The architectural form and signature features of the Russian metro systems

Dmitry Boitsov, the Head of the Architectural and Construction Department, OAO NIPII Lenmetrogiprotrans, talks about heritage and contemporary trends in architectural design of metro objects in Russia and abroad. 

Dmitry Boitsov Dmitry at the conference ACUUS 2016

Dmitry Boitsov at the ACUUS 2016 conference in St Petersburg, Russia

Dmitry Anatoliyevich, what are the special features of the underground object in comparison with the one above the surface?

The architecture and design of the underground structures are more complicated than the same above the ground level. 

The architects and interior designers have to keep in mind all the aspects of the human perception, including non-typical. In the enclosed space without natural lighting the human behavior becomes more fretted; all possible measures for making this space comfortable are needed.

This is the reason why underground metro stations in Saint Petersburg and other cities are always very humanitarian and expressional: the architecture is very vivid, even surpassing the architecture on the surface.

People spend a lot of time in metro now; the transportation underground is almost the same as above the ground, so the esthetic concepts of the metro station and halls have to be in compliance.

The entrance to the Paris metro - art-nouveau

The entrance to the Paris metro above the ground is a real art object


- What is the reason for the conceptual difference in esthetic of Russian and European metro?  

The particular characteristics of the metro systems reflect the original design, the initial trends are quite evident at present.

Metro systems in London, Paris and other European cities initially were planned as the practical transport mode for citizens who were not able to afford the car. 

So the most beautiful elements of the Parisian metro are the entrances on the surface in the manner of Art Nouveau designed by Hector Guimard.

The strategy for metro esthetic development in our country was fundamentally different: the Soviet policy determined the metro as the symbol of the unity of difference social stratums – authorities, white collars, workers, students.

In the 50s there was a period of “fighting against excessiveness”, but it proves to be unnatural for metro and the architects returned to the decoration of the interiors soon.

By the end of 60s the Mayakovskaya station was created. This station became one of the most beautiful enclosed stations of great esthetic qualities but at the same time with minimalistic design.  

London tube - The bank station

The Bank Station entrance, The London Tube


- How relevant are the questions of the decoration of metro stations at present, when the practical and economy characteristics prevail?

The main approaches to the metro construction remain. Of course, the funding is different now, and also the task to “build the palaces for common people” is not relevant anymore.

The stations of the first Saint Petersburg metro line now are under protection of the Committee on State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks and have the status of the listed buildings.

At the same time Saint Petersburg is the city with the whole historic center being in the UNESCO Heritage list. It has the unique architecture and may be praised for the impressive number of styles used. So the metro here just cannot be pragmatic and practical.   

Although the minimalistic stations can be counted on one hand, this “cleaning” period was useful. The decorating as a trend returned in 70s-80-s, but in the reasonable volume from the point of esthetics and practice.

The The Mayakovskaya station - spb metro

The Mayakovskaya station is one of the most beautiful stations of former Leningrad metro system and now St Petersburg metro system. 
The station was opened on the 3rd of November, 1967

- What determines the choice of the architectural decision for the stations under construction?   

The site mainly determines the style for the stations in the historic center, for example, the Znamenskaya station at the Krasnoselsko-Kalininskaya line is in the system of the interchange complex Ploschad Vosstaniya – Mayakovska and its design should correspond to the existing architectural concept.  

If the station was planned in the regular district with the standard practical real estate, the architects try to bring some colour, to make design vivid and fresh. 

Often stations of the metro system in the new districts determine its esthetics, making them stand out, when these districts are usually not very different from each other.

The examples are Troparevo in Moscow, Bukharestskaya and Mezhdunarodnaya in Saint Petersburg. In fact, the esthetic of a metro station improves the esthetic of the surrounding area above the ground.

Станция метро "Тропарево" - Москва

The station Troparevo in Moscow demonstrates the modern decoration trends

- Do the concepts of architectural design in Moscow metro and St Petersburg metro differ from each other? 

The architectural style trends in Moscow are more eclectic, use more embellishments, more difficult to read. It derives from the architectural development of the city itself, including landscape features. But the general architectural policies and basic approaches are similar for both capitals.

Actually, one can say the architecture concepts of the post-Soviet metro systems look alike from the point of the esthetic impressions – vivid and expressive.

The second exit of the Sportivnaya station in Saint Petersburg

The second exit of the Sportivnaya station in Saint Petersburg – opened on the City day, May 27, 2015.
OAO NIPII Lenmetrogiprotrans


- In the conclusion, how do you see the future of the St Petersburg metro?

The modern metro system is a key factor for the urban development.

The construction of the comprehensive and significant objects of the urban underground infrastructure requires hard work of the subject specialists of difference specializations, foremost designers, planners and builders.

For decades Leningrad and at present Saint Petersburg metro system has been developing successfully thanks to the long-term cooperation of the Design Institute Lenmetrogirpotrans and JSC Metrostroy, the main contractor for metro and underground construction in the city.

The design of the future station Teatralnaya for the Mariinsky Theatre

The design of the future station Teatralnaya for the Mariinsky Theatre 
Source:,OAO NIPII Lenmetrogiprotrans

I hope the joint experience of our organisations will be in demand and in the nearest future and  new stations, connected to underground parking and underground public spaces, will be opened for citizens and guests of the city. 

And classic music lovers will enjoy going to the famous Mariinsky theatre by metro and using the underground passage from the new Teatralnaya metro station to enter the theatre without sometimes unpleasant interaction with Saint Petersburg climate.

Additional materials on the topic:

St Petersburg lacks money, but has resources and capacity (read more)

Underground transport must be a part of the transport system (read more)