Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Moscow Metros

http://www.citylab.com; July 2, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Big news of the day.  First, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALS and the Thai government who successfully rescued the Wild Boar soccer team and coach from the cave they were trapped in for over weeks.  The young team and coach are currently recovering from their ordeal and Blogger sends her best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.  Second, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by the president to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Judge Kavanaugh now faces a long nomination process, which could stretch beyond the beginning of the next Supreme Court session in October.  Stay tuned, this is going to be good. Finally, France is set to play in the 2018 FIFA World Final on Sunday. The French will either England or Croatia, who play tomorrow.  The Belgians will face the either team on Saturday for third place.  Speaking of World Cup, let us chat about Moscow's metros.  

The labyrinthian Moscow Metro is one of the busiest underground systems in the world; currently undergoing rapid expansion.  Mark Byrnes writes in his CityLab article, "Understanding the Architecture of the Moscow Metro," "...Between 2015 and 2020 [citylab.com; May 6, 2016; date accessed July 10, 2018], the system is adding dozens of stations."  Fortunately for us, architectural historian Nikolai Vassiliev is there to cover it all.

Mr. Vassiliev curated the recently released Moscow Metro Architecture & Design Map (bluecrowmedia.com; date accessed July 10, 2018) which provides descriptions and images of a little over 40 of the system's architecturally best known stations.  The history of the Metro system is layered with political and architectural significance (npr.org; June 2, 2015; date accessed July 10, 2018) imprinted by every generation wanting make their mark on the Stalinist-era ornate station to the more current utilitarian facilities. To understand how the Moscow Metro is designed and where the new stations will fit into the historic trajectory, CityLab sent Mr. Vassiliev a few questions via email; below are excerpts from that conversation.

CL: "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?"

NV: 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.... Stations built from that point until the end of the 1950s can be described as Neoclassicak with Empire-style motifs,.... These make up a little less than a quarter of the total stations in the system,.... Only 44 of total 214 stations are listed as historical monuments, including a few from the '50s and nothing since.

CL: "Politically, who's in the room when it's decided where Metro is going to expand and what it will look like?"

NV: Throughout the Metro's history that has always been a complicated process,.... In the middle of the 1930s roughly a quarter of the city's budget was spent on Metro needs....Lazar Kaganovich--who was Moscow head at the time, as well as Party Secretary--curated Metro construction in its advent.... he was succeeded by Nikita Khusshchev, who had previously served as First Secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee.

Since the 1960s, Metro construction has been nearly as important for the economy and for transit planning, but it's not nearly ideological.  Decisions are made in the Moscow Ciy Department of Urban Planning and Architecture.  Some technical questions, are done through the Department of Transportation.

CL: "Each period of the system's growth seems to be attributed to whoever was running the country at the time.  So what are the defining design feature of a Putin-era Metro station?"

NV: We can't organize Metro's post-Soviet architecture so simply.  From 1992 to 2010, it was all Luzhkov Style [calvertjournel.com; Jan. 23, 2013; date accessed July 10, 2018]--named after longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov....

The current mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Metro director Dmitry Gayev envision a more pragmatic style focused on improving transits efficiency and making construction profitable for their affiliated contractors.  The stations that have opened in the last year or two...are built in the traditional paradigm, mostly by the Metroprotrans Institute [artlebedev.com; date accessed July 10, 2018]. But a new approach contains two main aspects: to spend less money on architecture and invite more young architects via competition. They cut costs and add to the positive public image of a new urban policy by doing this, but they lose out on expertise of older architecture.  Contrary to the Sochi Olympics and World Cup, this architecture has no significant political meaning,me cent to present a general approach funding public infrastructure...

The Putin-era style started not when he took office in 2000, but in 2010 and through 2014, with a new Moscow mayor taking office and the construction for the Sochi Olympics.  A contemporary style was introduced during this by State contracts, not private developers. For the most part, these designs are pretty neutral--even boring.  But on the average they show significantly improved technical quality.

CL: "How much of the attention to Metro design and planning is for convincing weather people to ditch their cars?"

NV: Personal car use became such a strong marker of social success [nytimes.com; Sept. 7, 1997; date accessed July 10, 2018] in the 1990s and 2000s in Moscow and the city [is known for its (Ibid; Apr. 20, 2008)] many, many Maybachs and Porsches.  It seems impossible [td-architects.eu; Sept. 2, 2014; date accessed July 10, 2018] to get the generation that is now between 40 and 55 years old to switch to public transportation.

CL: "Which are some of the younger architecture firms behind these new stations?"

NV: Some of the younger offices that won recent competitions specialize in above-ground projects like shopping malls and apartment towers but I can't say these works are distinct.  The same goes for Russia's new airports, a few of which were built in time for World Cup.  We're seeing a slow dec,I don't in Soviet-origin institutions and the rise of new architecture firms.

CL: "What does the Metro and its architecture symbolize to the typical, Muscovite today and how has that meaning changed over the years?"

NV: 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 monuments, 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.


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