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  • A Critique of the Preservation of Moscow's Planetarium
  • Anke Zalivako (bio)

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Moscow Planetarium, 1930; M. Barshch, M. Siniavsky, and G. Sundblat, architects. Photograph courtesy of A. V. Schtschussev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow, no. 5-18062.

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The tenuous situation of European economies and societies after World War I, and in the young Soviet Union following years of civil war, forced a rational approach to construction: the construction industry demanded more efficient results through standardization and typization. In Europe, this would cause a revolution in building traditions, as architects and engineers combined new aesthetics with the technical requirements of quick, easy, and cheap production processes. From today's point of view, this revolution was the basis of con temporary construction technology, with its huge variety of methods and materials. It is also a reason the avant-garde or Modern Movement of the 1920s has become critical to our culture memory and is an integral aspect of the listing of the Bauhaus sites in Dessau and Weimar as UNESCO World Heri tage Sites in 1996.

In Russia, prejudice against the supposed poor construction technologies of 1920s constructivist architecture is crucial to today's negative attitude toward the preservation of the heritage of the avant-garde and for leaving unrestored even registered monuments of the Russian avant-garde, the so-called Lost Vanguard. The latest research on construction technologies of the 1920s uncovers strong analogies between the German and Russian avant-gardes. This article will focus on construction technologies in Germany and Russia in the early twentieth century and illustrate the tight connection between the two countries and their common heritage through an analysis of Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Siniavsky's planetarium in Moscow, completed in 1930.

But before the construction of the Moscow Planetarium there was the planetarium in Jena, Germany. Erected in 1925, the Jena Planetarium featured a twenty-five-meter, spanned cupola. The 1920s innovation of stressed-skin constructions was an important development in the history of cupola construction.1 The leading engineer in this field was Friedrich Dischinger (1887–1953). As the chief engineer at Dyckerhoff & Widmann Construction Company, Dischinger developed, in conjunction with Walter Bauersfeld (1879– 1959), the leading scientist at the Carl Zeiss company in Jena, the Zeiss-Dywidag stressed-skin construction for housing Zeiss projectors. The idea to build such a structure in Moscow occurred in 1926.2 The architects Mikhail Barshch, Mikhail Sinyavsky, and [End Page 39] G. A. Zundblat erected the "Zeiss-Netzwerk" cupola in partnership with the engineers from Jena. The Moscow Planetarium can be seen as a joint Russian– German project, not the least because of the imported projection equipment.

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Planetarium in Jena, Germany. "Netzwerk" by Dyckerhoff / Widmann, Biebrich, and Carl Zeiss. Photographed in 2003 by Anke Zalivako.

In Jena, the Zeiss-Netzwerk steel structure of the cupola consists of 7,992 steel beams, 22 x 8 millimeters thick and 60 meters long, connected with turnbuckles and then shotcreted (up to 6 centimeters), with 5-centimeter-thick peat-board insul ation on the outside and two layers of rubberoid waterproofing.3 In Moscow the cupola is 12 centimeters thick on the bottom, 8 centimeters on the top, and was originally insulated with peat moss. It measures 27 meters in diameter without ribs based on a concrete ring on radial concrete frames. It was (and partly still is) enclosed with clamshell masonry work. A spherical projection screen was fixed to a metallic net. The inside of Zeiss-Netzwerk had a 26-meter span screen showing Moscow's silhouette, designed by the Sternberg brothers.4 The building could be read as a pure case construction, a demonstration of its interior function. At the time, the planetarium was as sophisticated as the Zeiss projector used to project the stars onto the interior screen.5

Though listed as a monument in 1987, in 1996 the Moscow Planetarium was dilapidated and in urgent need of restoration. A reconstruction project was completed in 2006, but before turning to a critique of the restoration methodologies, it is worth looking at the analogies in construction methods and materials between the...


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