One Day of the Soviet Country

Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow

The Moscow Metro was designed as the most convincing proof of the tremendous capabilities of the USSR. Its sheer scope, engineering features, architectural and artistic masterpieces that were implemented during the construction — it all stunned the passengers’ imagination.

There are many beautiful metro stations in Moscow, but Mayakovskaya is undoubtedly the most famous one both in Russia and abroad. 

The first design project of the station was a flop, and architect Alexey Dushkin, who had already impressed the Muscovites with the luxurious Palace of Soviets station, was called upon to save the day. 

Reflecting on how to make metro passengers “forget” that they are 33 meters beneath the ground level, Dushkin decided to create an illusion of windows in the ceiling through which you can see the sky — like the Oculus in the dome of the Roman Pantheon. This is how the idea of placing the sky mosaic in the “windows” of the oval domes between every other pair of arches was born.

The interior decoration of the station was commissioned to the artist Alexander Deyneka. This is how he described it: “Thirty-five domes, thirty-five plafonds. What a wealth of themes is born in the mind! A number of pictures change one another: the country’s construction sites, tractor drivers and harvesters go along the vast collective farm fields, gardens blossom, fruits ripen, the sky is busy with planes day and night, young people work heroically and rest wonderfully, preparing themselves for labor and defense … The life of the USSR is in full swing round the clock. That’s how the topic was chosen — One Day of the Soviet Country”.

Seven mosaics of “One Day of the Soviet Country” panel depict the morning, eight contain daytime pictures, five show the night and another fifteen once again represent the morning. Each mosaic has its own name, theme and plot. One panel was dismantled after the restoration, but it is not certain which one. All the mosaics represent the life of the young country and its citizens.

On Deyneka’s mosaics, young men and women parachute, do water-diving and ski jumps, take new heights in pole vaulting. Labor is an important part of the picture: people work tirelessly, but their faces don’t show even a hint of fatigue.

The current of time is shown with notable wit: where the day comes to replace the morning, the corresponding mosaic depicts the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower with the clock that shows 12 a.m., and the same thing where night falls after evening. “Sunset” and “dawn” differ only in terms of the side from which the clouds are illuminated. 

Alexey Dushkin surrounded the domes of the station’s vault with lamps directed upwards, thus providing bright lighting for the mosaics, and from the ceiling, the reflected soft light falls downwards. 

The rest of the decoration of Mayakovskaya station was rather austere. For instance, its track walls were faced with gray marble with dark spots. The marble floor pattern is quite straightforward: red squares lined with a black perimeter are laid out on a light background, while one red and two black stripes run the length of the station. 

Even though the Mayakovskaya station can definitely be considered a masterpiece of the Art Deco style, the work of Alexey Dushkin caught the attention of many critics, including Alexander Deyneka himself, who believed that the mosaics were so deeply “recessed” in the surface of the arch that people cannot get a general perspective of the picture from anywhere in the station. This is true: you can see each mosaic panel only if you stand right beneath the dome.

However, all this did not prevent Mayakovskaya from earning worldwide recognition. In 1939, a year after its opening, the station received the Grand Prix at the New York World’s Fair. Dushkin decided to recreate an exact replica of one piece of Mayakovskaya station in real size and place it between the mirrors to create the presence effect.

At the end of the 1980s, the station became an architectural monument. In 2001, the Moscow government included Mayakovskaya in the list of historical and cultural monuments of local importance.

In 2010, the repair works on the station (also known as “scientific restoration”) were completed after five years. The works were carried out at night, and the Mayakovskaya station remained open to passengers. In the course of the large-scale reconstruction, all engineering communications were revamped, the station’s illumination was increased by 30%, the marble floor was partially substituted by granite, the finishing of arches and track wall was replaced, and the magnificent mosaics were slightly renovated.

Irina Sheykhetova