What is Stalinist Gothic architecture?

Moscow State University - courtesy Argenberg - CC-BY

Moscow State University - courtesy Argenberg - CC-BY

Stalinist architecture, (Stalin’s Empire style, also referred to as the Stalinist Gothic, or Socialist Classicism) is a term given to architecture of the Soviet Union between 1933 and 1955, when Nikita Khruschev condemned “excesses” of the past decades. There is nothing quite like Stalinist-Gothic architecture, except the Gotham City backdrops of the Batman films. During the Cold War the style of the buildings was derided in the West, often described as “Stalin’s Wedding Cakes,” they indicated the tasteless excess and creative bankruptcy of Soviet architecture. But that is little more than propaganda as the designs were conceived in the 1930s at a time when buildings of the same style were being built in New York, yet never derided as tastless or excessive. It is my personal opinion that the visual aspect of the designs are rather attractive.

Moscow State University is the largest university in Russia. Founded in 1755, it claims to be the oldest university in Russia. It is also an excellent example of the Stalinist Gothic style. The towers of the university are one of the Seven Sisters, a collection of Stalinist skyscrapers designed to change the skyline of Moscow and each located at a strategic point. Each Sister was designed according to Stalin’s specifications, in the so-called wedding-cake style, that moved the eye towards a central tower. Stalin also insisted that all of the Seven Sisters be given a spire, in order to distinguish them from their American skyscraper counterparts. Ironically the structure that served as the blueprint for the Seven Sisters, “The Palace of Soviets” was never built. It would have been over a thousand feet tall with the top 400 feet being a giant statue of Lenin.

The star on the top of the Moscow State University tower is large enough to include a room with a viewing platform.

These towering skyscrapers dominate the Moscow skyline even today. The jury is still out as to whether they are beauties or beasts, (I vote beauties) but what can not be denied is that they are very impressive. When you are standing in front of one such tower, engulfed in its gigantic shadow, it is very easy to see how these vast buildings were effective as tools for state propaganda, and for fostering a belief of national superiority.

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