by Katherine Zubovich. Princeton University Press, December 2020. 288 p. ill. ISBN 9780691178905 (h/c), $39.95.
Reviewed May 2021
Hillary B. Veeder, Architecture Librarian, Texas Tech University Libraries, email@example.com
Katherine Zubovich’s Moscow Monumental is a fascinating account of the architectural, urban, and social evolutionary developments of Moscow and its people during the Stalin era. The desire to define a socialist realist identity, the pursuit of architectural monumentalism within the capital city, and the impact of those pursuits on the Soviet people are the central themes of the book. Discussion begins with the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the initial step towards a post-revolutionary Russian built environment and identity. Its replacement, the Palace of the Soviets, and the subsequent years of planning for the Palace, and the planning and construction of the city’s skyscrapers, seven of which were ultimately built, are the most extensively detailed and discussed. The arduous process of realizing these skyscrapers, or tall buildings, is contextualized within the larger narrative of Russian history and the surrounding world, too. Aside from the buildings themselves, the politics and changes brought about after the revolution and at the end of Stalin’s rule are shown to be ever present actors on Moscow’s development in the 1930s-1950s and are integral components in the author’s thesis.
There is no doubt that the author completed extensive research for this text. This is evidenced in the rich and copious notes and bibliography as well as embedded in the individual chapters. Additionally, the chapters contain a lovely balance of text and black and white visuals that include portraits, newspaper cartoons, design plans, and photographs of the city sourced from archival collections. Zubovich creates a level of intimacy and familiarity for the reader through use of these primary source materials, developing an almost episodic drama around the Palace and skyscraper projects. Not only does she introduce you to the architecture but also the key figures of architectural practice, construction, and government. Personal accounts from “ordinary” Muscovites who assisted with the buildings and that were directly impacted by the ongoing transformation of the city are included and serve to provide a deeper context of the social constructs at play.
Architectural historians will delight in this book. Zubovich’s writing style should be accessible to all post-secondary academic levels. This book is a welcome addition to the published works about skyscrapers and certainly expands upon the breadth of available critical exploration and discussion of Russian architectural history in the mid-twentieth century.