One thing I did not see nearly enough of in Russia was Bad Communist Architecture. You know, the sort of overbearing, rationalist, concrete megaliths we associate with the cold war. There were, in the parts of St. Petersburg I visited, precious few communist-era buildings to be seen, and those were sedately neoclassical. The entire city seems to have been restored to its picturesque eighteenth-century origins. It wasn’t until we arrived at St. Petersburg’s Moscow Station (Moskovsky Vokzal) that I found what I’d been searching for.
While the main station is from the nineteenth century, the small hall from which we departed is from 1912. It’s a simple concrete shell with bare walls, clerestory windows, and a triangulated concrete ceiling, anchored by a giant bust of Peter the Great raised on a pillar right in the middle. (The bust was added in 1993.) Light from the clerestories threw delicate shadows across the concrete, giving the entire space a special softness. The design isn’t terribly complicated (just compare this ceiling to the triangulated concrete ceilings of Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery), but it’s simple, handsome and well-proportioned. Peter the Great’s presence is a bit bombastic but adds warmth, focus, and a sense of history. Maybe without it the hall would have felt exactly like one of the sturdy, unglamorous communist buildings I was romanticizing.