorky Street to Boulevard Ring (with some exclusions like the Mossovet headquarters).
Dorogomilovo (including part of present-day Kutuzovsky Prospekt). Unlike the uniform, tight rows of buildings of Gorky Street, Dorogomilovo road was lined with very different buildings, with wide spaces between them. It was an experimental stretch for Burov, Rosenfeld and other rising architects. These buildings were not as thoroughly engineered as on Tverskaya and wooden ceilings and partitions and wet stucco exteriors eventually led to higher maintenance costs. Yet it is here where the "Stalin's Empire" canon was forged, in its clearest form.
Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya (now Leninsky Prospect), a similar greenfield development of standard block-wide buildings east of Gorky Park

Kutuzovsky 26, Brezhnev's and Suslov's home, Moscow-City behind.

Dorogomilovo West, city "gates"

Dorogomilovo West, city "gates". Obelisk added in 1990s.

Slim mediterranean arches, typical for 1930s

Present-day Cosmos pavillion is one of 1939 originals, remodeled in 1950s. The rocket replaced Stalin's figure (of about the same size).
All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (1939)

In 1936, the annual Agricultural Exhibition was moved to an empty field north of Moscow. By August 1, 1939, over 250 pavilions were built on 1.36 square kilometers. A 1937 statue by Vera Mukhina, Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, once a Soviet showcase at Paris Expo, was rebuilt at the entrance gates. Pavilions were created in the national styles of Soviet republics and regions; a walk through the exhibition recreated a tour of the huge country. The central pavilion by Vladimir Schuko was based slightly on the abortive 1932 Palace of Soviets draft by Zholtovsky.[16] Unlike the "national" buildings, it hasn't survived (central gates and major pavilions were rebuilt in early 1950s).

The surviving 1939 pavilions are the last and only sign of Stalin's monumental propaganda in their original setting. Such propaganda pieces were not built to last (like Shchusev's War Trophy Hangar in Gorky Park), some were torn down during de-Stalinization of 1956 and others simply fell apart.

Post-War (1944-1950)
Post-war architecture, sometimes perceived as a uniform style, was fragmented into at least four vectors of development

Luxurious residential and office construction of complete regions such as the Moskovsky Prospekt in Leningrad and the Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow.
Major infrastructure projects (Metro in Leningrad and Moscow, Volga-Don Canal)
Rebuilding war damage of Minsk, Kiev, Smolensk, Stalingrad, Voronezh, and hundreds of smaller towns
And the drive for new, low-cost technologies to resolve the housing crises, evident since 1948 and the official state policy since 1951
Building of new cities, especially in Siberia: Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Dzerzhinsk and elsewhere.

House of Lions, 1945, Patriarshy Ponds, Moscow. One-of-a-kind top level downtown residence.

Residential construction in post-war cities was clearly segregated according to the ranks of tenants. No effort was made to conceal luxuries; sometimes they were evident, sometimes deliberately exaggerated (in contrast with Iofan's stern House on Embankment). Country residencies of Stalin's near-royalty was on the top level; so was the 1945 House of Lions by Ivan Zholtovsky,[17] a luxurious downtown residence for Red Army Marshals. 1947 Marshals Apartments by Lev Rudnev, on the same block, is just a step down, also a top brass residence but in a less extravagant exterior package. There was a type of building for every level in Stalin's hierarchy.[18]

High-class buildings can be easily identified by tell-tale details like spacing between windows, penthouses and bay windows. Sometimes, the relative rank and occupation of tenants is reflected in ornaments, sometimes - in memorial plaques. Note that these are all Moscow features. In smaller cities, the social elite usually fitted into just one or two classes; St. Petersburg always had a supply of pre-revolutionary luxury space.

Penthouse, pre-war postconstructivist building by Vladimir Vladimirov.

Entrance with side views for security guards. Marshals Apartments by Rudnev, 1947

Details indicate social strata - House of Actors, Gorky Street

Bay windows, another luxury sign, a late 1952 Rosenfeld block.

Moscow Metro (1938-1958)

Moscow Metro, Elektrozavodskaya station (opened 1944)

The first stage of Moscow Metro (1931–1935) emerged as just another city utility. There was a lot of propaganda about building it, but the subway itself wasn't perceived as a piece of propaganda. "Unlike other projects, Moscow Metro was never called Stalin's metro".[19] Old architects[20] stayed away from Metro commissions, clearing the road for the young. Attitudes changed when the second stage work started in 1935. This time, the subway was a political statement and enjoyed far better funding.[21] Second stage produced such different examples of Stalinist style as Mayakovskaya (1938), Elektrozavodskaya and Partizanskaya (1944). The stations built in 1944 were the first permanent Patriotic War memorial.

Arbatskaya (deep alignment). Unusual parabolic vault instead of circular

After the war, architects waited in line for the Metro contests; it took 6 years to complete the first post-war line (a 6.4 stretch of the Ring Line. These stations were dedicated to Victory. No more Comintern,[22] no more World revolution, but a clear statement of victorious, nationalist Stalinism. Oktyabrskaya station by Leonid Polyakov was built like a Classicist temple, with a shiny white-blue altar behind iron gates - a complete departure from prewar atheism. To see this altar, a rider had to pass a long row of plaster banners, bronze candlesticks and assorted military imagery. Park Kultury (2) featured true Gothic chandelliers, another departure. Metrostroy operated its own marble and carpentery factories, producing 150 solid, whole block marble columns for this short stretch. The second stretch of Ring line was a tribute to Heroic Labor (with the exception of Shchusev's Komsomolskaya, set up as a retelling of Stalin's speech of November 7, 1941).

VDNKh, opened in 1958, stripped of excesses. Green oil paint replaced Favorsky's mosaics.

April 4, 1953, the public learn that a 1935 stretch from Alexandrovsky Sad, then Kalininskaya, to Kievskaya is closed for good and replaced with a brand-new, deep-alignment line. No official explanation of this expensive twist exists; all speculations revolve around a bomb shelter function. One of the stations, Arbatskaya (2) by Leonid Polyakov, became the longest station in the system, 250 meters instead of standard 160, and probably the most extravagant. "To some extent, it is Moscow Petrine baroque, yet despite citations from historical legacy, this station is hyperbolic, ethereal and unreal".[24] Actually, its vaults are parabolic.

Stalinist canon was officially condemned when two more stretches, to Luzhniki and VDNKh, were under construction. These stations, completed in 1957 and 1958 were mostly stripped of excesses, but architecturally they still belong to Stalin's lineage. The date of May 1, 1958 when the last of these stations opened, marks the end of all late Stalinist construction.

Seven Sisters (1947-1955)

Chechulin's draft for the never-built Zaryadye skyscraper

Echo of the Sisters: Fountain and central pavillion, All-Russian Exhibition (1954)

Stalin's 1946 idea of dotting Moscow skyline with skyscrapers resulted in a January, 1947 decree that started a six-year-long publicity campaign. By the time of official groundbreaking, September 1947, eight construction sites where identified (one, in Zaryadye, would be cancelled). Eight design teams, lead by the new generation of chief architects (37 to 62 years old), churned out numerous drafts; there was no open contest or evaluation commission, which is an indicator of Stalin's personal management.

All lead architects were awarded Stalin prizes in April, 1949 for preliminary drafts; corrections and amendments followed until very late completion stages. All the buildings employed overengineered steel frames with concrete ceilings and masonry infill, based on concrete slab foundations (which sometimes required ingenious water retention technology).

Skyscraper projects required a lot of new materials (especially ceramics) and technologies; solving these issues contributed to later housing and infrastructure development. However, it came at cost of slowing down regular construction, at a time when the country was lying in ruins. The toll of this project on real urban needs can be seen from these numbers:

In 1947, 1948, 1949 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)[25]
Similar skyscrapers were built in Warsaw and Riga; the tower in Kiev was completed without crown and steeple.

The upward surge of the Sisters, publicised since 1947, was recreated in numerous smaller buildings across the country. 8 to 12 story high towers marked the 4-5 story high ensembles of post-war regional centers. The Central Pavilion of All-Russia Exhibition Centre, reopened in 1954, is 90 meters high, has a cathedral-like main hall, 35 meters high, 25 meters wide with Stalinist sculpture and murals.[26]

Dual towers
Dual towers (a prominent Stalinist motif), flanking major city squares, can be found from Berlin to Siberia:

Moscow, Gagarin square; note different finishes

Minsk, Railway Terminal square

Berlin, Frankfurter Tor

Kharkiv, Railway Station

Red Square in Kursk

Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in 1945

The city duma building with the Lenin statue in Yekaterinburg.

Samara opera house

Independence Avenue in Minsk (1944-1959)

Independence avenue in Minsk

The urban architectural ensemble of Nezalezhnastci Avenue in Minsk is an example of the integrated approach in organizing a city's environment by harmoniously combining its architectural monuments, the planning structure, the landscape and the natural or man-made spots of vegetation. The Ensemble was constructed during fifteen years after World War II. Its length is 2900 metres. The width of the road including side-walks varies from 42 to 48 meters.

The work on the general lay-out of the former Sovietskaya Street began in 1944, immediately after the liberation of Minsk from the Nazi troops. The leading architects from Moscow and Minsk were involved in the project. In 1947, as a result of the competition, the project which had been developed under supervision of the academician of architecture M. Parusnikov, was selected for the implementation.

The project plan of the Nezalezhnastci Avenue ensemble has succeeded in escaping monotony. The lay-out provided for the main features of the town-planning ensemble - the length of the buildings facades, their silhouettes, the main divisions, and the general architectural pattern. The integrated building plan was based on the accommodation of innovative ideas into classical architecture. The survived pre-war buildings and park zones were harmoniously incorporated into the architectural ensemble.

At present all buildings which form the Nezalezhnastci Avenue ensemble are inscribed on the State List of Historical and Cultural Values of the Republic of Belarus. The architectural ensemble itself, with its buildings and structures, the lay-out and the landscape is protected by the state and inscribed on the List as a complex of historical and cultural values. In 1968 a National Prize in architecture was introduced and it was won by a team of architects representing architectural schools of Moscow and Minsk, (M.Parusnikov, G.Badanov, I.Barsch, S.Botkovsky, A.Voinov, V.Korol, S.Musinsky, G.Sisoev, N.Trachtenberg, and N.Shpigelman) for the design and construction of the Nezaleznosci Avenue ensemble. [27]

The most famous Stalinist architectural ensembles in Minsk are also in Lenina Street, Kamsamolskaya Street, Kamunistychnaya Street, Pryvakzalnaya Square and others.

1949 Stalin Prize

Zemlyanoy Val 46-48, MGB Apartments by Yevgeny Rybitsky, 1949

Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya 7 by Ivan Zholtovsky, 1949, a half-way attempt to make Stalinist style affordable

Stalin Prize for the year 1949, announced in March, 1950, showed a clear and present division of Stalinist architecture - extravagant, expensive buildings are still praised, but so are attempts to make Stalinist style affordable. The 1949 prize was given exclusively for completed apartment buildings, a sign of top priority. It also demonstrates clear class stratification of eligible tenants of this time. Three Moscow buildings received awards:

Zemlyanoy Val, 46-48 by Yevgeny Rybitsky stands out in exterior luxury, even by 1949 standards. In addition to bay windows, it has elaborate rooftop obelisks, porticos and complex cornices. Even more is hidden inside. It was built for top MGB brass, with 200-meter apartments and a secure 2-level courtyard. Workforce included German POW's; wiring, plumbing and finishes used requisitioned German materials. In 1949, it was praised, in 1952 criticized, and in 1955 Khruschev personally labelled it as "a pinnacle of excesses".
Sadovo-Triumphalnaya, 4 by Rosenfeld and Suris is just one step below the ladder. Walls, deeply cut by bay windows and horizontal cornices, are finished in granite and terra cotta. Overall image is so heavyweight, it projects luxury as effectively as Rybitsky's work. A nice design feature is a second set of stairs for the servants.
Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya, 7 by Zholtovsky is one of the first recognized attempts to cut costs per unit, while retaining Stalinist standards of quality and masonry technology. Two-room apartments are small by Stalinist standards, yet with plenty of storage space and a smart floorplan that discouraged conversion of single-family units to multi-family kommunalka. Externally, it's a flat slab with modest decorations following Zholtovsky's Florentine canon; no statues or obelisks, no bay windows. It was a sign of things to come.

Regional varieties

Soviet Embassy (1952), Helsinki.

The national republics of the USSR were entitled to develop their own Stalinist styles, with more or less freedom. When local forces were not enough, Russian architects were summoned (Shchusev designed an oriental-looking theater in Tashkent, etc.). Alexander Tamanian, appointed as the chief architect of Yerevan, is largely responsible for the Armenian variety of Stalinist architecture. Stalinist architecture was, from around 1948 to 1956, employed in the post-war Eastern Bloc 'People's Democracies', usually after defeating internal Modernist opposition. This would sometimes show certain local influences, though was frequently regarded as a Soviet import.


Warsaw Palace of Culture

Lev Rudnev's Warsaw Palace of Culture, which was dubbed a 'gift from the Soviet people', was perhaps the most controversial of the importations of Stalinist architecture. This vast, skyscraping tower, which is still the fourth largest building in the European Union, entirely dominated the city. However an earlier exercise in Neoclasssicism was the large MDM Boulevard, which was developed in parallel with the faithful reconstruction of the old town centre. MDM was a typical Stalinist 'Magistrale', with the generous width of the street often rumoured to be for the purposes of tank movements. The New Town of Nowa Huta outside Krakow was also planned in Stalinist style in the late 1940s.

East Germany

Strausberger Platz, Berlin

After the Soviet Victory over Nazi Germany, various grandiose war memorials were built in Berlin, including one in the Tiergarten (using marble taken from Albert Speer's Reich Chancellery) and another, larger one in Treptow. The first major Stalinist building in Germany was the Soviet embassy in Unter den Linden. This was initially mocked by Modernists such as Hermann Henselmann, and until around 1948, East Berlin's city planning (under the direction of Hans Scharoun) was Modernist, as in the galleried apartments that made up the first part of a planned Stalinallee. However the government condemned these experiments and adopted the Russian style, and the rest of the Stalinallee was designed by Henselmann and former Modernists like Richard Paulick in what was disrespectfully dubbed zuckerbackerstil ('wedding cake style'). Similar, if less grandiose, monuments were designed in other cities, such as the new town of Stalinstadt.

Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary

Casa Scânteii, Bucharest

Former Party House, Sofia, Bulgaria

Central buildings built in the overwhelming Stalinist manner also included the Casa Scânteii in Romania and the complex of the Largo, Sofia, in Bulgaria. These were all pre-1953 projects, even if some were finished after Stalin's death. There were fewer examples in Czechoslovakia, although the Modernist architects and theorists such as Karel Teige were hounded, while statues to Stalin were designed, one of the most grandiose of which was in Prague. In Hungary a Stalinist style was adopted in the town of Sztalinvaros. As in the USSR, Modernism returned in much of Eastern Europe after the mid-1950s, although there were exceptions to this in the most authoritarian regimes: the enormous Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is a very late example of neoclassicism, begun as late as 1984 and completed in 1990, shortly after the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989.

City Hall, Tblisis, Georgia, 1980

Other Areas
In East Asia, some examples may be found in North Korea and China, e.g., the Shanghai Exhibition Center, originally built as the Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship. Stalinist styles were used in the design of Soviet embassies outside of the Eastern Bloc, notably the embassy (1952) in Helsinki, Finland. The building, designed by architect E.S.Grebenshthikov, has a certain resemblance to Buckingham Palace in London; this is said to be due to the then Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov's liking for the official residence of the British monarch.

Folding down (1948-1955)
A switch from Stalinist architecture to standard prefabricated concrete is usually associated with Khruschev's reign and in particular the November 1955 decree On liquidation of excesses ... (November, 1955).[30] Indeed, Khruschev was involved in cost-cutting campaign, but it began in 1948, while Stalin was alive and active. A turn to mass construction is evident in economy Stalinist buildings like Zholtovsky's Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya, 7. Based on masonry, they provided only a marginal gain; there had to be a technology breakthrough. In 1948-1955, various architectural offices conduct an enormous feasibility study, devising and testing new technologies.[31]

Frame-and-panel experiment (1948-1952)

Lagutenko-Posokhin block, Moscow, 1948-1952. Looks like masonry but is in fact a prefab-concrete frame with concrete panel skin

In 1947, engineer Vitaly Lagutenko was appointed to lead the experimental Industrial Construction Bureau, with an objective to study and design the low-cost technology suitable for fast mass construction. Lagutenko focused on large prefabricated concrete panes. He joined rising architects Mikhail Posokhin (Sr.)[32] and Ashot Mndoyants, and in 1948 this team built their first concrete frame-and-panel building near present-day Polezhaevskaya metro station. Four identical buildings followed nearby; similar buildings where built in 1949-1952 across the country.[33] This was still an experiment, not backed by industrial capacity or fast-track project schedules. Posokhin also devised various pseudo-Stalinist configurations of the same building blocks, with decorative excesses; these didn't materialize. Concrete frames became common in industrial construction, but too expensive for mass housing.

January, 1951: Moscow Conference
It is not known for sure which Party leader personally initiated the drive to cut costs. The need was imminent. What is known is that in January, 1951, Khrushchev - then City of Moscow party boss - hosted a professional conference on construction problems.[34] The conference decreed a transition to plant-made, large-sized concrete parts, building new plants for prefab concrete and other materials, and replacement of wet masonry technology with fast assembly of prefab elements. The industry still had to decide - should they use big, story-high panels, or smaller ones, or maybe two-story panels, as Lagutenko tried in Kuzminki[35]? Basic technology was set, feasibility studies continued. A year later, this line of action - setting up prefab concrete plants - was made a law by the XIX Party Congress, Stalin attending. Major public buildings and elite housing were not affected yet.

Peschanaya Square (1951-1955)

Rosenfeld's Peschanaya Street project, Moscow, 1951-1955. Masonry, with prefab concrete exterior details

A different line of experiments tackled improvement of project management, switching from a single-building to a multi-block project scale. This was tested live during the Peschanaya Square development (a territory north from 1948 Posokhin-Lagutenko block). Using flow methode[36] of moving crews through a chain of buildings in different completion stages, and a moderate application of prefab concrete on otherwise traditional masonry, builders managed to complete typical 7-story buildings in 5-6 months.[37] Instead of wet stucco (which caused at least two months delay), these buildings are finished in open brickwork outside and drywall inside; and from a quality of life viewpoint, these are true - and the last - Stalinist buildings.

The end of Stalinist Architecture (November 1955)
When Stalin was alive, luxury empire and mass construction coexisted; support for Lagutenko did not mean demise for Rybitsky. It changed in November, 1954, when critics openly bashed the excesses and the will to build 10-14 story buildings, Stalin's own will; according to Khmelnitsky,[38] this had to be triggered by Khruschev personally. For the next year, the campaign grows, preparing public to a formal farewell with stalinism.

Decree On liquidation of excesses... (November 4, 1955) provides some data on the cost of Stalinist excesses, estimated at 30-33% of total costs. Certainly, these examples were carefully hand-picked, but they are reasonable. Alexey Dushkin and Yevgeny Rybitsky received a special beating for triple cost overruns and luxurious floorplans; Rybitsky and Polyakov were stripped of their Stalin prizes. This was followed with specific orders to develop standardized designs and install an Institute of Standardized Buildings in place of the former Academy.[30]

Stalinist architecture agonized for five more years - work on old buildings was not a top priority anymore. Some were redesigned from scratch; some, structurally complete, lost all the excesses. The story ended with completion of Hotel Ukrayina (Kiev) in 1961.

The majestic Stalinallee in Berlin, also completed in 1961, was conceived in 1952, and didn't have too much to lose: the scale and bulk of these buildings are definitely Stalinist, but the modest finishes lean to Jugendstil and Prussian Neoclassicism. The street would later be extended in an International Style idiom and renamed Karl-Marx-Allee.

Legacy and Revival

GALS Tower, Tverskaya Street

Certain buildings of the Brezhnev era, notably the White House of Russia, can be traced to Stalin's legacy, while the Neo-Stalinist regime in Romania produced a vast, late example of the style in its Palace of the Parliament, which was started in 1984. Deliberate recreations of his style have appeared in Moscow since 1996, either as infill into period neighborhoods, or as stand-alone developments. Some lean to pure Neoclassical or Art Deco; with a few exceptions, their architectural quality and role in urban development is disputed. Examples of the least controversial kind are:

Triumph Palace in Moscow, known as the eighth sister, is one of the most prominent buildings, with a silhouette identical to the Stalinist constructions.
Roman Court (Римский Двор, 2005) by Mikhail Filippov; probably better classified as a neoclassical fantasy, yet related to early Stalinist buildings[39]
GALS Tower (Cистема ГАЛС, 2001) by a team of Workshop 14 architects fills a gap between midrise period buildings on Tverskaya. Not intended to dominate the neighborhood, it just marks the corner of a block. Despite mixed citations from Art Nouveau and Art Deco, it blends well with its Tverskaya setting[40]
Preobrazhenskaya Zastava (Преображенская Застава, 2003) is a whole block (308 apartments and retail stores) designed in early 1930s style approaching the Art Deco adaptations by of Iofan and Vladimirov. An unusual example which actually looks like a period piece, not a modern replica.

See also

Architecture of The Stalin Era, by Alexei Tarkhanov (Collaborator), Sergei Kavtaradze (Collaborator), Mikhail Anikst (Designer), 1992, ISBN 978-08-4781-473-2
Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two, by Vladimir Paperny (Author), John Hill (Translator), Roann Barris (Translator), 2002, ISBN 978-05-2145-119-2
The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, by Deyan Sudjic, 2004, ISBN 978-15-9420-068-7
It isn't just through these late flourishes that Stalinist architecture differs so radically with that of Fascism and particularly Nazism. Nazi architecture, whether in its urban, neo-Classical version or in its ruralist manifestation, was always determinedly middlebrow. Cottages, follies or buildings of state were sober, based firmly on tradition, faithful to it. Compare this with Stalin's phantasmagorias, with their excresences and eclecticism. The awe-inspiring (for various reasons) film below, New Moscow of 1938 encapsulates this. Made a couple of years after the vanquishing of Constructivism and at the height of the purges, it imagines a future that evokes the lumbering attempts at historical continuity of London's 80s, the visions of a mutant New York in Metropolis, and the neo-classical desolation in de Chirico, and seems to think this is a thing to celebrate.
Dmitry Khmelnitsky's "Stalin and Architecture" (Russian: )