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Seven Sisters / Vysotki

Stalin's New MoscowMoscow’s skyline in the late 20th Century was largely defined by the seven towering skyscrapers nicknamed “The Seven Sisters.” Also known locally as “Stalinskie Vysotki” (Stalin’s High-rises), they are one of the leading architectural legacies of the Stalinist period. The Soviet Baroque architecture that The Sisters embody is seen by some as unattractive; the buildings themselves are somewhat controversial due to the fact that some see them, with their looming size and sinister-looking spires, as grim reminders of the Stalinist repression. However, while debate still continues on whether these buildings are beauties or beasts, there is no doubt that they became a major representation of the Soviet era and modern-day Moscow.

After the Great Patriotic War, Stalin believed that Moscow needed to be renovated in order to compete with the modern cities of the western allies which the USSR had fought alongside. According to nearly all historians of the time, Stalin took a personal interest in each building and argued that if westerners came to Moscow, they would see that Moscow lacked the skyscrapers that western cities of capitalist countries held. This, Stalin believed, would be humiliation.

As a rule, buildings that have more than 26 stories are called high-rises. In the history of the Moscow architecture this term has been usually applied to seven high-rise buildings having 26-32 stories. They were built in the late 1940s - early 1950s under the uniform town-planning design approved by the special decree of the USSR Council of Ministers (1947). They are:

  • 1. The M.Lomonosov Moscow State University;
  • 2. The USSR Ministry of foreign affairs and Ministry of Foreign trade on Smolenskaya square;
  • 3. The administrative and apartment edifice on former Lermontovskaya square (now Krasnie Vorota square);
  • 4. The Leningradskaya hotel
  • 5. The Ukraine hotel;
  • 6. The apartment building on Vosstania square
  • 7. The apartment building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

All these buildings have a common composition design. They are of the same single stepped configuration, are tiled with natural or man-made stones and decorated with monumental sculpture groupings. The high-rise buildings are open to observation from afar and play an extremely important role for orientation. Complex skeleton reinforced concrete and steel structures were used for their construction.

Moscow's eight high-rise buildings (one of them was not completed) should have enriched the previous architectural styles, determined the city's supporting spots and accentuated its vertical marks.

Many churches and bell towers were destroyed during Moscow's reconstruction in the 1930s. Also at that time there appeared various many-storied buildings and the city's profile was dramatically changed. Moscow was risking to lose one of its traditional peculiarities. It was hoped that along with creating high-rises' belt the tradition of the ancient Russian architecture - the dominating position of Moscow's legendary gleaming church cupolas in the city landscape - would be revived. Especially important and prestigious sites were chosen for constructing high-rise buildings so as to establish the system of new starting points in the heart of the city. Though they were to be connected with its historic center.

Stylistically all high-rise buildings demonstrate an apparent return to the architecture of the 1930s. If the weather is good, at least four of them can be seen from the observation post on Vorobjovy Hills from where the whole city is in full view.

There were quite a few architects who designed the high-rises. But the plan to position them in Moscow was worked out by D.N.Tchechulin who also designed one of them - on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment and who was Moscow's chief architect from 1951 till 1960.

Tchechulin's high-rises, like church bell towers, never stand in the line of streets and prospects, but they are always somewhere behind houses. They rival American skyscrapers. However, judging from Moscow's plan it is obvious that they in fact turned the city into one huge mega-Kremlin becoming its towers. The Moscow State University building looks like a bell tower placed down the river as was the case with ancient monasteries. The high-rises represent a synthesis of gigantism in the classicism and Old Russian architectural and planning decisions.

During these same years two more buildings reminiscent of Moscow's high-rises were constructed in Riga (the Latvian Academy of Sciences) and Warsaw (Palace of Culture and Science).

The M.Lomonosov Moscow State University, on the Sparrow Hills, is the most significant high-rise building in the city. Ceremony of laying the first stone took place on April 12, 1949 year. September 1, 1953 year in housing began training sessions. This is a grand symmetrical complex consisting of multi-tiered, 36-story tower (its height is 240 meters) crowned with the 58 meter high spire. There is a star on the end of the spire with ears of 9 meters in diameter. The star is covered by yellow glass with aluminum amalgam. The tower is adjoined by lower buildings (15-18 stories). It was the largest building in Europe upon its inauguration on September 1, 1953 until 1990 when the Messeturn in Germany was built (256.6 meters).

The 32-story building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment near the junction of the Moscow River and the Yauza River totally dominates the area. The building is a starting point for all streets leading down to the river and it rivals the Kremlin. The building's height is 176 meters and its lower storeys forming the extensive socle are coated with splintered and polished red granite. The building's heavy decor consists of statues and cogged towers.

The 29-story Ukraine Hotel is 170 meters high. It is located in the very advantageous place, near the steepest curve of the Moscow River where it is crossed by the New Arbat-Kutuzovskiy prospect highway. That is why the building is perceived as one of the main points of Moscow. The hotel itself is located in the central building and the side ones with 8 and 10 stories are meant for residential apartments. This imposing, 30-story building boasts over 1000 comfortable and well-equipped guest rooms, apartments and suites, many with impressive panoramic views of the city. There are various dining options, including a renowned authentic Ukranian Restaurant, a 24 hour fully-equipped Business Center, conference facilities up to a capacity of 180 delegates, on-site shopping and a sightseeing and excursion bureau.

A typical story from the 1990s relates that as visitors on the elevator descended, at each floor more people got on until they were packed in like sardines. Expecting to be at the ground floor when the doors opened the elevator car frequently stopped about 2 feet below the floor. It immediately began to rise, but overachieved; it was now about 2 feet above the floor. It recognized that this was not where it should be, closed the doors and started back down. It stuttered, stopped, stuttered down some more then up and the doors opened.

The Radisson used to be the Ukrainian Hotel and is one of the original “Seven Sisters” wedding cake buildings which Stalin erected, very evident in Moscow. It was renovated in 2010 and is quite lovely.

The 27-story Ministry of Foreign Affairs used a method of construction work organization essentially different from those used when constructing previous high-rises. First, a metal skeleton as big as the building's height was constructed and after that the rest was done. The Ministry building is distinguished by the rich interior coating made of natural marble and granite. The coating also has wooden panels of oak and Karelian birch. Central volume includes 27 floors, building height is 172 meters.

Arbat is considered the oldest pedestrian street in Moscow. The name of this street was first mentioned in 1475. What is so special about this place – museum, theater scenes, marketplace, and a place for walking? Arbat is a kind of a cozy world in an amazing creative atmosphere. The street became pedestrian in 1986. Soon, the renovated street attracted artists, musicians, street performers and vendors, creating custom creative world within Arbat. Contemporary Arbat is something like the ‘Montmartre’ where people draw, sing, dance, recite poetry, oratory and much more. Perceiving its noble and intellectual traditions try to feel the uniqueness and charm of this corner of Moscow.

The original design of the building did not have a Spire, but subsequently the plan was finalized. This is the last "Stalin skyscraper" project, but it was built first. However, the building should look different, and it was assumed not only at the design stage, but throughout most of the construction - the skyscraper should have a flat roof with prongs. The spire was added later, reportedly by Stalin’s personal orders. There are many variations of the legend about how the skyscraper acquired a spire, but in all of them appears Joseph Stalin. Apparently, he said that without a spire the building will be too similar to American skyscrapers.

Calculations showed that the building will not withstand stone superstructure so the Spire was constructed from steel sheet and painted with ochre (so noticeable was that the color of the Spire is different from the color finish building). The spire, even after painting, remained a slightly different color from the rest of the building. MFA building is the only one of the seven high-rises whose spire was not crowned with a five pointed star. Probably the cause is that the Spire of the building was very fragile and could not withstand the weight of the star.

Continuation of the legend (however, in this case, it seems, is reliable) says that a few years after the death of Stalin, one of the authors of the project, Vladimir Gelfreich (the second was Mikhail Minkus), through the chief architect of Moscow, Mikhail Posokhin, asked Khrushchev permission to remove the spire. But the new head of state replied: "Let it remain as a memory of the stupidity of Stalin."

The Leningradskaya hotel is a 26-story building (its height is 136 meters) that structurally contains some features of the Russian architecture of the 18th century. In contrast with primarily classical forms of other high-rises, the stylistics of the hotel reminds of the 'Narishkin style' structures. This is manifested most visibly by its interiors. In the front vestibule the attention is drawn to Moscow's Emblem of St.Georgiy the Victorious, the gorgeous decorative grate copying the ornament of the Kremlin's 'golden grate' and chandeliers reminiscent of church-chandeliers. This use of images and forms of the national architecture is typical for the postwar years imbued with the pathos of the people's victory. The hotel was purchased by Hilton Hotels and, after major renovations, was reopened with 273 guest rooms in 2008.

The 24-story administrative and residential edifice near Krasnye Vorota (Red Gates) square consists of the central building (the Ministry of transport engineering) crowned with the star-topped spire and two apartment ones with a different number of storeys. Before there was a house on this site. That is where Mikhail Lermontov was born. There is poet's monument beside the building. The vestibule of the Krasnie Vorota subway station is in the left wing that opens on Kalantchevskaya street. The edifice is located in the highest place of the Sadovoe beltway. It has a impressive tiered structure. Its architectural style gravitates towards the Russian and Ukrainian baroque. The Red Gates Administrative Building is the smallest of the Seven Sisters. Designed by the respected Moscow Metro designer, Alexey Dushkin, the high-rise includes the customary tower with a five-pointed star.

Visitors to the Red Gates Administrative Building may notice that the building is tilted to one side. This is not an optical illusion. The building was constructed with its frame tilted to one side to compensate for the frozen soil below. When the soil thawed, the building settled down but not enough to make it perfectly upright.

The high-rise on Kudrinskaya Square (former Vosstania square) consists of the central 22-story, 156 meter high building and 18-storied side ones with 452 apartments. The side buildings form a harmonic connection with the surrounding structures. The first floor is occupied by numerous food stores (the Gastronom store was the largest one in Moscow when the building was completed) and the Plamya movie theater.

Designed by Mikhail Posokin and Ashot Mndoyants, the Kudrinskaya Square Building was intended to house apartments for Soviet cultural leaders. Its apartments were elegant and the four corners were designed to hold “food palaces” that would be open to all. However, upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this 160 meter high, 22-storied building fell into disrepair. The shops deteriorated and the high-class apartments became cramped one-room units. Today, parts of the building are being repaired and hold stores and restaurants that largely strive to mirror and market the building’s former glory.

Located near the US embassy, it is reported that residents of the top two floors of the Kudrinskaya Square building were evicted durring the embassy’s construction. The rooms at the top of the large “Stalin High-rise” were then used for KGB radio-monitoring equipment to eavesdrop on the embassy’s activities.

The eighth sister, the Zaryadye Administrative Building, was to be placed in the historic Zaryadye district near Red Square. Situated near Red Square, Zaryadye Administrative Building would have been the second of eight skyscrapers and the most centrally located. What makes its abandonment at the foundation stage so tragic, besides the compromise of Stalin’s master plan, was that in 1947 the medieval district known as Zaryadye, the oldest trading settlement outside the Kremlin, was obliterated to make room for the colossal 32-story, 275-meter-high skyscraper.

After the district was demolished to make way for it, plans were canceled (partly due to the difficulties of building a massive 32 story building on the soft soil of the Moscow River banks, partly due to a shortage of resources). Later the Moskva Swimming pool was built on its foundation and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, was restored on this site. The Palace of Soviets should have dominated the city because there were plans to crown this colossus with the gigantic stature of Stalin.

The last of the Seven Sisters was completed in 1957, four years after Stalin’s death. Soon after, the Academy of Architects was abolished and the period of Stalinist Architecture came to an end. The eighth building was never completed. The artless excesses of "Stalinist" architecture, was to send the message, "We have a lot of everything."

Boris Groys in his book The Total Art Of Stalinism argues that the very process of building socialism seemed ideally suited to the modern, rational architect. The designs that appalled modern architects from Tatlin to Frank Lloyd Wright in America, were the logical projection in stone of Stalinist thinking, they attempted to incorporate aspects of architectural traditions from around the world, and bring the palatial spaces that had been reserved for the elite to the ordinary man.

Stalinist architecture did more than simply bring high culture to the masses (though in the case of the Moscow Underground in certainly did intend to and achieve this) it brought together all the major themes in architecture from every epoch in human history, showing that Soviet Communism not only drew from all these periods of civilisation but synthesised them and drew the disparate aesthetic strands together so as to present Soviet architecture as the culmination of the past.

The Triumph-Palace is a 57-story skyscraper in Moscow. The residential skyscraper height of 264.1 meters makes it the tallest residential building in Europe. This record was registered representatives of Guinness Book of Records December 20, 2003. The building, containing about 1,000 luxury apartments, was topped out on 20 December 2003, making it Europe's tallest building at 264.1 meters (866 ft), until the inauguration in 2007 of Moscow's 268 metre Naberezhnaya Tower block C. From the windows of the house offers a panoramic view of the city center, Leningradsky Prospekt and parks.

"Triumph Palace" is a neoclassical building and post-modern architecture in the Stalinist style of the 1950s. The architecture of "Triumph Palace" continues the traditions of the monumental style of the 1950's seven metropolitan high-rises. At times confused with the complex of seven Stalinist skyscrapers, some call it "the eighth sister". Residential complex "Triumph Palace" has a five-story stylobate part, uniting together all the 9 sections. The main entrance to the central body located on the side Chapaevski Park. In addition, each body has its own entrance. The last three floors of apartment occupies a boutique hotel "Triumph Palace" - the tallest hotel in Moscow and Europe. The style of each room boutique hotel is dedicated to one of the cities in the world.

The rooms and suites at Triumph Palace Boutique Hotel are situated above the 53rd floor. All rooms feature air conditioning, floor-to-ceiling windows and a luxury bathroom with bathrobes, free toiletries and slippers. For guests convenience, electric kettle, minibar and a fridge can be found in all rooms. Triumph Palace Hotel is a 5-minute walk from CSKA Moscow Stadium and a 10-minute walk from Aeroport Metro Station.

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Page last modified: 27-10-2018 18:30:02 ZULU