Fairy terem and titanium obelisk. How Moscow museums acquired their buildings

October 12, 2019

We celebrate the World Architecture Day on the first Monday of October. This year, the festive day is themed 'Architecture means a home for everyone'. Read about how some Moscow museums found their own homes in mos.ru and Mosgortur Agency's collaborative article.

Timiryazev Biological Museum

Natural history rooms and private art collections became fashionable as early as in the 18th century, but there were no special buildings to house them. Museum construction boom began only in the second half of the 19th century: in 1874, the building of the Tretyakov Gallery was constructed, in 1883, Moscow had its Polytechnic and Historical museums. The first building of the Museum complex in Malaya Gruzinskaya Street, which is occupied now by the Timiryazev Biological Museum, was built in 1892-1893. It was erected specially for the Museum of Russian Antiquities of Pyotr Shchukin, a representative of the renowned old believer family of manufacturers and collectors.

Pseudo-Russian style was in trend those times. The buildings of the Polytechnic and Historical museums were originally made to meet this style, with the Tretyakov Gallery receiving its Russian facade in 1902-1904. Shchukin also followed fashion trends, his fairy stone-made terem (tower house) designed by Boris Freudenberg was the best fit for his collection.

Фото: mos.ru. Максим Денисов

To make some elements of the building, the architect adopted some features from the monuments of ancient architecture, such as the temple of John the Baptist in Tolchkovo (depicted on modern RUB 1,000 bills), Nikola Mokry in Yaroslavl, and the Romanov Boyars Chambers on Varvarka. For Shchukin, the building was to be not only attractive, but also practical. 'Not enough space and unsafe storing in a wooden house in case of fire,' as the collector justified the necessity to build a stone building.

The Museum opened in 1895. But it welcomed visitors only two hours a day. The collection was growing, and by 1898, another medieval Russian-style building was erected nearby. It was designed by Adolf Erichson, an Art Nouveau expert. The renowned military painter Vasily Vereshchagin wrote Shchukin a letter, advising 'to build another house... and connect it to the existing Museum with a roofed passage'. So they did. The Museum buildings, called the old and the new Museum, were connected by a 30 m long tunnel. It was illuminated by natural light through portholes in the vaulted ceiling.

The construction was completed in 1905, when the site had a one-story Museum archive built looking like Moscow chambers of the 17th century, designed by Fyodor Kolbe. In May of the same year, the Shchukin Museum of Russian Antiquities became a 'Branch of the Emperor Alexander III Imperial Russian Historical Museum — Shchukin Museum. At the time, its collection had over 300,000 items, which was more than the Historical Museum had. There were Church antiquities and weapons, fabrics and carpets, tapestries and wall hangings, jewellery and utensils, books, documents, and an art gallery.

After the Revolution of 1917, Shchukin's collection was transferred to the Historical Museum. A year later, his estate was donated to the Museum of Old Moscow, and in 1934, at the request of Maxim Gorky, it went to the Biological Museum.

Фото: mos.ru. Максим Денисов

Battle of Borodino Panorama Museum

In the first years of Soviet power, there were no special premises built to house museums. Churches, palaces of aristocracy, noble mansions and estates were adapted to host the display. The situation changed only after the Great Patriotic War, when there was a need for patriotic-oriented memorial structures. The decision to design the building of the would-be Battle of Borodino Panorama Museum was adopted by the Executive Committee of the Moscow City Council in April 1960.

By that time, the creation of Franz Roubaud, his huge panorama, had been in a sad condition for several decades. It stood for some time in the pavilion at Chistye Prudy after its pompous opening in 1912 attended by Nicholas II. A few years later, the pavilion was broken, and canvas wound on a shaft weighing more than three tons was to 'travel' through the warehouses. It was kept in turn in Donskoy Monastery, Neskuchny Garden, the unfinished Miussky Cathedral, Aquarium and Hermitage gardens.

Before the Great Patriotic War, the painting was transported to a warehouse on Khoroshevskoye Highway. There it was examined by experts. Their verdict was sad: painting of the sky was completely erased. The restoration began only in May 1949. The canvas was transported to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

At the same time, the construction site of the panorama building was under discussion. The options suggested Borodino Field and Neskuchny Garden. Finally, the preference was given to Kutuzovsky Prospekt, near the Kutuzovskaya Izba.

Construction of the building started in September 1961. Architects Alexander Korabelnikov, Sergei Kuchanov and Alexander Kuzmin worked on its design. There was a giant cylinder erected in the central part of the building, lined with industrial grey-and-blue glass, which stood on 20 solid pylons. Adjacent to the cylinder, the building wings were decorated with themed mosaic panels, and 68 captured guns seized from the French during the Battle of Borodino were placed on the stylobate.

On 11 July 1962, when the building was still scaffolded, Franz Roubeau's masterpiece was brought to Kutuzovsky Prospekt on a timber truck and placed in the panorama hall using a crane.

'Battle of Borodino' opened on 18 October of the same year to become the first Moscow Museum building constructed in the USSR.

Darwin Museum

In fact, the first constructed museum building was to be the State Darwin Museum, based on a private collection of biologist and science promoter Alexander Kots.

Before the Revolution of 1917, a Museum of evolutionary theory was created on the basis of his collection, which occupied several rooms of the Moscow higher women's courses. It was there that Kots was invited to teach a course in evolution in 1907. Since then, he began dreaming of a building that would take into account all the specifics of his display. But funds for construction could not be provided either by tsarist Russia or by the pre-war Soviet Union.

The was not any progress until the Council of Ministers of the USSR allocated RUB 100,000 for the design of the building of the Darwin Museum in 1946. In 1952, Kots wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin, in which he asked to resolve the issue of construction as soon as possible. He received endorsement.

The plot for the Museum was allocated near Frunzenskaya metro station. The staff of the workshop No.10 of the Mosproekt-1 Institute worked on its design under the guidance of Arkady Mordvinov, one of the authors of the Ukraina Hotel. By the way, there was a proposal to build the Darwin Museum as a monumental structure in the Stalin's Empire style.

When its design was almost ready, it had to be revised 'taking into account the application of the most advanced construction methods', because of Nikita Khrushchev's declared combating against excesses in architecture. Thus, the new design assignment was approved only in 1959. On paper, the building acquired its modernist features: it was shaped as a parallelepiped with a huge niche above the main entrance, without any excesses.

Construction began in 1960. Soon, however, the funding stopped. Izvestia newspaper published an article 'Darwin Museum on the Moskva River Banks'. Khrushchev allegedly read it and said that such a Museum should stand on the banks of the Thames. The entourage of the first Secretary of the CPSU's Central Committee took this as a signal, and in 1961, the Moscow City Executive Committee transferred its construction site to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

For Alexander Kots it was a real blow. He was 82 at the time. In 1962, his display was closed for an indefinite period. Soon, Kots' wife and ally Nadezhda died, and a year later he was gone, too.

Only in 1968, the Executive Committee of the Moscow City Council allocated a new land plot for the Darwin Museum at the intersection of Vavilova and Dmitriya Ulyanova streets. Made in the modern style, the design was approved in 1972. Central building was crowned with a sail-shaped structure. It is believed that this is a reference to the Beagle brig, on which Charles Darwin made his five-year long journey around the world, which provided him rich amount of materials to substantiate his theory of evolution. There is a spiral staircase inside the building, a symbol of the evolutionary spiral.

It took a long time to construct the building. The first halls of the Museum opened on 2 September 1995.

Museum of Cosmonautics

The Museum of Cosmonautics has passed a strange way from an obelisk to the exhibition space.

On 4 October 1957, the world's first artificial Earth satellite was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Six months later, the all-Union open competition for the best event-related obelisk design was announced. The composition 'should reflect the outstanding victory of Soviet science and technology, which is an implementation of the daring dream of mankind'. The obelisk was to be set up in front of the building of Moscow State University on Leninskiye (now Vorobyovy) Gory.

The work of architects Alexander Kolchin and Mikhail Barshch (one of the creators of the Planetarium, opened in 1929) and sculptor Andrei Faidysh-Krandiyevsky won the competition.

Their design involved the construction of a 50 m high smoky glass obelisk, but  Head of the Soviet Space Program Sergei Korolyov proposed to replace the glass with polished titanium, used in rocket engineering, and to double the height of the monument.

The design assignment of the monument, called 'For Space Conquerors', was approved in March 1960. Even then, the basement of the obelisk was to host a permanent space exhibition.

In September 1967, a resolution was issued 'to arrange a Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the premises of the existing monument'. By the time, the monument had been standing at the entrance to the VDNKh for almost three years, from November 1964.

The opening of the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics took place on 10 April 1981, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight. In 2006-2009, a big reconstruction was carried out here, thanks to which the Museum area has increased to 8,400 sq m.

Source: mos.ru

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