Back in the day, when it was called Sverdlovsk, Soviet Yekaterinburg was considered a “city of the future”. Not only was it a buzzing industrial giant, but also manifested hopes and dreams of the new country through bold architectural projects. As the USSR named Constructivism its official architectural style, Yekaterinburg turned into the center of avant-garde architecture decades before it even became a thing. Now an open-air museum of Constructivism, Yekaterinburg has more constructivist buildings than any other place in the world. The city is dotted with monuments to Soviet ambitions that let you catch a glimpse into the life of a country that no longer exists.
Commissioned in 1928, this iconic water tower with a once revolutionary design was the first concrete structure built in the Ural region, and at the time of construction had the world’s largest water tank. Designed by 25-year-old architect Moses Reischer to resemble a lighthouse, the 98-foot-tall structure was meant to become the major draw of the Uralmash district. In the 1960s the tower was disconnected from the water supply and soon abandoned altogether. Years of neglect led to a deterioration of the building, and only in 2013, when Yekaterinburg-based architectural group Podelniki took the lead in the preservation project, things started to look up for the white tower. Although its restoration is still a work in progress, the tower is now an attraction open to the public -you may take a tour of the building, look at the city from its observation deck, or visit one of the events the tower hosts.
Madrid Hotel, built in 1934, is a magnificent constructivist building that the city authorities and activists are desperately trying to save. Designed by German architect and Bauhaus graduate Béla Scheffler, it is one of the most recognizable architectural masterpieces in the city thanks to its peculiar red brick color. Originally a purely constructivist building, the hotel has experienced certain changes over the years: in the late 1930s, for instance, its front was embellished to give it a neoclassical touch. Beautifully located at the corner of the First Five-Year Plan Square, the building stretches its wings along two neighbouring streets. Madrid was never the hotel’s official name, it was nicknamed so by the locals. Now it is in a poor condition, but there is a chance that it will host the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in the future, so there is still hope for it.
Iset Hotel and Chekist Town
Yet another constructivist hotel that actually housed the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2015, Iset is the central landmark of the housing complex affectionately called by the locals the Chekist Town. Probably the most popular constructivist building in the region, the sickle-shaped Iset Hotel used to be an architectural symbol of the city when it was still called Sverdlovsk. The building had been nearly empty for quite a while until it hosted the Ural Biennial, so perhaps it will become a functioning hotel again. Chekist Town, designed as the NKVD living quarters, comprises a group of residential and non-residential buildings. The project was influenced by an ideological trend of the late 1920’s: in an attempt to renounce all private property and fight inequality, the concept of communal houses for workers was introduced. A distinctive feature of such apartments was the absence of kitchens and bathrooms, as people were supposed to use public baths and eateries. However, later apartments in the building complex were remodeled to include the bathrooms. Chekist Town is also quite a view from above; its geometry, which some say was designed to resemble a hammer, is fascinating to modern viewers.
The Printing House
This giant building with signature ribbon windows and a rounded facade occupies an entire city block. The project for the Ural Worker Printing House was designed by Giorgi Golubev and was meant to become the symbol of constructivist architecture, as well as the largest publishing company in the region. Built in 1934, it housed three newspaper offices, a publishing house, a local office of the TASS photo agency, and a printing house. During World War II, the printing house used to shelter famous Soviet writers, such as Agnia Barto, Alexei Novikov-Priboy, Lev Kassil, and Marietta Shaginyan. In 2010 this drastically underused building played host to the very first Ural Biennial of Contemporary Art and started a new episode in its life. Apart from being a monument of federal importance, it is now home to the biggest nightclub in the city, a hip bookstore, and popular cafes and restaurants.
Built in 1934, Dinamo is the oldest sports complex in the city of Yekaterinburg and one of the few constructivist buildings that has been functioning throughout its 80 years of existence. Designed by Benjamin Sokolov, an acclaimed architect, it is one of the most recognizable constructivist buildings in the world. With its peculiar naval aesthetics and waterfront location, the complex looks like a ship docked amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. The place is surrounded by nearly century-old trees and is a perfect photo op in the summer.