Moscow has been actively built and rebuilt throughout its entire history. As time marched on, its image changed to some extent, with every epoch sometimes trying to completely restructure the city’s architectural concept. This is particularly true of the Soviet era when architectural styles such as the famous Stalin Empire style and Constructivism emerged.
Some of the awe-inspiring Soviet-era architectural projects were implemented, but many continue to gather dust on archive shelves. However, certain pre-revolution technical drawings and blueprints also remain on paper only. Let’s try and see how Moscow would look if all these plans were realised.
The first proposals for building a city metro network were submitted in 1875. At that time, it was suggested to build a metro line that would have linked Kursky Railway Station and Maryina Roshcha via Lubyanskaya and Pushkinskaya squares. In 1902, architects A. I. Antonovich, N. I. Golinevich and N. P. Dmitriyev drew up an updated design that envisaged construction of the metro’s Circle Line via Kamer-Kollezhsky Val, the Central Station in Alexander Garden and four radial lines. There were plans to build 50 percent of these pre-revolution lines using overpasses, and the rest were to have been located inside tunnels. Apart from overpasses, the planned Circle Line was to have featured embankments.
Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Vorobyovy Gory
The project aimed to commemorate Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. Architect Alexander Vitberg suggested building the cathedral between Smolenskaya and Kaluzhskaya roads, on Vorobyovy Gory. Emperor Alexander I, who poetically referred to this place as the crown of Moscow, wanted the cathedral erected outside the city because there was not enough space for this elegant building in Moscow. Some experts also hinted at St Peter’s Basilica, which was located outside Rome. Moreover, Devichye Polye (Field), conveniently located opposite Vorobyovy Gory, would have made it possible to see the cathedral from afar. And the final argument was that Vorobyovy Gory were located between Smolenskaya Road, used by enemy forces to enter Moscow, and Kaluzhshkaya Road, the scene of the French retreat.
The building would have towered 170 metres above the ground, making it the tallest cathedral in the world; in turn, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome stands 141.5 metres tall. In 1823, workers began to stockpile stones and to link the upper reaches of the Volga and the Moskva rivers for delivering stones to the construction site. The first experiment proved successful, but it was impossible to deliver large stone batches because the Moskva River’s water levels remained too low.
The project was terminated, and numerous water springs on the slopes show that local sandy soils make it impossible to build any large structure on the slopes and on hilltops because its elements would subside unevenly.
Palace of Labour
The grandiose Palace of Labour project dating to 1922-1923 was to have been built between Tverskaya Street and Sverdlovskaya, Revolution and Okhotnoryadskaya squares (where the Moscow Hotel now stands) but was never implemented.
The palace would have accommodated all local workers’ organisations, large proletarian libraries, a conference hall for several thousand people, an auditorium for 8,000 students, a social science museum, a cafeteria for 6,000 people, sport organisations and lots more.
An exhibition showing various Palace of Labour designs opened in March 1923. This unprecedentedly large-scale competition was called on to determine the future development of Soviet architecture. The Vesnin brothers’ project became the first Constructivist building. But construction of the building was never launched, with the Moscow Hotel appearing here in 1935.
The Moscow general reconstruction plan was drafted in 1931 and aimed to completely change the city’s urban development concept. Central Moscow was to have received wide roads and high-rise buildings. To achieve this goal it was decided to demolish historic buildings. In 1933, authorities decided to tear down the famous Sukhareva Tower. Artist and restorer Igor Grabar along with Ivan Fomin and Ivan Zholtovsky, both members of the Academy of Architecture, wrote to Josef Stalin about this mistaken decision. “The Sukhareva Tower is an eternal example of great construction art which is known to the entire world and highly regarded everywhere … We … resolutely oppose the destruction of a brilliant work of art, which is tantamount to destroying a painting by the artist Raphael,” they noted.
The letter’s authors called for drafting a project to upgrade Sretenskaya Square in one month; that project would have made it possible to solve the transport problem and to preserve the Sukhareva Tower. Architect Fomin soon submitted this project stipulating circular traffic along the square. Other projects aimed to channel traffic west of the tower, to relocate it and to build a vehicle underpass. Unfortunately, all these ideas were never realised.
When the Sukhareva Tower was being dismantled, a third-floor window casing was taken to Donskoi Monastery and made part of the monastery wall. The tower’s clock is currently installed on the Front Gate Tower at the KolomenskoyeEstate. The tower’s foundations are located under Sukharevskaya Square.
In the 1980s, the Executive Committee of the Moscow City Soviet/Council of People’s Deputies (City Hall) decided to rebuild the tower. An architectural competition was organised, but none of the projects was approved. Only a memorial at a nearby public garden marks the place where the Sukhareva Tower once stood.
Palace of the Soviets
The Palace of the Soviets was designed as a huge building standing 420 metres tall, with a 70-metre statue of Lenin on top. It was to have dwarfed all other buildings in the world. Construction was launched where Christ the Saviour Cathedral used to be. The best design was submitted by Boris Iofan, with Sergei Merkurov working on Lenin’s statue. Construction came to a halt after the Great Patriotic War began and never resumed after the war.
Under the new aesthetic concept, the Soviet government planned to expand Red Square two times over and to upgrade Nogina, Dzerzhinskogo, Sverdlova and Revolution squares over a three-year period. There were plans to tear down all small buildings in the Kitai Gorod district, to preserve only a few large facilities, and to build several monumental structures of state importance.
In 1947, the cornerstone of a 32-storey administrative building was laid in the Zaryadye district during celebrations of the city’s 800th anniversary. At that time, seven other similar buildings were already under construction. But this particular building was never completed, all its structures were eventually dismantled, and the Rossiya Hotel was built on its foundation from 1964 through 1967.
The government’s decision to open the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKHV) in northern Moscow influenced the reconstruction of 1st Meshchanskaya Street and Yaroslavskoye Motorway. A narrow overpass spanning the Oktyabrskaya Railway linking the city with Leningrad, now St Petersburg, made it possible to access 1st Meshchanskaya Street from the motorway. Actually, the overpass was only wide enough for a single-track tram route.
In 1935, architect Mikhail Zhirov submitted the first design of a record-breaking 40-metre-wide overpass. Zhirov’s design was rejected, and a team consisting of engineer Yury Verner and brothers Konstantin and Yury Yakovlev, both architects, were instructed to complete the project. Construction was launched in 1936, and the overpass opened in 1938.
In 1934-1935, a three-round competition for the best TASS news agency building was announced. The building was to have been located on Pushkinskaya Square. Leonid Grinshpan, a famous post-Constructivism architect, submitted one of the designs, but his plans never came to life. The current TASS building was completed in 1976 on Tverskoi Boulevard to a design by architects Viktor Yegerev, Anatoly Shaikhet, Zoya Abramova and Gennady Sirota.
Grand Academic Cinema on Teatralnaya Square
Under the city reconstruction plan, the Grand Academic Cinema, a large public facility, was to have been built on Sverdlova, now Teatralnaya, Square, opposite the Bolshoi Theatre. In his day, Lenin called cinema “the most important of all arts,” and the new cinema building was therefore supposed to dwarf the Bolshoi Theatre. The latter could seat an audience of 2,000, and the new cinema was expected to accommodate 4,000 people. Its capacity was later reduced to 3,000.
A competition for the best Grand Academic Cinema design was announced in the autumn of 1936, but all designs were eventually rejected. All of them reeked of megalomania, which was being actively criticised by that time. Although the towering cinema was never built, a combined entrance for accessing the Ploshchad Revolyutsii and Ploshchad Sverdlova metro stations was completed in advance.
Pantheon of Glory
The Pantheon of Glory was expected to become a huge memorial burial vault glorifying the “great persons of the Soviet country.” There were plans to relocate the sarcophaguses of Lenin and Stalin to the burial vault, as well as the “remains of outstanding activists of the Communist Party and the Soviet state, buried near and interred in the Kremlin Wall.”
After Stalin died in 1953, a competition for the best Pantheon of Glory facilities was announced, but their location was never specified. Central government agencies began to receive various designs, many of which resembled those submitted during a similar competition for the best Palace of the Soviets design.
Monument to Chelyuskin ship’s crew and passengers
The entire nation rejoiced after the crew and passengers of the SS Chelyuskin, which sank in the eastern sector of the Soviet Arctic in 1934, were rescued from an ice floe by Soviet pilots. These pilots later became the first Heroes of the Soviet Union. The Moscow City Council then announced a competition for the best design of a monument dedicated to the event. It was intended to build the monument on the Obvodnoi (Bypass) Canal spit. A monument to Peter the Great by Zurab Tsereteli is now located there.
Children’s railway at Stalin (Izmailovsky) Park
In 1932-1933, a children’s railway already operated at Moscow’s Gorky Park, but it was closed by the late 1930s.
It was later decided to build another children’s railway at Stalin Park in Izmailovo, now Izmailovsky Park. The Moscow General Plan envisaged turning this park into the city’s main leisure and recreation area. The USSR Central Stadium named after Stalin for 100,000 spectators was to have been built near the park’s northwestern entrance. The world’s largest zoo would have opened in the park’s eastern section, and there were plans to build a huge pond with an area of over 110 hectares in the central section (Serebryanka River’s waterfront). The pond’s beaches were to have accommodated 10,000 people at a time; a yacht club and a speedboat station were also stipulated.
The children’s railway was to have linked all of the park’s cultural/entertainment facilities, serving as the main transport system. At that time, all children’s railways were designed by children or young employees in their spare time. A competition for the best children’s railway and its structures was announced. Under its terms, the architecture of railway station buildings was to have matched that of the Moscow Metro, structures of the Moscow-Volga Canal and the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, and was expected to serve as a graphic example of “joyful Soviet architecture.” The competition’s organisers focused on the diversity of styles, with each participant designing just one station, rather than the entire railway. Authorities summed up the architectural contest’s results in the spring of the 1940s.
In 1940-1941, local technical stations for children and Palaces of Young Pioneers enrolled young people wishing to become railway workers. From the very first day, they were assigned to various divisions dealing with railway service, traction, railcars, etc. In the spring of 1941, they completed an initial theoretical course and began practical work. As the railway was still in the making, they worked and trained at companies of the Moscow railway hub. For example, young steam locomotive engineers drove passenger trains from Savyolovsky Railway Station under the guidance of experienced engineers.
On 20 June 1941, the final design of the children’s railway was submitted for approval, and the Great Patriotic War began two days later. After the war, unsuccessful efforts were made to resume the railway’s construction.
How some city streets may have looked
Ambitious city reconstruction projects were to have affected all streets and squares in central Moscow. Manezhnaya and Tverskaya squares and Kursky Railway Station would be quite different if these projects were implemented.