The changing face of Russia over the decades has brought with it many bold and unique architectural styles, some of which are almost lost to the ages whereas others make up the classic skyline of Russia that we still see today. The epic size of the country and prowess of its creative thinkers and craftspeople has resulted in some of the most impressive architecture in the world. From the infamous colourful ‘onion domes’ to the extreme simplicity of Stalinist architecture, there is a wide range of designs exhibited across the land.
With all eyes turned to Russia this summer for the FIFA World Cup, we’ll take a look at some of the most impressive buildings from several of the host cities. Here we’ll examine the original purposes of the buildings, see what they are used for in modern day Russia and highlight the unique features of each architectural style. It can be easy to miss some real architectural gems when visiting a foreign country, as you’re often focused on what’s inside them rather than the structure itself. With this guide you can rest assured that you’ll definitely appreciate at least some of the finest architecture in the country!
Located in that most famous of Russian places, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral started life as a wooden church in the 16th century. Since then, it has been rebuilt after fire, redesign and threats of demolition to become the iconic structure that it remains today. Since the late 1940s, extensive repairs have been carried out and the building is now restored to the pinnacle of its glorious design.
Its brightly coloured domed rooves and distinctive Byzantine-style architecture have become synonymous with the idea of Russia, available on postcards and other souvenirs for eager tourists to take home as mementoes. Although church services are still occasionally held inside, it mostly functions as a museum and tourist attraction now. St. Basil’s is an absolute must-see of the country’s capital and a recognisable symbol of Russia.
Constructivism in Yekaterinburg
For a short period of 8 years, Yekaterinburg was a hub of building activity for the Constructivist architectural movement. Many new residential buildings were constructed along with the Medical Village, the Justice Village and the Central Post Office amongst others. The idea was to build an entirely new infrastructure in the city characterized by a functional, austere architectural style.
Many of these buildings are still in use today, some under their original purpose whereas others have been converted to fit modern needs. Others have fallen into disrepair and currently stand as imposing reminders of this intense flurry of building activity that gripped the city. Despite the initially plain look of their design, upon closer inspection you will see that the uniformity and rhythm of the structures is pleasing in a subtle and satisfying way.
Olympic Stadium, Sochi
The Fisht Olympic Stadium was originally purpose-built for the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, this year it will be used for several games in the FIFA World Cup tournament where people from all over the world will want to vote for their country and watch the action unfold. This thoroughly modern building takes its inspiration from the undulation of mountain peaks, with views of the Krasnsya Polyana mountains to the north and the waves of the Black Sea to the south. The rolling surface of the roof can be illuminated with coloured lights, giving the building the appearance of a great, glowing sea creature.
As with many modern buildings, construction of the Fisht Stadium took into consideration environmental factors, use of the space post-Winter Olympics and how the building would blend into the surrounding landscape. The structure has now been converted into an open-roofed football stadium in preparation for the 2018 World Cup and is one of only two stadiums in the world to be used for both prestigious purposes. If you’re lucky enough to catch a match inside it, you’ll be in for a treat!
House of Soviets, Kaliningrad
The House of Soviets is a leftover project of post-war Soviet architecture and one which was almost never finished. It may be considered ugly by some, but it is an outstanding example of Stalinist architecture and one which looks much more appealing since its 2005 facelift. The Brutalist building was originally intended to function as an admin centre, but it currently stands derelict and abandoned.
Whilst locals affectionately refer to it as the ‘buried robot’ due to its square shape and regulated windows, it remains to be seen what will become of the structure now. Although it is alternately referred to as an ‘eyesore’ or ‘the shame of Kaliningrad’, it is beautiful in its own way, particularly if you’re interested in the Brutalist architectural style. Perhaps it will come into its own now with the modern interest in pop-up spaces and rekindling of love for this type of severe building style.
As you can see, Russia is a country of contrasts, particularly when it comes to architectural styles. Put the ornate Rococo Winter Palace in St. Petersburg next to the stark grey concrete of the Bublik apartment building in Moscow and you will see distinct differences. However, there are also similarities between the two styles in their impressive size, imposing structure and total confidence of design. This sums up the Russian architectural style across the centuries and hints at the great feats to come in the country’s building future.