Russia as a country has seen various phases of architecture throughout its being. Spanning from the early wooden architecture where its roots lie, its branches spread on to the architecture of Kievan Rus to the influence of the Byzantine empire not only on the architecture but also the culture of Russia. 

This country is also known to have its independent vernacular architecture style devoid of any influence but its local features and needs although none so notable. Russia also seemed to have had a phase of a dominant Christian influence on its architecture.

Pre and Post Christian Periods

From whatever we can gather of the history of architecture or its evolution in Russia, it has always been religious in a way that churches have been the only structures predominantly built and the only structures that remain from the ancient past to date. The elements of which have been influenced by various styles and monarchs Russia has seen and is known to have very little influence by its own independent culture. 

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St Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra_ Federica Leone

Starting at the beginning of what is called the Pre-Christian period, the influence of Byzantine and Pagan architecture can be seen in the buildings of Russia, with an abundance of exterior galleries and towers and fortresses also came into existence during that era.  

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Church of Transfiguration_Wojyek Buss

The era of architecture that came slightly after or known as the post-Christian influence brought about monumental changes in Russian architecture. The evolution from wood to stone and frescos is also known to have happened during this period. St Sophia Cathedral is a well-known example from that era of architecture in Russia. The country however is mainly known for its Onion Domes, bright colors, motifs, and so on. Architecture in the country however has seen massive changes with time in terms of its styles, characteristics, aesthetics, and function.

Much Needed Change

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Societal Pyramid in Russia_httpsalphahistory.com

In the 17th century, Russian architecture consisted mainly of fiery styles shortly after which notable changes occurred in Russia in many ways including the culture, government, class structure, trade, and architecture. Also known as the great reform period of Russia, the treasury improved massively, the gap between tsars and slaves shrank to a great extent, Serfs (state peasants) came into existence. 

Many new rules were added to the law which proved beneficial to even the lowermost class in the hierarchy of Russian society which was indeed a notable change from societal structure mainly comprising of Upper, Middle, Working class and Peasants respectively.

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The Plight of Russia’s Women_httpsalphahistory.com

Speaking of societal structure, the culture of Russia was highly patriarchal in the sense that men were seen as the rulers and decision-makers whereas women enjoyed no rights whatsoever across many ethnicities and religious groups in Russia throughout past rulers which also changed during this era due to The Petrine reformwomen were also given a place and opportunities to interact in the society, after which many reforms took place such as Legal rights, education, feminism in the soviet era. 

In the present scenario, women have come to secure a place in the working class, politics, etc even though the inequality still prevails in many aspects throughout the country

Ember for Revival

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View of the winter palace from palace square in st-petersburg_httpwww.saint-petersburg.com

Architecturally, there was a huge western influence on Russian Buildings such as Menshikov Palace, Kunstkamera, Peter and Paul Cathedral, and Twelve Collegia In 1724, the Academy of Sciences, the University, and the Academic Gymnasium was also established. Shortly after in the 19th century Russia saw a series of structures in the late Baroque style which was led mainly by Ar. Bartolomeo Rastrelli whose famous buildings also include the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Neoclassical architectural transformation of the city of Saint Petersburg in the second half. 

The Russian revival also took place in this era which was an attempt to bring back the lost essence of Byzantine architecture and old Russian architectural heritage. State Historical Museum is one of the buildings of that time in Russia

Leaning towards Contemporary Architecture

During the 20th century, Russia saw an Era of modernization in its architectural styles mainly Art Nouveau, Constructivism in which unadorned geometric forms with flat roofs stand out, creating a new style different from architecture in the past which soon saw its downfall and couldn’t hold its ground. Reforms in housing however poor quality were seen during the rule of Nikita Krushchev who changed the rule and the societal norms from Stalin’s rule Krushchev saw architecture as an instrument used to cover the needs of the Russian people. 

The simplicity of those constructions made them achieve some records, such as being able to finish five-story buildings in 15 days. Functionalism was given utmost importance; Russia saw a massive improvement in mass housing which decreased the housing issues that prevailed during earlier rulers. Structures were built according to the needs as opposed to aesthetics and previous bright colored facades. The excesses were condemned during this period. ‌

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Mercury City Tower in Moscow_Christian Wiediger

Deconstructivism is an important artistic movement in Russian modern architecture. It has been the prevailing one in the last two decades. Contemporary buildings with almost futuristic shapes stand out from the previous years’ constructions. An example of that architectural style is the Mercury City Tower, a skyscraper placed in Moscow. This happens to be the architectural style that is seen currently in Russia, developed with skyscrapers. 

In Contrast to their constructivist precedents, these new towers fit better in the urban landscape, so it seems the modern Russian architecture finally found a balance between the beauty of its well-preserved historic jewels and the pragmatism of its Stalinist period

How Politics influenced Architecture

Slightly after the dominance of Kievan Rus’s influence on Russian architecture consisting mainly of the ever famous Onion domes, brightly painted facades, and stone buildings which again were Orthodox churches came the era of Renaissance, brought about mainly by Ar. Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti. 

His best-known work is Dormition Cathedral soon after which Saint Basil Cathedral came into existence in the 16th century, which is now a Museum. The structures architectural style is debatable and is known to be a culmination of various influences on Russia while also keeping intact the Onion domes which went on to become the signature of Russian architecture.

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St.Basil’s Cathedral_Kapuk Dodds

Russian architecture serves as an open book to its country’s history. After the fall of communist, the revival of Constructivism has seen in which the new political system promised the construction of much more modern buildings, which would turn contemporary Russian architecture into a global reference in architectural terms. 

However, Russian architecture had to settle for a lower quantity of modern constructions, in fact modern, but not as meaningful as expected, characterized by the use of simple lines and basic geometric forms. Its strength lay in its utility aimed to implement avantgarde solutions into daily life, with modern and, at the time, useful designs. Colors were used minimally, with the prevalence of black and red

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Lenin’s Mausoleum designed with simple cubical forms in a stepped pyramid_W.Buss

Hostility to Design Solutions for World Problems

Architecture in Russia has also had a major role in molding the people and their lifestyle, which is evident to this day. Soviet architectural remains even now have strict policing characteristics where it doesn’t open up to its visitors, even through history as seen by many architects notably Le Corbusier on one of his visits to Moscow was how ill-planned the houses were. 

The mass housing only appeared to have curbed the needs of people but in fact, was full of faulty plans, and instead of providing comfort and peace to people how it sort of just made the residents hostile and had adverse effects on their behavior. Architecture much like the society believed in something utopian and orthodox as seen throughout the history of Russia.

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Moscow City Skyscrapers that rose in the 21st Century_vladimir zakharov

Currently, Russia has built many Skyscrapers and is looking to make a mark internationally and it’s housing also improved to a major degree from its history of On-Land Socialisation. The period of Garden city which claimed that a person could survive in a community without ever having to leave it, as the community provided everything from parks to schools and hospitals. Khrushchev’s Micro-Districts was a shift towards functional cheaper mass housing construction. 

Currently, 85% of Russians own private lands and houses thanks to new mortgage laws and privatization. Housing architecture has also seen massive changes in terms of replanning, styles, private homes and apartments, décor, etc. This also was brought about by massive economic growth in the 2000s. also entering the 21st century with its head held high with Green architecture seen in the Mercury city tower. 

Calm amidst the Put-In Chaos? 

In the current scenario, Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, placed a different emphasis on urban design and construction in Russia. Apart from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, most major projects have either been put on the back burner or canceled due to the financial crisis of the late 2000s. The situation has changed architecturally due to the economic crisis in Russia. 

The Mercury City Tower, the highest European skyscraper, is almost finished. Most other Moscow City high-rise developments are not, with no idea as to what their future holds. Contemporary Russian legislation forbids working directly from abroad in the field of architecture. That’s why you have to hire a local studio to adapt the drawing and technical standards and provide necessary licensing in a lengthy process of official approval of the project. Today’s system and the architectural field and its laws seem very cumbersome and corrupt, according to studies.

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Nizhny Novgorod Stadium world cup 2018_Bestalex

Many Notable architects such as Norman Foster have been said to have quit all his Russian projects and the cumbersome government laws are known to have to neglect the field of architecture. Architecture, planning, and design are ignored even in major infrastructure facilities such as the 2014 Olympics or the 2018 Fifa World cup as contractors were selected without any architectural criteria or even any analysis of basic urban issues, such as the transport system capacity or the preservation of historical views and monuments. 

With this approach, it’s not surprising that the quality of the architecture is relatively poor. As compared to its rich Architectural heritage, it’s not merely a matter of customer taste but also a result of systemic inefficiency and the lack of common criteria except the price and the square meters. What Russia holds for the future of architecture and its people only time will tell.

References

Journal. (2015). 8 Projects Showcasing the Dynamic Architecture of Modern Russia – Architizer Journal. [online] Available at: https://architizer.com/blog/inspiration/collections/contemporary-russia/ [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

Wikipedia. (2021). Russian culture. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_culture#Architecture [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

Vassiliev, N. (2014). Russian Architecture Under Putin. [online] Architectural Review. Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/russian-architecture-under-putin [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

The Independent. (2011). Russia’s aesthetic revolution: How Soviet building still influences. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/russia-s-aesthetic-revolution-how-soviet-building-still-influences-today-s-architects-2373447.html [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

ASA Cultural Tours. (2014). Early Russian Architecture 989-1703. [online] Available at: https://www.asatours.com.au/early-russian-architecture-989-1703/ [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

https://www.facebook.com/thoughtcodotcom (2019). 2,000 Years of Russian History Through Photos. [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/russian-history-in-architecture-and-pictures-4065259.‌

ArchDaily. (2021). The Eastern Influences that Shaped Soviet Architecture in Central Asia. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/960487/the-eastern-influences-that-shaped-soviet-architecture-in-central-asia [Accessed 3 May 2021].‌

Russian Revolution. (2012). Russian society. [online] Available at: https://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/russian-society/#:~:text=Upper%20classes%3A%20Royalty%2C%20nobility%2C.‌

Englund, W. (n.d.). Russia’s modern architecture reflects Soviet lifestyle; Buildings were used to shape the people. [online] baltimoresun.com. Available at: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2000-04-16-0004280209-story.html [Accessed 3 May 2021].

Author

Darsan Babu, an architect, dreamer and a storyteller who loves to take on challenges and reform perspectives on some days, but sit by the mountain and quote words of Howard Roark on others. Would love to explore all things architecture, educate and shape the Urbanscape soon enough.

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