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Architecture

in the Stalin-era USSR

The History of the USSR & the Peoples’ Democracies

Chapter 6, Section 6 (C6S6)

 

Saed Teymuri

 

Lenin said:

Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bourgeois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction, inspired by the practical experience of the proletarian dictatorship as the final stage in the struggle against every form of exploitation, can be recognised as the development of a genuine proletarian culture. (On Proletarian Culture, Vladimir Lenin, October 8, 1920. Source: Lenin’s ‘Collected Works’, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Vol. 31, pages 316-317)

Communism appreciates the works of pre-communist philosophers, artists, etc. so long as the works promote progress in history, even if the works are not ideologically communist in character. (...). Upon the invincible scientific theses of Lenin’s, the USSR promoted socialist culture, keeping the progressive elements of the ‘old’ styles of art.

The classicist/neo-classicist, renaissance, and Islamic styles of architecture are only some of the many good styles of architecture which the USSR embraced.

Many of the following residential buildings are not fully classicist or neo-classicist in style, but they do incorporate many of its elements, especially the round columns, and at times, also the arches and the preference for blank walls. Elements of Greco-Roman architecture can be seen as added to these residential buildings. On the other hand, many of the official government buildings too had the classicist/neo-classicist style of architecture, along with realistic statues installed beside or at the roof of many of the buildings.

 

75. Mokhovaya Street. Residential building by I. V. Zholtovsky, 1934.79. Nikitsky Boulevard. Fragment of the facade of a residential building. E. L. Iokheles

  

Left: Mokhovaya Street. Residential building by I. V. Zholtovsky, 1934.

Right: Nikitsky Boulevard. Fragment of the facade of a residential building. E. L. Iokheles

 

94. 1st Meshchanskaya Street. Residential building: P. A. Nesterov, I. V. Minkov, 1938

94. 1st Meshchanskaya Street. Residential building: P. A. Nesterov, I. V. Minkov, 1938

 

93. 1st Meshchanskaya Street. Residential building named after G. I. Glushchenko. 1938

1st Meshchanskaya Street. Residential building named after G. I. Glushchenko. 1938.

 

274. Sverdlovsk. Ural Industrial Institute named after S. M. Kirov. Portico. Wolfenzon, Gorshkov, 1938

274. Sverdlovsk. Ural Industrial Institute named after S. M. Kirov. Portico. Wolfenzon, Gorshkov, 1938

 

10. Советская площадь. Дом Московского Совета депутатов трудящихся. Реконструирован в 1946 году. Д. Н. Чечулин

10. Sovetskaya Square. House of the Moscow Soviet of Workers' Deputies. It was reconstructed in 1946 by D. N. Chechulin

 

329. Sochi. City theater. Designed under the supervision of academician V. A. Shchuko and V. G. Gelfreich by architects K. N. Chernopyatov and V. N. 3vorkovsky. 1939

Sochi. City theater. Designed under the supervision of academician V. A. Shchuko and V. G. Gelfreich by architects K. N. Chernopyatov and V. N. 3vorkovsky. 1939

 

One false impression that Western media creates is that the carving and sculpting of the walls was something that was introduced for the first time in the Khrushchev era. Obviously, the sculpted wall shown here debunks this myth.

 

207. Moscow Movie Theater. A fragment of the login. L. M. Khidekel, 1937-1939

Moscow Movie Theater. A fragment of the entry. L. M. Khidekel, 1937-1939

 

The All-Union Agricultural Exhibition was a Stalin-era exhibition that celebrated not only the achievements of Soviet architecture, but also promoted the unity of the SSRs and presented the cultures of the Soviet Union. The Pavilion of the Azerbaijan SSR in the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition was a building in Moscow representing Azerbaijan’s agricultural production. As can be seen, much as how the classicist architecture of the Pagan Greco-Romans was incorporated into Soviet architecture, the Shia Islamic style of architecture was preserved and promoted in the USSR as well. The image on the left shows three ‘mehrabs’ on the wall, separated by columns. The mehrab is very clearly an Islamic symbol incorporated into mosques. The image on the right is no less Islamic in style. The carving on door and the sculpting on the wall very much appear in the old-school Middle Eastern, Arabist, or Islamic style. Of course, the building was not a mosque, much as how the classicist-style buildings were not polytheistic temples. The buildings had strictly secular purposes, but the style of architecture which they had, preserved the style of architecture that had been used for religious purposes.

Note also that the mehrabs in the image on the left and the sculpting on the wall and carving on the doors have symbolic imagery, as opposed to some kind of a rigidly realistic representation of the world. This again is proof of the fact that the Soviets were not dogmatic in applying the principles of socialist realism to architecture.

 

183—184. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR". Fragments of the side facade

183-184. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR". Fragments of the side facade

 

The following are more images of the Azerbaijan SSR pavilion. Again, socialist realism cannot be strictly applied to all aspects of arts. In the field of architecture, the visual design on the columns, arches, or walls of buildings, would not always necessarily have as high a quality if they merely were realist paintings. Instead, the quality of the visual design on the buildings can be enhanced through symbolic imagery. As can seen, the building, which is to represent the scientific socialist agriculture of Azerbaijan contains the kind of symbolic imagery typically seen in Islamic architecture (e.g. Mosques), except that the building is for secular purposes as opposed to religious purposes. The aspects of the mosque architecture which the building lacks is the dome and the minarets.

 

181—182. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR". Portal Details

All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR". Portal Details

 

180. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR": S. A. Dadashev, M. A. Useynov

All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Pavilion "Azerbaijan SSR": S. A. Dadashev, M. A. Useynov

Soviet architecture also incorporated the ‘Mediterranean’ style of architecture for many of its buildings, especially its residential buildings. The obvious outstanding features of these kinds of buildings are the round columns and the arches, typical of the ‘Mediterranean’ style. One of the residential building series shown below has a large arch, which can be seen in some of the marketplaces of the Mediterranean countries, even though the large arch is actually for a residential building series as opposed to a marketplace.

Leningradskoe highway. Residential building. Fragment of the facade. З. М. Розенфельд. 1939236. Stachek Street. Residential buildings: V. A. Kamensky, G. A. Ol, V. F. Belov, A. A. Leiman. 1936-1939

Left: Leningradskoe highway. Residential building. Fragment of the facade. З. М. Розенфельд. 1939

Right: 236. Stachek Street. Residential buildings: V. A. Kamensky, G. A. Ol, V. F. Belov, A. A. Leiman. 1936-1939

 

248. Gorky. Residential buildings on Oktyabrskaya street. I. A. Golosov. 1938

248. Gorky. Residential buildings on Oktyabrskaya street. I. A. Golosov. 1938

 

The architectural elements in the Georgian SSR pavilion for the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition also contain round columns, arches, and symbolism.

 

179. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Green doorway at the pavilion "Georgian SSR". A. S. Korobov

179. All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Green doorway at the pavilion "Georgian SSR". A. S. Korobov

The USSR also had a dome building. Perhaps the most remarkable of the secular-purpose buildings that had a dome was the Novosibirsk Opera and Theater House, reportedly the biggest theatre/opera house in the USSR built during the Stalin era. In addition to the dome, the Novosibirsk Opera and Theater House also incorporated elements of neo-classicism, and had numerous statues alongside it. The black and white image (taken during the 1940s) as well as the in-colour photo taken during the current period are shown below.

 

308. Novosibirsk. Theatre

Реконструкция Новосибирского театра оперы и балета - Завод МЕТАЛИКС ТД

 

The bridges in the USSR too lacked the dogmatic application of socialist realism to the grid designs. As can be seen, the grids have some level of realism in them, but can generally be regarded as symbolic. The vegetation, the wheat and the sickle all are on the midpoint of realism and symbolic imagery.

A picture containing text, blackDescription automatically generatedA bridge over a riverDescription automatically generated

Left: Maly Kamenny Bridge. Grid Detail. Right: Maly Kamenny most by K. N. and Yu. N. Yakovlev. 1938

 

99. Big Stone Bridge. Academician V. A. Shchuko, V. G. Gelfreich. 1938 100. Big Stone bridge. Grid Detail

Big Stone Bridge. Grid Detail

 

The interior design in the following image is rather impressive since not only does it have a statue of Lenin located at the center of the front wall, it also has symbolic imagery – including the red star – at the ceiling of the building.

 

281. Sverdlovsk. House of Officers. Auditorium 282. Sverdlovsk. House of Officers. Fragment of the auditorium

Sverdlovsk. House of Officers. Fragment of the auditorium

 

In addition to having realistic statues as well as symbolic imagery on the walls and the floor, some of the buildings had mini-gardens inside them, as can be seen in the following.

 

25. Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The lobby

Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The lobby

 

It is not just the United States that has a statue right beside the water. The following image is of a statue lying beside the water in the Moscow Canal, during the Stalin era.

 

164. The Moscow Canal. Gateway control tower No. 5. B. D. Savitsky, Yu. A. Kun. 1937

The Moscow Canal. Gateway control tower No. 5. B. D. Savitsky, Yu. A. Kun. 1937

 

I am not sure what the style of architectural design for the sanatorium in Sochi is called but it certainly is not the ‘boring’ constructivist or brutalist style which the Western media portrays the Stalin-era USSR as having.

 

331. Sochi. Sanatorium. B. V. Efimovich. 1935

331. Sochi. Sanatorium. B. V. Efimovich. 1935

 

Again, another absurd misconception promoted in the Western media is that the statues depicting the portrayal of the Soviet war heroes did not exist until the Khrushchev era. The following statue of Chepayev and his comrades in the Civil War was built during the Lenin-Stalin era.

 

254. Kuibyshev. Monument to V. I. Chapaev. M. G. Manizer

 

There is the arch, in which there is sculpting that makes it look like a cave. Above it are stairs that lead to a realistic statue of someone apparently diving.

 

113. Gorky Central Park of Culture and Recreation. Pushkin Embankment. A.V. Vlasov. 1937

113. Gorky Central Park of Culture and Recreation. Pushkin Embankment. A.V. Vlasov. 1937

 

And here is how a park in the USSR looked like.

 

320. Zheleznovodsk. Avenue of Cascades. 1936

Zheleznovodsk. Avenue of Cascades. 1936

 

Stalin-era Soviet architecture is accused of brutalism, constructivism, and an absence of the better and more creative variants of architecture. The images shown above debunk such accusations. Actually, 'constructivism', which bore a brutalist spirit, was mostly associated with the culturally liberal 1920s when the reactionary intelligentsia were able to promote their junk. By the 1930s, the 'constructivist' junk went on the decline as well.

 

Note that all of the above images for Soviet architecture, with the exception of the modern in-colour photo of the Novosibirsk Theatre, were from the book ‘Soviet Architecture in the 1930s’. The link to the images has been provided in the images section.

 

 

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