Domestic Architecture of Pre-Revolutionary Moscow 5

This series of posts comprises a few loosely translated extracts from Bolshoi Gorod, a fine Russian magazine of art and culture. In April last year, they did a small series on pre-Revolutionary private dwellings in Moscow, and these seemed of artistic interest in this blog. The tragedy is that it’s impossible for the average man-on-the-street to enter these residences, which are closed to the public even on the two days of the year (April 18, May 18) that are named Days of Culture, and it took nearly half a year of attrition and persuasion for Bolshoi Gorod to obtain access.

Polytechnic Society Building

Polytechnic Society Building

Grand staircase. The institute has preserved the wooden decorations, floor tiles and the old door.

Grand staircase. The institute has preserved the wooden decorations, floor tiles and the old door.

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Assembly hall.

Assembly hall.

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Director's office.

Director’s office.

Moscow Polytechnic Society Building

M. Haritonyensky pereulok, 4.

This building was constructed between 1904-1906 by the architect Alexander Kuznetsov, and is one of the pre-eminent examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Moscow. For over a hundred years it has fulfilled one function – it accommodates technical and scientific organisations. Today the building is occupied by the Blagonravov Institute of Engineering. The interior decor is functional in spirit. At the level of the third storey are carved two dates – 1878 (the year of the founding of the Moscow Polytechnic Society) and 1905 (the year of completion of the main parts of the building). On the middle balcony appears a cartouche with the name of the organisation (interlacing the letters P and O). In the journal ‘Architect’, Kuznetsov wrote: ‘In the design of the facade, the architectural motifs of England were taken into account – the country that gave us the steam engine, steam train, steamship and powered loom.’ The facade is decorated with images of the electric motor, the suspension bridge, the weaving machine, the blast furnace, and its own architectural portrait. Besides the Anglican church in the Voznesensky pereulok, the Polytechnic Society’s building is probably the most English building in Moscow.

In 1918, the Russian Communist Youth League met in the building; Lenin himself appeared at its meetings several times. The upper storeys of the mansion were let out. For instance, in 1920, an apartment was rented by the Estonian George Vaino, a member of the Council of National Minorities (he was later shot). Ilya Mashkov, the artist, occupied a room in the tower of the building, which he used as his residence, studio and workshop. Mashkov’s wife Maria Danilova lived there till her death in the 1990s; she refused to leave the flat despite its lack of hot water and other utilities. The members of the Polytechnic spoke of how it was impossible to take Danilova’s piano out of the apartment after her death; in the end, it was thrown out of a sixth floor window.

There are no admissions to the building, except for the occasional visit by groups of employees of the Academy of Sciences.

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