This article is part of "Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era", a collaborative series by The Calvert Journal and ArchDaily highlighting iconic architecture that had shaped the Eastern world. Every week both publications will be releasing a listing rounding up five Eastern Bloc projects of certain typology. Read on for your weekly dose: Monumental Museums and Memorials.
The Buzludzha Monument / Georgi Stoilov
1974 - 1981
Placed on top of the Buzludzha peak in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, the wide, saucer-shaped structure known as the Buzludzha monument was commissioned to celebrate 70 years since the founding of Bulgaria’s socialist movement in 1961. Architect Georgi Stoilov won the honour of designing the structure, which was due to be unveiled alongside three other monuments celebrating the mountain as the backdrop to some of Bulgaria’s greatest historical events. But while the three, smaller statues were completed on time, the grand Buzludzha monument structure was delayed and then postponed for almost a decade. Stoilov was asked to revise the plans and adapt them to the extreme weather conditions on the mountain’s peak. In the end, construction work on the project took eight years and more than 6,000 people.
Inspired by the then-popular brutalist movement, the architect’s new design featured a saucer-like main structure and a tower crowned with a star. After several revisions, Stoilov decided on separating the building’s separate elements to strengthen the tower and give it stability against earthquakes and strong winter winds. He wanted his design to be futuristic and timeless, signifying the eternal glory of the socialist movement.
The monument’s interior is highly-decorated with mosaics of historic events, heroes, and quotes of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The observation deck on the outer ring of the structure was also covered with mosaics made with natural stones collected from the country’s rivers. The glass stars of the tower were believed to be the largest in the world, and legend has it that they could be seen from the Romanian and Greek borders.
Despite its initial glory, the building fell into disrepair following the collapse of the country’s socialist government in 1989, and, in 2017, it was officially listed as one of Europe’s more endangered landmarks by conservation group Europa Nostra. However, in 2018, work to restore the communist-era landmark allegedly got underway — offering a ray of hope to this iconic brutalist masterpiece.
Sulaiman-Too Museum / Kubanychbek Nazarov
Nestled among the sacred peaks and slopes of Kyrgyzstan’s Fergana Valley, the Sulaiman-Too Museum is a glass and metal structure built to celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of founding the city of Osh, and currently functions as the country’s National Historical and Archeological Museum.
The museum’s location, which is listed as a world heritage site, is of great religious, spiritual, and cultural significance, as it houses the Prophet Sulaiman’s grave and was once an important destination for Islamic pilgrimage.
This museum consists of two separate levels: the first is built entirely of man-made caves, whereas the second floor is made of a natural cave which offers a panoramic view of the city of Osh through the futuristic frontal facade.
Kyiv’s Memory Park / Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko
1968 - 1981
After the horrors of the Second World War, particularly the Nazi massacre at Babi Yar, the idea of cremation was highly controversial in Ukraine. However, post-1965, the Ukrainian government began planning the Kyiv crematorium on Bajkova Hill: an idea which did not sit well with the city’s architectural community.
Artists Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko won a competition held to design the structure. Soon after, the duo were joined by architect Abraham Miletskyj, but their opposing design ideas quickly led to conflict. Miletskyj saw the project as a purely functional structure, while Rybachuk and Melnichenko had conceived the space as a therapeutic environment which could help families heal from the psychological trauma of their final goodbyes. Finally, they developed the uniquely-shaped concept of the Memory Park, Wall of Remembrance, and Halls of Farewell, each created with curved lines and architecturally distinct from conventional cremation buildings.
The Wall of Remembrance, originally intended as the project’s central element, was designed to distract visitors from the cremation itself by focusing their attention on “the global confrontations of human history”, with artistic reliefs from numerous authors. After construction work dragged on for almost 10 years, however, orders were given to eliminate the project, leaving the concrete reliefs standing incomplete to this day.
The Spomen-Dom Museum (Memorial House) / Ranko Radović
Tjentište, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Grandiose and unconventional, this 3000 square metre hut-like concrete structure was built to commemorate the events of the Battle of Sutjeska in 1943. Opened in 1974, the project was designed by Montenegrin architect, professor, and architecture theorist-turned-minister Ranko Radović.
From the outside, visitors can see connected angular structures made from textured concrete. As for the interior, the memorial boasts large engravings, as well as frescoes of names and quotations from soldiers who fell in the Battle of Sutjeska. A noticeable element in the interior is the lack of artificial lighting; the entire space is only lit by angular skylights and openings in the structure’s walls and ceilings. Groundbreaking yet discrete, this iconic postmodern building perfectly blends in with the surrounding landscape while serving its commemorative purpose.
Melnikov House / Konstantin Melnikov
Built by architect Konstantin Melnikov, this emblematic residential project reflects the architectural style of the 1920’s Russian avant-garde. Sitting in Moscow’s central Arbat district, the building is a shocking contrast to its more traditional surroundings. State approval for the building took many by surprise even at the time of its construction, particularly when considering state-imposed uniformity in architecture.
The house features two interlocking three-storey cylinders, which housed Melnikov and his family, his paintings, and his architectural studio. The architect depended on efficient typology and limited resources while constructing the structure, so he chose a cylindrical plan to economise on materials used. The cylinder facing the street is shorter than one behind, and features a glazed curtain wall. Multiple hexagonal windows are pierced into the back façade, while all of the exterior walls were finished with white plaster and constructed with honeycomb formation to maximise the building’s natural light.
Melnikov ultimately lost his right to practice architecture in 1937 at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Architects. Even today, however, his house still stands as an iconic structure of the Russian avant-garde style and a witness to his artistic prowess.