Seven Sisters (Moscow)

Seven Sisters (Moscow)

The Seven Sisters is the name given to various Moscow Skyscrapers by British immigrants who came to live in Russia in the 1980s and 90s.Fact|date=May 2008 Reluctant to adopt the original names, they preferred to give the famous tourist sites English names which are often quite charming, and are now in common use among British expatriates living in Russia. The same time, Moscow inhabitants never use name "Seven Sisters" and used to call these buildings "Vysotki" ( _ru. Высотки), which means "Tall buildings". The "Seven Sisters" were built during Stalin's last years (1947-1953) [Some work definitely extended years beyond official completion dates] in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles, and the technology used in building American skyscrapers. Although there are many similar buildings in other (former) Socialist countries, the only comparable Soviet designed skyscraper was built in Warsaw.


The first Soviet skyscraper project, Palace of Soviets, was interrupted by the German invasion of 1941, at which point the steel frame was scrapped in order to fortify the Moscow defense ring, and the site was abandoned. Between 1947 and 1956, Boris Iofan presented six new drafts for this site, and also for Vorobyovy Gory on a smaller scale - they were all rejected. In 1946, [1946 attribution is tied to January, 1947 decree on "vysotki"] Stalin personally switched to another idea - construction of "vysoltki", a chain of reasonably-sized skyscrapers not tarnished by the memories of Comintern. As Nikita Khrushchev recalled Stalin's words, "We won the war ... foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there's "no skyscrapers". If they compare Moscow to capitalist cities, it's a moral blow to us".This section is based on (Russian:) Хмельницкий, Дмитрий, "Сталин и архитектура", гл.11, "Khmelnizky, Dmitry, "Stalin and Architecture", available [] ] [Own translation of Khmelnizky's citation of Khruschev's memoirs. Please find a published English translation and replace] Sites were selected in between January, 1947 (the official decree on "vysotki") and September, 12 1947 (formal opening ceremony).

Nothing is known about selection of construction sites or design evaluation; this process (1947-1948) was kept secret, a sign of Stalin's personal tight management. The choice of architects is a clear indicator of a rotation in Stalin's preferences. [Unlike NKVD rotations, none of the old architects was killed] Old professionals like Shchusev, Zholtovsky etc., were not involved. Instead, the job was given to the next generation of mature architects. In 1947, the oldest of them, Vladimir Gelfreikh, was 62. The youngest, Mikhail Posokhin, was 37. Individual commissions were ranked according to each architect's status, and clearly segmented into two groups - four "first class" and four "second class" towers. Job number one, a Vorobyovy Gory tower that would become Moscow State University, was awarded to Lev Rudnev, a new leader of his profession. Rudnev received his commission only in September 1948, and employed hundreds of professional designers. He released his draft in early 1949. Dmitry Chechulin received two commissions.

In April 1949, the winner of the Stalin Prize for 1948 was announced. All eight design teams received first and second class awards, according to their project status, regardless of their architectural value. At this stage, these were conceptual drafts; often one would be cancelled and others would be altered.

All the buildings employed over-engineered steel frames with concrete ceilings and masonry infill, based on concrete slab foundations (in the case of the University building - 7 meters thick). Exterior ceramic tiles, panels up to 15 square meters, were secured with stainless steel anchors. The height of these buildings was not limited by political will, but by lack of technology and experience - the structures were far heavier than American skyscrapers.Russian: Горин, С.С., "Вершины сталинской архитектуры в Москве", "Строительный мир", N4/2001 ("Gorin, S.S.", Stalin's architectural summits), [] ] .

The effect of this project on real urban needs can be seen from these numbers:
*In 1947, 1948, 1949 Moscow built a total of 100,000, 270,000, and 405,000 square meters of housing.
*The skyscrapers project exceeded 500,000 square meters (at a higher cost per meter)X] In other words, the resources diverted for this project effectively halved housing construction rates. On the other hand, the new construction plants, built for this project (like Kuchino Ceramics [Russian: [ Moscow Skyscrapers] ] ), were fundamental to Khrushchev's residential program just a few years later.

Architectural Precursors to The Seven Sisters

isters Never Completed

Moscow project

Buildings are listed under their current names, in the same order as they appeared in the April 1949 Stalin Prize decree. Note that different sources report different number of levels and height, depending on inclusion of mechanical floors and uninhabited crown levels.

Moscow State University, Sparrow Hills

Boris Iofan made a mistake placing his draft skyscraper right on the edge of Sparrow Hills. The site was a potential landslide hazard. He made a worse mistake by insisting on his decision and was promptly replaced by Lev Rudnev, a 53-year-old rising star of Stalin's establishment. Rudnev had already built high-profile edifices like the 1932-1937 Frunze Military Academy and the 1947 "Marshals' Apartments" (Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya, 28), which earned the highest credits of the Party.

Lev Rudnev set the building 800 meters away from the cliff. The opening ceremony was followed by less glorious events - building camps for Gulag laborers, mostly German prisoners of war. A so-called "Site-560" (Строительство-560), run by Gulag, supervised the workforce that reached 14,290. While the constrution was ongoing, some inmates were housed on the 24th and 25th levels to reduce transportation costs and the number of guards reqired. [Russian: [] ] A story, possibly apocryphal, exists about inmates who tried to escape the tower on self-made plywood gliders. Another apocryphal story asserts that the MGU foundation requires permanent freezing (otherwise it will slide into the river) and the basement is occupied by huge cryo freezer. Actually, the foundation is stable, and the 'freezer' is an ordinary centralised air conditioner.

The main tower, which consumed over 40,000 metric tons of steel, was inaugurated September 1, 1953. Being 240 metres tall, it was the tallest building in Europe since its completion till 1990. It is still the tallest educational building in the world.

Never built: Zaryadye Administrative Building

In 1934, the Commissariat for Heavy Industries initiated a design contest for its new building on Red Square (on the site of GUM). A last showcase for constructivists, this contest didn't materialize and GUM still stands.

In 1947, the nearby historical Zaryadye district was razed to make way for the new 32-storey, 275-meter tower (the numbers are quoted as in the 1951 finalized draft). It is sometimes associated with the Ministry of Heavy Machinery, the same institution that ran a contest in 1934. However, in all public documents of this time its name is simply the "administrative building", without any specific affiliation. Likewise, association with Beria is mostly anecdotal. [Russian: [ Moscow Skyscrapers] , also contains many drawings and elevation cutout]

The tower, designed by Chechulin, was supposed to be the second largest after the University. Eventually, the plans were cancelled at the foundation stage; these foundations were used later for the construction of the Hotel Rossia (also by Chechulin, 1967, demolished 2006-2007).

Hotel Ukraina

"Ukraina" by Arkady Mordvinov and Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky (leading Soviet expert on steel-framed highrise construction) is the second tallest of the "sisters" (198 meters, 34 levels), and is still Europe's tallest hotel. Total capacity is 1627 beds.

Construction on the low river bank meant that they had to dig well below the water level. This was solved by an ingenious water retention system, using a perimeter of "needle pumps" driven deep into ground.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This 172 meter, 27 story building was built between 1948 and 1953 and overseen by V G Gelfreikh and M A Minkus. Currently, it houses the offices for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Trade for the Russian Federation. The Ministry is covered by a light external stone wall with projecting pilasters and pylons and, according to architectural critic Maria Kiernan, was inspired by a neo-gothic New York city hospital. Its interior is splendidly 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 utilized layered setbacks while the other called for a more streamlined construction which culminated into a blunt rectangular top. The second proposal was accepted but as the Ministry's completion neared, a metal spire, dyed to match the building's exterior (and presumably ordered by Stalin), was hastily added to tower's roof, assimilating its silhouette with those of the other Sisters. [ Kiernan, Maria. Moscow: A Guide to Soviet and Post-Soviet Architecture, Ellipis, London, 1998, p.126. 127] [Russian: Варзар, Л., «М. А. Минкус», М, 1982, p.66]

Hotel Leningradskaya

The relatively small (136 meters, 26 floors, of which 19 are usable) building by Leonid Polyakov on Komsomolskaya Square is decorated with pseudo-Russian ornaments mimicking Alexey Shchusev's Kazansky Rail TerminalFact|date=June 2007. Inside, it was inefficiently planned. Khruschev, in his 1955 decree "On liquidation of excesses..." asserted that at least 1000 rooms could be built for the cost of Leningradskaya's 354, that only 22% of the total space was rent-able, and that the costs per bed were 50% higher than in "Moskva" Hotel. [Постановление ЦК КПСС и СМ СССР от 4 ноября 1955 г. N 1871 "Об устранении излишеств в проектировании и строительстве [] ] Following this critique, Polyakov was stripped of his 1948 Stalin Prize but retained the other one, for a Moscow Metro station.

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building

Another of Chechulin's works, 176 meters high, with 22 usable levels, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building was strategically placed at the confluence of the Moskva River and Yauza River. The building incorporates an earlier 9-story apartment block facing Moskva River, by the same architects (completed in 1940). It was intended as an elite housing building. However, very soon after construction, units were converted to multi-family kommunalka (communal apartments). Built in a neo-gothic design, though also drew inspiration from Hotel Metropol.

Kudrinskaya Square Building

Designed by Mikhail Posokhin (Sr.) and Ashot Mndoyants. 160 meters high, 22 floors (17 usable).

Red Gates Administrative Building

Designed by Alexey Dushkin of the Moscow Metro fame, this mixed-use block of 11-storey buildings is crowned with a slim tower (total height 133 meters, 24 levels).

In this case, cryotechnology was indeed used for the escalator tunnels connecting the building with the Krasniye Vorota subway station. The building's frame was erected deliberately tilted to one side; when the frozen soil thawed, it settled down - although not enough for a perfect horizontal level. Then the builders warmed the soil by pumping hot water; this worked too well, the structure slightly over-reacted, tilting to the opposite side but well within tolerance.

Other cities

While many cities in the former USSR and former Soviet Bloc countries have Stalinist towers on top of them, only three fall in the same league as the Moscow "vysotki". Of these three, "Hotel Ukraina" in Kiev was completed in stripped-down form, without the tower and steeple originally planned for them.

Kiev: Hotel Ukraina

Plans to build a skyscraper on the site of the destroyed Ginzburg Hotel emerged in 1948, but the design was finalized by Anatoly Dobrovolsky as late as 1954, when Stalinist architecture was already doomed. Building work proceeded slowly, with numerous political orders to make it simpler and cheaper. It was completed in 1961, without a tower, steeple and any original ornaments.

Warsaw: Palace of Culture and Science, 1952-1955

Another Lev Rudnev design, with Polish Renaissance Revival detailing. Built in 1952-1955 (topped out October, 1953).

Construction plans were agreed upon on April 5, 1952 and sealed during Molotov's visit on July, 3 of the same year (after the opening ceremony on May 1st). The Soviets planned it as a university, but the Polish side insisted on its current administrative function. A workforce of around 7000 was nearly evenly split between Poles and exported Soviet laborers; 16 were presumed killed during the work. The building remains the highest in Warsaw, but looks dwarfed by the height of modern glass skyscrapers.

=Riga: Academy of Sciences=

The 108-meter high Academy is not the tallest in Riga; at the time of completion, St.Peter's of Riga was taller. Unlike other "vysotki", which are based on a steel frame with masonry infill, this is a reinforced concrete structure, a first of its kind in the USSR.

Ambitious Stalinist buildings in other countries

Related Buildings

Many Stalinist buildings have tower crowns, but they do not belong to the "vysotki" project and their style is completely different. This is evident in Chechulin's "Peking" building. Seen from a low point of the Garden Ring south, it could be mistaken for a skyscraper, but a frontal view from Mayakovsky square north is not as promising. There are also several smaller Stalinesque towers in Barnaul, St. Petersburg and other cities. Design and construction of such towers became widespread in the early 1950s, although many ongoing projects were cancelled in 1955, when regional "skyscrapers" were specifically addressed by Nikita Khrushchev's decree "On liquidation of architectural excesses..." as unacceptable expense.

Triumph-Palace, Moscow, 2005

This high-profile tower in north-western Moscow (3, Chapayevsky Lane), completed in December, 2003, attempts to imitate the "vysotki", and actually exceeds the University building in structural height. It is criticized for being placed deeply inside a residential mid-rise area, away from major avenues and squares, where it could be an important visual anchor. A close inspection reveals that this white-red tower has little in common with Stalinist style, except for sheer size and layered tower outline. It competes for the 'Eighth Vysotka' title with an earlier Edelweiss Tower in western Moscow. Construction began in 2001. The 57-story building, containing about 1,000 luxury apartments, was topped out on December 20, 2003, making it Europe's tallest building at 264.1 metres or 867 feet. The previous title holder was the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt. However, Federation Tower also in Moscow is set for completion in 2008. When finished it will be the tallest building in EurasiaFact|date=June 2007 and is expected to usher in a new age of Russian skyscapers.

Related Buildings

External links

* [ Moscow Map with Seven Sisters]


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