Ship-House and Rocket-Tower: Discover Moscow to show architectural masterpieces of mid-to-late 20th century

November 13
Tourism and travels

The Discover Moscow  tourist portal has published a selection of the most impressive architectural monuments of the capital city built in 1950-1980s and inspired by Soviet modernism. This architectural trend is characterised by laconic shapes, austerity and pronounced functionalism. The five most spectacular buildings include the Palace of Pioneers on Sparrow Hills, Ostankino Tower, the book houses on Novy Arbat, New Tretyakov Gallery, and the ship-house. This is the first publication from the Architectural Styles of Moscow series.

Palace by the fathers of modernism

One of the most appealing buildings featuring an example of Soviet modernism is the Palace of Child and Youth Creativity, the Ex-Palace of Pioneers (17/3 Kosygina street). It was built in 1958-1962 by a team of young architects led by Igor Pokrovsky. The building consists of a number of pavilions asymmetrically stretching from the general gallery. Its facades are decorated with the Water, Earth and Sky reliefs and mosaic boards. They symbolise the conquest of the elements by human beings. The image of a pioneer fire above the main entrance is made of large pieces of coloured glass. The palace was equipped with a concert and theatre hall, a winter garden, and exhibition areas.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

The Soviet architects borrowed some ideas from their foreign colleagues. For example, the domes crowning the long gallery follow the style of American engineer and designer Richard Buckminster Fuller, while the undulating ceiling of the audience hall was inspired by the style of Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto. By the way, the Finnish Father of Modernism visited the Palace of Pioneers right before its construction completion together with his Brazilian colleague Lúcio Costa and French writers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The foreign guests were astonished to find out that such a huge building was being erected exceptionally for children.

Our Answer to Skyscrapers

Four 26-storey buildings (11, 15, 19, 21 Novy Arbat street) with facades resembling open folios were erected in the 1960s based on a design by architect Mikhail Posokhin. However, the very idea of erecting so high buildings in Moscow came to Nikita Khrushchev’s mind during his official visit to the United States in 1959. He was greatly impressed by the skyscrapers there.

Photo by Maxim Mishin, Press Service of the Mayor and Moscow Government

The books-houses have a common two-tier 850-metre-long basement where, like during the Soviet times, stores are mainly located now. A tunnel being one kilometre long and nine metres wide was build there along the entire perimeter to ensure convenient delivery of goods. Earlier, the high-riser looked cumbersome and alien in patriarchal Moscow, but today they have become one of its calling cards.

Symbol of Television

One more unique example featuring the Soviet architecture of the 1960s is Ostankino Tower (15 Academician Korolev street). Its height is 540 metres, which makes it the highest free-standing facility in Europe. The tower was built based on a design by a group of architects led by Leonid Batalov, while its chief designer was engineer Nikolay Nikitin. Despite its impressive height, the depth of the Ostankino Tower foundation is only 4.5 metres. It is smaller than the depth of the foundations laid for most skyscrapers where piles sometimes go to a depth of 50 metres. However, Nikitin managed to prove that the balanced tension of the ropes placed inside the tower would be able to tie the entire structure into a reliable system that would not be afraid of even the strongest wind.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

The illuminators at the top of the tower base make it look like a rocket body. And this is not the only detail to evoke associations with space aesthetics: director Andrey Tarkovsky used the round looped corridors of the TV tower to create the image of an orbital station in his film Solaris.

Where art lives

The first discussions of new building construction took place in the 1950s, on the threshold of the 100th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery. The place near the Crimean Bridge looked most successful for several reasons at once. First, the site was large enough to accommodate a multifunctional building, and second, the gallery founder, Pavel Tretyakov, was born nearby – on 1-y Golutvinsky lane.

The New Tretyakov Gallery (10 Krymsky Val street) was built in 1983 based on a design by Soviet architects Yury Sheverdyaev and Nikolay Sukoyan. The architectural style of the building is consistent with the ensemble of Neskuchny Garden and Gorky Park and is a large-scale low pavilion with an end-to-end colonnade along the perimeter of the first floor.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

Three storeys of the building are covered by halls for temporary exhibitions, lectures and conferences. A permanent exposition is located on the fourth floor of the museum in 37 halls. It displays works by Russian artists of the 20th century: from avant-garde to up-to-date trends. There is also a children’s creative workshop at the museum. Muzeon Park, i.e. the only open-air museum of sculptures in Moscow and the largest museum in Russia, is located near the New Tretyakov Gallery. Its collection comprises over one thousand exhibits, including Soviet monuments of the period of socialist realism, works by Russian avant-garde artists and contemporary artists.

Like a home — a nuclear reactor turns into a ship-house

A huge fourteen-storey residential building (Bldg 2, Bolshaya Tulskaya street) was erected in 1986 at the request of the Ministry of Medium Machine Building for nuclear industry employees. Architects Vladimir Babad and Vsevolod Voskresensky planned that the shape of the building would resemble that of a nuclear reactor. The popular name “Ship-House” appeared, as this huge white structure, like a cruise liner, was “sailing” among the surrounding low-rise buildings.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

The main feature of this building is its length – it stretches along Bolshaya Tulskaya street for 400 metres. The building with nine entrances has one thousand flats. There are passages framed with columns along the two sides of the building and also between pairs of entrances, so that residents can get to the other side of the building without a need to overcome almost half a kilometre to circumvent it.

The Discover Moscow tourist portal was launched in July 2021. It combines the #Moskvastoboy media platform and the Discover Moscow tourist portal. The new online resource is useful not only for Moscow residents, but also for its guests. The portal provides information in three languages – Russian, English and Chinese.


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