At the foot of a legend: How the courtyard of the high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya was landscaped

At the foot of a legend: How the courtyard of the high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya was landscaped
The high-rise on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. Photographer I. Burov. 1984Photo: The Main Archive Department of Moscow
One of the seven Stalin-era high-rises is located at the confluence of the Moskva and Yauza rivers. It is one of the most famous buildings in Moscow. This article features the story about the landscaping works around the legendary building.

The building starred in the films Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, The Pokrovsky Gate, Brother-2 and Hipsters. Alexander Tvardovcky, Galina Ulanova, Nonna Mordyukova, Faina Ranevskaya, Nikita Bogoslovsky and other famous people lived there. The high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment has long been and remains a dream for thousands of Muscovites.

The foundations of all Stalin-era high-rises, the Seven Sisters, were laid on the 800th anniversary of Moscow. The construction of the building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment was carried out in two stages. From 1938–1940, a nine-storey building was constructed. From 1948–1952, a 32-storey building was added to it with a symmetrical nine-storey wing. The construction was led by architects Dmitry Chechulin and Andrei Rostkovsky. The central part of the building is decorated with sculptures and obelisks. The building is an example of Soviet classicism and is considered an architectural landmark. All these facts are well known to architecture enthusiasts and curious people. But only a few know the story of the landscaping works around the building.

In 2017, the My Street programme covered 12 embankments, including the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. Plans call for planting trees, expanding sidewalks, organising recreation areas and viewpoints. Documents we found at the Main Archive tell us about what kind of landscaping works were done at this site, 1/15 Kotelnicheskaya Embankment, over 50 years ago.

The high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. I. Burov. 1984.

February 1947

“The Ministry of the Interior of the USSR should be provided with additional land plots for the construction of a high-rise building,” said a decision of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of Peoples’ Deputies.

The Ministry of the Interior supervised the construction works. In order to clear the site, the Ministry was given several land plots on Bolshoi Podgorsky and Maly Podgorsky Pereulok, and on Kurnosov Pereulok. These streets are long gone, replaced by the high-rise.

Seven residential buildings and an orphanage were subject to demolition to clear up space. Residents were supposed to be provided with equivalent accommodation and transportation for moving. The Ministry had to provide the orphanage with another building. The Executive Committee’s decision also issued an instruction for landscaping the area, laying pavement and planting trees on nearby streets.

The land plot layout (the decision of the Mossovet Executive Committee No. 7/30 of 16 February 1947, On Providing Additional Land Plots for the Construction of a High-Rise Building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment).

December 1947

“We consider it impossible to provide the site on the Podgorskaya Embankment and close traffic for two years,” says an office memo of the Directorate for Architecture.

The Interior Ministry asked for the site between the Maly Ustyinsky and Astakhovsky bridges across the Yauza River to house a camp for builders and a quay to deliver construction materials. The embankment would be closed for a long time. But, as we see from the office memo of the Directorate for Architecture, this idea was not approved.

A request for an expert in transplanting or removing trees and shrubs at the construction site of a high-rise building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. March 1949.

March 1949

“We allow the General Service Department of the USSR Ministry of the Interior to cut 28 trees and 14 shrubs at the construction site of the high-rise building  at 1/15 Kotelnicheskaya Embankment,” said a decision of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of Peoples' Deputies.

Experts from the Moscow Landscaping Department examined the plants at the construction site and saw that it would not be possible to replant all of them. Thus, 47 young trees and 100 shrubs were replanted, while others were cut down.

The construction of the high-rise building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. Naum Granovsky, 1 November 1950.

January 1957

“The Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of Peoples' Deputies gives permission to landscape the area around the high-rise on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment […] at the site free from residential buildings,” reads a memo by Executive Committee deputy chairman A. Zaitsev.

The landscaping project involved a large site: from the high-rise to the Bolshoi Vatin Pereulok and Maly Vatin Pereulok. The first works were carried out at the site adjacent to the building. Several years later, the authorities returned to the initial plan, but it turned out that several residential buildings were included in  the renovation plan. They would have to relocate people, demolish the buildings. So it was decided to carry out landscaping around them.

The land plot layout (instruction by the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of Peoples' Deputies No. 1138 of 25 March 1957, On Defining the Borders of the Land Plot around the Residential Building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment).

March 1958

“We approve […] the task to landscape the courtyard of the high-rise at 1/15 Kotelnicheskaya Embankment and the adjacent area, including slope designing, planting trees and shrubs, making walking paths and sites, building steps, installing fences etc.,” reads a decision of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of People's Deputies.

The decision of the Moscow Soviet of People's Deputies  No. 13/36 of 13 March 1958, On Landscaping the Area Adjacent to the High-Rise Building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

There was a lot of work to be done in 1958. For instance, the Directorate for High-Rise and Hotel Maintenance was charged with outfitting the courtyard with sport and children’s playgrounds and to install benches and tables. Other agencies were instructed to lay pavement, build steps and disassemble old foundations, as well as install lighting, demolish old wooden barns, remove a storage room from the building’s cellar, install fences and plant trees.

The facades of some nearby houses were also renovated or restored (depending on the historical value of the building). Gas heating was provided in building No. 4 on Volodarskogo Street (now Goncharnaya Street) by 1 October 1958.

There were those who were against the project. The Proletariat District Executive Committee spoke against the overhaul of the buildings because of a lack of funding. The Department of Non-Residential Property did not want to relocate the Main Department for Radio Equipment Sales and Distribution from the cellar because “there was no vacant storage place.” The Directorate for the Road and Bridge Maintenance suggested that slope planning work was given to the Landscaping Department.

“We instruct the Directorate of Accounting and Distribution of Residential Property (Comrade Semin) to relocate the residents of the former Church of St. Nicetas Behind Yauza in the first half of 1958,” said a decision of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet of Peoples’ Deputies.

The “former” church is also known as Mount Athos Mission. It is located in the courtyard of the high-rise, at the level of the sidewall of one of the wings. Before the 1950s, it had a great view of the Kremlin and Zamoskvorechye. The church was closed in 1936. The fence, gate and the top of the belfry were demolished and the main church building survived only due to the local community’s efforts. The renovation of the church began in the 1950s by architect Lev David.

The landscaping plans marked the church as an architectural landmark. There are several more historical buildings nearby: the estates of Klapovskaya and Tutolmin and the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Kotelniky.