Books

By the Book: Soviet Metro Stations

Christopher Herwig and Owen Hatherley

Underground palaces in communist spaces provide not only transport but also refuge in the former USSR. Enjoy this excerpt of photographer Christopher Herwig and author Owen Hatherley's Soviet Metro Stations, from FUEL Publishing.

Soviet Metro Stations
Christopher Herwig and Owen Hatherley

FUEL

September 2019

Other

Excerpted from Soviet Metro Stations, by Christopher Herwig (photographer) and Owen Hatherley (author). Copyright © 2019 FUEL Publishing. Excerpted by permission of FUEL Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Following his best-selling quest for Soviet Bus Stops, Christopher Herwig has completed a subterranean expedition – photographing the stations of each Metro network of the former USSR. From extreme marble and chandelier opulence to brutal futuristic minimalist glory, Soviet Metro Stations documents this wealth of diverse architecture. Along the way Herwig captures individual elements that make up this singular Soviet experience: neon, concrete, escalators, signage, mosaics and relief sculptures all combine to build an unforgettably vivid map of the Soviet Metro.

With an essay by leading architecture, politics and culture author and journalist Owen Hatherley.

Excerpt from the Introduction by Owen Hatherley

The young Stalinist and former miner Nikita Khrushchev was the head of the Communist Party of the City of Moscow in the mid-1930s. Effectively, this made him Mayor of the capital, and the head of construction, in which capacity he was the politician in charge of building the Moscow Metro. Writing his memoirs many decades later, he would recall that "we were very unsophisticated. We thought of a subway as something almost supernatural." He continued: "I think it's probably easier to contemplate space flights today than it was for us to contemplate the construction of the Moscow Metro in the early 1930s."

In part, Khrushchev was saying that nothing so complex in engineering terms had been built in the capital of the "'Workers and Peasants' State". This wasn't just about whether you could build large projects without the instruments of capitalism; it was the measure of a cultural cringe. Could "the Bolsheviks" — as they referred to themselves, even as most of the original Bolshevik leadership were shot or sent to concentration camps — really build a project as ambitious as an Underground system? But he was also talking about the fact that it couldn't just be another public transport system. It had to be built in a new way. It had to be a Communist space, not just a functional one. It had to articulate the values of the socialist state. And it had to incarnate the Soviet "family of nations". Like so much else, this soon got very out of hand.

Anyone who knows a bit about Soviet state socialism knows about the Moscow Metro and its system of underground palaces; these awesome, opulent spaces have been a fixture of travel guides since the 1930s, and now they're equally prevalent on Instagram accounts. Much less known is that these marble-clad portals in the centre of the capital are just the most visible elements of a gigantic Metro-building project that would gradually expand into more than a dozen different systems across several Republics — Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan. After Moscow came St Petersburg, Kyiv, Tbilisi, Baku, Kharkiv, Tashkent, Yerevan, Minsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Dnipro. "Metro-Trams" with palatial underground halls were built in Krivyi Rih and Volgograd; and a miniature "Cave Metro" was built for the tourist site of New Athos, Abkhazia.

Soviet experts were also responsible for engineering Metro systems outside the USSR — in Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Sofia, Pyongyang, and Calcutta (as it then was), India's first Metro system in the capital of Communist-governed West Bengal. Soviet Metro building was an enormous project, spanning two continents. An early slogan had it that "the whole country is building the Moscow Metro", but between the 1960s and 80s this could have been rephrased as "the Moscow Metro is being built in the whole country". Why, then, was this particular kind of Metro building so important?

Some of this was a political choice, and one which now looks very astute — a privileging of public over private transport, a choice that many cities in the West are now trying to reverse-engineer as they dismantle their 1960s' road schemes and put back the tram lines they tore out. But there's so much more than that.

Both the internationalism and the tragedy of the Soviet Metro are subtexts of Hamid Ismailov's novel The Underground (2014), in which a part-African, part-Khakass Soviet citizen, "without papers" and hence disqualified from actually living in the capital, finds refuge underground from the violent, racist and small-minded reality above. In Sokol, one of the most gorgeous of all the Moscow stations, he reflects on how a system that got it so wrong above, got it so right below: "The Metro is the subconscious of Soviet building; its collective unconscious, its archetype. What was left unrealised — or never fully realised — on the surface was achieved underground", with channelled movement, clear entry points and exits, and a strict division between controllers, drivers, conductors and obedient passengers.

The whole of that totally controlled system could only exist at a remove from the world. It was as if it had been taken out of the equation, deleted from the face of the earth; it existed and at the same time remained invisible; the ideal was achieved, yet it remained otherworldly." On this, Khrushchev and Ismailov, the Stalinist city boss of the 1930s, and the Uzbek liberal novelist in the 2010s, can agree. The Soviet Metro was not entirely of this earth.

Avtovo, St. Petersburg

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)

​Chkalovskaya, Nizhny Novgorod 

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)

Kastrycnickaja, Minsk 

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)

Kyivska, Kharkiv​ 

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)

​Novocherkasskaya, St Petersburg

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)

​Ulduz, Baku 

(courtesy of FUEL Publishing)



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.