Totalitarian Architecture of the Soviet Union

Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

From Constructivism to Gigantism, From Extreme Ornamentation to Brutalism (and very little soul)

Unapologetic in their colossal scale and glorification of the totalitarian state, these gigantic structures dominate urban landscapes of the former Eastern Bloc countries, still capable either to inspire dreams of imperial grandeur, or resurrect ghosts of dark abuses of power.

While researching totalitarian architecture of the Third Reich earlier on DRB, we also came across examples of similar architecture glorifying the opposite end of the political spectrum.

(a concept for the Palace of the Soviets, image via)

The champions of the communist world made a point of expressing the perceived superiority of their political system at the 1937 International Exposition, when the pavilions of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union defiantly faced each other in Paris:

(images via Kiel Bryant, Francotopia)

Unlike much of German architecture created in the Nazi period, buildings and other structures from the Stalinist era are still are very much with us, some being built after Stalin’s death in 1953, but in the same style as that prevalent in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Examples of Stalinist architecture, mostly in Russia and the former Soviet republics, but also in Eastern Europe, are quite well known. This article examines a selection of the more notable buildings and monuments, as well as some of the planned projects that never materialized.

Palace of the Soviets: perhaps the biggest unrealized architectural project in history

The Palace of the Soviets was to have been a huge congress facility and administrative building located close to the Kremlin. Had the final version been completed, it would have been the world’s tallest structure:

(images credit: Ilya Ilusenko)

Plans for its construction in the early thirties also involved the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Here is the original Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on a photo from 1905, in its demolition in 1931:

(images via)

The contest to choose a winning design for the Palace ofthe Soviets took place between 1931 and 1933. Here are a few of the ideas that were considered: perhaps the most grandiose was the entry by Boris Iofan, Vladimir Schuko and Vladimir Gelfreich (1934-35 version):

(image via)

Another competition entry from 1933, by Vladimir Schuko and Vladimir Gelfreich:

(images via)

Very interesting proposal by Italian architect Armando Brasini, displaying quite different approach:

(images via)

Here is the very impressive interior hall proposed for the Palace, filled with radiant light:

The historically rich area around the Palace was supposed to be razed to the ground and filled with new huge buildings... thus becoming one of the biggest unrealized architectural projects in history - and a symbol of the Victorious Socialism and the new Moscow:

Artists of Social Realism School began to include the Palace of the Soviets into their propaganda paintings:

(painting by Alexander Deineka, via)

... and it was even depicted on boxes of chocolates:

Moscow thus became "the Capital of the World" in many publications:

It's fascinating to look now at some of the proposals; they dominate the city with their grandiose scale and monumental presence. The round tower by Dmitry Chechulin on the left, and a "giant lighthouse" structure by academician Ivan Zholtovski (right):

Here you can see the elaborate design and the impressive framework of this titanic building (click here for higher resolution):

(images via)

Work was begun in 1937, but stopped upon the German invasion in June 1941. The steel frame and other materials were used for bridges and fortifications for the war effort and the work never resumed:

(images via)

The site was however converted in 1958 into what was at the time the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool:

(image via)

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt between 1995 and 2000.

Other monumental projects in Moscow: some had a chance to be built, others were never realized

There was another architectural contest called the Narkomtiazhprom in 1934 for ambitious projects in and around Red Square in the centre of Moscow, many of which were way ahead of their time and may not even have been possible to build using the technology and equipment available at the time. Luckily, St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of the world’s most famous structures and an instantly recognizable symbol of Russia, was spared from demolition in most of the designs, unlike the unfortunate Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Here are some concepts by Ivan Fomin, P. V. Ambrosimov, M. A. Minkov and Arkady Mordvinov:

(images via)

The Moscow Pantheon, or rather the Monument to the Eternal Glory of the Great People of the Soviet Land, was a project to construct a colossal memorial tomb in Moscow, planned immediately after the death of Stalin in 1953. It was to be the final resting place for all the most prominent communists and heroes of the revolution, including the famous mummified body of Lenin. However, when Stalin fell out of favour later in the fifties, the project was shelved and the pantheon was never built:

(images via RusArchives)

This preliminary sketch is truly Gothic in its complexity (see similar "Communist Gothic" architectural projects in our previous article):

(images via RusArchives)

These proposals have more classical and conventional feel to them, although their sheer scale is still overwhelming:

(images via)

The “Seven Sisters” are a group of skyscrapers in the Stalinist style built in Moscow from 1947 to 1953:

Apartment building on Kotyelnicheskaya Nabyerezhnaya:

Moscow State University, main building:

(photo from Soviet magazine "Smena", 1953)

The other "sisters" in Moscow are Hilton-Leningradskaya Hotel, Hotel Ukraina, Ministry of Foreign affairs, Dushkin's Red Gates Building and Kudrinskaya Square Building.

Exporting Totalitarian Architectural Style throughout the Eastern Bloc

The Eighth Sister was, as it sounds, another building in the same style, which would have been one of the tallest in the world at the time if it had been built. After the death of Stalin, the project was abandoned, in Moscow at least, but the planned skyscraper was eventually built, admittedly with a few alterations, in Warsaw, Poland as the Palace of Culture and Science between 1952 and 1955 (sometimes called "Russian Cake" building):

(images via)

In addition to Poland, what could be termed Stalinist structures also exist in other countries in Eastern Europe, such as Press Freedom House and Parliament Place in Bucharest, Romania:

(images via)

The former Party House is in Sofia, Bulgaria (left image), while the Karl Marx Alee apartments and Strausberger Platz are located in the eastern part of Berlin (right):

(images via)

Not content to leave his stamp on the architecture of the Soviet Union, Stalin also like it have his own image displayed in suitably monumental form, particularly in the occupied territories of Eastern Europe after their ‘liberation’ by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War. The Stalin Monument in Budapest was built as the birthday present to Stalin on the occasion of the great man’s 70th birthday in 1949:

(images via)

However, a few short years later, the statue’s destruction was to become one of the most enduring symbols of the Hungarian revolution in 1956:

(images via)

Elsewhere in what was once known as the Eastern Bloc, the word’s largest statue of Stalin once stood in Prague in the Czech republic. Prague is the most visited city in the formerly captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe, but few tourists would recognize the site of this monument, which dominated the city skyline from 1955 until it was dynamited in 1962:

(image via)

The Moscow Metro is the second most heavily used rapid transit system in the world and was also built in the Stalin era, first opening in 1935. The system is renowned for the examples of socialist realist art adorning many of the stations, as well as for the ornate designs of some of the stations themselves:

(image via)

And finally, while not strictly in the same field of architecture, here’s a fascinating example from the former Soviet Union. Built in 1975 for the Georgian Ministry of Highway Construction, the building is currently used as offices by the Bank of Georgia.

(image credit: Enrique Guerrero)

Article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.




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Blogger don-kanyar said...

Super hungarian blog:





Anonymous Anonymous said...

What makes this architectural style totalitarian? The shape, meaning, time / era it belongs to or something else? What you call totalitarism in the end? Is Crysler Building a good example of totalitarian architecture? Why not?
Anyhow there is another good example of soviet architecture not mentioned in this article - Gosprom Building:

Blogger Raven said...

I think I see another semi-famous Soviet item in this picture: http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-uTZjQiFWH2c/UP9CtzPsI_I/AAAAAAACDFU/KzTGzUONVQw/s900/aa20.jpg

That plane in the right image looks a whole lot like the Tupolev ANT-20 "Maxim Gorky," an enormous piece of flying propaganda and the largest aircraft of the 1930s. Rather awe-inspiring...right up until the pilot of the plane flying next to it (a Polikarpov I-5) attempted to do a loop around it and crashed into it, sending both of them to the ground.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo anonymus, I totally agree, what exactly is totalitarian architecture, can someone explain it.
If you think that these are buildings that symbolize the power of the criminal regime, fascism for example, than would be good to put Pentagon, or statue of liberty which if we talk about symbols have nothing to do with liberty,in your next post. You could name it, totalitarian architecture of the united states.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


"was supposed to be raised to the ground and filled with new huge buildings"

The word is "razed", not "raised"

Anonymous Anonymous said...

totalitarian architecture?
-overwhelming scale
-with no relation to context or placed at the end of some important composition line
-monotonous and monumental
-sometimes boring, provoking negative emotions in people who are opposite to the regime
-and build by totalitarian regime to express power

Anonymous Anonymous said...

totalitarian architecture?
-overwhelming scale
-with no relation to context or placed at the end of some important composition line
-monotonous and monumental
-sometimes boring, provoking negative emotions in people who are opposite to the regime
-and build by totalitarian regime to express power

then there is many examples of it around the world, in USA can be called Totalitarian Architecture of Capitalism :)Anyway some symbols of capitalism can not even be called architecture, it's simply called kitsch

Blogger ArtOfOz said...

Is Roman architecture totalitarian as well?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

a movie on the destruction of the cathedral

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the ignorant person who said we should put up the Pentagon and Statue of Liberty next. The Pentagon's design is functional, to allow quick transit from a building with a low profile, on foot. You can reach any given point quicker than in a building with elevators or a conventional shape. The Statue of Liberty, of course, was a gift from France.

Blogger The Mystery Machine said...

Have to say, calling this "totalitarian architecture" isn't the proper use of the term. And none of these buildings typify the Soviet-era architecture that is left behind in the former Eastern Bloc countries. All of these buildings look like typical Empire-State building-type designs. There is nothing typically Soviet about any of these buildings. Brutalist architecture is what you should have talked about, as that is truly typical of Soviet architecture- the clean lines and massive concrete structures. While Brutalism is a term coined to describe many types of architecture worldwide, true Soviet architecture and Brutalism are definitely sitting in the same room together. This could have been a great article, but it is plainly misinformed.


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