The main ideas of the Stalinist architecture, art déco totalitarian skyscrapers, powerful „imperial” administrative palaces and the classic revival in one post

Moscow Expo, 1954

The Stalinist architecture was a current in the USSR in the mid-1930s, which had fallen in the mid-1950s and was specific to Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian ambitions. This architecture combined several styles, united by common characters that distinguished Stalinist architecture from the other architectural currents of the USSR (constructivism, rationalism) and from outside (mainly modernism). Its role was classic monumentalism that combines elements of empire, eclectic and art déco.

After the Second World War, the Stalinist architecture expanded into the European Communist countries, the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Wonderful examples of this style in Europe can be found in ex-Soviet republics, Poland and Romania. This architecture is appreciated by many art lovers, glorified by Russian neo-Nazis and Communists, but also ugly by supporters of functionalism. Many consider Stalinist buildings to be a symbol of Soviet terror, because they were built during the massive deportations, organized famines, the crimes of the secularists and other horrors of the regime.

Left: Kurskaya Metro Station in Moscow (1950); Right: the gates of Sant-Andrea fortress on the island of Lido, Venice (16th century)

The most important Stalinist buildings are the so-called Moscow high-rise. The Stalinist empire has been manifested in the interior by monumental decoration, sometimes in excess, sometimes in tents, massive wood furniture, high chambers, chandeliers and bronze chandeliers, statues and bas-reliefs. On the outside, the empire was based on many neoclassical, neo-neocenter decorations, some of which were copies of Italian Renaissance buildings.


This style also manifested itself as a more specific, more regional art. In this case, it is a totally inadequate but imposing architecture. Excessive decoration seems to be in place when you look at the whole architectural ensemble. Architecture manifested itself in a great deal of luxury in the 1930s and much luxury combined with little functionalism in the 1950s.

It is certainly a beautiful architecture and promotes aesthetic beauty. It is imposing, multilateral and glorious (although there were no reasons). A wonderful example in Russia is the Novosibirsk Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, built between 1931-1941, and the inauguration took place in 1945. In 1937, the theater project was exhibited in the Soviet pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where Won the big prize.

Art déco style has a special place in Stalinist architecture. Virtually all the massive structures (Soviet Palace, Moscow High-rise, V.I.Lenin Library, etc.) are, through the constructive and artistic image, the most important examples of art déco in the USSR. The penetration of this style in the USSR began in the late 1920s and its massive manifestation took place in Leningrad (Sankt-Petersburg) where structures such as the Universal Frunza Store, the Kirov Culture Palace, the Moscow and Gigant cinemas had been erected.

In interwar architecture the art déco style was the leader in the projects of the Soviet Palace of Yofan, Shchuko and Gelfreich. In the Moscow subway architecture, this style predominates at Kropotinskaya (Кропотинская), Sokol (Сокол), Aeroport (Аэропорт) and Mayakovskaya (Маяковская).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moscow, Smolensk Square. 1952

Interior of the ground lobby of the metro station “Komsomolskaya”

Neoclassicism in Stalinist architecture was the central and dominant element, constantly competing with art déco. Stalinist Neoclassicists were many, but the most important were I.V. Joltovskii and I.A. Fomin. I like the architecture of Joltovskii, being perhaps one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century. Characteristic of Soviet neoclassicism has always been the blending of pre-revolutionary architecture with Western European architecture. This style served as a basis for Moscow’s general reconstruction plan in 1935.

In post-war architecture neoclassicism was the leader in the plans for the reconstruction of the cities destroyed by the war. Neoclassical constructions were used in the design of the cities of Minsk, Kiev, Kalinin, Chişinău, etc.

Museum of Literature in Baku, Azerbaijan. 1939

In the article on totalitarian architecture, I mentioned that there was competition between the Third German Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. After the fall of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany, the USSR decided to compete with the United States, even if the latter did not realize that they were concerned about progress. An example of this competition is the set of Moscow-based five-hectare high-rises, greatly influenced by art déco. The Foreign Ministry building is a wonderful example, built in 1952 by V.G. Gelfreich. In this building, it is easy to see, with the naked eye, the art of the 1920s in the United States.

Housing block for nomenclature in Kudrinskaia Square. 1954

The Stalinist architecture also managed to penetrate countries with popular democracies such as Romania and Poland. An imposing building from the communist era embellishes the capital of Romania, being one of the largest buildings in the city. The building is called the House of the Free Press, but it is known more as the Scânteii House, and it was the tallest building in Bucharest between 1956-2007. The building was intended for the publication of the state press and, in particular, the Scînteia newspaper, the “organ” of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers’ Party.

The Scânteii House was the first work to which the builder introduced the calculation of resistance to a possible earthquake, taking into account the rules of the Italian fascist architecture. Although inspired by the Moscow high rise, the building also has a local inspiration. Several monasteries have been visited for designing: Curtea de Argeş, Cozia and Horezu. A few decorative elements were chosen to be used at the Scânteii House.

The Scânteia House. 1952-1956

There are many grandiose dwellings in Moscow where the nomenclature lived. These are neoclassical, neo-necentist or neo-traditionalist empirical. Many times, when building such buildings outside Russia, national symbols were taken into account. Thus, in Azerbaijan, the Stalinist architecture has an oriental face, and in Chişinău, the facades of neoclassic blocks are decorated with grape vines.

Lenin Boulevard (now Stephen the Great). The 1960s

Text by: Cătălin CREȚU

Photography source: MCMXXXV, Reptilianul

© The Bunget 2017

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