A total of 150 eighteenth and nineteenth century listed wooden buildings remain under protection in Moscow today. Modern city dwellers see only remnants of pre-revolution Moscow, which stayed almost entirely wooden until the early seventeenth century. This is one of the reasons why the Museum of Architecture and Kuchkovo Pole publishing house have joined forces to release a two volume set named Wooden Russia: A Glance Back From the 21st Century.
The first volume contains stories of expeditions and research projects studying the early period of Russian architecture, reports from open-air museums and articles on religious and traditional architecture practices. The second book focuses on neo-Russian architectural style, club architecture, Soviet intelligentsia dachas, and modern park buildings. Shchusev State Museum of Architecture researchers Zoya Zolotnitskaya and Lyudmila Saigina—experts on eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture—agreed to share the stories of ten wooden buildings which managed to survive in the centre of Moscow to this day.
Location: 15 1st Ostankinskaya Str.
Years Built: 1792-1798
Architects: Francesco Camporesi, Karl Blank, Pavel Argunov, Alexey Mironov, Grigory Dikushin and others
The first volume of Wooden Russia contains an image of the Panorama of Moscow, an early eighteenth century print by Pieter Pickaert. The Panorama shows that at that time the entire city, with the exception of the Kremlin and Kitay-gorod, was clearly built out of wood. Although frequent fires were ravaging the urban areas, wooden architecture traditions persisted for a long time.
Wooden houses, cheaper and faster in construction than stone and widely believed to be more comfortable, were favoured in Russia. Semi-finished log cabins were offered for purchase at markets (one log market was located on a territory currently occupied by Trubnaya Square). On purchase, the log structures could be immediately disassembled, adjusted and transported to the site, where the carpenters put together the house in a very short time.
During the city manor construction boom in the second half of the eighteenth century rich stone houses continued to stand side by side with wooden buildings. Hoping to fall in line with the dominating classicism style, the owners of wooden houses tried to keep up appearances by imitating stone. The wooden columns were battened, plastered, painted and decorated with plasterwork. In Moscow, Kuskovo and Ostankino, two surviving eighteenth century palaces once owned by the extremely wealthy Sheremetev family, feature this technique. The Kuskovo Palace was build for the purpose of hosting receptions and providing entertaining to the guests of Sheremetev’s summer residence, while Ostanikino, according to the original intentions of an avid theatre enthusiast Nikolai Sheremetev, was meant to become a palace of arts. The middle section of the Ostankino Palace featuring three symmetrical porticos running along the main façade is made entirely out of wood.
An unaware person will hardly doubt that the palace is solid stone. Unfortunately, the limited service life of Ostankino wooden structures made the restoration process extremely difficult. The restorers used to joke that wallpaper was the only thing that kept the Ostankino Palace from falling apart.
Location: 23 Staraya Basmannaya Str.
Years Built: 1790-1804
Muravyov-Apostols’ mansion is a rare example of an old wooden building undergoing very successful restoration. In 1804 the mansion original owner, prominent Russian diplomat Ivan Muravyov-Apostol, ordered reconstruction of a small one-storey building sitting upon a stone podklet (uninhabited basement floor made of stone – Strelka). That was when the main mansion façade with a six-column Corinthian order portico stemming from a high arcade gained its solemn appearance. One of the corners facing the adjacent lane is distinguished by a domed semi-rotunda, formerly an open terrace. In line with classicism traditions, the building façade features large plaster bas-reliefs depicting mythological scenes. The house is plastered to resemble stone: the lower part of the façade is rusticated.
The house went through a lot of hardships in the late twentieth century. The wooden framework was completely run-down. In the 1990s the building housed the Decembrists Museum, an affiliate of the State Historical Museum. However, large-scale restoration was not carried out until the early 2000s, when Swiss banker Christopher Muravyov-Apostol, a distant relative of the Muravyov-Apostols, decided to pursue a noble task and fund wholesale house restoration. A team of experienced carpenters worked with dry wood delivered directly from Kostroma Region, cautiously replacing rotten logs row by row. The old vaulted stone podklet also underwent meticulous restoration. The interior work deserves special recognition: the original layout and architectural décor of the enfilade were preserved, as well as the antique fireplaces and genuine plaster bas-reliefs decorating the doorways. The restoration team even recovered fragments of the original wallpaper. Today the manor, rented to Christopher Muravyov-Apostol, is a home to the Muravyov-Apostol House Museum.
Location: 5 Sytinsky Lane
Years Built: 1806
The Great Moscow Fire of 1812 destroyed three fourths of the city, with wooden mansions suffering the most. Sytin’s house was among those few wooden structures which managed to survive the fire and keep its pre-1812 appearance to this day. The house, originally owned by Izmailovsky Regiment Corporal Andrei Sytin, is very small – “nine axle wide”, as the saying went. The centerpiece of the classical façade features a four-column portico crowned by a triangular pediment. The Sytin manor has never been plastered: the paint was applied directly to the battened wooden logs.
Moscow classicism-era manors, even small ones like Sytin’s House, had enfilades of high-ceilinged halls, which usually ran alongside the main façade of the building. Bedrooms were customarily placed on entresols facing the inner yard. Façade plaster bas-reliefs, plainly too heavy for the small house, were installed after the 1812 fire. During the Empire style period bas-reliefs like these were offered for sale at specialised workshops.
The Moscow climate does not favour the combination of wood and plaster which distinguishes many older wooden buildings in the city. In the 1980s communal apartment tenants occupying the manor were rehoused and the building underwent restoration. Even so, today the Sytin House is in poor condition once again, with the manor’s décor partially missing. The building is currently rented to commercial organisations.
Shteingel’s (Lopatin’s) House
Location: 15 Gagarinsky Lane
Years Built: 1816
In 1813 the Commission for Moscow Buildings was established in the city. The commission was a special administrative body created to help deal with the consequences of the 1812 fire. Any house construction initiated in Moscow had to be first approved by the commission. Its members pursued a goal of introducing a single style for all newly-built Moscow manors. All new mansions had to face the street with their main façade, and the façade design plans had to be met with the commission’s approval. The façade’s architecture style, its exterior décor and paintwork had to be selected in advance. Future owners could choose to speed up design and construction process by picking one of the standard options from the design albums. Although repetitive classical patterns and details were typical for the Moscow Empire style, diversity of post-1812 manors styles was impressive.
Shteingel’s House is one of those mansions which managed to keep its individuality. The house composition is centred around a stepped attic and a four-column portico. The columns are joined by arches decorated with griffin bas-reliefs in the tradition exclusive to Moscow.
The mansion was built in 1816 by Vladimir Shteingel, an 1812 War veteran, a retired colonel and—according to masonic symbols portrayed inside the house—a freemason, who lived in the house until 1825. Shteingel got involved in the Decembrist movement, accused and exiled, and did not return to the house ever since.
In the 1830s the house was occupied by Ivan Turgenev’s uncle, and after that by Generalissimo Suvorov’s grandson Alexander Suvorov. Later on, in the 1860s, the house was a home of Russian philosopher and psychologist Lev Lopatin and his family. The Lopatins were a prominent family: ‘Lopatin Wednesdays’ hosted by the family were visited by Tolstoy, Stanislavsky, Nemirovich-Danchenko, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Pisemsky, Fet and other notable guests. During the Soviet period one of the rooms inside the mansion was occupied by famous Moscow bibliophile, collector and genealogy expert Yury Shmarov. Today the house still contains a genuine early eighteenth century fireplace and a secret doorway behind a mirror, which allegedly led to an underground passage with an exit on the opposite end of the street.
The building has been restored and currently houses the Architecture Department of the Russian Academy of Arts.
Location: 21 Burdenko Str.
Years Built: 1818, rebuilt in 1847
The manor was owned by collegiate councilor and drawing office director Palibin and was built following the 1812 fires in place of a burnt building. Unlike faux stone Shteingel’s House, Palibin’s House was painted directly over its battened wood exterior. Although the house is only five windows wide, its decoration works are remarkable: several avant-corps (part projecting out from the main façade of a building – Strelka) make the façade utterly expressive. It is lavishly decorated with meander patterns and reliefs, including ornaments depicting Medusa Gorgon, winged horses and lit torches.
Palibin’s House is a classic example of a mezzanine house – a supported added floor embellished with a semicircular window and decorative plasterwork. Luckily, during the Soviet period the house ended up in good hands: the building accommodated one of departments of a restoration workshop. Therefore the house has been thoroughly studied and remains in good condition: the façade kept its original appearance, and rarest fragments of genuine hand-painted Empire style wallpaper were discovered and preserved in the restored chambers.
Vasily Pushkin Museum
Location: 36 Staraya Basmannaya Str.
Years built: 1819
In the period between 1822 and 1830 this house was occupied by Alexander Pushkin’s uncle, Vasily Pushkin, a renowned poet of the early nineteenth century, the author of the early Karamzin literary movement manifestos and a prominent member of Arzamas literary society. The manor was built in 1819 by Pelageya Ketcher, the wife of a naturalized Swede and surgical tools manufacturer Christopher Ketcher. The wooden house atop stone basement features one of standard façade designs offered by the Commission for Moscow Buildings. The one-story building with entresols was entered from the yard side; its adjacent territory included an orchard and several outbuildings.
During the Soviet era the house underwent repeated restoration. The latest restoration project returned the house to its original appearance. The building currently houses the Vasily Pushkin House Museum, an affiliate of the Alexander Pushkin State Museum.
Ivan Turgenev’s House
Location: 37 Ostozhenka Str.
Years Built: 1819
In 1840-1850 the house, which at that time was occupied by Ivan Turgenev’s mother, was the primary scene to events later depicted in Turgenev’s short story Mumu. The Empire style house, a typical example of post-1812 fire mass development, was built in 1819 and featured a six-column portico, enfilades and seven front windows. The outer columns are paired, representing a typical element of the Classical style.
Following the 1917 events, the living space was redistributed and the house layout was altered to fit communal apartments. The tenants were rehoused already in 1976, and the building was granted to a sports organisation. Large-scale restoration of the building commenced in 2015. According to plans, after the restoration is completed the manor will be turned into the Turgenev House Museum, its adjacent territory will be revamped and Ivan Turgenev’s room will be made open to visitors.
Location: 12a Pogodinskaya Str.
Years Built: 1856
Architects: Nikolai Nikitin
Nikolai Nikitin is a representative of the Moscow architectural school of the second half of the nineteenth century. During the Eclectic period, which gained popularity after the Classicism era, Nikitin remained an avid practitioner of the national architectural style. Pastiche was a common tool employed by Eclectic period architects of both Europe and Russia.
Nikitin, together with Russian Slavophile and historian Mikhail Pogodin, were the first to introduce a Russian national style, previously exclusively used in the construction of churches, in urban architecture. Pogodin’s Izba became the first experience of using Russian national style in the design of a city building. The small two-storey house delicately imitates countryside izbas, copying their festive shutters, carved strips installed below the projecting roof slopes and other decorative elements. However, traditional izba features of Pogodin’s Izba are hardly applicative: the make-believe izba was built to accommodate the needs of a scientist and serve as a place of his meetings with renowned writers, historians and public figures. In the late 1970s-1980s the izba housed The Tale of Igor's Campaign Museum administrated by Igor Kobzev. Today a construction company office resides in the house.
Location: 36 Starokonyushenny Lane
Years Built: 1872
Architects: Andrei Gun, wood carving by Igor Kolpakov
The house of Russian entrepreneur Alexander Porokhovshchikov remains one of the few surviving monuments to the wooden architecture of the last third of the nineteenth century. The house project was recognised at the 1873 World Expo in Vienna as the best application of the national architecture elements in house design.
Despite the Classicist symmetry of the façade composition, the architectural and decorative features of the log building are deliberately exaggerated. At the same time the carved frames, cornices and strips decorating the roofline resemble Russian traditional patterns.
Although Porokhovshchikov was of noble birth, he engaged in industry and trade endeavours. Pursuing plans to build revenue houses, the entrepreneur invited Austrian architect August Weber to Moscow, who later constructed Slavyanskiy Bazar building on Nikolskaya Street with its famous Russian national style hall. Under Mayor Luzhkov, Porokhovshchikov’s house was returned to a private owner.
Vasnetsov House Museum
Location: 13 Vasnetsov Lane
Years Built: 1893
Architects: Vasily Bashkirov, Viktov Vasnetsov
The house where Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov lived from 1894 through 1926, as well as a church and wooden houses in Savva Mamontov-owned Abramtsevo Estate which he helped build, were the precursors of neo-Russian architectural style of the early 20th century. Instead of focussing on the national architecture of the seventeenth century, Vasnetsov and his fellow painters turned their attention towards the architecture of old Novgorod and Pskov. Deliberate transformation of architectural forms and their free interpretation spawned visual associations with earlier prototypes, shaping the epic, fairytale like image of the modern creations.
This associative line is also notable in Vasnetsov’s own house project. As imposed fire prevention measures no longer allowed wooden construction in the city, Vastnetsov instead opted to rebuild and implement certain adjustments to the existing stone building. The house was augmented with a wooden tower crowned with the barrel roof, a traditional element of Russian church architecture. The tower, where Vasnetsov placed his workshop, also adopted elements of svetelka, a small bright room traditionally located in the top part of Russian terems. Vasnetsov also designed the workshop décor, furbishing the tower with wooden furniture and implementing the concept of artfully stylish, yet meaningful room interior. The concept was distinguished by high degree of theatricality, polychromic intensity and applicability of decorative elements – all characteristic features of the new style. Vasnetsov workshop became a part of the museum opened in the house in 1953.