Digital technologies and historical continuity: Designing new metro stations

September 30

The first five stations on the new Big Circle Line (BCL), which opened in February 2018, created quite a stir among local residents and tourists.

Savyolovskaya station on the new circle line, opened in December 2018, won the people’s choice award in the 2019 Art of Building photography contest. The stations on BCL’s first section were designed around a common structure while each has its unique features.

The team of designers that developed the concept for the first BCL stations recently received the award in the best design category of the Moscow Literature and Arts Prize. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin noted during the award ceremony that technology-wise, the construction project relies on the best international practices; as far as architecture and design are concerned, the experience of Soviet metro designers, who created the original station masterpieces, served as inspiration. interviewed the team that designed the first stations on the Big Circle Line.

Historical continuity and modern technology

The Moscow Metro is recognised as one of the most beautiful transit systems in the world. The stations built between the 1930s and 1950s resemble palaces with spacious and brightly lit halls, elaborate architecture and design detail.


The architects relied on past experience when designing the first BCL stations; however, their experience needed to be adapted to modern trends in architecture which are obviously different.

“Every station built between the 1930s and 1950s is an example of classical architecture, the palace style. Modern architecture has a different look; it is a creation of different technologies, with more lightweight materials, such as metal or glass. The traditional mosaics would look out of place here because these are two different design languages,” explains monument artist Yekaterina Bubnova.

Underground city mythology: Interesting facts about Moscow Metro station design

Digital technology is widely used today in designing the interior of metro stations. As in the past, it all starts with sketches of a future interior. Designers, architects and the city’s urban development council discuss the sketches, which often takes some time.


Yevgeny adds that among other things, the designs for CSKA were inspired by Alexander Deineka’s art, especially his works on sports. While looking back on tradition and maintaining historical continuity, the designers introduced modern features.

Project creators Yekaterina Bubnova and Yevgeny Shchegov

Once the sketches have been approved, the artists begin to work on the designs. They introduce colour and texture using design software. The final file will be divided into segments that will be printed on separate panels using a plotter.

The images are printed on different surfaces, mostly on aluminium sheets and glass. The designers supervise the process to make sure the sheets come out exactly as planned, including texture, colour and other parameters. At the final stage, the sheets featuring fragments of the design are mounted on a ceiling or a wall.

What future generations may like

Alexander Orlov notes that the first stations on the Big Circle Line share a basic composition.

“They are structurally common designs with similar architectural solutions. The main idea was that each station on the Big Circle Line will be designed using the colour of the metro line to which passengers can transfer. That is, Savyolovskaya is connected to the grey line, Shelepikha to the yellow line, Khoroshevskaya to the purple line and Petrovsky Park to the green line. CSKA stands out because it is a landmark in itself.”

Passengers riding through the new stations will notice commonalities in the layouts of the platforms, the placement of art works, lighting, and so on.

Metro architecture has changed radically since the 1930s. The designs are modern, more airy and smooth; there is no more monolithic grandeur. Themes in artistic décor have changed as well. The older themes, however, do not look outdated. Yes, they reflect the historical period when they were created and include the elements common for those times; still, they remain aesthetically appealing even today.

Yekaterina Bubnova notes that there is no point in following a trend. The metro is made to stand for decades and even centuries, so there is no need to adhere to the latest trend. Designers should remember that these works of art are meant for future generations as well.


New technologies for unleashing creativity and saving resources

The artists admit that digital technologies are a great help in their work, one of the benefits having a smaller team. In the past, artists working on the traditional mosaics needed many assistants, and each of them could leave their trace in the final piece that affected the creator’s original concept – for example, by picking an off colour or inserting an oddly shaped piece.

Now the designers can create their works of art without extra help and control the printing process. As a result, the panel fully matches the original idea.

Another advantage of modern technology is the substantially lower cost.

“The city budget benefits from this. The ceiling of the CSKA station has an area of 1,930 sq m. If the ceiling was laid with Florentine or regular mosaics, it would be far more expensive,” Yevgeny Shcheglov explains.

The interior designers avoided the so-called ‘wet processes’ such as plastering and painting, which helped them spend less time and money. Many structures are assembled from components like a Lego kit.

“We are using many composite materials, non-flammable materials and aluminium. A lot of stainless steel is used. As for conventional materials, of course, there is nothing better than stone,” Alexander Orlov added.

Maxim Denisov,

Glimpse into the future

Passengers often stop to take pictures of the CSKA station, especially the ceiling. Yekaterina Bubnova comments that the station has become a landmark for Muscovites. The works of art from the stations on the Big Circle Line have been even included in study programmes on modern art history at Moscow universities.

New metro stations may look different in future but it is hard to imagine how exactly.

“Twenty years ago, nobody could imagine printing a ceiling. A plotter is basically a big printer. Printing a 1,930-metre ceiling for the Moscow Metro with a printer seemed like science fiction then. Today it is reality. Technologies are changing so fast that it is impossible to imagine what will come next. I think both new and old technologies will continue to co-exist,” says Yevgeny Shcheglov.

The designer adds that trends in architecture are constantly changing and will, to a certain extent, depend on technological progress.


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