The Holy Place: Architecture, Ideology, and History in Russia by Konstantin Akinsha and Grigorij Kozlov, with Sylvia Hochfield. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, first edition, 2007.
Book Review by Anthony Gabriel
I happened to see this book at the Borders closing down sale, noting that it was about a building in Moscow that I knew was blown up by Stalin and rebuilt just ten years ago (August 2000). Fascinated, I took it.
This book covers the creation of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – its construction and its destruction, the creation of the Palace of Soviets in its place, the abandonment of that project and conversion into a swimming pool, the demolition of the swimming pool and reconstruction of the Cathedral – in that order. This bizarre series of flip-flops mirrored the changes in Russia’s political leadership over the years, under various Czars, Communist Party Secretaries and Presidents.
One paragraph of the book sums up the situation:
A member of the Moscow intelligentsia recently commented that during the communist era intellectuals passing the Moscow swimming pool would whisper to each other, ‘There was once a famous cathedral here, but the government destroyed it and built the swimming pool.’
Now they tell each other, ‘There was once a famous swimming pool here, but the government destroyed it and built the cathedral.’
To those who can recall their university History of Architecture course, many masters of the Modern Movement, including Le Corbusier, took part in the international competition for the Palace of the Soviets, and Wright famously criticised the winner, Boris Iofan’s scheme when he addressed the Congress of Soviet Architects.
The book chronicles the ambitions and vanities that decided the courses of the various projects and explores the relationship between power and architecture in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and the Russian Republic. This culminates in the reconstruction of the Cathedral – sadly not in the same masonry cladded with marble with bronze sculpture and gilded domes, but in concrete clad with a veneer of marble with plastic sculpture and gold lacquer domes.♦
Featured image: Alvesgaspar
Click here for a 360 degree virtual tour of the gilded interior of the Cathedral.