Russia – When you think about St Petersburg, the Hermitage’s baroque ballrooms, romantic bridges, and stunning cathedrals come to mind. But the city which was renamed Leningrad from 1924 until 1991 is also home to impressive, touching or ominous architectures and monuments erected during the Soviet era. We explored some of the darkest or glorious buildings making history between 1917 and 1991.
• RELATED STORIES: Read more about St Petersburg’s architecture on Archipanic…
In the wake of the Russian Revolution…
1917 – 1930
Many imprisonments and summary executions were carried out in the Trubetskoy bastion in St. Peter and Paul fortress during the so called Red Terror. Completed in 1872, the tower which already ‘hosted’ Dostoevsky and Bakunin became the main destination for political prisoners.
Explore the walls and cells of this forbidding building recreated exactly as they would have been in different eras of the prison’s existence, but also a modern museum display employing archive materials, photography, and multimedia material to represent both the day-to-day life of the prison and the fates of some of its many famous inmates such as Leon Trotsky, and Lenin’s brother Alexander Ulianov.
Social-oriented, essential and practical: in the ‘20s, Bolshevik Russia embraced the principles of Constructivist architecture opting for a more sober, yet technology-driven, approach. One notable example is the Gorky Palace of Culture built by Alexander Gegello and David Krichevsky in 1927 in Stachek ploshchad.
Less fortunate – but still – impressive buildings are the neglected water tower of the Red Nailmaker Factory by Iakov Chernikhov, 1930-31, in the southwest of Vasilievsky Island and Erich Mendelsohn’s crumbling Red Banner textile factory in Petrograd, 1926-37, which temporarily became a graffiti sanctuary and is today trying to survive in a brand new residential district.
But how the Bolshevik elite really used to live? The Kirov Museum invites you to explore the house and wealth of Sergei Kirov, one of the most powerful men in ‘20s and ‘30s Russia before Stalin had him murdered. Explore the apartments of the politician to discover ‘20s Soviet technology and find a ‘not-so-communist’ American fridge by General Electrics.
1925 – 1953
In 1924 St Petersburg was renamed Leningrad, and architecture tuned with Stalin’s personal taste and propaganda. The most impressive building of the times was the monumental House of the Soviets in Moskovskaya square: columns, bas relieves and a large frieze decorate the ominous building on Moskovsky prospekt. Designed by Noi Trotsky in 1936, the palace was supposed to become Leningrad’s new epicentre and to host the city’s Soviet government. It never happened, as it was first used as the military headquarters during the siege and Nazi occupation at the beginning of World War II.
Further north in Victory Square – Pobedy ploshchard in Russian -, the solemn Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad commemorates the survivors of 1944 Leningrad’s siege. Designed by Sergey Speranskiy and Valentin Kamenskiy with sculptor Mikhail Anikushin, the plaza inaugurated in 1975, on the 30th anniversary of the end of the war: a 48-metre high obelisk towers over a large circular enclosure and a subterranean Memorial Hall.
Do not take pictures at CCTVs while walking under the Boshoi Dom the Russian Federation Secret Services building in the Smolny district. The much feared granite monolithic was designed by Noi Trotsky to host St Petersburg’s KGB headquarters where many of the people who entered it were never ever seen again.
Postwar Soviet architecture and design…
Further north, overlooking the Neva promenade, Mikhail Shemyakin’s Memorial to the Victims of Political Repression features two sphinxes framing the infamous Kresty Prison across the river. Get closer to the creatures to discover that half of their face is a skull. Because monsters can look beautiful from a distance.
Here you can also find the touching Monument to Anna Akhmatova. The city’s most famous poet used to queue for days in the snow in front of the Kresty prison to have news about her son, who was imprisoned during the Stalinist repression.
Great architecture can be explored even without reaching street level! Inaugurated in 1955, the St Petersburg’s metro, one of the deepest ones in the world, stuns with Soviet-themed architectures. Admire the mosaics and vaults in Admiralteskaya, the glass and marble columns in Avtovo and the Maria Engelke’s murals in Pushkinskya.
The concertina-edged structure of St. Petersburg Russian State Scientific Center for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics towers over The White Tulip complex. Designed by in 1968, the building aimed to express Russia’s dominance in the research of space travel in Cold War times and is renowned as one of the greatest examples of Soviet architecture.
Between the brutalist high-rise apartment buildings in the Primorskaya ‘sleeping district’ on the Vasiliyevsky island it seems that time has somehow frozen. But as you look closer and venture more you can find a vivid Russian post-modern mesh. A Sports centre with late Soviet-era illustrations on its windows cohabits with neon-lit 1990s disco bars and cafes with the exhausting décor of the early 2000s.
• RELATED STORIES: Discover more architecture and design from Russia on Archipanic…