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Russian Architecture. Periods. History of Russian architecture

Introduction to Russian Architecture. Styles in Russian architecture.

Russian wooden architecture

Medieval Rus'

Construction in old Russia was principally of horizontal logs from trees abundantly available in the forested zones where most Russians lived. Wood was the material of choice of the East Slavic peoples before the Baptism. from what the archeological evidence can tell us, carpentry was highly developed in Rus'. Floor plans of log structures were typically combinations of square or rectangular cells, whether the structures were houses, palaces, fortification towers, or churches.

Several open-air museums of traditional wooden architecture have been established in Russia, among them Suzdal', Novgorod, Kostroma, Kizhi, Arkhangel'sk, and Lake Baikal.

Religion has always had a great influence on Russian architecture and Russian art. In the year 988 Kyivan Rus' adopted Christianity. That doesn't mean East Slavs would immediately switch to stone architecture. Written sources mention 13-framed wooden cathedral in Novgorod (X'th century) and a beautiful wooden cathedral in Rostov (991); from chronicles we also learn the names of two chief architects from Vyshhorod (Ukraine) - Miloslav (early XI'th century) and Zhdan-Mykola (end of the XI'th century). Early Eastern Orthodox churches had the simplest form of church becoming known as a cell church.

Church of St.Theodore Stratelates on the Brook

The first unique East Slavic style of stone architecture emerged in Belarus (due to its political isolation from Kyiv) and then spread eastward, into Smolensk and Novgorod. The basic elements of Russian church design emerged fairly early, around the eleventh century. The plan is generally that of a Greek cross (all four arms are equal), and the walls are high and relatively free of openings. Sharply-sloped roofs (tent roofs) and a multitude of domes cover the structure. The characteristic onion dome first appeared in Novgorod on the Cathedral of Sancta Sophia, in the eleventh century. On the interior, the primary feature is the iconostasis, an altar screen on which the church's icons are mounted in a hierarchical fashion.

In 1237-1240 Rus' would be invaded by Mongolians, who destroyed large cities and killed most of the inhabitants. On those who survived (peasants from afar) taxation was installed. The development of architecture was thrown back severely. The first stone church in Eastern Rus' would be build two generations later. At the same time, Novgorod and Pskov, who had escaped the invasion, were suffering from the loss of their main economic partners. Still, many charming churches were built in Novgorod in those troubled times: Church of St Theodore Stratelates "on the Stream" - Novgorod - 1360-1361; Church of the Resurrection of Christ "at the Herd" - Pskov - 1532; Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-worker "from Usokha" - Pskov - 1535.

Muscovite period

Meanwhile, after paying taxes to Mongolia for a quarter of millennia, Moscow had managed to overthrow their authority and eventually subjugate most of the historic lands of the East Slavs. In the development of the XV'th century Moscow school, architects from Pskov played a prominent role. Corbel arches, church porches, exterior galleries, and bell towers characteristic of Pskov School were introduced by Pskov masons to Muscovy where they built numerous edifices during the 15th century, including the Deposition Church of the Moscow Kremlin (1462) and the Holy Spirit Church of the Holy Trinity Lavra (1476).

St.Basil Cathedral

By the end of the 15th century Muscovy became a powerful a state under Ivan III. Ivan III invited Italian masters from Florence and Venice. They reproduced ancient Vladimir structures and added Italian Renaissance motives to Russian architecture. The first instance of such foreign work is Moscow's great Assumption Cathedral, completed in 1479 by the Bolognese architect Aritotle Fioravanti The Russian tradition experienced a brief period of renewed influence under I van IV (the Terrible), under whose reign the legendary Cathedral of St. Basil's was built in 1555-1561 by the architect from Pskov named Postnik Yakovlev. St. Basil's Cathedral is the best example of "Russian Gothic".

During the 17th century numerous large churches of cathedral type, with five onion-like cupolas, surrounded with tents of bell towers and aisles were built. The brightest example is the Church of St John the Baptist(1671-87), built in Yaroslavl, with fifteen cupolas and more than five hundred magnificent frescoes. The tent-like roofs constructions were widely ised in the beginning of 17th century. Perhaps 3 dozen cathedrals in this style would be build in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had the Mongolian invasion and taxation not destroy cultural achievements of Kyivan Rus. Although Russian culture was decimated not only by Mongolians and Nazis - many churches with tent-like roofs would be demolished by patriarch Nikon who considered them uncanonical. One of those that survived is Church of Our Lady Hodegetria - Vyazma - 1638.

Since the tents were banned, the Muscovite architects had to replace them with successive rows of corbel arches (kokoshniki), and this decorative element was to become a hallmark of the 17th-century Moscow "flamboyant" style. An early example of the flamboyant style is the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square (1633-36). By the end of the century, more than a hundred churches in the fiery style were erected in Moscow, and perhaps as many again in the neighbouring region. Among the more splendid specimens are the Moscow churches of the Holy Trinity at Nikitniki (1653), St Nicholas at Khamovniki (1682), and the Holy Trinity at Ostankino (1692). Probably the most representative flamboyant style structure was the Church of St Nicholas "the Grand Cross" in the Kitai-gorod, brutally destroyed at the behest of Stalin.

Rich merchant families - the Naryshkins and the Stroganovs - were advocating stronger ties with Europe. They sponsored building of many churches in a new style that was similar to European architecture - the Russian Baroque (first school of this style was the Naryshkin Baroque).

Imperial Russia

Palace Square, St. Petersburg

In 1712, Peter I of Russia moved the capital from Moscow to St Petersburg, which he planned to design in the Dutch style usually called Petrine baroque. Its major monuments include the Peter and Paul Cathedral, Menshikov Palace, and the Menshikov Tower. During the reign of Empress Anna and Elizaveta Petrovna, the Russian architecture was dominated by a luxurious Baroque style of Bartolomeo Rastrelli whose signature buildings include the Winter Palace, the Catherine Palace, and the Smolny Cathedral. Other distinctive monuments of the Elizabethan Baroque are the bell tower of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra and the Red Gate.

Catherine the Great dismissed Rastrelli and patronized neoclassical architects invited from Scotland and Italy. Some of the most representative buildings from her reign are the Alexander Palace by Giacomo Quarenghi and the Trinity Cathedral of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra by Ivan Starov. During Catherine's reign, the Russian Gothic Revival style was developed by Vasily Bazhenov and Matvei Kazakov in Moscow.

Alexander I of Russia favoured the Empire Style, which became de-facto 'the only style of his period, evidenced by the Kazan Cathedral, the Admiralty, the Bolshoi Theatre, St Isaac's Cathedral, and the Narva Triumphal Gates in Saint Petersburg. Influence of Empire was even greater in Moscow that had to rebuild thousands of houses destroyed by the fire of 1812.

In 1830s Nicholas I eased regulation in architecture, opening the trade to various incarnations of early eclecticism. Konstantin Ton's pseudo-Russian designs became the preferred choice in church construction (Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, 1832-1883), while his public buildings followed Renaissance tradition, exemplified in the Great Kremlin Palace (1838-49) snd the Kremlin Armoury (1844-1851).

Subsequent reigns of Alexander II and Alexander III promoted Russian Byzantine Revival in church architecture, while civil construction followed the same variety of eclectisicm as was common in all European countries, with continuously growing national revival trends - vernacular and imaginary (i.e. Pogodin's Hut and State Historical Museum in Moscow).

Between 1895 and 1905 architecture was briefly dominated by Art Nouveau, most active in Moscow ( Lev Kekushev, Fyodor Schechtel, William Walcot). While it remained a popular choice until the outbreak of World War II, in 1905-1914 it made way to Russian neoclassical revival that merged Empire style and palladian tradition with modern construction technologies.

Zuyev Workers' Club, Moscow

Post Revolution (1917-1932)

At first, Communism was supported by many Russian and Jewish intellectuals and artists. In the 1920s they created the ultra-modern Constructivism style the rest of the world was looking up to.
Moscow Metro

Post-war Soviet Union

Stalin did not like Constructivism, focusing on Neo-Classical architecture instead. After 1945, the focus was on rebuilding the buildings destroyed in World War II but also erecting new ones: seven high-rise buildings were built at symbolic points in Moscow's space. The building of Moscow University (1948-1953) by Lev Rudnev and sculptor Vera Mukhina is particularly notable for its use of space. Another notable example is the Exhibition Centre in Moscow, stations of the Moscow Metro and Saint Petersburg Metro's that were built during the 1940s and 1950s. The Soviet approach to metro architecture is known as the "Underground Palace" and is not limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg - even though Khrushchyov thought Stalinist architecture was excessive, and it was seen as such until Soviet break-up, several beautiful metros were built in other Soviet cities, such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Tbilisi, Baku.

Brezhnevki

However after the death of Stalin in 1953, the social and political changes literally turned the country over. The construction priorities were too affected and as were the architecture. In 1955, Nikita Khrushchev faced with the problem of the slow paced construction of housing, called for drastic measures to accelerate the process, and this involved developing new more mass-productive technologies and removing "decorative extras" from the buildings. Under the tenure of Nikita Khrushchev housing was truly simplified with the advent of 5-storey buildings or "pyati-etazhki". Although rapidly built, the quality was in nothing compared to earlier housing and their almost identical look contributed to the grey and dull stereotype of socialist cities.

As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev started to relax architectural controls. Apartment blocks grew to include extra floors, external decorations and mosaics were added for aesthetics, and architects designing public buildings were given much more freedom to vary themes. Vast housing massifs (bottom left) also became common in larger cities.

Moscow City

Modern Architecture

Following the end of the Soviet Union building controls were at long last abolished. The 1990s saw some turbulent economic times, but as time progressed and money started to flow in from Russia's great oil and commodity wealth, modern architecture also started to appear at an ever quickening rate. One of the best examples of modern architecture is the Moscow International Business Center

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