Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks

The story of the Moscow Metro
With numerous new Moscow Metro stations coming about and reflect a change in global transport design. However, looking back to the Metro's first opened station in1935, how has the subway system changed over time?

Moscow Metro is truly special. The London Underground might be older, and the Shanghai Metro might be larger, but not a single mass system in the world can compare with the architecture and grand ambition of Moscow.

The system's stations were designed to celebrate and reinforce Russia's socialist dictatorship, with elaborate decorations and spectacular dimensions intended to act as subterranean 'people's palaces'. These stunning spaces were as much a destination as the above-ground districts they served and inspired awe from German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, who was present for the metro's opening, both in their aesthetics and in the political message behind them.

The Moscow Metro was first opened in 1935 under Stalin's Soviet Union, with a single 11km line serving 13 stations. In the eight decades that have followed, the metro system has been expanded to encompass more than 200 stations and 379km of track. During this time, the style of Moscow's metro stations has taken in baroque architecture and art deco influences and continues to evolve today, with modern station developments adopting a more functional, internationalist approach.

Tens of thousands of Russian workers – many of them forced into labour –constructed the metro's first line, that connected Sokolniki to Park Kultury and Smolenskaya.

The veterans of the London Underground consulted extensively during the early construction period, advocating for the use of escalators rather than elevators for underground stations. At the same time, Russian workers were responsible for the construction and decoration of the stations, The Soviet regime ultimately deported many foreign engineers on charges of espionage due to the knowledge they had gained of the city's infrastructure.
Komsomolskaya's grand platform chamber, lined with elaborate chandeliers and smalt mosaics celebrating famous Russian military commanders, is designed in the Russian baroque architectural style, with regal yellow walls and ornate friezes. The station is also among the busiest on the Moscow Metro; it acts as a gateway to the city's main rail hub at Komsomolskaya Square, serving the stations of Leningradsky, Yaroslavsky and Kazansky.

The intricate ceiling light installation in the central hallway of Aviamotornaya station, which was opened in December 1979. The early years of the Cold War brought a more restrained design sensibility in many new metro stations opened in the late 1950s and 60s, reportedly under the direction of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was looking to reduce costs and favoured a more utilitarian approach to design and construction materials.

The 1970s saw the return of eye-catching visual design on the Moscow Metro, along with station themes. For Aviamotornaya the theme is aviation, reflected in the light display – intended to represent the fabric of the universe – and a large metal sculpture depicting the doomed flight of Icarus from Greek myth.

By the 1990s and moving towards the modern era, decorative extravagance was once again being toned down, with a greater emphasis on functional design, in common with many other countries. This trend hasn't precluded revisits of the old styles in newer stations, however. The long-delayed Park Pobedy (Victory Park) station, which opened in 2003 after starting construction in 1986, has been described as a return to the 'neo-Stalinist' style, with classical ornamentation and detailed mosaics such as this one, which celebrates Russian victory on the eastern front during the Second World War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking a tour of the newly-opened Novokosino station in 2012, which exemplifies the modern approach to Moscow's metro station design. The end products are not the 'people's palaces' of the past, but efficient modern transport hubs. Moscow's current mayor Sergei Sobyanin, as well as the international style embraced for the Sochi Olympics project in 2014, influenced this trend, according to architectural historian Nikolai Vassiliev.

As if to reinforce the point that metro station design is opening up to global influences, the station's planners noted that they were influenced by heavy rail stations such as London Waterloo, New York's Penn station and Moscow's Kievsky railway station, which were all built in the 19th and early 20th centuries with glass walls and vaulted ceilings.

While cutting-edge design trends will undoubtedly make the Moscow Metro's new and future stations as efficient as they need to be for one of the world's busiest rapid transit systems, the old post-war designs will still hold the affections of modern Muscovites.

"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 monumental 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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