Moscow cloud busters. The four tallest residential buildings of the 20th century

June 20

Today, it is difficult to believe that until recently, skyscrapers were considered to be houses that are not high at all by modern standards. However, this is true - at the beginning of the 20th century, for Muscovites buildings of only eight floors seemed dizzying height. About how the development of the capital grew during the previous century - in the material.

Afremov’s House

Sadovaya-Spasskaya Street, house 19, building 1

The first eight-story building in Moscow was designed by architect Osip Shishkovsky. It was with its appearance that the words skyscraper and cloud buster began to enter the lexicon of Muscovites. The building on Sadovaya-Spasskaya Street became the tallest one in the capital. Prior to that, this title was borne by the tenement building of the Trinity metochion in IIlinka - in its rotunda there were six floors.

The height of the new building was approximately 35 meters. Some of the townspeople were even afraid to ride the tram past the house, which, according to someone's phrase, was unofficially called Babylon. However, there were also Muscovites, who were pleased with it. Konstantin Stanislavsky recalled that the appearance of the high-rise building caused joy in Anton Chekhov. He told his guests that the construction had’foreshadows of the future Russian and universal culture, not only spiritual, but even external.’

The tenement building was built in 1904-1905 for the vodka manufacturer Fyodor Afremov. The entrepreneur took money from the Moscow Credit Society for the construction of the building. The building was erected in the fashionable Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the last century. Under the eaves there are decorative metal brackets, and in the attic - oval windows, which are called bull's eye. Some believe that the building echoes the creations of the Parisian architect Hector Guimard.

The house did not have the status of the tallest building in Moscow for long - in 1913 it passed to the Nirnzee’s House, which already had 10 floors.

Nirnzee’s House

Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Lane, house 10

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

It took a lot of effort for the German architect Ernst-Richard Niernzee to get permission to implement his ambitious project. To allow him to erect a building with small apartments and ‘with a separate dining room over part of the ninth floor, central water heating, a passage gate under the arch’ was not decided for a long time. The Construction Supervision Commission feared that the load-bearing structures would not withstand the load, but the architect did not agree to remove even one floor.

The building turned out to be about 44 meters high. The writer Valentin Kataev called it the vertical dominant of the Tverskoy district and “a miracle of high-rise architecture, almost a real American skyscraper, from the roof of which a panorama of a shortish oldie Moscow opened." By the way, you can admire the view from the roof of the house in the Office Romance movie (1977) - in one of the scenes, the heroine of Alice Freundlich waters flowers there.

The facade of the U-shaped house combines elements of neoclassicism and Art Nouveau. Rows of large square windows are divided by vertical thin red lines, and the upper part of the building is decorated with decorative vases and flower garlands. Five ledges-bay windows, curved lines of decoration of entrances and gates and a pediment with a mosaic panel made by the artist Alexander Golovin attract attention.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

The apartments were small and had no kitchens. Niernzee designed them for employees and small families who could order the delivery of meals from the nearest public houses from the floor attendant. Therefore, the building got the nickname of bachelor house.

In the first years of the house's existence, the winter studio stage of the Kinochayka partnership was located on its roof, and during the NEP years, a cinema was opened here. Konstantin Stanislavsky visited The Bat cabaret, which was located in the basement of the house until 1922. In 1924, the Moscow Satire Theater began operating on the site of the cabaret. The Nirnzee’s House also left imprint in literature - in different years there were editorial offices of the Literary Studies and Soviet Writer magazines, as well as the Berlin newspaper called On the Eve, with which Mikhail Bulgakov collaborated. By the way, here the writer met his third wife Elena Shilovskaya, who became the prototype of Margarita.

House on the embankment

Serafimovicha Street, house 2

The title of the tallest residential building was taken over from Niernzee’s House in 1931 by the Government House. The ‘House on the Embankment’ began to be called after the novel of the same name by Yuri Trifonov issue in 1976. The building, which was designed by Boris Iofan in the style of constructivism dominant that time, Trifonov described as follows:

"It was like a ship, heavy and awkward, without masts, without rudder, and without funnels, a bulky box, an ark full of people, ready to sail."

The house was conceived as a mini-city with all the necessary infrastructure: laundry, post office, healthcare center, library, tennis courts and a cinema. It had to be functional and spacious, as it was created for the party elite, who moved here after the capital transfer from Petrograd to Moscow. The house consists of eight buildings, 25 entrances and 505 apartments. Its height is 12 floors-approximately 53 meters.

Nikita Khrushchev, who held the post of first Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee from 1953 to 1964, aircraft designer Artem Mikoyan, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, writers Yuri Trifonov and Mikhail Koltsov, choreographer Igor Moiseev and other cultural figures, officials and military leaders lived in the house at various times. Since 1989, the building has housed the House on the Embankment museum dedicated to the history of the house and its inhabitants. Since 2016, it has been part of the State Museum of GULAG History.

High-rise building on Kotelnicheskaya embankment

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment, house 1/15

Photo by Yevgeny Samarin,

One of the seven Stalin’s high-rises, built at the confluence of the Yauza River with the Moskva River, also became a ‘city within a city’. Its tallest building has 32 floors, and its spire is approximately 176 meters long - until 2002, it was the tallest residential building in Moscow.

The project of the house on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment was proposed by architects Dmitry Chechulin and Andrey Rostovsky in the mid-1930s, the prototype was the Chicago skyscraper Wrigley Building. The building was erecting in two stages: building A - from 1938 to 1940, and building B - after the war, from 1948 to 1952. It is believed that Joseph Stalin personally supervised the work.

It was not easy to erect a high-rise building - there was no experience and equipment, especially since the construction site had weak soils with a lot of sand and loam. For the production of monolithic reinforced concrete slabs, factories were constructed in Lyubertsy and Kuchino suburb settlements. In addition, special tower cranes with a lifting capacity of 15 tons were developed.

The high-rise consists of three buildings, on its spire - a five-pointed star with a hammer and sickle. The house is decorated with high reliefs, on the top of the building B there is a sculptural composition: the figures of a man and a woman hold a scroll with the image of the Spasskaya Tower. The lower five floors of the building are lined with pink granite.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

In 1953, the house became inhabited by statesmen, scientists, writers, artists, and artists. Here, Faina Ranevskaya, Klara Luchko, Galina Ulanova, Robert Rozhdestvensky, Alexander Tvardovsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko lived. The latter wrote a poem about the disaster of the house - the German cockroaches:

Admirals and ballerinas,

atomic physicists and poets

hide under their eiderdowns,

but the cockroaches occupied all flats.

In 1966, the building was opened to the Illusion cinema, created specifically for the Gosfilmofond movies demonstration. From the first days of its activity, it was engaged in the popularization of foreign cinema - there were retrospectives of Italian, Polish, American, Indian cinema, meetings of Soviet viewers with foreign actors. Since the 1970s, in the cinema the lectures on the movie history were delivered. These lectures ceased in 1991.


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