Though the ahistorical dogma of modernism would seem a perfect fit for the Soviet Union’s mandated break with traditions, the architectural history of the USSR was somewhat more complex. Stalin’s neoclassically-inflected socialist realism superseded the constructivist heyday of the early Soviet Union, only to be replaced by a return to modernism under Khrushchev, facilitated by an opening to the West. Architectural photographers Denis Esakov and Dmitry Vasilenko recently used a drone to capture photographs of several landmark structures of the Khrushchev-era return to modernism, focusing on how these aerial views reinforce their rational geometries and regimented forms. Until the recent advent of satellite imagery and commercially available drones, these were views that were only ever seen by the architects, and the officials who reviewed the plans. Even so, the photographer notes that these methodical forms must have been very attractive to the state officers tasked with implementing Khrushchev’s mandated aesthetic.
The photographs, taken in and around Moscow, include works by several prominent Soviet architects. Leonid Pavlov’s long career spanned the full spectrum of state-sponsored architectural styles, starting as a constructivist, and moving into more historicist designs under Stalin, before emerging as one of the Soviet Union’s most prominent post-war modernists. Similarly, Yuri Platonov’s work received extensive state recognition, earning him the title of “People’s architect of the USSR,” as well as awards such the Silver Medal of the Arts Academy of the USSR, the USSR State Prize, and the State Prize of Russia.
V. I. Lenin Museum in Gorki / Leonid Pavlov, 1975-1987
The V. I. Lenin Museum in Gorki, one of Pavlov's last projects, is notable for the fact that it is among the first Soviet buildings to move toward a Postmodernist aesthetic. From the ground level, this museum, located in the town where Lenin spent the last years of his life, is dominated by a colonnaded entry pavilion. But from above, the plan view reveals a series of interconnected square shapes, punctuated by a single circular form, otherwise concealed from view on the back of the building.
Auto Service Center on the Warsaw Highway / Leonid Pavlov, 1967-1977
Although never fully completed, the Auto Service Center remains an imposing figure along the highway. Originally finished in raw concrete, today the building is largely covered in advertisement billboards. Like the previous example, the architect seems to have hidden the building’s unique geometry in clear view: although the triangular shape is obvious from an aerial perspective, its unique shape is relatively imperceptible when viewed from the passing cars at ground level.
Gosplan Computing Center / Leonid Pavlov, 1966-1974
In contrast to the two previous buildings, with the Computing Center Pavlov reveals the near-cubic form of the building in the façade view, whereas the aerial view obscures the cube shape in a series of interlocking and overlapping rectangles.
Orlov Museum of Paleontology / Yuri Platonov, 1972-1987
For this museum, dating back to the "Kunstkamer" founded in 1716 to house a collection belonging to Peter the Great, Platonov combined both rational and whimsical elements. The main square volume, with an inset square courtyard, is supplemented with curving appendages, resembling turrets, located off-center on each of the four facades. Rotationally symmetrical in location, each turret has a unique shape in the plan view.
Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry / Yuri Platonov, 1976-1984
Appearing as little more than a long string of office blocks from a street-level perspective, the plan view suggests a more literal interpretation of molecular bonds, or perhaps an abstracted strand of DNA. It is likely no accident that this diagrammatic building form closely resembles the logo for the Institute.
Russian Academy of Sciences / Yuri Platonov, 1974-1997
From above, the Russian Academy of Sciences building, with its segmented and repetitive square shapes, seems to be in conversation with the neighboring formal gardens. But that view largely conceals the elaborate decorative friezes that crown the towers, and the exuberant detailing of the facades. Standing in stark contrast to many of the more austere structures in the USSR, the splendor of the Russian Academy of Sciences building reflects the importance that the Soviet Union placed on the sciences.
Pioneer Palace / Viktor Egerev, Igor Pokrovsky, Vladimir Kubasov, Feliks Novikov, Boris Palui, and Mikhail Khazhakian, 1959-1962
One example of a string of youth centers devoted to creative work and sports training built throughout the Soviet Union, and a personal favorite of Khrushchev, the long, low-slung main volume of the Pioneer Palace complex in Moscow stretches the length of a landscaped plaza, complementing the park setting, while the aerial view reveals the six pavilions, housing different activities, extending from the primary axis.
Druzhba Multipurpose Arena / Y. Bolshakov, and I. Rozhin, 1977-1980
Constructed to host the volleyball preliminaries for the 1980 Olympics, the Druzhba Multipurpose Arena, whether viewed at ground level or from above, showcases its concrete structural shell. However, while the view from ground level shows the strong pointed shape of the individual segments, the plan view illustrates how those individual segments come together to form a cohesive whole.
Housing Complex at Severnoye Chertanovo / M. Posokhin, and L. Dubek, 1975-1982
Just one of the many post-war housing blocks that fill the outskirts of Moscow, this imposing tower block stretches to the edges of its site. Roughly y-shaped in plan, the complex seems to focus inward on the park-like courtyard area defined by the long segmented wings of the building.
Housing Complex at Lebed / A. Meerson, 1967-1974
In contrast to example above, the housing complex at Lebed is divided into four separate towers. Although the towers appear distinct from one another at ground level, the aerial view reveals a network of covered walkways and ground-floor spaces that bring the towers together.