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PICTURE THIS Moscow Monumental

How architecture transformed the Russian capital into a modern metropolis

CONTRARY to the popular image in the West of a dull, grey and brutal USSR, in Moscow Monumental Katherine Zubovich reveals how the general plan for the city in the 1930s aimed to improve standards of living, deal with the housing crisis, provide new amenities to Muscovites and beautify a city of “narrow and curving streets with dozens of lanes and dead ends.”

The architecture of Moscow — and my one criticism of the book is that it’s not well served by the small and grainy photos illustrating the text — goes beyond the typical tourist pictures of Red Square and onion domes. Changing styles mirrored the growth and development of a new nation.

The Palace of the Soviets was planned  as a 100-storey skyscraper topped by an 80-metre-high statue of Lenin.  Futuristic features such as automated cloakrooms hint at the ambitions of the Soviet Union to come, a nation that had big dreams of an evolution from peasant state to the superpower that put the first man in space.

It was the very essence of a country trying to show the world that it was now a major player on the world stage; yet such projects are often mocked by Western critics, bringing to mind Michael Parenti’s comments about anti-communist rhetoric, that the “ideological framework could transform any data about existing communist societies into hostile evidence.” If the Soviets built functional housing, it was “dull, grey and boring” and if they built monuments they were “totalitarian.”

With allegations that current Russian leader Vladimir Putin has built a £1 billion secret luxury palace, perhaps the days of monumental projects are not over — though a shift has definitely occurred from the public to the private.

Published by Princeton University Press, £34.

 

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