From humble beginnings to modern times: How VDNKh’s historical pavilions have changed over the years

September 9

VDNKh, which recently marked its 80th anniversary, is bustling with activity. The historical pavilions continue to be restored, and new facilities are being built. The central section of the main entrance’s arched gate was restored using blueprints from the 1950s for the park’s 80th anniversary, celebrated last year. They also rebuilt flowerbeds and upgraded 14 fountains on the central alley, and they restored the Golden Spike fountain that hadn’t functioned for about 30 years, as well as the Stone Flower and Friendship among Nations fountains. Most importantly, they implemented a comprehensive restoration project and overhauled seven pavilions with cultural heritage landmark status.

This story discusses the historical pavilions whose former grandeur has been restored and which are currently in use.

Healthcare Pavilion (No. 13), formerly the Armenian SSR Pavilion

The Armenian SSR Pavilion was completed in 1939, the year the exhibition centre opened. It took workers just seven months to build it. This is one of the few surviving pavilions of the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV) that opened in 1939. Before 1964, the pavilion was called the Armenian SSR, as reflected in its architecture. In 1964-1966, the pavilion housed the Food Industry exposition, and it was renamed the Healthcare Pavilion in 1967.

The pavilion’s historical entrance resembled a huge three-nave portal in a niche. It had navy-blue walls, and ornamental paintings decorated the ceiling. The portal’s arches were decorated with red/pink tufa stone native to Armenia. The windows were rimmed with grape, pomegranate and lemon-shaped cast-iron frames.

The Armenian SSR Pavilion by S. Ivanov-Alliluyev, September 1954. Courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate and the VDNKh Press Service

The pavilion was reconstructed in the 1960s, and some of the decorations and details have been lost as a result. Moreover, the richly decorated entrance section was closed off with corrugated metal. The situation grew worse in the 1990s when the building was used for retail sales of medical goods.

The first restoration project began in 2014, with workers removing the false façades and various extra exterior layers. This made it possible to clean up the central entrance’s original three-nave portal. Specialists restored the niche’s navy-blue colour and the fruit ornamentation with a pomegranate in the central section. They cleaned the façade’s surfacing and installed architectural lighting.

The restored pavilion was transferred to the State Museum of the East. A permanent exhibition called Preserving Culture: The Roerich Museum opened here in April 2019. It presents the journeys and research projects of Nikolai Roerich and Svyatoslav Roerich and their creative work.

Press service of VDNKh

Pavilions 32-34 Cosmos

The Cosmos Pavilion was also built in 1939, the year VSKhV opened. At that time, it was called Mechanisation and looked like a huge slipway. The exhibition reopened after the war, in 1954, and the pavilion’s subject matter was also expanded. Since 1954, it has been called Mechanisation and Electrification of Soviet Agriculture. A large hall with the famous glass dome resting on four powerful arches was added to the slipway. In 1956, the pavilion was renamed Machine-Building.

The Cosmos Pavilion, photographer unknown, July 1979. Courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate

It was renamed Cosmos in 1967 after an exhibition showcasing the Soviet space program’s achievements opened at VDNKh. Unfortunately, the exhibition was dismantled in the 1990s, and many exhibits were lost. The building was used for disco parties and car dealers and people selling plants and saplings, etc.

The city started restoring the Cosmos Pavilion in 2017, and this project lasted just over a year. Experts focused on architecture; about 1,500 restorers and builders took part. They reinforced the foundation and the glass roof. A chandelier, a replica of the star on the Kremlin’s Troitskaya Tower, was installed under the dome, and the metal emblems of the 15 Soviet republics, the sculptures of the tractor driver and the harvester operator, as well as plaster reliefs symbolising various industries were all restored.

In 2018, the Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre opened here, and it became the largest cosmos exhibition centre in the country with an area of over 15,000 square metres. People can see almost 1,500 exhibits, including a full-scale model of the Mir orbital station.

Agriculture Pavilion (No. 58), formerly the Ukrainian SSR Pavilion

One of the most beautiful VDNKh pavilions was built in 1954 to a design by architect Alexei Tatsy for the reopening of VSKhV. The pavilion highlighted agricultural achievements of the Ukrainian SSR and later dealt with agrarian crops. In the 1990s, the building was filled with trade kiosks; it eventually became dilapidated and was shut down in 2013.

Friendship among Nations Square at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition by B. Yaroslavtsev, 1950.  Courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate

The city moved to restore the Agriculture Pavilion in 2017 and completed the project for the exhibition’s 80th anniversary. The façade was restored using historical photos, and the emblem of the Ukrainian SSR, upgraded with four-colour smalt, once again towers above its main entrance. Specialists restored the Affluence Arch, the rotunda with the Wheat Sheaf sculpture and the Pereyaslav Rada stained-glass window. The latter presented a major problem because it had decayed over the past 50 years, and restorers had to dismantle the structure, clean and wash the glass panes, recreate lost elements, replace the pylon and coat everything with a protective layer. Today, visitors can once again admire the image of the reunification of territories, controlled by the Zaporozhye Cossack Army, with the Russian state.

Upgraded figures of Stakhanovite workers stand on both sides of the central entrance. Restored sculptures of Glorious Young Women tower above the building. As before, the ceiling of both exhibition halls is decorated with plaster sunflowers and wheatears. The original multi-colour floor, laid out using the Italian Terrazzo mosaic technique, has been restored.

In May 2019, the Slovo (Word) Slavic Writing Centre opened at the pavilion. This exhibition is dedicated to the history of the Cyrillic written language, its current and future status. The unique centre shows a replica of Ivan Fyodorov’s printing office, the first one in Russia. People can listen to horror stories in the Urban Legends Room and study Church Slavonic.

Republic of Belarus Pavilion (No. 18)

Built in 1954, the pavilion dedicated to the Byelorussian  SSR had not been restored since then, and it has also received a new lease of life.

The pavilion’s main entrance resembles a semi-round courtyard with a colonnade-portico, and a tower with an allegorical sculpture called Mother Belarus decorates the roof.

Press service of VDNKh

The city started restoring the building in 2007. At that time, the pavilion’s original appearance and historical interiors were recreated. The Mother Belarus sculpture and the façade were also restored.

During the second stage, in 2016, five sculptures were restored, including the milkmaid, a machine operator, a kolkhoz woman with sheaf, a hunter and a scientist-agronomist. Over the past few decades, the two-metre figures made from reinforced concrete partially disintegrated. Consequently, restorers prepared five copies with plaster casts. The new Belarus Workers were made from a new material called fibre-reinforced concrete.

VDNKh’s visitors will see the original version of the pavilion, as conceived by architects Zinaida Chernysheva and Grigory Zakharov in the early 1950s. Incidentally, both architects are depicted on the façade’s fresco. By agreement between both countries, the pavilion now holds an exhibition centre by the Republic of Belarus.

Nature Conservation Pavilion (No. 62), formerly the Construction Materials Pavilion

This pavilion was built in 1954 to display the achievements of the Soviet construction industry. It was initially called Construction Materials. Two years later, the Atomic Energy for Peace exhibition opened here. Eight years on, the pavilion began to show the achievements of the country’s light industry. It received its current name in 1967 after housing an exhibition on the All-Russian Nature Conservation Society.

Press service of VDNKh

Specialists restored the interiors and adapted the pavilion to modern usage, without disrupting its historical layout.

The pavilion initially had an eclectic architectural style. A 16-metre cubic glass structure that seems to be hovering in midair is the main attraction. Workers found two boxes of hardened glass called Stalinite which is no longer manufactured and used it in the restoration. The pavilion’s columns are faced with artificial marble, and the Soviet state emblem is located in the central section of the ceiling-mounted stained-glass window panel.

The pavilion was restored completely in 2017, and the International Ballet Centre opened here. A ballet school for children and adults functions in the pavilion.

House of Culture Pavilion (No. 84)

Another pavilion, restored in 2017, houses the House of Culture and retains its historical function as a place for cultural leisure, recreation and education. Restorers completely preserved its layout, upgraded the auditorium, rebuilt a stage with a dance floor and renovated the utility lines.

This pavilion was built in 1954 and resembled a typical collective-farm House of Culture. Two single-story outbuildings flanked it. The pavilion housed a library, scientific laboratories, hobby groups, studios and a radio transceiver. The building was never renovated and started falling into disrepair.

People visiting the restored pavilion can see the plasterwork décor of the main hallway and auditorium, and also the recreated chandeliers that look exactly like they did originally. 

Atomic Energy Pavilion (No. 71), formerly the RSFSR Pavilion

This pavilion was also built in 1954 and housed the RSFSR exhibition. Ten years later, the Atomic Energy exhibition opened here. The exhibition shut down in the 1990s, and the pavilion turned into yet another kiosk centre.

The RSFSR Pavilion by V. Noskov and D. Sholomovich, August 1954. Courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate

They started restoring the pavilion in 2014 and finished the project in four years. Specialists renovated the façade and the roof, restored Modernist stained-glass windows, the plasterwork décor and lamp structures. A ceiling-mounted Soviet-era red-glass star based on a 1950s photo was recreated.

Restorers managed to recreate the building’s historical elements and turned it into a permanent facility. They replaced load-bearing girders under the central entrance and completely replaced utility system.

The My Documents Government Services Palace opened at the upgraded pavilion in 2018.

Yulia Ivanko,


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