Stalinist Empire style architecture: How the main building of Moscow State University was built

September 3
Social sector

The new high-rise building of Moscow State University on Leninskiye Gory (now Vorobyovy Gory) opened 67 years ago, on 1 September 1953. From 1953 to 1990, the main MSU building was the tallest in Europe. Follow the story of its construction based on materials from Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate.

On 13 January 1947, the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted a resolution on the construction of high-rise buildings in Moscow, which provided for building one 32-story, two 26-story and five 16-story buildings between 1947 and1952.

The highest, 32-story building was initially planned as a hotel combined with residential flats on Leninskiye Gory. But it was later decided that it would be the main building of Moscow State University. The construction was supervised by the Council of Ministers’ organisation that had been responsible for the construction of the Palace of the Soviets (the project was later aborted).

A Council of Ministers resolution on the construction of the new MSU building was adopted on 15 March 1948. The group that was assigned the task included architects Lev Rudnev, Sergei Chernyshev, Pavel Abrosimov, Alexander Khryakov and Boris Iofan, as well as engineer Vsevolod Nasonov. The façade was adorned with the works created by sculptors from Vera Mukhina’s studio. The project also stipulated the construction of teaching and laboratory blocks, sports facilities and a garden. The building of these high-rises advanced Moscow’s construction industry to the next technological level.

Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate has documents on the involvement of the Moscow City Council Executive Committee in that challenging project. According to the committee decision dated 26 June 1950, On Measures for the Construction of New Buildings of Moscow State University in 1950, the city provided various construction materials and vehicles for their delivery, as well as a traffic timetable for them. The Council of Ministers’ organisation responsible for the construction of the Palace of the Soviets supplied cement for cinder blocks and steam boilers, and built a concrete products plant.

Another important aspect was the provision of manpower for that huge construction project. The public organisations of the MSU helped with that problem. On 14 April 1948, the MSU party committee approved an assistance plan under which 1,740 undergraduate and postgraduate students worked on the project site in July and August 1948.

When discussing the results of the first shift in the middle of July 1948, the MSU party committee noted that “the students coped with the task very well, often demonstrating an exemplary socialist attitude to the job.” Similar groups of students were assigned to the project next summer as well: 1,630 students worked on the construction site from 24 June to 31 August 1949.

In order to accelerate the project, the Central Committee of the Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) organised weekly voluntary Sunday shifts for young people, including Komsomol members. Two thousand young men and women took part in the first shift, which was held on 29 April 1951.

The opening ceremony for the new MSU building was held on 1 September 1953. It was attended by First Secretary of the Moscow Region Party Committee Nikolai Mikhailov, Chairman of the Moscow City Council Executive Committee Mikhail Yasnov, President of the Soviet Academy of Sciences Alexander Nesmeyanov and MSU Rector Ivan Petrovsky. Minister of Culture Panteleimon Ponomarenko, speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers and the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, declared the new MSU buildings open.


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