In This Review

Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital
Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital
By Katherine Zubovich
Princeton University Press, 2021, 288 pp

After World War II, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered Moscow to be reinvented as “the capital of all capitals.” Zubovich’s fascinating history of skyscrapers in Moscow goes far beyond architectural design and looks at the social and political ramifications of Stalin’s monument building. These structures were conceived as symbols of the Soviet Union’s postwar might and self-confidence. In order to clear sites for the construction of the skyscrapers, authorities resettled tens of thousands of Muscovites in hastily built housing in the city’s barren outskirts. The labor force mobilized to erect the vysotki (high-rises) included construction workers from across the Soviet Union, as well as many thousands of prisoners from the gulag. Once completed, the vysotki laid bare late-Stalinist social hierarchies: in a city of acute housing shortages, the comfortable apartments in the skyscrapers were reserved exclusively for artistic, academic, and government elites. After Stalin’s death, the vysotki became a target of his successor Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization efforts. The new Soviet leader, who soon launched a nationwide housing program, harshly criticized Stalin’s monumental building efforts for their disregard for building costs, their complete neglect of the population’s urgent housing needs, and the excessive embellishments of the skyscrapers themselves.