A “Palace for the People”: the design of the Moscow metro, in pictures

A shot of the design guide. Image: Blue Crow Media.

Blue Crow Media is an independent publisher producing a series of urban architecture maps. The company’s latest work is the Moscow Metro Architecture & Design Map – a bilingual, cartographic guide curated by architectural historian Nikolai Vassiliev. The book features photography by Alexei Narodizkiy and an introduction by Nikolai Shumakov, president of the Union of Architects of Russia and chief architect of numerous stations presented on the map.

We asked founder Derek Lamberton to give us a flavour of the new book – and what inspired him to publish it.

I studied in Moscow in the early 2000s, and fell in love with the city's architecture and metro. The latter is best known for its baroque Stalin-era interiors – but the system has evolved over generations, and today’s metro even features remarkable contemporary designs by Shumakov and other leading Russian architects.

The guidebooks I had 15 years ago dated from the Soviet era – and although the content was occasionally high quality, the formats and materials were certainly not. So both the 2016 Constructivist Moscow Map and this year’s Moscow Metro Architecture & Design Map were opportunities to make editors Natalia Melikova and Nikolai Vassiliev's expertise available to everyone in an affordable, original and well-designed format. Fortunately, we've had a lot of support from bookshops around Moscow – and we are working on a third 20th century map, to be published in 2020.

The city is enormous, fascinating and difficult to grasp. I hope that by providing insight into particular layers, it becomes more accessible and easier to comprehend.

Below are notable stations from different eras of Moscow’s ever-growing “Palace for the People”.

Kievaskaya-1, 1935

Architect: D. Chechulin

This Stalin-era underground temple is complete with three naves and three rows of flat light-filled cupolas. The impressive column capitals and walls represent the first use of porcelain on a grand scale in the Metro.

Mayakovskaya, 1938

Architects/artists: A. Dushkin, A. Deineka, E. Kibalnikov

Massive pillars are replaced here by thin elegant arches with inlaid steel ribbons – originally intended for a nearby Zeppelin factory. Romantic flight-themed ceiling mosaics display the sky, from factory chimneys to paratroopers, over 24 hours across the land of the Soviets.

Dobryninskaya, 1950

Architects/artists: L. Pavlov, M. Zelenin, N. Ilyin, E. Yanson-Manizer, G. Rublev, I. Iordansky

Image: Mikhail (Vokabre) Shcherbakov/Wikimedia Commons.

With its distinctive limestone arches, this station is dedicated to ancient Russian architecture.

Reliefs depict traditional tasks from across the Soviet republics. The entrance pavilion is in a festive Classical style, with Red Star chandeliers illuminating the interior.

Aviamotornaya, 1979

Architects/artists: A. Strelkov, V. Klokov, N. Demchinsky, Yu. Kolesnikova, J. Bodniek, Kh. Rysin, A. Mosiychuk

Dedicated to flight and aviation, the central hall of this highly decorated Socialist-Modernist station features a luminous anodised metal ceiling and a polished steel sculpture of the mythical Icarus.

Fonvizinskaya, 2016

Architects/artists: N. Shumakov, A. Nekrasov, G. Moon, V. Fillipov

The design and lighting of this recently built underground hall, devoid of figurative imagery, reflects onto the polished dark floor to create a remarkable abstract scene. The concentric design is perhaps in homage to other station features, such as Krasnye Vorota’s iconic entrance and Lubyanka’s circular motifs.

The Moscow Metro Architecture & Design Map, in English and Russian, is part of a series of urban architecture maps by Blue Crow Media. All available here.

For more on Moscow, check out this episode of our podcast, Skylines.

All photographs except Dobryninskaya courtesy of Alexei Narodizkiy/Blue Crow Media.


 

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.