Moscow’s Stalin-era skyscrapers are among the city’s most famous and impressive architectural sights. The buildings are distinguishable by their massive size, tiered neo-classical architecture, decorations inspired by Gothic architecture and Orthodox Russian churches, and spires that were added to make them as high as American skyscrapers. Created as "palaces" for the people by architects who were forced to work for the Communist government, they were designed with "wedding cake" tiers intended to give them an "upward surge." In Russia they are known as the “Stalinkas,” and have described by visitors as “pleasantly retro.”

During the Soviet era, Stalinska apartments were the height of luxury and prestige and were placed at the best addresses in Moscow . Only the most elite members of Soviet society lived in them. The famous actress Lidita Sminova appealed directly to KGB chief Lavrenty Beria to get one and reportedly fainted when she saw how large and lavish it was. They were built of the best material available and boasted things like high ceilings. Much of the work was done by gulag prisoners and German POWs, who were also used to construct many of the Stalin-era apartments that fill the city. So the buildings could be built at fast pace, thousands of workers were brought in and housing for the spetsgorodok-convicts laborers was installed in the Moscow suburb of Solntsevo.

The Stalinskas feature towers that are reminiscent of Art Deco skyscrapers like the Empire State building, Woolworth Building, Manhattan Municipal Building and Chrysler Tower in New York.Stalinist architecture become so fashionable after the collapse of the Soviet Union that plans were drawn up to erect several neo-Stalin buildings. One of these, the Triumph Palace, is the tallest residential building in Europe, with a tower that is 264 meters (866.4) feet high. Completed in 2006, the 57-story structure contains 960 luxury apartments and is sometimes called the Eighth Sister because it similarity to the Stalinist Seven Sisters skyscrapers (See Below). The neo-Stalinist buildings have their critics. Some claim they are poor copies of the real things and have dubbed them “capitalist realism,” a take off on the “socialist realism” in the Stalin era. Even so the apartments sold like hot cakes. All 960 apartments in the Triumph Palace were snatched up soon after they were put on the market, with a typical 1,600-square foot apartment going for about US$500,000.

Stalinese skyscrapers found outside of Moscow, organization the Academy of Sciences building in Riga Latvia and Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Hotel Moscow and Ukriane in Kiev, Casa Presei Libere in the Bucharest and the Hotel Druzba in Prague.

Stalin’s Seven Sisters

The so-called Stalin "Seven Sisters" refers to seven buildings with 26-32 floors built in the late 1940s and early 1950s according to Stalin’s instructions in a common urban development plan. They are comprised of the Moscow University building (the tallest, most ambitious and famous, at 238 meters tall), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two hotels and three residential and administrative complex.

The original plan called for eight high-rises to be built to symbolize the 800th anniversary of Moscow in 1947. That year the first stones of these grand buildings were laid. A ninth high-rise building — the Palace of Soviets, decorated with a giant Lenin statue — was intended to become the highest building in the world (420 meters) at that time and dominates the city. Plans for the eighth and ninth skyscrapers were shelved after Stalin’s death in 1953.

The prototype of the "Seven Sisters" were consider three pavilions with smaller but similar proportions built in 1939 at the National Agricultural Exhibition (later ENEA) as part of a project headed by Dmitry Chechulina. In 1945 he became the chief architect of Moscow and created general development general plan for post-World War II Moscow and oversaw construction of the legendary Stalinist high-rises. Extensive urban areas, including whole blocks of historic buildings, were ruthlessly demolished and streets were moved to make way for the Seven Sisters.

The seven Stalin-era skyscrapers known as the Seven Sisters are: 1) Moscow State University tower in the Lenin Hills; 2) the recently restored Ukraine Hotel (Inner Southwest, near Kalinisky Bridge on the Moscow River, Smolenskay Metro Station); 3) the Leningrady Hotel (Inner Northeast, near Leningrad, Kazan and Yaroslav train stations); 4) the Foreign Affairs Ministry building (Inner Southwest, Arbat area); 5) Agriculture Ministry, formally the Transport Construction Ministry (Inner Northeast, Krasnye Vorota Metro Station); 6) the Kudrinskaya apartment building (see below); and 7) the Kotelnicheskaya apartment buildings (Inner Southeast, at the confluence of the Yauza and Moscow River, Taganskaya Metro Station).

Pompous maybe. Representing the era of totalitarianism, with spiers, turrets and statues, yes. But imagining Moscow without the "Seven Sisters" is a bit like imagining Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Like modern temples or pyramids, the skyscrapers were intended to be personifications of the power of the Soviet Union and the Soviet people. Each skyscraper is a kind of symbol:Moscow State University, whose students represented the apotheosis of science and the future of the country; Foreign Ministry, representing the state's authority in the international arena; the Hotel Ukraine, symbolizing the friendship of fraternal peoples. Residential building on the waterfront — Tinkers and Kudrinskaya Square — display the respect, honor and care for the best people of the country — Soviet artists, heroes and aviators — by the Soviet government.

Moscow State University

Moscow State University (in the Lenin Hills along the Moscow River in the Outer South, Lapinskie Gory Metro Station) is housed in a huge "Stalin-Gothic" wedding cake of grey and red granite that seems like something out a "1984" movie. The entire university of 30,000 students is placed within this one building which is perched on top of a steep bluff on the Moscow River called Sparrow Hills (formally Lenin Hills)

The Moscow State University building is the largest university building in the world. It is 240 meters (787½-feet), 32-stories tall and was constructed in the last years of Stalin’s rule between 1949 and 1953. Inside the self contained building are vegetable stores, bakeries, a pharmacy, watch repair stand, banks and barbershops as well as thousands of dormitory rooms that sometimes squeeze four students in one room. There are hundreds of well equipped laboratories, demonstrating the former Soviet Union’s emphasis on science. The outside of the building features potpourri of Slavic, Babylonian and classical decorations and even a fountain pool with metal water lilies.

Moscow State University is the oldest and largest university in Russia. Regarded as the apotheosis of science and the future of the country, it was founded Mikhail Lomonosov, a fisherman by birth who became highly educated and is regarded as Russia's first great naturalist-scientist. The Earth Sciences Museum on top of the Moscow State University has mediocre displays of stuffed animals and mineral but a great view of the city. There is an the observation deck on the 32nd floor. The University complex on the Sparrow Hills includes 27 buildings, surrounded by a botanical garden.

About 40,000 tons of steel was used to construct the frame of the building. About 175 million bricks were used to make the walls. The five-pointed star on the spire weighs 12 tons. There are 68 elevators. The tower of the main building of Moscow State University has a clock with four dials, on each side of the tower. One of the largest clocks in Europe, it has longer than the famous Kremlin chimes and numbers that are about one meter in height.

Moscow State University is also known as Moscow State Lomonosov University or Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU). It is one of the oldest classical universities of Russia, as well as the largest and the leading center of Russian science and culture. It was named after Mikhail Lomonosov in 1940. The central part of the MSU has 36 floors. This part of the building contains the rector's office and all the university’s service and organizations, the Youth Council of Mechanics and Mathematics, the geography and geology departments, the Earth Science Museum, laboratories, and all the university’s students, library and eating services.

For 37 years the main building of Moscow State University was the tallest building in Europe and is still one of the tallest buildings in Moscow. From the 18th to 24th floors there is housing and dormitories. There are nine sectors hostels and hotels. Adjacent to the main building are residential apartments for professors and teachers.

The plan of the building is unusual. It is elongated rectangle with one area open, sort of like the letter "F". Typical old buildings are built on the sides of a rectangle surrounded by boundaries, with empty yard inside. In the case of the MSU building, the sides of the rectangle remained undeveloped. In contrast to typical buildings the center and the diagonal run from the center to the corners. The building is opened up to the outside. There are no courtyards. Each façade and all the windows of all the rooms look out at surrounding expanses of the Sparrow Hills.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs Ministry building (Inner Southwest, Arbat area) is a Stalin skyscraper that housed the Soviet Foreign Ministry and is currently occupied by the offices for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation. Intended to representing the state's authority in the international arena, this 172-meter-high, 27-story building was built between 1948 and 1953 and designed by the architects V.G. Gelfreich and M.A. Minkus and designers S.D. Gomberg and G.M. Limanowskiego.

The Ministry is covered by a light external stone wall with projecting pilasters and pylons. Its interior is beautifully decorated with stones and metals. According to the 1982 biography of Minkus, draft plans were first drawn up in 1946 and ranged from 9 to 40 stories. In 1947 two designs were proposed: one using layered setbacks and one employing more streamlined construction culminating in a flat rectangular top. The second proposal was accepted but as construction of building neared completion, a metal spire — dyed to match the building's exterior and presumably ordered by Joseph Stalin — was hastily added to tower's roof so if looks in line with the other Seven Sisters. The Foreign Ministry building is the only one the Seven Sisters without a five-pointed star on its spire. Such a star would have added to much weight for the fragile turret to withstand.

On the side of the main facade, at a height of 114 meters, is a reinforced concrete mounted coat of arms of the USSR, which covers an area of 144 square meters. The portal of the building is decorated with stucco designs by the sculptor G.I. Motovilov and metal bars. The main lobby is decorated with columns made of artificial marble, walls made of light colored marble with carved marble frieze, marble floors and carpet pattern. Brass is used on the bases, capitals, and framing of the doors and stained glass windows. There is also flooring made of polished black granite and wall decorations made of brass and brass anodized aluminum. The entrance hall is connected to an underground area by four escalators. The walls of the 500-seat assembly hall features artificial marble, furniture and decorations made of Karelian birch, red velvet drapes and upholstered chairs. The wooden parts of the interior are made of Karelian birch and polished walnut.

Hotel Ukraine

Ukraine Hotel (Inner Southwest, near Kalinisky Bridge on the Moscow River, Smolenskay Metro Station) is the second tallest of the "Seven Sisters" and has 34 stories. Designed by the architect Arkady Mordvinov and Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, a Soviet expert on steel-framed highrise construction, it was the tallest hotel in the world from the time of its construction until the Peachtree Plaza Hotel opened in Atlanta, Georgia in 1975.

The Hotel Ukraine — also known simply at Ukraina — symbolizes the friendship of fraternal peoples. Because of its location on the low river bank, builders had to dig well below the water level to make the foundation and bottom parts of the structure. This problem was overcome with an ingenious water retention system, using a perimeter of needle pumps driven deep into ground.

The total area of the Ukraine Hotel is more than 88,000 square meters. It’s height is 206 meters, including a 73-meter spire. Among those who participated in construction of the building were Mordvinov President of the USSR Academy of Architecture, the design engineer P.A. Krasilnikov, V.G. Kalisz, in charge of the Stalinka residential buildings, and Oltarzhevskaya, who studied skyscraper construction in New York. More than two thousand people worked on constructing the building.

The Ukraine Hotel is considered the most compositionally perfect of the Stalin Seven Sisters. The central building, with its tower and spire, is balanced by thoroughness and strict geometry of the wings. The corner towers of the wings are meant to represent stylized sheaves of wheat ears. These gives a lift the to the central spire and give the whole building a palace-like appearance.
Among the Soviet symbols in the outer decoration are a star and hammer and sickle framed by wreaths.

The grand opening of the Hotel Ukraine was in May 1957. At that time it was the largest hotel in Europe and was known for its plush interiors. In 2005, its facade was completely renovated and it was declared a monument of history and culture. The same year the hotel was acquired by billionaire property investor God Nisanov for about US$75 million at an auction in 2005. He co-owns it with Zarakh Iliev.. The hotel underwent a three-year renovation and reopened in April 2010. It is now a part of Radisson hotels group and has 505 bedrooms and 38 apartments.

The Hotel Ukraine contains a rich collection of paintings and sculptures. Among the 1,200 paintings are works by Alexander Deineka, Aristarchus Lentulova, Dmitry Nalbandian, Nikolay Romadina, Michael Suzdaltseva and Kukryniksy. During the 2007-2010 restoration the collection was enlarged to include cultural artifacts such as a diorama of Moscow and 57 Soviet-era sculptures. Celebrities who have stayed at the hotel have included the actors Marcello Mastroianni, Robert De Niro and Alice Freundlich and Armen Dzhigarkhanyan; the composers Michel Legrand and Raymond Pauls, Russian rock stars Boris Grebenshchikov and Yuri Shevchuk, singers Edita and Tamara Gverdtsiteli, Patricia Kaas and Cesaria Evora, the Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov and artists Svetoslav Roerich, Herluf Bidstrup and Nikas Safronov.

Hotel Leningrad

Hotel Leningrad (Komsomolskaya Square in the Inner Northeast, near Leningrad, Kazan and Yaroslav train stations) is also known as Leningrady Hotel and was originally known simply as the Leningradskaya Hotel. Designed by the architects L.M. Polyakov and A.B. Boretskiy and engineer E.V. Myatlyuka, the building is known for the refined decoration of its exterior and interior. One of the smaller Seven Sisters, it is 136 meters high and has 26 floors, of which 19 are usable.

Construction of the hotel began in 1947 to honor of the 800th anniversary of Moscow and was completed in 1954. Ccombining the Russian baroque elements of Gothic architecture and Orthodox churches in a unique way, the building features massive marble columns, magnificent bronze chandeliers, among which is the longest bronze chandelier in the world, and splendid bas-reliefs. Decorations on the facade include white ceramic tiles using red glazed pottery. The ribs and the emblem of the octagonal spire, the sockets between the pylons and obelisks balls are plated with gold. Stylized elements of Moscow baroque include bas-reliefs depicting Dmitry Donskoy and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the hotel lobby, chandeliers and decorative grille. The famous bronze garland-long lamp lights 5 floors. There are also pseudo-Russian ornaments mimicking those in Alexey Shchusev's Kazansky Rail Terminal

The inside of the hotel was inefficiently planned. In his 1955 decree "On liquidation of excesses" Khrushchev asserted that at least 1000 rooms could be built for the cost of Leningradskaya's 354, that only 22 percent of the total space was rentable, and that the costs per bed were 50 percent higher than in Moskva Hotel. Following this critique, Polyakov was stripped of one of his Stalin Prizes but retained the other one, for a Moscow Metro station. After a multimillion-dollar renovation ending in 2008, the hotel re-opened as the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya, with an area of 25,000 square meters.

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building (Inner Southeast, at the confluence of the Yauza and Moscow River, Taganskaya Metro Station) is also known as the House on the Waterfront Tinkers and the Kotelnicheskaya Apartment Building. Designed by Dmitry Chechulin, the chief architect of Soviet Moscow, and Andrei Rostkovsky. and strategically placed at the confluence of the Moskva River and Yauza River, the 176-meter (577-foot) -high building has 22 usable levels and incorporates an earlier nine-story apartment block facing Moskva River designed by the same architects in 1938 and completed in 1940. Built in a neo-gothic design, with some touches drawn from the Hotel Metropol, the structure was constructed to be an elite residential building. However, soon after it was completed units were converted to multi-family kommunalka (communal apartments).

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building was built between 1947 and 1952. The main tower has 32 stories (including mechanical floors). The originally apartment block was built in stern early Stalinist style, with wet stucco wall finishes, it was re-finished in terracotta panels. Ornate pseudo-Gothic crowns were placed over its 12-story raised corners and center tower.The main tower has a conventional steel with a hexagonal cross-section with three side wings (18 storeys, including two mechanical floors). While the structure is not exceptionally tall or massive, the "upward surge" of five stepped-up layers, from the flat nine-storey side wings to the spire, gives the impression of a larger structure. The building hides Shvivaya Gorka, a hill with historical architecture and a maze of steeply inclined streets. Chechulin was initially criticized for complete disregard of this area, but his bureaucratic influence brushed off any criticisms.

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building contains more than five hundred luxury apartments. Besides these are shops, a post office, the "Illusion" cinema, the apartment of G.S. Ulanova, where the famous dancer lived after 1986. Among the other famous tenants that lived here were the writer K.G. Paustovsky, the actress F. Ranevskaya, one of the designers of the building, the architect D.N. Chechulin, the writer Vladimir Aksenov, and the singer AL Zykina.

By design, the skyscraper was not only the apartment complex it a strategic object. According to the original plan a the tunnel from the building to the Kremlin was supposed to be built but wasn’t. The construction process was kept secret. Prisoners who participated in the construction left behind sometimes still visible inscriptions reading "built by convicts." The interior of one of the apartments was used in the Oscar-winning film "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears". Under the apartments is a bomb shelter in case of nuclear war.

Kudrinskaya Square Building

Kudrinskaya Square Building (Inner Northwest, Kudrinskaya Square, end of Krasnaya Presnya street, facing the Sadovoye Koltso Krasnopresnenskaya Metro Station) is a massive Stalin-era tower built in the 1950s with floor-to-ceiling windows, Florentine-inspired wall mosaics, stained-glass windows, red and white inlaid marble floors, massive central columns and glistening chandeliers. Also known as No. 1 Kudrinskaya Square, the building was once called the four food palace — once each for meat, dairy products, bread and fish. After the the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was run down and dirty. Now, its apartments, originally intended for the Soviet political elite, are occupied by wealthy Russians. The building’s lateral towers are lower than the central one.

Designed by Mikhail Posokhin and Ashot Mndoyants, the Kudrinskaya Square Building is 160 meters tall and has 22 floors (18 usable in the wings and 22 in the central part). Built with high-end apartments for Soviet cultural leaders rather than politicians, it is topped by a 30-meter spire which ends with a five-pointed star. Built between 1950 and 1954, it was the last of the Seven Sisters to be completed.

The Kudrinskaya Square Building is said to have been modeled after the Terminal Tower in Cleveland. Among thise that lived there were Soviet artists, heroes and aviators. Kudrinskaya Square was the home of Chuck Norris's Club Beverly Hills nightclub. In this area you can also find the Plaque of Soviet Heros.

Red Gate Building

Red Gate Building (Inner Northeast, Krasnye Vorota Metro Station) is mixed-use block of 11-storey buildings crowned with a slim 133-meter-high, 24-story tower designed by Alexey Dushkin of the Moscow Metro fame. The side wings are between 11 and 15 stories high. During the Soviet era the building was used by the Agriculture Ministry and the Transport Construction Ministry.

One of the famous "Stalin skyscrapers", this administrative-residential building was constructed on the highest point of the Garden Ring at a place formerly occupied by a large block of houses, including the house of Major General Toll and the childhood home of M.U, Lermontov. In 2000, the facade of building was cleaned and restored.

During the construction of the base for the tall central tower engineers had to deal with the problem that tower was built at the same time the"Red Gate" Metro station, which created a huge pit next to the building. Worried that the soil next to the pit could settle unevenly and eventually cause the high-rise building to lurch, architects designed a special high-rise with a slope to compensate for the soil settlement. To achieve this soil around the perimeter of the pit was artificially frozen using underground construction technology. When the frozen soil melted by pumping hot water into it the building settled into a position that tilted slightly to the opposite side but well within allowable limits and close to perfectly verticle. The risky a process has never been used elsewhere because of the complexity of the calculations. Cryotechnology was used in the design of the escalator tunnels connecting the building with the Krasniye Vorota Metro station.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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