Stalinist Architecture- Regional varieties

24 Nov

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


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