​Moscow’s 12 Deteriorating Constructivism Era Buildings

Alexandra Selivanova, administrator at the Worker Enlightenment Library avant-garde centre, talks about 12 constructivism era buildings in Moscow, which can be demolished in the near future.

Institute of Red Professors Dormitory Complex

The story of the Taganskaya automatic telephone exchange building demolition became a wake-up call for everybody besides historic preservation activists and architectural historians: we are rapidly losing our avant-garde monuments, projects that literally influenced the entire modern architecture. Nowadays, even the listed buildings find themselves in danger.

Since the 1980s (and even 1960s) researchers and tourists from all over the world have been coming to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Ivanovo, Novosibirsk and other cities to take a look at these dilapidated buildings which have never been repaired, let alone restored. The current situation is absurd: Russian avant-garde monuments are used as a recognisable image at the Sochi Olympics; the Russian Ministry of Culture orders the Shchusev Museum of Architecture to develop a country-wide preservation programme for the constructivism heritage – and at the same time constructivism era monuments all other the country continue being demolished or revamped with 70% of their original design wiped out (e.g. Textile Institute dormitory designed by Ivan Nikolaev).

Over the past decade, Russian cities lost several dozen outstanding avant-garde buildings and several times as many objects that essentially accounted for the city images in the 1920s — 1930s. Strelka Magazine has compiled a list of buildings that are in danger of being demolished in the near future. The Narkomfin Building, Melnikov House and Shukhov Tower, three signature avant-garde buildings in desperate wait for restoration, stories of which were told in previous Strelka Magazine publications, were purposely omitted from this list.

Student Dormitory, Julian Marchlewski Communist University of the National Minorities of the West

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive illustration
The building in its present condition

Architect: Grigory Dankman
Built: 1929 – 1930
Location: 8/6 Petroverigsky Lane
Status: regional heritage site

A giant green constructivist style building hidden in back alleys of Maroseyka Street is a true ghost: hardly anyone besides local linguists and avant-garde architecture admirers is even aware of its existence. A large part of the building has stayed abandoned for decades and is gradually falling apart. Nonetheless, the former dormitory is a great monument to the 1920s architecture featuring a full variety of its expressive elements, including concise gracefulness of semicircles and rectangles, vertical glass walls, monumental strips of balconies and loggias, round windows, columns and thin canopies. Three stretched sections comprising the building are divided by the projecting semicircles of its stairwell towers. Dankman exploited the Ivanovskaya hill curvature so that the towers made a great sight when observed from Solyanka Street and Spasoglinishchevsky Lane below. The choice of location was not accidental: the 1925 city master plan envisioned the Moscow Small Halfring Road, a relief road for the Boulevard Ring, running along the building’s long façade. The side closest to the street features a vertically aligned cafeteria wing with a semicircular projection, which was once supported by columns. The design allowed students coming in from Maroseika Street to make a stop at the cafeteria before entering the dorm.

The dormitory was built to accommodate the students of an institute established by the Comintern in 1922 under a Lenin decree. The institute trained ethnic students from the western parts of the USSR, including Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Jewish, German, Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Moldavian and other students, for various government positions. In 1927, one year before the dormitory design competition was announced, students of 14 nationalities studied at the institute. After the institute was shut down in 1936, the dormitory went to the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, later renamed as the Moscow State Linguistic University.

Now burned and ruined, the deserted section of the building has for the long time accommodated the University’s medical clinic. Despite its listed status, the closest abandoned building to the Kremlin may soon get demolished: since 2012 a sign on the fence has been notifying the passers-by that an apartment hotel will be constructed here.

Hammer and Sickle Palace of Culture

The palace in its present condition / photo by Vyacheslav Yerofeev
Archive photo
The palace in its present condition / photo by Vyacheslav Yerofeev

Architect: Ignaty Milinis
Built: 1929 – 1933
Location: 11/15 Volochayevskaya Street
Status: regional heritage site

Constructivist style clubs were built in Moscow in two waves. The first one, which occurred during the mid-1920s, employed kinetic architecture and concise forms favoured by Melnikov and Golosov. The next one, which took place between the late 1920s and early 1930s, produced complex, spread-out multifunctional palaces (Likhachev Palace of Culture by the Vesnin brothers, Gorbunov Palace of Culture by Yakov Kornfeld). The Hammer and Sickle Palace of Culture represents the second wave.

Ignaty Milinis, who also designed the Narkomfin Building together with Moisei Ginzburg, chose to construct the building on a hill slope and made a precise calculation of the perspectives opening to people climbing the stairs leading to the main entrance. Two building wings, a sports club and a theatre, are aligned perpendicularly and linked by column-supported passages. The theatre lobby soaks daylight with a long strip of continuous windows. A long curved canopy over the main entrance responds to the vaulted ceiling over the theatre hall, which can be observed from the façade side – a similar technique was used in the Moscow Planetarium designed by Barshch and Sinyavsky.

In the 1950s, the Palace underwent restoration, gaining neoclassic façade elements (rustication) and interior plaster decorations. The 1980s were the second golden age for the Palace of Culture as it became one of Moscow’s most popular rock venues. Later on, between 1993 and 2002, the building housed the gay club Chance, which was just as popular. In the mid-2000s reconstruction works started at the Palace. Interiors in the main hall and lobby were dismantled and the roofing was replaced. The works have since been suspended, and the future of the building remains unclear.

Pravda Publishing House

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive photo
Archive illustration
Archive illustration
The building in its present condition

Architect: Panteleimon Golosov
Built: 1931 – 1937
Location: 24 Pravda Street
Status: regional heritage site

Perhaps the most recognisable project designed by Panteleimon Golosov, brother of more famous Igor Golosov, the Pravda Publishing House is an exemplary office building of the late constructivism era. Printing houses and newspaper offices designs gained significant popularity during the early period of avant-garde architecture, spearheaded by the works of Melnikov and Barkhin. This particular project boasts defined, finished features. The eight-storey building facing Pravda Street is dissected by thin strips of continuous windows. The elevated main central entrance is emphasised by a monumental rounded rectangle of its canopy. A vertical glass wall stretches across four floors directly above the entrance. The balance between monumental concrete surfaces and glass, between spaces built up and embedded (loggias, entrance arches and balconies), between symmetrical and asymmetrical is nigh impeccable. The building’s exquisite art deco interiors included special furniture and illuminations designed by the artisans of the 12 th architectural workshop (Naum Borov, Joseph Yang, Grigory Zamsky). In 2006, the building suffered a large fire, which left only the three lower floors unscathed. It has remained abandoned ever since and will likely be demolished in the future.

All-Union Power Engineering Institute Complex

Archive photo
Archive illustration
Archive photo

Architects: Alexander Kuznetsov, Lev Meilman, Vladimir and Gennady Movchan
Built: 1929
Location: 12, 12/10-12, 12/39 Krasnokazarmennaya Street,
Status: no special status

Works of this former R&D facility were once published in top magazines, and the complex was a symbol of a new, Soviet Moscow. A team of top architects led by Alexander Kuznetsov created an entire “electric city” on Krasnokazarmennaya Street, setting up institutes, labs and experimental productions, as well as housing for the institute employees and students. The All-Union Power Engineering Institute Complex, with its refined white constructivist buildings of modern design on the outside and advanced tech hidden inside, had remained closed to architectural researchers since the 1930s.

When public access was granted in 2014, it became apparent that the high voltages facility, the most famous building of the entire complex, which featured two five-meter wide cable hatches on its façade, was heavily damaged by a fire in the 1960s and was reconstructed anew. The machinery facility was also rebuilt. However, the electrophysical facility, public office and several other buildings have made it to this day in their original state, while some buildings even preserved their original equipment. The laboratory where prominent theologian, philosopher and scientist Pavel Florensky worked in the 1930s was also identified. Restricted access to the facility through all these years – despite the fact that it served as a filming location for the movies Spring and Nine Days in One Year – meant that the complex has never been recognised as an avant-garde monument, listed or researched. It currently remains partly abandoned.

Pogodinskaya Housing Estate (Khamovniki Cooperative)

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive photo
The building in its present condition

Architects: Alexander Volkov, Yakov Ostrovsky, Valentin Bibikov
Built: 1928 – 1929
Location: 4/1-2 2nd Truzhenikov Lane; 2/3, 2/3с1, 2/3c2 Pogodinskaya Street
Status: Pogodinskaya Street buildings – no special status, 2nd Truzhenikov Lane buildings – valuable city-forming buildings

This estate comprising five houses forms a single ensemble together with the famous Kauchuk Factory Club designed by Konstantin Melnikov. Its cascading five-storey buildings are aligned perpendicularly towards the 2nd Truzhenikov Lane, facing it with their higher side. The r-shaped building on Pogodinskaya Street has a truncated corner with a vertical glass wall – a response to the club’s curved façade striped with lines of floor-to-ceiling windows.

The side of the building facing the lane, a three-storey wing with large display windows, was originally designed to become a shop, but was overbuilt in the 1950s. The complex cannot be regarded as an entity independent from the Kauchuk Factory Club: its function of a context and harmonious background for the club was predetermined during the planning phase in the late 1920s. Nonetheless, tenants of the buildings located on 2nd Truzhenikov Lane have been rehoused, and a new, higher NeoStalinist empire style development is expected to take place here. Should this happen, Kauchuk Factory Club will also suffer a serious blow.

All-Union Agriculture and Industry Expo tools and machinery pavilion (Gear Pavilion)

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive photo
The building in its present condition

Architect: Ivan Zholtovsky
Built: 1923
Location: 9/28 Krymsky Val Street (Gorky Park)
Status: potential cultural heritage site (interim period after the heritage status application gets officially accepted by the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department and before the expert analysis takes place. The expert analysis defines whether the landmark will be granted the cultural heritage status. The pavilion is considered protected during the interim period – Strelka Magazine)

The only surviving structure built for the famous 1923 Expo is nowadays located on the territory occupied by the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure. The Expo, a collective effort of many prominent architects, painters and sculptors of the 1920s, was a venue where the new Soviet aesthetics came into the spotlight. Ivan Zholtovsky was at that time in search of a new architectural language and temporarily stepped away from the neoclassical architecture. To create structures for the Expo, Zholtovsky mainly used wood, mixing ordered classical compositions with framework-focused, constructivist execution.

The machinery pavilion, named Gear Pavilion, made it to this day thanks to its reinforced concrete framework, whose rhythm largely defines the expression of its façade. In Zholtovsky’s untypical symbolic planning, which hinted at the contents of the pavilion, one could see six ancient temples radiating from a single center. Later the pavilion was used as a venue for car expos, then accommodated a café, and after that – a small-scale soft drink production, a cafeteria for the park staff and a night storage for ice cream vendors.

In the 1950s–1960s the building, mistakenly dubbed ‘Hexagon’ after the demolished main pavilion, gained Moscow-wide notoriety: one of its “rays” was turned into a dance floor and became a popular gathering place among youth counterculture Stilyagi. This legendary venue was captured in the Soviet film Walking the Streets of Moscow. Later on the pavilion burned down and was abandoned. The building is currently owned by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. While the restoration works keep getting postponed, the pavilion, kept under a protective net, continues to deteriorate slowly.

Factory-Kitchen No. 8 at the Mikoyan Meat Processing Plant

The building in its present condition

Architect: unknown
Built: 1930 – 1933
Location: 43 Sosinskaya Street
Status: no special status, demolition pending

This two-storey factory-kitchen has a standard layout that was used at least once more for construction of another factory-kitchen in Tver. In 1937, Ivan Leonidov revamped the Tver building interiors for the purposes of a Young Pioneers Palace – recently these interiors were discovered by the researchers. The original interiors of the factory-kitchen in Moscow have not survived. The quadrilateral building with oblique angles has a complex inner yard and a remarkable stepped semicircular section on its main façade. Continuous windows, a stepped silhouette and a projecting round dining hall with a long balcony perched atop grant the building a dynamic, stretched, ship-like impression and mask its static planning. The choice of the location for this large “tasty factory” – a term coined by Lev Kassil – was obvious: in the 1920s and 1930s Ostapovskoye Highway was lined with numerous newly-built plants, as well as with the first large unit of the Moscow State Electric Station. Nowadays warehouses, ruins and the name ‘Ostapovsky Lane’ are all that is left of the former industrial glory of this district.

Perovo Locomotive Repair Shop Palace of Culture

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive illustration
Archive illustration
The building in its present condition

Architect: unknown
Built: 1925 – 1928
Location: 18a Plyushcheva Street
Status: valuable city-forming building

Unlike many other unions, the railroad workers set a goal of building large clubs from the very start and did not hesitate to implement their club programme on a grand scale. The Perovskoe locomotive repair shops called a design competition for their own club in 1925, and already two years later a Palace of Culture was completed under a project designed by an unknown architect. A spacious theater hall able to accommodate 1,000 viewers is winged by two symmetric windowless cubes with lobby windows stretching between them. The main hall is aligned by 90 degrees towards the one-storey section of the building where the hobby classes are located.

The sheer mass of the club’s forms is emphasised and contrasted by its delicate exterior decorations: a flat relief pattern adorning the walls, once terracotta-coloured semicircular pilasters dividing the first floor windows. The club has never changed its primary purpose, attracting residents of the otherwise relatively dull neighbourhood. The club accommodated various hobby groups for children, had its own library and served as a venue for movie sessions, a stage for theatre performances and an occasional dance hall. Since a fire accident in 2007 the building has stayed abandoned. The Palace of Culture building is currently offered for sale.

Institute of Red Professors Dormitory Complex

The estate in its modern condition
The building in its present condition
Archive photo
The estate in its modern condition

Architects: Dmitry Osipov, Alexey Rukhlyadev
Built: 1929 – 1932
Location: 51/2-8 Pirogovskaya Street
Status: stripped of heritage site status, listed as a valuable city-forming building

Two pre-revolutionary school architects from Saint Petersburg built this remarkable constructivist architecture monument for students of a privileged educational establishment. Located in the Strastnoy Monastery, that institution trained future Communist Party instruction experts in both public and humanitarian sciences (lawyers, economists, philosophers, historians, legal experts). Until the late 1930s, every student of the university received a professor rank upon graduation. Later the institute was renamed the Marxism-Leninism Institute, and then the Academy of Social Sciences.

Eight six-storey buildings comprising the complex are linked together in an alternating order, which with its own nickname: the Comb and the Saw House. The complex employs a vast arsenal of avant-garde era expressive means, including gallery balconies in the central building, corner and diagonal windows, glass walls, vertically aligned windows, semicircular towers with stairwells and rounded balconies. Osipov’s and Rukhlyadev’s ‘deconstructivist’ experience allowed them to introduce a number of delicate elements (e.g., rounded balconies expanding in the same plane as stairwell projections, using post and solid fences, rounded corners), which added more flexibility to a relatively constrained design. The “teeth” of the comb accommodated the living rooms, communal toilets and kitchens. The central building with gallery balconies contained the teachers’ apartments. The dormitory tenants have been partially rehoused. The complex, mocked “gypsy embassy” in an online campaign, is apparently being prepared for demolition.

Rusakovsky Housing Estate

The estate in its modern condition
The estate in its modern condition
Archive photo
The estate in its modern condition

Architects: Mikhail Motylev, Boris Ulinich, Anatoly Zhukov
Built: 1925 – 1930
Location: 4-8 Rusakovskaya Street, 2/1-4 Rusakovskaya Street (demolition pending), 3/1 Gavrikova Street
Status: no special status

The construction process on the Rusakovsky Housing Estate did not follow a single plan, and the buildings comprising it could easily be perceived as standalone complexes. Unlike many other mass development projects of the period, the estate features a perimeter development pattern rather than a ribbon one, saving space for spacious green inner yards. The majority of the buildings comprising the estate feature traditional constructivist architecture elements, including paired triangular bay windows, corner balconies, elevated firewalls and striped wall patterns – now hidden under a layer of paint – which used to alternate between brick and stucco in an attempt to imitate then-popular continuous windows. Two r-shaped houses facing Rusakovskaya Street, designed early into the project by Boris Ulinich, stand out among the others. Their symmetrical façades, adorned with lesenes with individual patterns for each level, peek into the street through the slits of their narrow central windows. Brick round rosettes decorate the centres of both façades. 1930s photos reveal that the buildings’ palette included red brick, silica brick, white stucco and painted stucco. The outer decorations bear resemblance to the furniture crafted by Soviet cooperatives in the 1920s inspired by the rationalist modern style. Nowadays these houses await the upcoming demolition under a coat of street ads.

Automatic telephone exchange

The building in its present condition
The building in its present condition
Archive illustration
The building in its present condition

Architect: V. Patek
Built: 1927 – 1928
Location: 5, Bakuninskaya Street
Status: no special status

A design developed by V. Patek was used for construction of Moscow’s first three telephone stations on Bakuninskaya, Ordynka and Arbat streets. The T-shaped four-storey buildings were open for visitors: in addition to the phone exchange, they also housed local post and telegraph offices and intercity call shops. A stepped monumental façade with large smooth upper areas to place large “post”, “telephone” and “telegraph” street signs was dissected both vertically and horizontally by contrasting – allegedly red and grey – strips supporting window and framework lines. These buildings have simple, concise designs optimised to operate standard equipment and serve meticulously defined public functions. At the same time these stations, as well as the non-standard Taganskaya automatic telephone exchange, which has recently been demolished against the will of 38,000 Moscow citizens and the expert community, are not, in fact, industrial buildings. These connectivity centres of the avant-garde era are currently in danger of demolition as “non-functioning industrial sites”. The official position of the development company backed by the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department states that these exchanges are nothing but “depression-inducing” “rotten teeth of the city centre” and should be demolished to clear space for new developments. The station located on Bakuninskaya Street is the next in line to get demolished.

School No. 600 (School on the Wooden Square)

The school in its present condition
The school in its present condition
The school in its present condition
Archive photo
The school in its present condition

Architect: Anatoly Antonov, Igor Antipov
Built: 1929 - 1935
Location: 5 Khavskaya Street
Status: stripped of heritage site status, listed as a valuable city-forming building

The design of this giant school for 2 400 students followed the new principles of education process organisation: a large amount of space was reserved for spacious halls, lounges, specialised work classes and labs. The school even received its own tower with a two-level observation deck for meteorology experiments and astronomy studies. Schools designed by constructivists are distinguished from schools built in the later years by their unconfined, spread-out planning which followed a certain logic of inner spaces and connections. The School on the Wooden Square, designed in the shape of the letter F by constructivist Anatoly Antonov, rests upon two axes: a n-shaped main staircase on the inside and the already mentioned tower with round porthole windows on the outside. A large theatre hall with a vaulted ceiling is located in a cube space to the right from the main entrance. In the early 1930, the project was joined by architect Igor Antipov who granted the building its ‘postconstructivist’ shine by adding a portico to the building’s façade and decorating its interiors with columns, terrazzo floors and coffered ceilings. Today almost all constructivism era school buildings, which have not yet undergone restoration, are facing either demolition or full reconstruction. The buildings fall under an act that was issued last autumn and that enforces certain standards for education facilities, bans usage of wooden ceiling beams in the construction and prohibits further use of unrestored 1920s-1930s buildings for educational purposes. An exemplary school, which once admitted hundreds of visitors, including Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ernst Krenkel and Nikita Khrushchev, may be demolished already in 2017.

Author: Alexandra Selivanova
Photos by Ilya Yegorkin / Strelka Institute