The idea of creation of an architecture museum was born in Russia in the end of XIX century influenced by the increasing interest in national heritage. Materials collected by museums and institutions during research and restoration of architectural heritage in XIX century needed synthesis. There was a demand for scientific and educational center of a higher and newer type, for a museum of architecture.
The museum was founded at the same moment as the USSR Academy of Architecture on 1st of January in 1934 as its subdivision. The best Russian experts in history and theory of architecture worked there. In 1935 the museum received the site and the facilities of Donskoy Monastery. The permanent exhibition was located in The New (or the Great) Cathedral. The remains and fragments of destroyed pieces of art which were saved by the employees of the museum and became a part of the collection were displayed in the open air on the territory of the Monastery.
Collection and display of the world architecture from antiquity to the XIX century was stated to be an object of museum’s interest. The collections of the museum contained materials on Russian architecture which composed the biggest part of the collection, and materials on European, Byzantine, Middle Eastern architecture. There were even such exotic showpieces as models of New Zealand huts and Indo-Chinese pile huts. The facilities of the monastery and the extant necropolis of the XVIII-XIX century became the key elements of the display.
World War II changed Russians’ perception of Russian cultural and historical heritage, forcing to understand its meaning for the national self-awareness. Preservation of all existing documentation on defining Russian architecture became crucial for the nation which incurred a great loss.
On 12 of October 1945 Deputy Prime-Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signed a decree of the creation of Republican Museum of Russian Architecture in Moscow. Talyzin mansion on Vozdvizhenka street (Kominterna str.) was chosen to serve this purpose. The new museum of architecture was established by an outstanding architect Alexey Schusev who became the first head of the museum. Unlike the Academy of Architecture Museum the new museum was designed not only for experts but also for the general public. In fact, it had to serve the same purpose to the architecture, as the Tretyakov Gallery for the arts.
Under the leadership of Alexey Schusev the museum of architecture became a pillar of the struggle for heritage preservation as well as a major research center of architecture and urban planning. The permanent exhibition of the history of Russian architecture was opened in 1957. Scientific expeditions to Novgorod, Pskov, Volga region for the survey and restoration of architectural heritage, as well as the adjunction of items to the collection, became an important direction of museum’s work.
At that period the works of Soviet architecture became an object of museum collection for the first time. Schusev as well as his fellow architects donated their projects, models and photos. The ensemble of the mansion of Talyzin family where the museum was situated became one of the main objects on display as an outstanding example of Russian classicism of the XVIII century. According to Schusev’s plan, the number of such building-exhibits was supposed to be supplemented by opening new museum branches in other architectural heritage cites.
In the beginning of 1960’s the directions and methods in both museums’ activity came to be so close that it was apparent that these two should be merged.
On January 1st 1964 Schusev State Research Museum was founded, accumulating the collections of both museums and inheriting their property on Vozdvizhenka street and Donskoy Monastery. The exhibition and collection of history of Russian architecture were located in Donskoy, which became a branch of the main museum, and the exhibits of soviet architecture were located on Vozdvizhenka.
The permanent exhibition of the museum was located in both the main and the branch building, but besides this, the museum also organized themed or anniversary exhibitions on history of Russian and soviet architecture, mobile expositions for the entire country as well as other countries of socialist block, welcomed international exhibitions which introduced visitors to the world architectural practices. The museum arranged lectures on the history of Russian architecture, a specialized architectural library and all-access scientific photo catalogue so the employees of the museum could do research projects. At that period the museum was actively collecting and demonstrating contemporary architecture of the time paying particular attention to competitive projects.
The merging of the two museums into one institution gave impact for the creation of the new type of museum activity and it’s development.
Period of perestroika which radically changed the life of the country also affected the life of the museum of architecture. In 1991 the Donskoy Monastery was given back to the Russian Orthodox Church by the Moscow City Council. The museum exhibits were quickly evacuated to Vozdvizhenka street to unadapted and crammed facilities which desperately needed renovation.
The last renovation and restoration of the buildings was completed in 1960’s. Because of the lack of space the museum had to close its permanent exhibition and its rich museum collections had to be taken out of the cultural turnover for many years.
Nowadays the Schusev State Museum of Architecture posesses three exhibition spaces: an enfilade of the Talyzin-Ustinov mansion built in XVIII-XIX centuries, a renovated “Ruined wing” and medieval space of Aptekarsky Prikaz – refectory chambers of the XVII century. There is a collection of sculptures in the museum’s yard, closed off from the busy city streets and available for public access every day. The Museum’s collection nowadays includes authentic fragments of the Triumphal Arch by Osip Bove, latticework of the fencing of the XIX-XX centuries, garden sculptures of XVIII-XIX centuries. The museum holds exhibitions dedicated to the history of Russian and foreign architecture, as well as other related disciplines. Besides the principal exhibition practice, the museum also conducts research, restoration and educational work.
Nowadays the museum funds hold more than 800000 units in their storage. The preservation and study of the collection are carried out by the employees of the museum: departments of architectural drawings of the XVIII-XIX and ХХ centuries, architectural archive, department of preservation and restoration of three-dimensional objects, department of preservation of unique photography and negatives, restoration of drawings department, as well as the library. The museum of architecture provides access to the collectioms to individual researchers as well as scientific institutions.
The museum’s branch – the State Melnikovs Museum - carries out preservation and research of avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov’s works and the works of his son, an artist Victor Melnikov. Nowadays the main display object of the branch is the house-studio of Konstantin Melnikov, a masterpiece of avant-garde architecture constructed in 1927-1929. Currently visits to the Melnikov House are only with pre−booked guided tours. The garden of the Melnikov House (Krivoarbatskiy lane, 10) is open for access during daytime. In the garden one can take a look at an open-air installation “Open Melnikov” which is dedicated to the architect’s works. During the summer there are lectures, themed master classes and excursions at the Melnikov House garden.
Lectures at the Schusev State Museum of Architecture held from October to May offer visitors to get acquainted with history and theory of Russian and foreign architecture, its types and characteristics, styles and projects of the greatest architects. Depending on a visitor’s goals and preferences, they can either choose to attend the series of lectures systematically or prefer single visit of a lecture on a topic they are interested in. In the lecture hall regular meetings with outstanding architects representing their artistic concepts are also held.
A Children’s Center was founded in 2014 for the youngest visitors of the museum. The main purpose of the Museum Children’s Center is to give children an opportunity to study architecture in an accessible way, create their own projects, practice the craft of restoration. The programme of children’s courses is always expanding and growing. Nowadays the museum conducts classes of mosaics, joinery, art of monumental painting and academic drawing, carving on a white stone and architectural plein air. After the end of the academic year in July Children’s Center organize Archi-camp for the kids. The first two weeks of summer the young students study architecture of Moscow and its suburbs, the peculiarity of the archeological work in a megapolis, the art of restoration of decorative elements of architecture, and work together on the large collaborative project that they have to present in the end of the study program in one of the museum’s exhibition spaces.
For children, youth and adult visitors the museum offers architecture tours: walking tours around Moscow as well as tours on museum’s exhibitions and the architectural ensemble of the Talyzin mansion.
In the main museum building there is a museum shop with wide range of books on history of architecture, art and design, a café and a book-crossing shelf.