The Weird World of Russian Architecture

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Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
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The architecture of Soviet Russia was steeped in meaning and allegory. As Vladimir Putin looks to resurrect modern day Russia to have its own unique cultural identity, control of building themes and heights has disappeared. A common thread remains however; the weird and bizarre.

Palace of the Soviets

The Soviet Union decided the best way to show up the West was to build the biggest version of any given object. The infamous Palace of the Soviets, which would have been a congress facility and administrative building celebrating the Community Party and commemorating fallen leader Lenin, is perhaps the biggest unrealized architectural project in history.

The project was the brainchild of Joseph Stalin. He ordered that the world’s largest Orthodox Christian cathedral be razed and following an architectural competition proposed it be replaced with a structure 100 feet taller than the Empire State Building and capped with a gilded statue of Lenin, towering 260 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Construction started in 1937 with two years spent on the foundation alone. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the rise of the Nazis meant as war came closer to Moscow that materials were needed and the steel was ripped up and used for railroads or military fortifications. After the war was over, the Cold War put strains on the same resources and the project never gained momentum.

Instead the site was turned into the world’s biggest outdoor pool by Nikita Khrushchev. Then, to complete the circle of craziness, after the collapse of communism the pool was replaced by a replica of the church that original stood there.

The Temple of All Religions

One of the strangest works in progress is The Temple of All Religions or the Universal Temple in Kazan. A mishmash of religious architecture including an Orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue, work started in 1992 and each year local artist and philanthropist Ildar Khanov adds to the development.

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Khanov is famous in the region for his work with alcoholics and drug addicts and it is both former and current patients who help him maintain and develop the temple either through direct involvement in the construction work or through sponsorship.

Eventually, the structure will feature 16 cupolas corresponding to 16 major world religions, including past religions that are no longer practiced.

Moscow Skyscraper District (Moscow International Business Centre)

Moscow’s skyscraper district, previously known as the Moscow International Business Centre, reflects the broader problems in the Russian economy – the problems Putin believes he can build out.

The ambition had been to create a hub of emerging market finance, with towering skyscrapers a testimony to success, but vast swathes of office space lie empty.

Desperate to fill the space, one multi-million dollar tower is to be home to a youth hostel, while one of the low-rise buildings that carpet the surrounding space is set to be re-purposed as a 6,000 seat cinema.

“Russians have a great tradition of building things they don’t need,” Sergei Petrov, an office worker in one of the towers, told the New York Times.

The 148-acre site includes the Mercury City Tower, the tallest building in Europe. The Evolution tower, with its twisting double helix form, is the first cold bent glazing project in Russia. The Federation Tower complex currently in construction includes Tower East which, rising to 1,224 feet when complete, will steal Mercury City’s tallest crown.

The Evolution Tower

The Evolution Tower

The Federation Tower Complex

The Federation Tower Complex

In total, eight skyscrapers are finished, eight others are under construction, and two more are planned. The entire site is scheduled to be finished by 2018.

Other Strange Designs

Beyond buildings that are never built and buildings that are not used, when there is a purpose or need, you can rely on the Russians to come up with some interesting ideas, from crematoriums to museums to indoor ski parks!

Crematorium in Kiev designed and built before the split with Moscow

Snej: Russia’s first indoor Ski Park

Snej: Russia’s first indoor ski park

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