Thursday, September 21, 2017

Evolution of Russian Architecture

One should start by saying that Russia over the period from XVIII to the XX century would feature distinct architects who were supported by certain Russian monarchs. As a result Russia, and primarily the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg were incorporate numerous design styles that would range from Baroque to neoclassical, to neo-Byzantine to traditional Russian styles. In the following essay I will speak about some of the historical timelines and the development of certain architectural trends, their evolution, major architects and the major masterpieces of that time. Numerous educated findings together with my personal opinion will be presented on the matter.

In 1721, the Russian tsar, Peter I of Russia (Peter the Great) would choose to move the capital of Russia from Moscow to St.Petersburg so that it lies in the close proximity to the western Europe, namely Holland, which Peter liked the most. St. Petersburg would be built and designed by Peter in the unique Dutch style called Petrine baroque. The major architectural masterpieces of that time were the monuments called Peter and Paul Cathedral, Menshikov Palace and the Menshikov Tower (Brumfield, 2001, p. 250).

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During the reign of Empress Anna and Elizaveta Petrovna, the Russian architecture would continue and promulgate baroque style which would nevertheless become even more luxurious (a.k.a. Elizabethan Baroque). The chief architect of that time was Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who was directly responsible for the creation of buildings such as the Catherine Palace, the Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral. Other distinctive monuments of the time of Elizabethan baroque were probably the well known Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra and the Red Gate.

Catherine the Great during the time of her reign would dismiss Rastrelli and oppose baroque, considering it outdated. On the other hand she would favor Scottish and Italian architecture and would patronize neoclassical architects from these countries. The most important buildings which are currently considered true masterpieces of their time were the Alexander Palace created by Giacomo Quarenghi and the Trinity Cathedral of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra as created by a Russian neoclassical architect Ivan Starov. One should remember that during the reign of Catherine the Great, there would be more than one style independently developing in Russia with Russian Gothic revival style as promulgated by Matvey Kazakov and Vasily Bazhenov in the former capital, Moscow (Brumfield, 2004, p.89).

The architectural chef-d’oevre such as Pashkov House in Moscow was a typical example of the XVIII century Russian nobility’s urban residence. For a century it has been a standard of how nobility would select their residence and the style according to which that resistance was to be built.

Another Russian tsar, Alexander I of Russia would reject neoclassical style of architecture and would prefer Empire Style as represented in the masterpiece of his time, Kazan Cathedral, the Admiralty, the Bolshoj Theater, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Narva Triumphal Gates. It was only in the XIX century that the traditional Russian architecture would see some revival. The redevelopment of the Moscow’s central areas that took place from 1838 to 1883 were created in the Neo-Byzantine tradition. The creation of the Great Kremlin Palace, the Kremlin Armory, and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, as designed by a well-known architect, Konstantin Ton were all created in the neo-Byzantine style (Krasner, 102).

After the events of 1917, when the October revolution would overthrow the tsarist regime in Russia and introduce socialist/communist leaders into the country, the architecture would obey the Constructivism style which would accommodate certain revivalist trends as propagated by Aleksey Shchusev and Konstantin Melnikov. The two most famous examples were Tatlin’s Tower and the Lenin’s Mausoleum.

In the early 1930’s, during the reign of Joseph Stalin, Stalinist architecture would focus on conservative monumentalism. In the mid 1930s the country would enter the stage of rapid urbanization as a result of Stalin’s policies. Stalin would authorize foreign architects to compete with each other for the right to build the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow (Cracraft, 52).

After the end of the WWII, much efforts were put in rebuilding Moscow and its buildings as destroyed during the WWII period.

Under Nikita Khrushchev governance, much effort was put on increase the number of houses with flats, so one had to forget about decoration and style yet rather focus on the actual apartments built. As a result the majority of the houses were similar in looks.

In conclusion, I would like to note that each monarch during the time period selected for this essay (XVIII-XX century) would typically favor their own style and sponsor their particular architect. As noted in the essay one architect would go after another. During the soviet rule which started in 1917, one would move to revivalist trends and conservative monumentalism. After the end of WWII, when most of the building were destroyed, one would focus solely on the accommodation for people rather than style.

Brumfield, William, A History of Russian Architecture, NY Random House, 2004.
Krasner, Ella, The Russian House: Architecture & Interiors, McGraw Hill, 2003.
Brumfield, William, Landmarks of Russian Architecture: A Photographic Survey (Documenting the Image), Prentice Hall, 2001.
Cracraft, James, The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture, Wiley and sons press, 2004.

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