Quest for National Identity

Explore the styles of Russian architecture in the Schusev Museum’s digital catalogue.

Design for the naval department of Russia's pavilion at the Vienna World Fair by Viktor Hartmann (1873).

The Schusev State Museum of Architecture was established in 1934 as a division of the USSR Academy of Architecture. It has been collecting and preserving materials on Russian architecture ever since, protecting this integral part of the country’s heritage and national identity. In an effort to modernize and make its collection more accessible, the museum has recently launched a digital version. This extensive database contains information on historical periods, styles, and projects, ranging from ancient churches of the 11th century, to avant-garde Constructivist experiments, to the Soviet architecture of the 1970s and 1980s.

Less known worldwide, but interesting just the same is the “historicist” style, which dominated Russian architecture at the end of the 19th century. It was a time of searching for new forms, liberated from any rules and regulations, and guided only by the artist’s wit and taste. Under these conditions and within the context of a historical quest for national identity, the eclectic style arose, borrowing heavily from traditions of ancient Russian and Byzantine architecture. 

Although this style flourished first and foremost in church and civil architecture, there was also a “democratic” version. One of its proponents was architect Viktor Hartmann, who was in charge of temporary pavilions’ construction at the Moscow Polytechnic (1872) and Vienna World Fairs (1873). These heavily decorated wooden buildings, resembling ancient Russian “terems,” were designed to communicate the national spirit and simultaneously fit in with the modernist developments in European architecture.