Constructivism. Legacy of the Soviet era

In the 20th century, the Soviet Constructivism was a part of the country’s brand identiy along with ballet, hockey and space exploration. The commune houses that freed people from the burdens of housekeeping, unique engineering solutions, and innovative materials — all of these achievements were made a reality in the 1920s and 30s. Constructivist projects allowed the Soviet Union to demonstrate the power and talents of the Russian Avant-Garde, which entered its service.

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This six-storey administrative building was completed in 1928 in place of the demolished metochion of the Voskresensky (Resurrection) New Jerusalem Monastery, which had stood here since the 17th century. A prominent architect Vladimir Mayat built this house for the joint-stock trading company ARCOS, which engaged in the import and export of goods between the Soviet Union and other countries. It was a large company: in 1927, its turnover exceeded 100 mln pounds sterling. Moscow residents knew Mayat as a man, who, before the revolution of 1917, had built the houses for patrons of the arts, merchants Morozov and Ryabushinsky, and whose principal style was Neoclassicism, which is why this building had stirred up the feelings of bewilderment and delight. In subsequent years, many of the Soviet architects that designed administrative buildings had used the ARCOS House as a model.
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The house was designed by architect P. Kuchnistov, and construction was completed in 1928. Today the building houses the Moscow City Duma (regional parliament), and back then it was owned by the Zhirkost Trust, which incorporated the famous cosmetic and perfumery factory Novaya Zarya. Between 1940 and 1972, it was home to the family of actors Maria Mironova and Alexander Menaker, and in 1992, a base relief in honour of their son, the Soviet movie and theatre star Andrei Mironov, was hung on the building's facade.
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The building designed by architects Alexey Shchusev and G. Yakovlev for the M. V. Lomonosov Mechanical Institute was completed in 1934. However, soon after construction was completed, it was transferred to the V. I. Lenin Political-Military Academy, which medals decorate the facade. The complex consists of three buildings and includes the remains of old structures that stood here before 1934 – if you look closely, you can notice this. Today it houses the Military University of the Ministry of Defence of Russian Federation.
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The residential building, that was mentioned in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, on the corner of Ulitsa Arbat (Arbat Street) and Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring) was designed by architects Vladimir Mayat and Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, and construction was completed in 1928. It replaced the ancient Smolensky Market. Torgsin, which occupied the ground floor of the building, is a short-hand for "trading with foreigners." The store began operations in 1931. Soviet citizens could buy all sorts of goods here, paying for them with pre-revolutionary coins, silver, platinum, gold, and gems. In such a way, over the course of four years, the Soviet people had submitted 100 tons of pure gold to the state coffers. After Torgsin shut its doors in 1936, the store was renamed into Smolensky grocery store, which operates to this day.
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The former building of the Council of Labor and Defence, which today is home to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, was built at the same time as the Hotel Moskva, which stands across the street. Construction required the demolition of the 17th century chambers of the Golitsyn family and the church of Parasceve Pyatnytsa, which was restored just prior to that. The building was designed and built in 1935 by architect Arkady Langman. This design became a go-to model for many of the Soviet government buildings. Moscow city guide, published in 1937, gave a detailed description of its decoration: "The light gray facade of the building with a stucco coat of arms of the Soviet Union is clad on three sides with a natural, so-called Protopopovsky, stone. The ground floor and three entrances are inlaid with labradorite stone and Karelian granite. The building is finely decorated on the inside."
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This building was constructed in 1934 to house the museum, library and archive of the Society of Former Political Convicts and Convict Settlers. Design was commissioned from the prominent Constructivist architects, brothers Leonid, Alexander and Viktor Vesnin. The public disliked the house, which resembled a bulldozer, and berated the Vesnin brothers. Another problem was that the Society, which commissioned the building, was disbanded a year after construction was completed, making it redundant. At first, it was turned into a movie theatre, which operated for ten years. After World War II, the movie theatre was replaced by the State Theatre of Actor, which was later replaced by the House of Cinema, and today the building once again is home to the Theatre of Actor.
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Many Soviet architects took part in the tender for the construction of the dorm buildings, and the winner was Georgy Dankman's design. In accordance with the architect's plan, each student was allocated an area of 4.55 square metres (49 square feet), while bathrooms and showers were separate from the rooms and located on the floors. Despite this inconvenience, they were always supplied with hot water, even in the years of World War II, when the city regularly experienced problems with water supply. In 1936, the university was liquidated, and the building was given over to the Moscow State Linguistic University. Future linguists live here to this day.
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This is one of Russia’s best-known Constructivist buildings, an example of all-out design characteristic of that period’s architecture. The 1st House of Soviets, House of the Central Executive Committee, House of the Council of People’s Commisars of the USSR, otherwise known as the House on the Embankment, became the symbol of the Soviet era and was described in the famous book House on the Embankment written by Yuri Trifonov. There were 505 state-of-the-art apartments, with running water, phone lines, and an elevator that went to the communal kitchen. This was the house of the Soviet elite, which enjoyed all the amenities without suffering any burdens. The house was built in 1931 by architect Boris Iofan, who was responsible not just for the building’s design, but for the furniture, lamps and door handles as well. Also in 1931, Udarnik movie theater, which became a part of this residential complex, was opened nearby. It was Soviet Union’s first movie theater designed for screening of the sound motion pictures.

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The building of the People's Commissariat for Agriculture, which takes up a whole city block, was completed in 1933. It was designed by a group of prominent architects – Alexey Shchusev, Dmitry Bulgakov, Isidore Frantsuz, Yakov Kornfeld, and Alexander Grinberg. All kinds of novelties were used in the course of this colossal building's construction. One of them were the constantly moving paternoster elevators without doors, which remain operational to this day. Today the building is occupied by the Russian Federation Ministry of Agriculture.
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Back in the 17th century, here stood the Crown's Granary, the warehouses of foodstuffs and grain. A century later, the land was given to the Main Court Chancery, which had built four two-storey buildings and the Church of Saint Sebastian here. Within a few years, the church was re-dedicated to Saint Januarius, because Empress Catherine the Great ascended the throne on the day of this saint's veneration. In the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called Reserve Palace was given over to the School for Noble Maidens, but in 1917, after the revolution, the noble maidens were ejected from the building, and the People's Commissariat of Railways moved in. In 1932-33, the new tenants decided on a large-scale reconstruction and commissioned it from the Petersburg-based architect Ivan Fomin, who adorned the building with a clock tower, which can still be seen from afar. If you walk over to the eastern facade of the building, you can see the way the Reserve Palace looked before it became a Constructivist building. Today the building houses administrative offices of the Russian Railways.
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This house was built in 1931 for the members of the Dynamo Sports Club. The athletes and administrators of the club were given comfortable offices, huge apartments, a dining hall, an auditorium, and a huge grocery store on the ground floor. The house was built by architects Ivan Fomin and Arkady Langman. The public was wary of Fomin because of his successful pre-revolutionary career, but everyone loved this building.
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This is, quite possibly, the best known Constructivist residential house. The building of the Commissariat of Finance (Narkomfin) was constructed as an experimental commune house. Architect Moisei Ginzburg was a great believer in communal living, and he had six such projects under his belt – four in Moscow, one in Yekaterinburg, and one in Saratov.

The house was built in 1930, using the latest in technology. The Narkomfin Building was built with solid cast reinforced concrete, and thanks to this it has been preserved through all these years without a single repair or reconstruction. New construction materials were also used, including something called kamyshit, bulrush-fiber boards. These were used for partitions, even in the bedrooms, which proved to be a big mistake. Bulrush-fiber boards have astonishing levels of sound transmission, and the residents soon began to detest it. The building stands on thick columns, because Sinichka River flows under it.

The building was designed in such a way that the Soviet citizens who lived in the commune were freed from the household chores. There was a dining hall and a laundry room, as well as a library and a rooftop terrace, where the tenants were supposed to sunbathe and engage in physical exercise. Part of the roof was given over to the two-storey penthouse of the Commissar of Finance Nikolay Milyutin.

Remarkably enough, the building's architect himself refused to live here, claiming to prefer traditional apartments. The French Constructivist architect Le Corbusier was enchanted with the Narkomfin Building when he visited it.
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One of the leaders of the global architectural avant-garde Konstantin Melnikov had built this house in 1929 for himself. The winner of international architectural exhibitions required a studio, and Moscow authorities had provided him with a land plot and a loan. The architect dreamt of designing spherical commune houses, and this one-apartment building was an important experiment for him. Melnikov invented a special system of bricklaying, which allowed for cost savings on this material, and assured that the rooms had the maximum amount of daylight. This mansion was a commune of sorts as well: the interior space of the building was separated into the sleeping, working, and other zones, used by the whole family. Melnikov lived here for the rest of his life, and later, the building's tenant was his painter son. Today the building houses a branch of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture, and you can call ahead and sign up for the tour.
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This building was constructed by architect Konstantin Melnikov in 1929. By that time he had already built the famous Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage and registered the "single-pass" system of transport delivery, which enabled the movement of buses without reverse gear. Melnikov was rightfully proud of his system that was convenient for large numbers of cars. To get into the semi-circle garage at Ulitsa Novoryazanskaya (Novoryazanskaya Street), the trucks drove into the building's abutting ends, and went out of the garage by driving through the building's center. Repair workshops were located next to the exits. The steel structures of the roof were designed by the great engineer and inventor Vladimir Shukhov. Today the garage is still operational, and houses a bus park.
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The building was constructed in 1936 following the design of the great architect Le Corbusier, who was assisted by the Frenchman Pierre Jeanneret and the Russian architect Nikolai Kolli. Le Corbusier had great plans for this building, but not all of them had been implemented. For example, he had come up with a special air-conditioning system just for this house, but its implementation proved a failure. Overall, the building does not look quite the same as it was imagined by the architect. The space between the pillars turned out to be different than the original design envisioned, and later was filled with partitions. The oakwood window frames were later replaced with aluminium ones, and this changed the building's overall colour scheme.

Le Corbusier had this to say about the building, "2,500 employees have everything necessary for comfort, there is a large central hall, a dining hall, a meeting hall. They get to their work stations using the spiral ramps or the constantly moving mechanical elevators." Today the building houses Russia's federal services of state statistics and financial monitoring.
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This building was originally built by architect Nikolay Strukov in 1913 as a tenement house, but one of its walls collapsed right after construction was completed. The court sent Strukov to jail for six weeks, because the architect was already responsible for two collapsed buildings. The house was reconstructed in 1917, and in 1925 two more floors were added. Following that, the building became the headquarters of Mosselprom, Moscow Rural Cooperative Administration, and housed the organization's offices and warehouses. In 1925, the building was also adorned with a clock tower designed by engineer Arthur Loleit, but the clock did not survive to this day. The advertising slogan "Nowhere except for Mosselprom!" painted on the building's facade was the work of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who composed a number of advertisements for this trade association.
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This elegant five-storey building was designed by architect Ilya Golosov and completed in 1934. It was commissioned by the Teplobeton Trust, which planned to use it as residential quarters for its employees. Teplobeton Trust was engaged in production of the innovative construction material insulated concrete, and, as one can easily guess, this material was used for the construction of Golosov's building. The base reliefs on the building's facade feature allegorical portraits of Science, Technology, and Art.

The house stands in place of the Church of Saint Spyridon, which gave the name to the street called Spiridonovka. Many prominent Soviet scientists had lived here, including the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, physicist Sergey Vavilov.
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Rusakov Workers' Club, designed and built by architect Konstantin Melnikov in 1929, has been described in virtually all architecture textbooks. It is one of the rare Melnikov designs that suffered no changes in the process of construction and ended up being just the way the architect envisioned it. Still, the original design envisioned the building with glass walls, but after the windows failed to keep out the cold, some of them were mured up. In subsequent years the building underwent numerous reconstructions, the sign reading "Labour Unions Are the School of Communism" was taken off the facade, and the main auditorium with its sliding walls stopped being transformable. The club was named in honour of Ivan Rusakov who headed the local Sokolniki chapter of the Bolshevik party.

Today the building is home to a theatre headed by stage director Roman Viktyuk, while the signs above the entrance and windows on side facades have been completely restored.
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The club was built in 1927 by architect Konstantin Melnikov for the Kauchuk Factory. Its construction was commissioned by the Labour union of chemical industry workers. In the center of this grandiose structure is a vertical auditorium for 720 people. Melnikov had come up with a special system of stairwells, which made each of the building's parts completely autonomous – a great safety precaution in case of fire. The club's interiors, and in particular its auditorium, were used during the filming of a famous Soviet comedy Beware of the Car. The building is currently under reconstruction, and is a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage list.
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The seven-storey house for the employees of ZiL factory was built by architect Ignaty Milinis, who was Moisei Ginzburg's assistant during construction of the Narkomfin Building. The house at Ulitsa Velozavodskaya (Velozavodskaya Street) was completed in 1937, when Constructivism already fell out of favour with the Soviet ideologists, and the country was experiencing the heyday of Stalin's Neoclassicism. Nonetheless, this is one of the most important Constructivist buildings. It is still a residential building, and its tenants include the employees of the former ZiL factory, just like the architect planned 80 years ago.
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This Workers' Club was built in 1929 by architect Ilya Golosov. Golosov and his design had won the invite-only competition, which also included another well-known Constructivist Konstantin Melnikov. Golosov's favourite approach of incorporating a cylinder with full glazing into the flat surface of the building is used in this design. Here it was the spiral staircase leading up to the second-floor grand lobby of the audience hall. The building has undergone many maintenance repairs, and today looks much different from the original project. Despite this the building is still used in accordance with original design, and serves as the home base for a popular comic company called the Quartet E. Second-floor lobby has a permanent exhibition of the original building's blueprints.
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The Moscow Planetarium was designed by architects Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Sinyavsky, and construction was completed in 1929. The parabolic dome with a diameter of 25 metres (82 feet), which thickness does not exceed 12 centimetres (5 inches), stands over the 1,440-seat auditorium. It was the first such installation in the Soviet Union. In 2011, following a lengthy reconstruction in accordance with Alexander Anisimov's design, the whole building was raised by six meters to accommodate the technical rooms. The rare Carl Zeiss projector made in the 1920s specifically for the Moscow Planetarium was replaced with a digital one. Today this is one of the favourite recreation spots both for the city residents and for tourists who come to Moscow with their kids.

The Planetarium, officially a scientific and educational institution, is not that different from an amusement park with its mind-boggling Large and Small Stellar Rooms, Urania Museum, the interactive Lunarium Museum, Sky Park, observatory and 4D cinema. It is advisable to plan your visit beforehand, as it is not easy to orientate oneself spontaneously amid the Planetarium's miracles. Perhaps the best place to start is the show in the Large Stellar Room. Tickets are available online. One hour before the show, ticket holders will be taken on a tour of the Urania Museum, which is of two rooms. In the first room, they will tell you about the history of the Planetarium and of space exploration. In the second room, the composition of the Solar System is displayed on a tilted ramp, with correctly arranged planet semi-spheres. Planet globes are also on display along with a unique collection of meteorite fragments.

In the Large Stellar Room, which has the biggest starry dome in the world, they will show educational video projections about telescopes, astronomers, the Solar System, the mysteries of Mars and of the Universe, and certain earthly phenomena, such as volcanoes. The programmes change, and updates are posted on the Planetarium website. The chairs in the theatre house are almost like beach chairs as people have to look up at the dome ceiling. The best seats are in the middle and in the back rows. After the show, the ticket holders are invited to proceed to the Astro-Pad of the Sky Park. On display here is a collection of quaint old and contemporary astronomical observation devices, and there are two observatories: Large and Small. Visitors are allowed to look through the powerful telescopes, but only when the sky is clear.

It is better to buy the ticket onsite for the interactive Lunarium Museum. The ticket is good all day, and you can leave and return any number of times. The exhibits are arranged in two rooms – Astronomy and Physics and Getting to Know Space – on two floors. In the first room, the laws of physics are illustrated in a graphic and creative way. Here you can compose your own space music on a sophisticated synthesizer, and you can generate some clouds entirely on your own. The second room imitates a space station of many sections, each with its own exciting adventure, e.g. saving the Earth from asteroids, comparing observation data from different telescopes, writing a letter to aliens, and piloting a Mars rover. Europe's largest Foucault Pendulum is also here, offering proof every hour that the Earth does actually go round.

In the comfortable 4D theatre they will show some light-hearted short films on space subjects, or take you on a virtual space rollercoaster ride. The Planetarium is next door to the Moscow Zoo, so if you think you can do both, you might as well buy a combined ticket and see the stars and the beasts the same day.
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Permanent training courses or groups are not the forte of ZiL, the largest culture palace in Moscow. Diverse festivals, lectures and one-time master classes for children any age are – and you do not have to sign up in advance. A long time ago DK ZiL (ZiL Palace of Culture) was the culture palace for the employees of AMO ZiL Factory, and it continues to arrange concerts, dancing and tea parties for retired AMO veterans, where they share recollections from their past life of hard work. The ZiL "lectorium" for children, teens and young adults seems to cover every subject imaginable, from hip-hop history to the habits of early humans to the string theory. Science festivals are held here quite frequently, to which end chemical and physical labs are deployed, where kids will examine dragonfly larvae, observe snowflakes through a microscope, and do other exciting things. The DK ZiL building is a constructivist landmark created by the brothers Leonid and Alexander Vesnin, erected in 1937 on the grounds of the gentry necropolis of the neighbouring Saint Simon's Monastery. The children's bookshop at ZiL entrance has some rare, hand-picked books for sale.