Generations of Russian leaders have imposed their visions on the city's vast subway network.
The vast Moscow Metro, one of the largest and busiest subway systems in the world, is in the middle of a rapid expansion: Between 2015 and 2020, the system is adding dozens of stations. For the historians of the 83-year-old transit network, it’s a lot to keep track of. Thankfully, Nikolai Vassiliev has it covered.
The recently released Moscow Metro Architecture & Design Map (Blue Crow Media) is curated by Vassiliev, an architecture historian; it provides descriptions and photos of a little more than 40 of the system’s most architecturally notable stations. The history of Moscow’s Metro is layered with political and architectural meaning, as succeeding generations impose their own visions on the system; the ornate stations of the Stalin era have more recently given way to more utilitarian facilities. To find out more about how the Moscow Metro gets designed, and where the system’s new stations will fit into this story, CityLab asked Vassiliev a few questions via email; our interview has been condensed and edited.
For much of the world, Moscow’s Metro conjures up images of very palatial, neoclassical stations. What percentage of the system actually looks like that?
The first order of construction was primarily designed in a Soviet version of Art Deco, with some remains of avant-garde forms. Parts of the second and third orders, which opened in 1938 and 1943, are like this as well. Stations built from that point until the end of the 1950s can be described as Neoclassical with Empire-style motifs , usually for post-war projects treated as war memorials. These make up a little less than a quarter of the total stations in the system, but they are the most visited ones in the center and main line interchanges. Only 44 of total 214 stations are listed as historical monuments, including a few from the ‘50s and nothing since.
How much of the attention to Metro design and planning is for convincing wealthier people to ditch their cars?
Personal car usage became such a strong marker of social success in the 1990s and 2000s in Moscow and the city [is known for its]many many Maybachs and Porsches. It seems impossible to get the generation that is now between 40 and 55 years old to switch to public transportation.
What does Metro and its architecture symbolize to the typical Muscovite today, and how has that meaning changed over the years?
For today’s typical Metro user, the modern stations prevail as the standard image of the system. But except for few recent ones made with monumental mosaics or clever forms, these stations aren’t perceived as architecture at all. The historical stations, however, still play a very special role in the city’s image, like its Stalin-era skyscrapers and pre-Revolution tenements, churches, and mansions.