The idea to create a Museum of Architecture emerged in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century out of the growing interest in national heritage. During the nineteenth century, as architectural landmarks were being researched and restored, various materials were accumulated by different institutions and museums. There was a clear need to gather these items together within a single institution. A new type of center for architectural research and education was needed: a museum of architecture.
The Museum was established on January 1, 1934, at the same time as the founding, and as a division of, the USSR Academy of Architecture. Within this institution, prominent Soviet experts would work on the history and theory of architecture. In 1935 the new Museum was given a location on the grounds of the Donskoi monastery, with the main exhibition hall located in the Grand Cathedral. Within the monastery walls outdoor art installations were held, displaying fragments of destroyed monuments that had been saved by museum staff and became part of the museum’s collection.
The Museum’s holdings and exhibits were to represent world architecture from antiquity to the nineteenth century. The collection held material on Russian architecture, which made up the majority of the holdings, as well as material from Europe, Byzantium, and the Middle East. There were even exhibits held during these early years of model huts from New Zealand and pile dwellings from Indochina. Among the main objects exhibited was the Donskoi monastery complex itself, with its necropolis dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Тhe Great Patriotic War urged Russians to pay increasing attention to their own cultural and historical heritage, and to consider its significance for national identity. The preservation of materials on Russian architecture became an increasingly important task to the victorious nation that had suffered irreparable losses.
On October 12, 1945, V. M. Molotov signed an order to create the Republican Museum of Russian Architecture in Moscow. The city’s Talyzin Estate on Vozdvizhenka Street (then Komintern Street) was to be used for this new institution. The new Museum of Architecture was created on the initiative of the great architect A. V. Schusev, who became the museum’s first Director. Unlike the Museum of the USSR Academy of Architecture, this new museum was intended not only for specialists, but for a wider audience. In essence, the new museum was to fulfill the same role for architecture as the Tretyakov Gallery did in the realm of art.
Under the direction of A. V. Schusev, the Museum of Architecture became a stronghold in the fight for the preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage and it became an important scientific-research center for architecture and urban planning. A permanent exhibition on the history of Russian architecture was opened at the museum in 1957. Research expeditions to Novgorod, Pskov, and the Volga Region for the study and restoration of architectural monuments and the expansion of the museum’s collection also marked an important direction in the activities of the institution.
For the first time works from Soviet architecture were featured among the objects held in the museum’s collection. Schusev himself, along with his colleagues in architecture, gave their own projects, models, and photographs to the museum. One of the most important objects on display was the Talyzin estate itself. This outstanding monument of Russian classicism from the eighteenth century was built by the great Russian architect Matvei Kazakov. The restoration of the estate was realized under the direction of Schusev’s own architecturе studio. Schusev’s plan was to open more branches of the museum over time as similar buildings were restored throughout the city.
By the beginning of the 1960s the direction and methods of both the museums—the one at the Donskoi monastery and the other on Vozdvizhenka Street—had become so similar that it made sense to unite them.
On January 1, 1964, the Schusev State Scientific-Research Museum of Architecture was established, and the collections from both museums and ownership of their two sites were passed to this single architectural museum. The Donskoi monastery became a branch of the museum featuring exhibitions and holding the collections on the history of Russian architecture, while the Vozdvizhenka site would specialize in the museum’s Soviet collection.
The Museum organized permanent exhibitions at both its sites, temporary thematic and commemorative exhibits on the history of Russian and Soviet architecture, and travelling expositions throughout the Soviet Union and to other socialist countries. It also hosted international exhibitions, introducing visitors to the wider world of architectural practice. The museum also held regular lectures on the history of Russian architecture, a specialized architectural library, and a photographic catalogue open to researchers. Museum staff engaged in research work. During this period, the museum began to actively collect and display material on modern architecture of the period, paying especially close attention to competition projects.
Merging the two museums into a single institution allowed the museum to expand, to stay more in tune with the times, and to reach out to non-professionals.
Just as it radically changed the life of the country, perestroika deeply affected the Museum of Architecture. In 1991, the Moscow City authorities returned the Donskoi monastery to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Donskoi branch’s exhibits and collections were quickly relocated to Vozdvizhenka Street, despite the need for major repairs at this site, and despite the lack of preparation and room available.
The most recent restoration work at Vozdvizhenka had taken place in the mid-1960s. The structural integrity of this eighteenth-century building was weakened, and in need of reinforcement, after the Filevsky line of the metro and communication lines were built directly under the museum complex. The government’s promise to compensate the museum for the 8340 square meters of space lost in the return of the Donskoi monastery has, thus far, not been fulfilled.
Because of the shortage of space, the permanent museum exhibits were closed, and the rich collections of the museum seemed for many years to have little relation to the cultural changes happening more broadly. Today the museum is faced with a number of problems that accumulated over the course of these decades. Without exaggeration, it is on the brink of disaster: the museum has faced irreversible losses because of a lack of proper facilities to protect and store its unique collection, and due to the dilapidation of its eighteen-century building.
In the twenty-first century the State Museum of Architecture awaits renovations and development that will open up the possibility again for the museum to realize the great potential inherent in it and its collections, which represent the cultural heritage of Russia.
An entirely new vision is proposed for the Museum of Architecture today, based on the development of the museum as a new cultural space, bridging the architectural profession and society, cultural institutions and the world more broadly. A strategic direction for the activity of the museum therefore needs to be developed.
A museum of architecture is a space for the protection of collections, preservation, and the research of architectural heritage, but it is also an international center for contemporary architecture, urbanism, and design that is part of the world cultural community and is in contact with key centers of professional life. The museum is a research center for the problems of contemporary architecture and urban planning; it is a hub for information and education; an independent center of expertise on questions of heritage; and it is an experimental laboratory for interdisciplinary projects that enhance today’s architecture. The Museum is also a center for cultural tourism.
The development of the museum comprises a variety of architectural and urban planning initiatives, including:
Structural work for the reconstruction, adaptation, and restoration of the four remaining buildings of the Talyzin estate (a monument of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), which houses the Museum of Architecture.
New construction of a depository, warehouses, and technical services. This requires the allocation of spaces in or near Moscow that could be renovated and repurposed, such as industrial buildings.
The integration of nearby buildings and spaces into an ensemble that will form a visual extension of the Museum of Architecture.
Construction of the “Urban Shelving Exposition” in the courtyard of Starovagankovsky lane, which will organize artistic fragments of destroyed monuments from the museum’s collection (a project of the architectural studio “Project Meganom”)
In the long term, we envision the formation of a system of specialized museums, with the Schusev State Museum of Architecture functioning as an umbrella organization, coordinating cultural policy. This network of museums will improve the cultural life of the capital, and have a positive impact on the development of tourism.
This future network based around the Museum of Architecture would include the Melnikov House Museum, the Museum at the Donskoi Monastery, the MARKhI Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum-Monuments of the Soviet Avant-Garde.
The establishment of a wholly new cultural space for the Museum of Architecture will strengthen the status of this institution as a center of global architecture, and an international authority on Russian culture.
The Museum Cluster mobilizes the resources of the Museum of Architecture to create links between the Moscow Kremlin Museums, the State Historical Museum, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Russian State Library, the Rumyantsev Museum, and other cultural institutions located within walking distance of the Kremlin, a public space of high cultural, economic, and political status in the center of Moscow.
This project envisions:
* a link to the Kremlin Museums, created through the transformation, similar to the underground extension of the Louvre, of the underpass between Vozdvizhenka Street, Manezh Square, and Aleksandrovsky Sad, with imagery dedicated to Russian architecture
* a link to the museums in the Volkhonka district through the creation of an architectural route along Starovagankovsky lane
* an outdoor exhibition and public space featuring stone artifacts at the foundations and cellars of the Holy Cross Monastery
* open-air sculptural exhibitions in the courtyards of the Talyzin Estate and Aleksandrovsky passage (Starovagankovsky lane)
After decades of “catching up” with the construction of offices and shopping centers in Moscow’s center, it is now possible to turn toward the development of an environment that will be a model of high cultural value.
In the long term the formation of the Museum Cluster will be an important stimulus for economic growth, since in today’s world the authority of the city as a cultural metropolis is one of the basic conditions for its investment and attractiveness.
The restoration and development of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture serves the strategic interests of:
— all monuments and urban spaces that fall within the range of its development;
— Moscow as a whole, at the center of which will be the new museum cluster;
— the central urban area by enhancing its cultural, economic, and political status;
— Russia more broadly through the enhancement of its international status.