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.


 

 
 
 
 

Eritrea’s Modernist architecture: a striking reminder of years of oppression

Asmara’s futuristic Fiat Tagliero Building (1938) was built to resemble an aircraft. Image: David Stanley/Creative Commons.

Those with an eye for architecture will notice something peculiar when visiting Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Dotted around the city are exceptional examples of Modernist architecture, a style that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. Rejecting gratuitous ornateness in favour of minimalism, function and rationalism, the style grew to dominate 20th century design. But it didn’t arrive in an east African country in a remotely benevolent way.

The huge continent was carved up in the span of just a few decades, in an era of history known as the “Scramble for Africa”. Described in German as torschlusspanik, meaning “panic of a closing gate”, European powers grabbed as much as they could to prevent their rivals gaining the upper hand.

Having consolidated his power in Italy, fascist dictator Mussoulini looked to Africa to expand what he saw as the new Roman Empire. It was in this context that the country seized this stretch of coast along the Red Sea that became Eritrea. And it was Asmara that was going to be the new African capital, La Piccola Roma – Little Rome.

Standing at 2,000m above sea level, the capital’s location was chosen in part because it was cooler than the brutally hot coastal regions. As was commonplace across European colonies, the colonisers wanted to avoid the extremes of the lands they conquered and find places more comparable to the climates they had left behind.

Where the colonial money arrived, the locals followed and Asmara became a city of contrasts. Intermingled with the Tukul’s, round huts of stone or mud topped with conical roofs that are indigenous to East Africa, are hundreds of buildings in the modernist style that were erected by the Italian colonisers from 1935. Many such buildings, including the Fiat Tagliero petrol station, the Town Hall and the Cinema Roma, came to represent East African Modernism. But why was there this push towards the style?


Peter Volgger, an academic who studied the impact of the modernist architecture in post-colonial Eritrea, has a theory. “Colonial cities were often projection screens for modernist fantasies and were built as futuristic visions for European cities.” So what couldn’t be done back home could be done in the colonial setting. Fantasies could be fulfilled.

The fall of fascism in Europe after WWII didn’t mark the end of colonialism in Africa, as the losers’ colonies were transferred over to the winners. Britain governed the colony for a while before power at a federal level was handed over Ethiopia. It was only in 1993 that Eritrea finally gained independence from its larger neighbour; a hundred years after the Italians first conquered the region.

Yet the Modernist buildings continued to be built long after the Italians had left. The IRGA garage, for instance, which is often held up as a key example of Eritrean modernism was built in 1961.

It’s in part due to such constructions that in 2017, Asmara was recognised as by Unesco as a site of particular cultural importance and included in their world heritage list. This not only brings in money from Unesco directly, but also induces international interest and tourism. The inclusion of Asmara in the organisation’s heritage list marked a shift towards inclusivity, having often been criticised for its lack of sites in Africa. Of the 845 cultural sites worldwide, Asmara is one of only 52 that are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In Germany alone there are 41 sites and Italy 49.

Long overdue, the significance of Asmara and its modernist buildings has been recognised. Despite their architectural interest they cannot and should not be divorced from the grim historical reality of their existence. For the millions who call the city home they stand monument to the arrogant dreams of empire that consumed the country for over a hundred years.