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Vladimir Shchuko

St. Petersburg, Russia
1 of 2
Portait of the architect by Ivan Kulikov (1902)

Vladimir Alekseyevich Shchuko (October 17, 1878 - January 19, 1939) was a Russian architect, member of the Saint Petersburg school of Russian neoclassical revival notable for his giant order apartment buildings "rejecting all trace of the moderne". After the Russian Revolution of 1917 Shchuko gradually embraced the modernist ideas, developing his own version of modernized neoclassicism together with his partner Vladimir Gelfreikh. Shchuko and Gelfreikh succeeded through the pre-war period of stalinist architecture with high profile projects like the Lenin Library, Moscow Metro stations and co-authored the unrealized Palace of Soviets. Shchuko has also been a prolific stage designer, author of 43 drama and opera stage sets.

Born in Tambov in a military family, Vladimir Schuko joined Leon Benois class of architecture at the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1896 and graduated in 1904. His academic mentors included Vladimir Mate and Ilya Repin; his classmates - Nikolay Lanceray, Ivan Rylsky, Alexander Tamanian and Nikolai Vasilyev; the class of 1904 was by far the strongest the Academy ever had. Shchuko's 1904 graduation project, a palace for the viceroy of the Russian Far East, was declared best in his class but had no chances of being ever built during or after the Russo-Japanese War; it was undeniably neoclassical and demonstrated uncommon ability to retain the neoclassical spirit in a design substantially larger than any preceding neoclassical buildings. Twice, in 1904 and 1906, the Academy awarded him with state-sponsored study tours of Italy; in 1901 he also travelled to Svalbard, and has been frequently engaged in preservation projects at home. Shchuko has been a member of the influential non-governmental Commission for Study and Description of Old Petersburg, a preservation society led by Leon Benois, and later served on the board of the Museum of Old Petersburg established in 1907.

Vladimir Gelfreikh, Shchuko's junior partner in the Soviet period, graduated from the same Academy class of Leon Benois in 1914. Their first extant practical work, reconstruction of the square in front of Smolny Institute, was executed in 1923-1924. In 1925 Shchuko designed the pedestal and architectural setting for Sergey Evseyev's iconic Lenin on top of an armored car monument on the Finlyandsky Rail Terminal square. The monument was clearly designed "to provide a counterpoint to the statue of Peter the Great, the Bronze Horseman". Evseyev-Shchuko monument was the first one to establish a "canonical" image of Lenin and was widely repeated, and became the architect's last notable work in Saint Petersburg.Second half of the 1920s was marked by high-profile architectural contests dominated by modernist architects. Shchuko and Gelfreikh lost the Kiev Passenger Railway Station contest to Pavel Alyoshin and Andrey Verbitsky, but in 1928 secured a winning bid on the contest to design the Lenin Library in Moscow.In 1930 Shchuko and Gelfreikh launched construction of a large (2,500 and 850 seats) opera theatre in Rostov-on-Don. The constructivist theater was completed in 1935, when Shchuko was working on the Palace of Soviets. Elaborate set of rotating stages provided unprecedented freedom to producers and designers, even allowing live cavalry marches on stage. Despite award-winning exterior and plans, Rostov theatre was never used for its intended purpose: poor acoustics rendered it useless for music, and it has not produced a single opera show. It was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in 1963; this time, the main hall was reduced to 1,200 seats but acquired proper acoustics.

Schuko and Gelfreikh participated in the early, public stages of the contest for the Palace of Soviets (1931-1932); their best known draft was an oversized near copy of the Doge's Palace in Venice. The last, closed, stage of the contest was won by Boris Iofan. May 10, 1933 Iofan was announced as the winner and officially instructed to redesign his proposal so as to crown it with a gigantic, "50 to 75 meters" statue of Lenin. Four weeks later (June 4) Iofan was "supplied" with two "assistants" - Shchuko and Gelfreikh, both his seniors, and having a longer track of successful construction management practice dating from 1900s. According to mainstream history accounts, Shchuko and Gelfreikh were appointed because the immense project had to be completed quickly, and the establishment feared that Iofan was not experienced enough to handle it alone.

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St. Petersburg, Russia
ziggurat, March 29th, 2012
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