MOSCOW — Mikhail Posokhin nonetheless remembers the lip-smacking shows in Grocery Store No. 5 from his boyhood, when in 1955 his household moved into considered one of Moscow’s seven new, gothic skyscrapers.
More cathedral than market, the grocery boasted marble flooring and pillars, excessive ceilings with elaborate chandeliers and stained glass home windows. Fish circled inside a big aquarium, whereas brightly lit show instances offered rarities like caviar heaped in crystal bowls.
Unlike different Moscow shops, milk, sausage and chocolate bars have been by no means scarce.
Muscovites got here to gawk in droves, even when it was principally the privileged elite — handed the high-rise flats without spending a dime — who may afford to buy.
“These complexes presented a new life never seen by people before,” mentioned Mr. Posokhin, a distinguished Moscow architect whose father designed the constructing. “They were supposed to express the victorious spirit and the grandeur of the era.”
That was then.
Grocery Store No. 5, within the Kudrinskaya Square tower, now sits dusty and deserted, a few of its damaged home windows changed with plywood.
Screens erected above the constructing’s entrance defend pedestrians from tumbling masonry. Up shut, statues of muscular males and Madonna-like moms look mottled.
Most of the town’s so-called “Stalin High-rises” — each residential and authorities buildings — desperately want renovating. They are caught in limbo, nonetheless, over who will foot the substantial invoice.
Since the residential flats have been privatized within the 1990s, the federal government considers the house owners accountable. The residents, notably the impoverished aged who inherited flats from the now deposed Soviet elite, consider that City Hall or the Kremlin ought to restore constructions thought of historic monuments.
“In Russia, there is still no culture of owning real estate,” mentioned Elizabeth Lihacheva, director of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture, noting that even individuals who spend $1 million for an house typically don’t wish to pay one kopeck towards cleansing its courtyard.
Ideology impressed the development of the Stalin High-rises, rechristened for vacationers with the extra palatable title of the Seven Sisters.
When World War II ended, giant swaths of Moscow lay in ruins. Stalin thought the town, marking its 800th anniversary, lacked the grandeur required of a triumphant capital.
“Stalin was basically building a Soviet Empire,” Mrs. Lihacheva mentioned. “It needed to be expressed in architectural terms.”
Prewar plans for a monstrosity referred to as the Palace of the Soviets, topped by a statue of Lenin twice the peak of the Statue of Liberty, have been deserted as a result of the swampy floor wouldn’t help it. The concept was reconceived as eight buildings, a sort of expansive crown encircling the capital’s strategic factors and echoing the Kremlin partitions.
Then, as now, the Kremlin’s denizens measured themselves compared to the United States. Stalin thought individuals would discover Communism poor if Moscow lacked skyscrapers.
Yet merely aping American fashion wouldn’t do, both.
“They go to America and they say ‘Ah, the buildings are so huge’,” the Soviet dictator mentioned, based on a 2011 history of the buildings. “Let them come to Moscow and see that type of building. Let them say, ‘Ah!’”
The government decree issued in 1947 to start construction ordered that the buildings look uniquely Russian. So the décor is Russian baroque, even if various American landmarks heavily influenced the architects, including the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower in Chicago, as well as the Woolworth and Municipal buildings in Lower Manhattan.
Some people find the resulting confection magnificent, others eerie and intimidating. The heavy stone cladding and crenelations of their fortresslike exteriors would fit right into Gotham City. On a dark snowy night, with exterior lights casting deep shadows across their imposing facades, one almost expects the Batmobile to come roaring out of any one of them.
In a city previously dominated by church bell towers, the buildings’ spectacular scale reshaped the skyline. They became symbols of Moscow and defined the modern face of the Soviet Union. Clones were constructed in various outposts of the empire, including Warsaw, Riga and Bucharest.
After Stalin died in 1953, the new leader, Nikita Khrushchev, found the entire project ostentatious, so construction of the 8th building, just off Red Square, was canceled. The rest, costing what was at the time a staggering $500 million overall, were completed by 1957.
Each tower comes draped in its own lore. The Moscow State University building, for example, was the biggest of the lot and at nearly 800 feet, was Europe’s tallest building until 1990.
Besides various academic departments, its 6,000 rooms housed all students until the 1970s, with beds, desks and bookcases meticulously designed for small spaces.
Students describe an unfortunate side effect of decades without renovation — a sharp, chemical smell clings to the dorm and its residents — although this could not be verified as the university did not permit an American reporter to enter the building.
“I could always tell by the smell if a student sitting next to me in an exam lived in the dormitory,” said Roman Yankovskiy, a young lawyer who nonetheless loved the building and spent the last three years compiling a book about it.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tower originally had a flat top, and legend has it that Stalin, passing in his car, found that too American and ordered a Kremlin-like spire installed.
Mrs. Lihacheva of the Architecture Museum said that the true story was Stalin only inquired about the flat top. It was the head of construction, fearing the ruthless dictator, who ordered a metal spire jammed onto the completed building.
The federal government is paying for a gradual renovation of this building, due to be completed by 2026, with the massive hammer and sickle on the front to be preserved as a historical detail.
The government buildings have fared better than the residential blocks. In the 1990s, for example, when factories bought scrap metal by the kilogram, thieves hacked the original bronze Art Deco handles off many apartments in the Krasnaya Vorota tower.
The Kudrinskaya Square tower, known as the House of Aviators, housed numerous air defense officers and scientists.
Irina V. Pozdeeva, 84, and her late husband inherited an apartment there 14 years ago from her father-in-law, a lieutenant general who had helped develop missiles.
The 13-foot ceilings accommodate shelves for about 20,000 books. But the collective spirit of the place has ebbed, she said, with rich, often absentee owners buying up the 450 apartments.
This is the building that Mr. Posokhin moved into as a boy. The architect recently designed a giant Art Deco building with a flat top as a tribute to the original vision of the Stalin High-rises.
But the Russian bank moving in demanded a spire — now sometimes illuminated at night with the colors of the Russian flag.
“Our mistake was corrected,” Mr. Posokhin said with a wry laugh.
Built near the Kremlin, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment building is the only residential high-rise to have been renovated.
The city called it “emergency” repair, but residents of other buildings grouse that it got special treatment because important functionaries still live in some of its 700 apartments, including a senior Kremlin apparatchik who reportedly bought almost an entire floor.
The KGB, which supervised construction of the Embankment and University buildings, used prison laborers. Some left boards inside the walls painted with the names of their Gulags. One well-built prisoner was also the model for an exterior frieze.
Each residential building was a self-contained Soviet Valhalla, with a grocery store, post office, movie theater and garage, unheard-of luxury at the time. They also included innovations for Russia like garbage chutes, which brought their own problems.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a famous poet, wrote a lengthy ode to unwanted bedfellows crawling in through the chutes:
The cockroaches are staging their attack.
Admirals and ballerinas,
The nuclear scientist and the poet,
Burrow under bedclothes.
Not to be had!
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