Moscow

Stalin's Seven Sisters

26 Jul 2016

One of the most distinct features of the Moscow skyline, Stalin's so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ are still amongst some of the tallest buildings in Europe.

Defining the post-war skyline

Poor old Stalin. After the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, legend has it he was convinced that everyone in the world would now want to visit Moscow. But Uncle Joe had a little problem. Disregarding the city’s dearth of cheap hotels and non-Cyrillic signage, the great leader had a rather Freudian complex about his capital’s lack of tall buildings. “What if they come to Moscow and don’t see any skyscrapers?” he is reported to have complained.

The results of all this angst are known by some as the ‘Seven Sisters’, but most Moscovites rather more prosaically refer to them as the Vysotniye Zdaniye - the tall buildings. Despite huge demands for housing and infrastructure following the war, early fifties Moscow devoted the bear’s share of its energy to creating these buildings. Being great propaganda magicians, the Soviet leaders used the flurry of construction energy to show the world that, from the ashes of war, the Soviet capital was renewing itself not only better than before, but doing it better than everyone else. The Sisters went on to become the dominant feature of Moscow’s post-war skyline and, in defiance of the growing competition from the current building boom; they remain the definitive architectural statement of the city’s contemporary identity.

Grand plans

Whatever Stalin may or may not have said about tourists and skyscrapers, plans for a Moscow makeover were in fact already afoot as early as 1931. That year, the Communist Party approved a number of mega building projects including the reconstruction of Moscow and the Moscow Metro. The next year, when Stalin created the Union of Soviet architects was created, he gave them their mission. More than simply emulating the skyscrapers of America, he wanted to exceed them by creating his own versions - Moscow versions. The first project, a clear forerunner of the Sisters, was the ill-fated Palace of the Soviets, approved in 1933. Though never built, this 415m-high monster set the tone of grandiose classicism that dominated the post-war period.

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