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 Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.


The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.