From simple timber structure to an architectural landmark: the evolution of the Kievsky Railway Station

From simple timber structure to an architectural landmark: the evolution of the Kievsky Railway Station
The early station house faced ridicule by its contemporaries and became the object of many mocking caricatures. Many decades later the present-day building is now the recipient of the Moscow Restoration Award 2016. When and how did this neoclassical monument take the place of that unsightly construction?

Countless inbound passengers have sat in expectation of seeing the clock tower and the glass dome of the Kievsky station on the horizon. Many have hastened to embark here on their way to Bryansk and Kaluga, to Khmelnitsky and Kishinev, to Kiev and Odessa. Numerous music lovers have crowded the station during Arts Night as trains were departed to the harmonious sounds of a cappella performance by members of the Choral Academy. Such public attention is nothing new for the station. In the 19th century, the building that stood in its place may have been popular with caricaturists, but the station that made its way into a 1918 newsreel shot in the same district of Dorogomilovo was already a different building. Later, the station could often be spotted both on film and canvas. To this day, its silhouette adorns the traditional teacup holders in which train stewards serve hot tea to their passengers.

The station's history began in the 19th century. More than a hundred years later, its current building has undergone a thorough renovation. The renovation project designer Tatiana Katz was honoured with the Moscow Restoration Award 2016. The jury also acclaimed the expedient and efficient manner in which the work had been planned and performed.

Yamskaya Sloboda and its Industries

The area surrounding the present-day Kievsky Railway Station has long been a site where freight was hauled. As far back as under Great Prince Vasily III, the authorities moved here from the village of Vyazmy, the so-called "Prince's coachmen", i.e. peasants relieved of all duties and services and required instead to haul people and freight. In late 16th century Tzar Boris Godunov settled postal coach drivers on both sides of Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Street, thus starting the formation of the Coachmen's Settlement, Yamskaya Soboda in Russian.

In the 19th century the area already boasted such industries as the Tryokhgorny brewery and a cement plant by the same name, both near the Dorogomilovskaya Gate (Dorogomilovskaya Zastava). While on Berezhkovskaya Street stood one of Moscow's major sugar refineries, a sawmill, a dyeing and starching shop, a worsted weaving mill, and a number of other small businesses.  Beyond the gate was the site of a lampion oil factory and a zinc-plating plant. In 1872, a stonecutting shop began turning out marble and granite articles in Novoproektirovanny Pereulok, and in the same year a brush-making factory was set up in Malaya Dorogomilovskaya Street, and a wheelwright's workshop opened in Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Street. 

A railway station replaces vegetable gardens

Beside industrial sites, however, the district of Dorogomilovo was rich in open land where one could find only vegetable gardens, woodsheds and the like, and barren ground. As it appeared easy to develop a railway infrastructure on this land at a negligible demolition cost, at the end of the 19th century the Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh Raiway Company decided to lay down a railroad to Bryansk starting from this location. It was clear that the erection of a major terminal at this point would greatly intensify traffic. With this in mind, the city authorities had to rebuild the decrepit Borodinsky Bridge and fortify the embankment between the bridge and the railroad on the stretch of riverside, which was prone to flooding. In 1897-1899 the suburb became one enormous building site. The biggest plot was that of the freight terminal where quite soon a brick warehouse rose, flanked by tin-roofed storage sheds and an office building, which has survived to this day. By the spring of 1899 the Bryansky Station was nearly ready, in June it was consecrated and by 1 August the first mail and passenger trains hit the road. The new single-track railway had a daily transit capacity of two pairs of passenger and three pairs of freight trains.

The most revered icons brought for the opening ceremony were kept under a marquee specially erected next to the station for the occasion. The town governor Prince Vladimir Golitsyn and other city officials attended the ceremony, while engineer M. Grigoryev, who had directed the railroad construction, topped the list of the guests of honour.

Glavarkhiv (Main Archive Department of Moscow).

No railway station in Moscow was caricatured as frequently as this elongated timber structure with two lonely entrance porches. Caricaturists made fun of its rural appearance, its passengers with their noses smeared with soot from kerosene lamps and of the miserly railway company that had "enriched Moscow with such a log hut". The building looked like a temporary structure, but what is more permanent than something temporary? The makeshift station stood for 15 years.

Sunlit halls, mechanical clock and Shukhov's platform hall

The initial design of the modern station building, that engineer Ivan Rurberg drafted in 1912 and called for a neoclassical style, was later modified with the assistance of architect Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky. Construction began on 28 May 1914, shortly before World War I, and was completed in 1918. The new spacious, brightly lighted halls with their ornamental pillars bore no resemblance to the former narrow passage through which baggage-laden passengers had to force their way.

The building amalgamated into a richly ornamented bridge-like main block, crowned with a tall clock tower and a platform hall set between two side-wings. Sculptures by Sergey Aleshin adorned the facade.

The upper part of the tower is comprised of arched windows, domes and sculptures and the original mechanical clock is still working. When summer and winter time were still observed, the hands of the clock had to be readjusted manually. This clock and the Kremlin chimes are the only two remaining clocks in Moscow with mechanical movements. The platform hall, designed by the renowned architect Vladimir Shukhov, is canopied by a roof with glazed arch-shaped steel frames forming a transparent dome that seems to soar in the sky.

New name, new life

In 1934 Bryansky Railway Station was renamed and became Kievsky after the main destination of the railroad, Kiev. The general plan for the reconstruction of Moscow enacted a year later provided for the expansion of Kievsky Station Square up to Dorogomilovskaya Street and for its architectural refurbishment in order to enhance its view of the Moskva River.

The Kievskaya Metro Station, built in 1935-1937, was designed in keeping with the intended development of the railway station and included an additional set of buildings for suburban traffic. The complex structure, which was comprised of semi-basement and above-ground quarters, was built in 1940 based on architect Dmitry Chechyulin’s design. Its central piece, the ticket office, is cubic in shape and complements the railway station's main building.

After the war, the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line of the Metro was built and a new section was added to the Kievskaya metro station. Its entrance emerged next to the northern wall of the railway platform hall, thus finalizing the architectural composition that remains more or less the same to present day.

Hotels and public garden nearby

According to the Kievsky Railway Station Square development plan adopted in June 1979 by Moscow Soviet of People's Deputies, the construction of Intourist and Kievskaya hotels (second stage of works) was to be completed, while the station itself was to be reconstructed and supplemented with new passenger halls. The plan also scheduled the development of several new projects, such as Kievskaya Street, a section of the Rostovskaya Embankment, a bridge over the river that was to become part of the Third Ring Road and three underground pedestrian passages.

The plan provided for the creation of a public garden with fountains to be situated within the triangle formed by the station, Dorogomilovskaya Street and Kievskaya Hotel. The existing garden by the river was to be re-zoned, providing room for a widened riverboat pier.

During 1979-1981 the roof of the station platform hall was slightly modernised and some original features of the station's interior décor were restored.

Majolica, murals and sculpture in a new light

At the beginning of 2010, the station's facades, as well as its interior, were clearly in need of specialist attention. The vast renovation programme included sections of outer walls and wall arches, granite steps, plinth courses and grills, columns and pilasters, cast metal sculptures and stone statues, which were all to be restored to their original condition. Skilled craftsmen repaired and re-rendered facade masonry and tin-platers refreshed downpipes and wall trimmings. Replicas of the original door handles and hinges were cast in brass, while the PVC glazed units that had once been incongruously fitted on the ground floor windows, were removed and replaced with restored original wooden frames.

The main ornament of the central facade, a relief image of St George, Moscow’s patron saint, in colourful majolica, now relieved of its grime and vegetation, received a new lease on life. The same facade also bears a full-length image of St Michael, while the northern facade features a stream flowing from a pitcher and two crossed banners bearing the initials of Peter the Great. The clock faces on the tower that crowns the station building are set in mosaic frames made of earthenware fragments.

The murals found in the long-distance passenger halls were restored, although the colour of certain interior features and even some entire rooms has changed. In addition, the oval plaque on the ceiling bearing the letters “MKV”, which stand for Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh Railway, was restored as were the years “1914” and  “1916”, which represent the launch and the expected year of completion, respectively, of construction.

The former industrial area between the station and the Third Ring Road will also begin a new life with the planned construction of housing blocks along with their associated infrastructure, which will create new employment opportunities.

Alongside the Kievsky Railway Station reconstruction project, which was awarded the Moscow Restoration Award 2016, the Belarus Hall at the VDNKh, the Kievskaya metro sStation, the 17th century chambers in Tverskaya Street, where the Dresden Hotel was located at different times, and the Aragvi Restaurant all received recognition as being the best projects in the field of cultural heritage conservation and promotion.