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Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital by Katherine Zubovich

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube Live.

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Please join us for a conversation with Katherine Zubovich (University at Buffalo, SUNY), author of Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital (Princeton University Press, December 2020), joined by discussant Kimberly E. Zarecor (Iowa State University). Harriman director Alexander Cooley will moderate the discussion.

In the early years of the Cold War, the skyline of Moscow was forever transformed by a citywide skyscraper building project. As the steel girders of the monumental towers went up, the centuries-old metropolis was reinvented to embody the greatness of Stalinist society. Moscow Monumental explores how the quintessential architectural works of the late Stalin era fundamentally reshaped daily life in the Soviet capital.

Drawing on a wealth of original archival research, Katherine Zubovich examines the decisions and actions of Soviet elites—from top leaders to master architects—and describes the experiences of ordinary Muscovites who found their lives uprooted by the ambitious skyscraper project. She shows how the Stalin-era quest for monumentalism was rooted in the Soviet Union’s engagement with Western trends in architecture and planning, and how the skyscrapers required the creation of a vast and complex infrastructure. As laborers flooded into the city, authorities evicted and rehoused tens of thousands of city residents living on the plots selected for development. When completed in the mid-1950s, these seven ornate neoclassical buildings served as elite apartment complexes, luxury hotels, and ministry and university headquarters.

Moscow Monumental tells a story that is both local and broadly transnational, taking readers from the streets of interwar Moscow and New York to the marble-clad halls of the bombastic postwar structures that continue to define the Russian capital today.

Katherine Zubovich is a historian of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her interests include the history of cities and urban planning; the history of architecture and visual culture; and modern transnational history. Currently, she is working on a new project about the Soviet Institute for “Pictorial Statistics”—a department created in the early 1930s that sought to render complex economic and planning ideas into images that could be readily understood by all Soviet citizens. This research places Soviet activity in an international context to show how modern states attempted to resolve challenges of mass communication and to create literate, informed, and engaged publics in the twentieth century. Zubovich is also working on a short book called Making Cities Socialist that will be published as part of the Cambridge Elements in Global Urban History series.

Kimberly Elman Zarecor is Professor of Architecture in the College of Design at Iowa State University where she has been teaching courses in architectural history and design since 2005. She holds a M.Arch (1999) and Ph.D. in Architecture (2008) from Columbia University, and also received a Harriman Institute certificate in 2004. Her historical research examines the cultural and technological history of architecture and urbanism in the former Czechoslovakia as well as socialist city typologies across the Second World. She is also doing new research inspired by the experiences of shrinking post-socialist cities about quality of life in shrinking rural communities in Iowa, which is funded by the National Science Foundation through the Smart & Connected Communities Program.

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