Moscow’s Residential Architecture
There are several main types of residential buildings in Moscow, each of them having their strengths and weaknesses that potential leaseholders and buyers should be aware of.
Those looking to experience some sort of a historic connection should certainly consider older buildings dating back to the 19th or early 20th century, which are usually referred to by realtors as “pre-revolutionary” or “historic” buildings. There are not that many of those in Moscow, and they are quite distinguishable among the more contemporary surrounding architecture.
“These are always chosen by tenants who are looking for a bit of romance in Moscow,” Michael Bartley, General Director of Four Squares, told Passport. “They traditionally have very high ceilings of 3.5 meters to 5 meters and old decorative aspects, such as ceiling moldings and motifs. Other features include old fireplaces, large windows, and old wooden flooring.”
“The main and most obvious advantage of historic buildings is their prestigious location,” Alexander Ziminsky, director of the elite property sales department at Penny Lane Realty, told Passport. “Nearly all the pre-revolutionary buildings are located inside the Garden Ring, and many of them are situated in quiet lanes in walking distance from the Kremlin.”
Pre-revolutionary buildings are slightly less popular among potential leaseholders than contemporary high-end residential complexes, but a historic atmosphere is what often attracts people to such housing options, Galina Tkach, director of the rental department at IntermarkSavills, told Passport.
“Owners of such apartments normally try to bring the property to its original look and sometimes even install antique furniture and interior décor items,” she added.
But the older buildings apparently have disadvantages, as well. “Old wooden floors may not be flat and even, ceiling moldings may not have been decorated often, the large, imposing entrances may not have been renovated for 50 years,” said Bartley, adding that a building of that kind is “definitely a building for the connoisseur.”
“First, [such buildings] are often unsuitable for families with children,” Ziminsky said. “More often than not, a building is located right on the street, with no isolated territory, playgrounds and recreation zones.”
“Second, historic buildings don’t have underground parking or pharmacies and groceries in the ground floors, unlike contemporary residential complexes,” he went on to say. “Another disadvantage of historic buildings is inconvenient – by contemporary standards – layouts of apartments. Often, they have long and narrow corridors and pass-through rooms, while there is no room for a second bathroom, a cloakroom and a utilities room.”
Tkach added that sometimes it is impossible to install, for instance, climate control systems in buildings of that kind because they are considered architectural monuments and works of that kind are prohibited.
Some of the buildings erected in the 1930 through 1950 and therefore informally dubbed “Stalin buildings” could be confused with pre-revolutionary buildings, the only difference on the outside being Soviet symbols in the decoration, but others, like the “Seven Sisters” skyscrapers are unique.
For years, Stalin-era residential buildings belonged the best quality housing options available, and even by contemporary standards, they have notable advantages.
“In Soviet times, Stalin buildings were considered elite housing, in which top-level communist officials, heads of government agencies, prominent musicians, writers and artists were given apartments,” Ziminsky said. “For regular people, moving into a Stalin building on Zemlyanoy Val, Tverskaya or Sadovaya-Sukharevskaya was unrealistic.”
Just like pre-revolutionary buildings, Stalin-era ones may attract residents by historic connections. “Take, for instance, building 26 at Kutuzovsky Prospekt,” said Ziminsky. “In that building, in an apartment located in entranceway 5, on the fifth floor, lived [general secretary of the Communist Party] Leonid Brezhiev, and for many Muscovites the building remains ‘Brezhnev’s building’.”
“Stalin-era buildings are more comfortable [than pre-revolutionary ones],” Denis Bobkov, head of the analytical department at Est-a-Tet, told PASSPORT. “Apartments are large, they have high ceilings, panoramic windows and thick walls that make them soundproof.”
According to Tkach, Stalin buildings are quite popular among lease-holders, but the poor state of entryways and courtyards, as well as mixed social environment, are factors against them.
“On the other hand, Stalin buildings are more accessible by transport [than some centrally located older buildings],” argued Zimovsky. “On the other hand, residents will have to deal with constant street noise and environmental conditions that are not the best.”
“The downside is due to the construction process, which limits the opportunity to knock down interior walls and change the layout of the apartment. So don’t expect large, open-plan apartments in these buildings,” Bartley said. “Wiring and plumbing may also not have been renovated.”
This category of buildings is informally referred to by the Russian abbreviation for “Central Committee”, TsK, as they were built in the 1960s through 1980s for the communist elite, many of which were members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Another popular name for them is “SovMin buildings”, the Russian abbreviation for the Council of Ministers.
At the time of construction, those brick buildings of normally nine to twelve floors were about the most comfortable housing available. And, although, on the outside, they may not look dramatically different from those built on a massive scale in residential neighborhoods, the apartments in them are considerably better.
“These buildings are popular on the rental market,” said Bartley. “They usually have a standard brick facade and may be in an enclosed courtyard, which implies extra security. The entrance is likely to have a room for a concierge, and there may be push-chair ramp or cargo lift access. The apartments usually have standard layout and ceilings of 2.7 meters to 3.5 meters.”
“Apartments in SovMin buildings are quite acceptable even by contemporary standards,” Ziminsky said. “They are advantageously located, have high ceilings, comfortable layouts and spacious rooms. Among SovMin buildings are also quite a number of ‘buildings with a history’. For instance, in a building on Bolshaya Bronnaya, [top level Soviet official] Mikhail Suslov and [general secretary of the Communist Party] Konstantin Chernenko used to live.”
“The only downside to these buildings is that the building entrance and apartment renovation may look a bit out of date,” Bartley observed.
This type of apartment buildings is certainly the most common in Moscow and has evolved quite a lot over the last 50 years. There is a substantial difference between late 1950s and early 1960s five-story “khrushchovkas,” named informally after then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and contemporary block buildings. However, the quality of apartments still considerably lags behind that in other types of buildings.
“These buildings don’t impress in themselves,” said Bartley. “Quite often tenants chose to rent here for the location as much as the apartment.”
“The disadvantages of block buildings are that open plans aren’t possible, and ceilings are no higher than 2.8 meters,” Ziminsky said. “Also, ventilation and sound-proofing are poor.”
According to Bobkov, the strengths of block buildings are that all of them are equipped with refuse chutes and elevators, while among the weaknesses is the location of many such buildings far from the city centre. “Buildings of this kind don’t normally have their own infrastructure and guarded territory, and the large number of apartments in the building doesn’t earn them extra points, either,” he said.
“Housing in block buildings is normally chosen by those whose budgets are limited,” said Tkach. “Living in those buildings is not always comfortable. It is often cold there in winter and hot in summer.”
Contemporary high-end buildings
Few people can afford to live in buildings of this kind, but very many dream about it. According to Bartley, it’s “everyone’s dream to live in a brand-new, elite property in the center of Moscow with 24-hour security, CCTV, concierge, marble foyer, freshly renovated apartment and a swimming pool/health club in the basement.”
Unlike ten or so years ago, options for this type of housing in Moscow are abundant, but, with rental prices between $10,000 and $60,000 a month, potential leaseholders aren’t lining up to take them.
“Contemporary monolith buildings are certainly much more comfortable because they were built by contemporary standards and are in line with present-day requirements for housing, which include underground parking, the building’s own infrastructure, and guarded territory,” Bobkov said.
“In contemporary residential complexes, there are no small apartments,” said Ziminsky. “Apartments have free plans, so that residents could design their home to their own taste.”
“The only real issue with this type of apartment is that the landlord is likely to be very rich, and his/her understanding of tenats’ right may be limited,” Bartley concluded. “You could be in for a bumpy ride.”