On the outskirts of Moscow is VDNKh – originally built by an exhibition centre to show off the achievements of the Soviet Union, by the time I visited in 2013 it was a bizarre mix of fairground meets flea market, set amongst a collection of Soviet architecture.
Established in 1935 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV) (Russian: Всесоюзная Сельско-Хозяйственная Выставка; Vsesoyuznaya Selsko-Khozyaystvennaya Vystavka), each pavilion showcased the achievements of a geographical region of the Soviet Union.
The park was further expanded in 1948 when the Soviet Council of Ministers issued a decree ordering a unification of VSKhV with the All-Union Industry Exhibition, which formed today’s Выставка достижений народного хозяйства (ВДНХ) (Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (VDNKh)) – literally the “Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”.
By 1989 the exhibition had expanded to an exhibition area of 700,000 square metres across 82 pavilions, many dedicated to a particular industry or field, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union the exhibitions were closed, replaced by a variety of tenants.
Exploring the pavilions
The centre has a diversity of architecture.
The original pavilions are of Stalinist style.
Some small and understated.
While others were far grander.
Some imitated buildings found elsewhere, like those of the resort city of Sochi.
And of the Moldavian SSR.
But others are modern.
Over the years some pavilions had been renovated.
Receiving modernist facades.
That hide the original design behind.
But today restoration is the order of the day.
Into the fairground
I visited VDNKh at Christmas time.
An ice skating rink occupied the main square.
With pony rides on offer.
And sideshow games.
And a miniature train.
Beneath a ferris wheel.
Then into the pavilions
If you look up on entering the pavilions, the ornate ceilings catch your eye.
But look down and it’s a dive.
With a rabbit warren of shops occupying what were once grand spaces.
Need a new remote control?
A cheap watch?
A computer mouse?
A spare part for your sewing machine?
Binoculars or a magnifying glass?
Or ladies fashion?
It’s all here!
And the seedy underbelly
Fishing reels alongside replica pistols that shoot BBs.
Tactical torches, stun guns and imitation pistols.
And the office for a stun gun manufacturer.
Have you ever seen an odder collection of retailers?
So capitalism won?
Just take a look at the forest of foreign cars beneath the front gate.
Russia Beyond have a piece titled Soviet Era Theme Park that dives deeper into the history of VDNKh.
Since my visit in 2013 the restoration of the park has accelerated, which is covered by The Calvert Journal in Empire state of mind: how do you update a vast Stalinist exhibition space for the present day?
The administration of the park and the Moscow City Government have so far displayed a marked tendency to restore the Exhibition to its condition in 1954, favouring Stalinism over Modernism. In 2014, the facades of two modernist facades were hastily taken down, in defiance of the law.