Palace of Soviets

Palace of Soviets

The Palace of Soviets ( _ru. Дворец Советов, "Dvorets Sovetov") was a project to construct an administrative center and a congress hall in Moscow, Russia, near the Kremlin, on the site of the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The architectural contest for the Palace of Soviets (1931-1933) was won by Boris Iofan's neoclassical concept, subsequently revised by Iofan, Vladimir Schuko and Vladimir Gelfreikh into a supertall skyscraper. If built, it would have become the world's tallest structure. Construction started in 1937, and was terminated by the German invasion in 1941. In 1941-1942, its steel frame was disassembled for use in fortifications and bridges. Construction was never resumed. In 1958, the foundations of the Palace were converted into what would become the world's largest open-air swimming pool. The Cathedral was rebuilt in 1995-2000. [Russian: Cathedral of Christ the Savior, official site [ History page] ]

A nearby subway station, built in 1935 as "Palace of Soviets" station, was renamed Kropotkinskaya in 1957.

History of the concept

The Soviet Union was officially formed at the first Congress of Soviets in December, 1922. Sergey Kirov, speaking at the Congress, proposed building the congress palace "on the sites of palaces once owned by bankers, landlords, and tsars." Very soon, Kirov said, existing halls would be too small to fit the delegates from new republics of the Union. The palace "will be just another push for the European proletariat, still realize that we came for good and forever, that the ideas...of communism are as deeply rooted here as the wells drilled by Baku oilers." [Russian: Kirov's speech transcript, December 30, 1922 [ Moscow Museum of Architecture,] quoting 1957 official edition]

In 1924, Lenin's death and the construction of the temporary Lenin's Mausoleum initiated a national campaign to build Lenin memorials across the country. Victor Balikhin, a graduate student at VKhUTEMAS, proposed to install Lenin's memorial on top of a Comintern building, on the site of Christ the Savior Cathedral. "Arc lamps will flood the villages, towns, parks and squares, calling everyone to honor Lenin even at night..." [Russian: Extract from Balikhin's article, [, May 2002] ] Balikhin's concept, forgotten for a while, emerged later in Boris Iofan's design.

Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Six years later, in February 1931, the State declared the first contest for the Palace of Soviets, distributing preliminary proposals to 15 architectural workshops (avant-garde and traditional architects). This contest ended in May, 1931, with no winners.

June 2, 1931, a conference of Party elders identified the site of the future Palace and condemned the Cathedral. This was formally endorsed July, 16 by the VTsIK commission. July 18 (the day when Izvestia announced the second, international, contest), state commissioners started an inventory count of Cathedral properties. A small fraction of them were removed and stored at state expense and the expense of Donskoy Monastery; [] the rest perished. Demolition began on August 18; December, 5, 1931 the structure was [ finally destroyed] in two rounds of explosions. [ Time Magazine, December 14, 1931, mentioned demolition by "liquid air cartridges"; this is not corroborated by current Russian sources [,9171,930036,00.html] ] Hauling out the [ rubble] took more than a year. [Russian: Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, official site [ Destruction page] ]

Public contest

The second, public, international contest was declared July 18, 1931. A total of 272 concepts were collected, including 160 architectural works (136 Soviet, 24 foreign). The contest attracted international architects like Le Corbusier, Joseph Urban, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, and Armando Brasini, Boris Iofan's Italian teacher; [English: Brasini Exhibition brief, [] ] American entries were coordinated by Albert Kahn. [Russian: М. Маркуша , Д. Хмельницкий, "Конец утопии – конкурс на Дворец Советов в Москве", [, July 2005] ] It was the foreigner Brasini who literally expressed the idea of "Lenin atop the skyscraper" in the most clear form. [Brasini Exhibits: Palace of Soviets [] ]

Enormous publicity followed the project until 1941; in 1931-32, it was broadcast internationally, with reviews and reports published all over the world. The Council of Experts was chaired (at least formally) by old Bolshevik Gleb Krzhizhanovsky; "Time" magazine called it "a jury whose most noteworthy member was Dictator Stalin.""Soviet Palace", Time, March 19, 1934 [,9171,747172,00.html] ]

Public contest entries

Instead of announcing a clear winner, in February, 1932 the Council declared three leading drafts by Boris Iofan, Ivan Zholtovsky and a 28-year-old British architect living in New Jersey, Hector Hamilton. [Hamilton's Palace, Time, March 14, 1932 [,9171,743371,00.html] ] This outcome called for a third round of competition — or a state intervention. All three runners-up turned their backs on the avant-garde and leaned towards neoclassicism (or eclecticism). This "reactionary" decision caused an uproar among European avant-garde artists. Le Corbusier and Sigfried Giedion, leader of the CIAM, complained to Stalin, using communist rhetoric, that the "Decision of the council is a direct insult to the spirit of Revolution and the Five-year plan... [it is] a tragic betrayal." [Russian: Дмитрий Хмельницкий, "Сталин и архитектура", гл.2, [] (Khmelnitzky, chapter 2)]

See also:
*Draft by Dmitry Chechulin [] []
*Draft by Karo Alabyan, Arkady Mordvinov et al. []

The decision

The international contest was followed by not one, but two more rounds of closed competition. The third contest (March 1932 - July 1932) round invited 15 design teams, the fourth (July 1932 - February 1933) invited only five. On May 10, 1933, Boris Iofan's draft was declared the winner. A duo of neoclassicist architects, Vladimir Schuko and Vladimir Gelfreikh, were assigned to Iofan's team, and the design became known as the "Iofan-Schuko-Gelfreikh" draft.

Recently published correspondence between Stalin and Lazar Kaganovich, however, pinpoints the moment of selection as no later than August, 1932. On August 7, Stalin wrote a memo to Kaganovich, Molotov and Voroshilov, clearly naming Iofan's draft as "the best", and proposing changes:
*Drive the main tower upward, like a column (as Iofan did in his first entry)
*Make it as tall as the Eiffel tower or even taller
*Crown the column with a brightly lit Hammer and Sickle
*Place monuments to Lenin, Marx and Engels in front of the building [Khmelnitsky, ch.2, quoting Russian edition of "Сталин и Каганович: Переписка, 1931-1936 гг.", M, 2001, p.259, ISBN 5-8243-0241-3]

The Iofan-Schuko-Gelfreikh design

Iofan's original draft was crowned with a relatively small statue of "The Free Proletarian". In August 1932, as is clear from Stalin's memo, this statue disappeared from his draft, and Stalin personally intervened to correct the omission. A taller tower and Lenin's statue actually appeared "after" the fourth contest, in response to Stalin's public speech: "The Palace of Soviets is a monument to Lenin. Don't be scared of height; go for it." [Khmelnitsky, ch.2, quotes a 1940 edition of "Palace of Soviets" by N.Atarov] In the process, the total height increased from 260 to 415 meters. The Main Hall with a capacity of 21,000 seats was 100 meters high and 160 meters in diameter (the Little Hall in the Eastern Wing was just 6,000 seats). [Russian: Глазычев, В.М., "Россия в петле модернизации", гл.10, 1989 [] ] This project was released to the public in March, 1934. The Lithuanian-American artist William Zorach "let out a cry of protest, charging that the Soviets had stolen an idea submitted by him for a Lenin memorial in Leningrad" in vain.X] The statue structure was designed later; a 100-meter 1936 version weighed in excess of 6000 tons. In 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright, addressing the Congress of Soviet Architects, remarked "This structure — only proposed I hope — is good if we take it for a modern version of Saint George destroying the dragon." [Frank Lloyd Wright, "Address at First All-Union Congress of Soviet Architects", 21 June 1937, archive publication by Vladimir Paperny]

Evolution of the winning entry, 1931-1934

See also:
*High-resolution graphics of "different" exterior designs (1937-1940) at [] : [] [ model] []

* [ Animated newsreel: "New Moscow" (1937)] (Divx .AVI format: [ Video 1] , [ Video 2] , [ Video 3] , [ Video 4] )


The foundation was completed in 1939. The builders drove a perimeter of 20-meter steel piles, excavated the pit, demolished and hauled out the old cathedral foundations. The new foundation was a slightly concave concrete slab with concentric vertical rings, intended to carry the main hall columns. By June, 1941, the steel frame for the lower levels was erected. Then the war interfered: the steel frame was cut in 1941 and 1942 and used for Moscow's defence fortifications and railroad bridges. The empty foundation stood unused, filled with seepage water, but well guarded, until 1958.

Meanwhile, Iofan's team, relocated to Sverdlovsk, continued perfecting the design. After the war, Iofan produced [ another iteration] of the original concept, this time incorporating the "Victory" theme, literally: interior halls were decorated with Order of Victory motifs. These drafts remained unused; construction on the old site never resumed. Iofan bid for the design of the Sparrow Hills Skyscraper, but lost to Lev Rudnev. Interestingly, Rudnev and other post-war architects designed their towers "as if the Palace existed", referencing all major projects to the Palace skyline. As an example, [ 1947 placement map] for the Moscow Skyscrapers is centered around the Palace.


The Palace project forced the development of new technologies, notably the DS (ДС, Дворец Советов) family of construction steel. ODS (ordinary DS) and SDS (special DS) steel were used in Moscow bridges built in the 1930s [Russian: Носарев В.А., Скрябина, Т.А., "Мосты Москвы", М, "Вече", 2004, стр. 77-79 (Bridges of Moscow, 2004, p.77-79) ISBN 5-9533-0183-9] and Moscow Canal structures. A nearby subway station, a 1935 award-winning design by Alexey Dushkin, was named "Palace of Soviets" and renamed "Kropotkinskaya" in 1957.

As soon as the 1934 Iofan-Shuko-Gelfreikh draft was published, the Palace became a symbol in Soviet art, appearing in propaganda pictures like this by Alexander Deineka. The unbuilt Palace animation was inserted in films (including the 1944 "Six o'clock after the war" made when the Mosfilm studio was evacuated to Tashkent). Images of the unbuilt Palace were copied onto real buildings like the 1937 North River Terminal.

In 1958-1960, the Palace foundations were cleared of rubble and converted to the open-air "Moskva" swimming pool (see [ photo 1, post-1982] , [ photo 2] ). The one-of-a-kind circular pool had a diameter of 129.5 meters.

In 1970s the State ran an architectural contest for the new V. I. Lenin Museum on a nearby site between the Pushkin Museum and the Kremlin. Some of the competitors, however, proposed building the Museum on the site of the "Moskva" pool, following the Iofan concept (see [ Drafts and site layout] ). This project never materialized.

In the video game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, blueprints and sketches of the Palace are scattered throughout the Murmansk mission.

The Cathedral was rebuilt in 1995-2000.

The Palace of Soviets in literature and culture

Ryszard Kapuscinski describes the demolition of the cathedral and the project of building the Palace of Soviets in a chapter of his book "Imperium".

ee also

Stalinist Architecture Projects:
*Narkomtiazhprom architectural contest (1934)
*All-Russia Exhibition Centre (1936-1939, 1951-1954)
*Seven Sisters (Moscow) (1947-1954)
*List of skyscrapers in Europe
*Latvian Academy of Sciences
*Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science


Books in English:
*Pioneers of Soviet Architecture: The Search for New Solutions in the 1920s and 1930s, by Selim Khan-Magomedov, Thames and Hudson Ltd, ISBN 978-0500341025 (Complete Russian edition: Russian: С.О.Хан-Магометов. «Архитектура Советского авангарда», Москва, Стройиздат, 1996, 2001)
*Architecture of The Stalin Era, by Alexei Tarkhanov (Collaborator), Sergei Kavtaradze (Collaborator), Mikhail Anikst (Designer), 1992, ISBN 978-08-4781-473-2
*Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two, by Vladimir Paperny (Author), John Hill (Translator), Roann Barris (Translator), 2002, ISBN 978-05-2145-119-2
*The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, by Deyan Sudjic, 2004, ISBN 978-15-9420-068-7



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