“Stalinist Baroque”: University Architecture and Soviet Iconography

When I arrived from the airport and first saw Moscow State University’s campus, a little more than two weeks ago, I was thrilled by the sheer size of the main building, looming above the gate, emblazoned with lights in the darkness. Coming from a small liberal arts school in a small town, I knew that a big state university in a bustling metropolitan area of over 11 million people would be an adjustment. But I didn’t realize from the pictures online quite how different the main building of the campus would feel. Everything here is on a larger scale, but it’s also much grander, in a way that is entirely new to someone used to the Carleton campus—pretty, but in a cozy, casual Minnesota way.

МГУ’s main building contains several dormitory wings, including the one where I am living, Korpus E. The architectural style is high Stalinist—a curious, impressive mixture of then-contemporary American skyscraper technology, Baroque decor, and Neoclassicism. Construction on the building was actually finished in 1953, the same year Stalin died. The grandness and opulence of the building was meant to show off the power of the Soviet state, and, like the beautiful frescos and marble fixtures in the Moscow metro, make art and culture accessible to the proletariat. (During this period of elaborate public construction projects, there was also a severe housing shortage in Moscow, leading to the ubiquity of the infamous Soviet-era communal apartment).

Soviet iconography is still visible in many places around campus—the hammer and sickle insignia is emblazoned in several prominent places, including on top of my dorm. This is also mirrored in public places throughout Moscow—I’ve seen dozens of Lenins throughout the city, from murals in the metro to busts to dramatic larger-than-life statues in city squares. Americans often assume that all Soviet iconography was removed after 1991, but that’s not at all the case. While many Eastern bloc states or non-Russian Soviet Socialist Republics viewed the Soviet government as a foreign oppressor, many Russians consider Soviet history their history, and a point of pride. So you’ll see very little of Lenin in modern-day Budapest or Yerevan, but he is everywhere in Moscow.

Article written by prestonj2

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