Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky: From Gulag to building Ukraina Hotel
Following our last note on seven Stalin's skyscrapers, we would like to tell you briefly about Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, the co-author of the last 7th skyscraper "Ukraina" hotel and a man of very unusual fate. The fate that included an orphanage, study at Viennese Arts Academy, work in New York, then Stalins’ concentration camps, and then again work over some most renowned Moscow buildings.
His real career takeoff happened after Russian Civil War, in 1922 he was given a post of Deputy Chief Architect of the First All-Russian Agricultural Exhibition (located at current Gorky Park place). In 1924 he was sent to a long-term practice to New-York to study and borrow skyscrapers buildings technologies. Imagine, in 1920th New-York had already numerous skyscrapers, including famous Woolworth Building, while Moscow had only a few-floors buildings. During 1924-1935 Oltarzhevsky graduated from New-York University, worked over skyscraper projects and, basically, became the leading Soviet expert in high steel frame buildings construction.
In 1935 he returned to Moscow to work on the project of his life, All-Russia Exhibition Center (“VDNKH”). His architectural project won the competition and in 1936 the building was launched. Unfortunately, this time coincided with the period of the Great Purge (which we’ll also discuss in further posts). Oltarzhevsky was arrested together with other Ministry of Agriculture heads who lead the project and sent to Vorkuta camp. His original plan of VDNKH territory was kept by the following architects, but the squares and multiple buildings were dismantled and rebuilt.
He was released in 1943 due to the ambition of Stalin’s to create skyscrapers by the 800th anniversary of Moscow (see the previous post) and obvious lack of experts. Oltarzhevsky was included into the Committee on Construction of High-rise Buildings and co-authored with Arkady Mordvinov the project of 7th Stalin’s Sister, Hotel "Ukraina". He summarized his experience in the book “Construction of High-Rise buildings in Moscow”. The Stalins’ sisters today are some of the most popular objects in Moscow, including MSU, Foreign Affairs Ministry and, of course, "Ukraina" hotel.
After the successful project of "Ukraina" hotel, he actively worked over high-rise buildings at Soviet resorts, restoration of “TSUM” shop and “Prague” restaurant. He ended his life in 1966. Despite his awards and recognition, unfortunately, he’s much less known in Russia than worldwide. Even his authorship of VDNKH was kept in silence for a long time. We hope, this note will make you interested in this remarkable architect and recall his name next time you take a stroll through VDNKH.