Light, individuality, integrity: how the modern architecture of the Moscow metro appeared

April 20


The Moscow Metro is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. The capital metro was the first where the stations not only performed a utilitarian transport function but also became real museum halls. This trend was also taken up by foreign subways. Later in Moscow, they began to build standard stations that allowed them to open the metro quickly and save money. Now, metro construction workers and architects choose the third way - it combines an individual appearance, modern materials and high rate of construction. 

The first station of the Moscow metro was opened in 1935, and the last two - on April 1, 2021: Mnevniki and Narodnoye Opolcheniye of the metro Big Circle Line. Alexander Zmeul, a specialist in metro architecture, Candidate of Historical Sciences, and Mark Akopyan, a senior scientist researcher at the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, told how the architecture of the Moscow metro have been changing, at what stage it is now, and how light railway will look like in the future. 

Not only transport: how it all started 

The first stage of the Moscow metro was opened on May 15, 1935. It was a leg of the red line from Sokolniki to Park Kultury with a branch to Smolenskaya station. The architecture of the stations was different from the Western countries subways, although the famous Stalinist luxury was not yet there. In the pre-war period, in the design of stations, two directions were distinguished.  


The metro construction did not stop even during the Great Patriotic War. During that period, seven stations of the third stage were built. Despite the difficulties of wartime, their decoration has not become less luxurious.


Post-war stations were more pompous, ceremonial, and empire-style. They were decorated with objects of fine art, mosaics, decorative panels, stucco. This was a kind of the underground world transformation into an optimistic and customary space for the city dweller.

Fight against excessiveness and the third way

Everything changed in the second half of the 1950s. That time, the country announced a course to fighting architectural extravagances. The trend also affected the metro, columnar stations began to appear (so-called ‘centipede’). This stage lasted until the end of the 1960s, it coincided with the new districts annexation to Moscow where the stations were building. 

"The stations have become simple and functional. The main task was to conduct the metro to new areas of large-scale real estate development. Such stations as Shchelkovskaya, Pervomayskaya, Novyie Cheryomushki, Rechnoy Vokzal were opened. These were prefabricated structures made of ready-made elements, that is in fact an underground analogue of Khrushchev-era style. The architects only had the opportunity to choose the color of the marble for the columns, the layout of the tiles and, in fact, everything," Alexander Zmeul says. 

As a matter of interest, for even greater economy and speed, it was decided to build the metro on the surface. However, this was soon abandoned. 

"As a legacy, we received the Filevskaya line which is almost all ground-based after the Kievskaya station. There are other examples - Izmailovskaya and Vorobyovy Gory stations," Mark Akopyan says. 

But soon the utilitarian view got bored and the architects again began offering to decorate the stations. In the second half of the 1960s, the columnar stations were provided with the elements of artistic design. They can be seen at the Kuzminki, Proletarskaya, Kolomenskaya, Varshavskaya stations. 

The next stage began in the 1970s. Alexander Zmeul says that it lasts until now. 

"In the 1970s, the third way was announced - we decided to take the best from the previous two stages. From the first stage - individual style, and from the second -the industrial methods of construction and high rates. We can say that we have been following this third way for the last 50 years. Of course, there were many trends within this stage. In the early 1970s, these were more laconic projects, in the late 1970s - more representational, in the 1990s - less rich, due to lack of money. But the approach remains the same: to create an individual station at a high rate of construction." 

In the 1970s, the metro construction returns to the city center, the radii are connected in diameter, Pushkinskaya, Kuznetsky Most, Kitay-Gorod, Tretyakovskaya and other stations are opened. In the 1980s, they built the central section of the gray branch - Polyanka, Borovitskaya, Chekhovskaya, Tsvetnoy Bulvar stations. Once again, the impressive deep pylon stations in many respects are similar to the Stalin-era Empire style ones appear. But the decoration has no longer stucco and other classic decor.

"Completely different materials are used. We can recall the forged parts and sculptures like at the Kuznetsky Most and Shabolovskaya stations.  And what’s the main, the pavilions that were abandoned during Khrushchev are returning. That time they were just building an entrance and a descent down," Mark Akopyan notes. Shabolovskaya station. Photo by M. Denisov.

After the breakup of the USSR, the metro pace of construction temporarily decreased. The architecture of the 1990s-2000s is characterized by styles variety. But a bent to fabulousness, folk and even tawdry motifs stands out, for example, at the Sretensky Bulvar or Dostoevskaya stations.

"It was an attempt to create such a fun, fabulous Moscow. And this fabulousness became the personification of the time spirit. Kitsch style predominates in the architecture of that period that was reflected in the stations," Mark Akopyan explains. 

Minimalistic but individual

In the 2010s, the pace of construction increased again. From 2011 to 2020, the length of the metro increased by 50 percent. But even at this scale, the stylistic diversity of the stations is preserved.

"We have a direction that tends to the modern international mainstream which is spreading all over the world — this is how the Zhulebino, Solntsevo, Mnevniki stations were built. And there is a direction that tends to the traditions of the architecture of the Soviet metro - this is partly the Savelovskaya station of the Big Circle Line, Okruzhnaya, Verkhnyie Likhobory stations. There are stations built according to the Spanish method with side platforms. We have very few of them, they are not typical for Moscow. There are four of them on the Nekrasovskaya Line (for example, the Stakhanovskaya station), and there will be quite a lot on the Big Circle Line," Alexander Zmeul notes.

The metro modern architecture continues the tradition of the third way. On the one hand, it is standardized and minimalistic that allows you to build many stations. On the other hand, it is individual: each station has its own artistic solution

Mark Akopyan, speaking about the stations individuality, says that it also has a functional meaning. 

"The concept of the Moscow metro is goes on a premise that it is not necessary to hear the announcer's announcements or read the name of the station. When the train comes out of the tunnel, the passenger knows from the station view whether to get out now or not." 

According to Mark Akopyan, one of the key elements of the artistic expression of the modern metro is light. There is some continuity in this because from the very beginning of the Moscow metro history, light not only performed a direct function, but also played an artistic role. 

Another important remarkable architectural feature of the modern metro is its integrity. 

"You can't just take away a panel or a light fixture. At modern stations, there are no separate items, but all together these elements are a complete object, a single complex. Each individual element in itself may not be particularly interesting, but together it is a creation of architectural art," Mark Akopyan explains. 

The individuality of the Moscow metro stations is its brand. It is achieved in different ways. The design of some stations is related to the area where they are located.  

"References to the history of the district they began to include in the design of the stations in the 1960s. But in the 1990s, this tradition was lost. Now it is partly returning, and this is good, because the character of the area can be conveyed through the metro architecture," Alexander Zmeul says.

He adds that there is an important tradition in the Moscow metro construction that influences the uniqueness and variety of stations. They are the architectural competitions. This way, for example, Solntsevo, Novoperedelkino and Mnevniki stations were built. 

"Such competitions are a tradition dating back to the 1930s. And this is a good practice because those who are specialized in the metro have already the developed techniques and approaches. And attracting architects who are not connected with the metro through a competition always gives new and bright solutions," Alexander believes. 

In terms of uniqueness among modern stations, Mark Akopyan distinguishes Govorovo for its bold light and stylish black-and-white solution. Alexander Zmeul really likes Mnevniki.

"A very interesting station, with a bright appearance. The dominant element in the hall is made in bright red. This is unusual for our metro, it is a bold decision of the architect, which turned out to be very well," he notes. 

He also likes the Novoperedelkino station. It refers, on the one hand, to ancient Russian art, and on the other - to unrealized projects in the metro. 

"Another interesting station is the Savelovskaya station on the Big Circle Line. They did not start lining the tunnel vault, and passengers can appreciate the beauty of the design and understand what the metro is made of. I like this station because it shows the beauty of design solutions," says Alexander.

Savelovskaya station on the Big Circle Line. Photo by M. Denisov.

High-tech and aesthetics in the metro of the future

Metro architecture has always followed the technology and trends existing on the ground. That is why now they do not construct in the historical style. Today, the metro is associated with cutting-edge solutions. Moscow follows this trend originated in China and the Middle East where the metro is created from scratch and immediately in the style of high-tech. 

"It was the metro construction in Asia that spurred the same construction in those European cities where the metro existed for a long time, including in Moscow," Mark Akopyan explains. 

Having adopted construction technologies from other states, Moscow on the contrary teaches the world to approach the creation of stations not only from a functional, but also from an aesthetic point of view. Now the most famous architects are working on the appearance of European stations. Earlier there was no such practice. For recognized experts, working not only with the metro but with other rapid transit is an indicator of prestige. So the decoration of the stations is unlikely to lose its relevance in the near future.


If you continue to use our website, you are agreeing to accept the use of cookies on your device. Cookie files ensure the website’s efficiency and help us provide you with the most interesting and relevant information. Read more about cookie files.
Accept ccokies