With some impressive examples of Soviet Brutalist architecture, Yerevan has become one of our favorite cities. When walking through the urban landscape, the distinctive Russian influence is obvious. This is because the city was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and its architecture tells a story of Yerevan’s historical past. Here’s a look at our favorite examples of the best Soviet & Brutalist architecture found in Armenia’s capital. Plus, we touch on the tragic events in history that shaped the city into today’s unique landscape.
Architecture Tied to its Tragic History
The architecture that makes up the city of Yerevan today all stems from the midst of the First World War. At this point in history, the ownership of Armenia is between the Russian and Turkish Empires. The Ottomans invaded the Russian territory in 1915, resulting in a genocide of over a million people by the Turkish Government. During this massacre, Yerevan became a place of refuge thanks to its position between the two opposing sides. It served as the center of the conflict until 1917, the time of the collapse of the Russian Empire.
There was then a brief period where Armenia was an independent republic. In December of 1920, the Soviets took control over Armenia and founded the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. Under Soviet rule, the architect called Alexander Tamanian was commissioned to create the “General Plan of Yerevan.” It was an urban development plan that worked at transforming the small town into a modern industrial metropolis. This resulted in rapid growth in the style of architecture popular at the time: Soviet Brutalist architecture.
Showcasing Soviet Brutalist Design
Nearly all of the buildings lining the streets of Yerevan are from the mid-1900s. During these years, Brutalist design was at its peak and took over the Armenian capital. This architectural style stems from countries seeking low-cost and practical design solutions; helping countries recover from the impact of the war. It entirely focuses on building functional structures that connect design with the realities of modern life rather than elaborate buildings.
Soviet Brutalist architecture, in particular, is popular for its use of functional materials, including raw concrete and steel. It also has a practical and simplistic feel, made from modular elements combined into a geometric construction. This gives many of Yerevan’s buildings a graphic quality. There is seldom color, and the designs feature a predominantly monochrome color palette. However, Armenia’s capital is known as “The Pink City” thanks to the color of the local stone used in building designs, with the city having a mild pink hue.
One of the best examples of Soviet architecture in Yerevan is the entrance to the Metro Station Yeritasardakan. Built in 1981 by architect Stepan Kyurkchyan and made of concrete, the protruding angled cylindrical section shines light down onto the passengers below. Several blocks of flats around the city have a Brutalist style, especially the complex on Nairi Zaryan Street. With a block-like and top-heavy design, the building almost looks like an impressive gate into the city. The entire of the Institute of Communications is also covered in graphic alternating semi-circle shapes, distinctive of this period.
An Amalgamation of Ancient and Brutalist Styles
Though much of what we see in the city is built in the 1900s, the history of the city actually stems back to 782 BC. This makes it one of the oldest established cities in the world. Not many of these ancient ruins still stand, but there are a few that give testimony to Yerevan’s culture and history. This is where the true beauty of Yerevan lies – in contrast. We love the juxtaposition of utilitarian and functional Soviet Brutalist design against the surviving ancient ruins.
Much of the Brutalism in the city also draws on Yerevan’s ancient past. While typically a very non-decorative style, many of the Soviet-era buildings in the city have colonnades, archways, and ornamentation. Take the Cascades, one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks. This stupendous set of limestone steps connects the city center with hilltop Victory Park, providing views of Ararat Valley, where the Armenian genocide took place. There are sculptures and fountains of each level, showcasing the transition of Yerevan from its ancient times to the modern day. There is a fantastical feel too much of the work.
Republic Square, Yerevan’s Architecture Highlight
The huge Republic Square in Yerevan’s center is another prime example of Soviet-era design. It consists of an oval roundabout and trapezoid-shaped section, surrounded by several buildings of importance. This square was part of Tamanian’s work and has been described as the city’s “most outstanding architectural ensemble.” During the Soviet reign, celebrations were held here, giving the place huge cultural significance. Even after Armenia’s independence, it is still one of Yerevan’s most renowned civil spaces.
The buildings surrounding Republic Square are also fine examples of the characteristic Soviet-era Brutalism clashing with neoclassical styles. On its perimeter sits the Government House, the History Museum, and the National Gallery, all grand and ornamental buildings. Jim Torosyan, Mkrtich Minasyan, designed the entrance to Republic Square Metro Station. This features a beautiful concrete fountain carved into a floral shape. However, sitting next to this building is the Ministry of Labour & Social, built in 1972. Made from Yerevan’s characteristic pink-orange stone, the use of archways and protruding balconies have a distinctive geometric Brutalist style. Nearby you’ll find another impressive example of Soviet-Brutalist architecture on Pushkin Street. This is a cylindrical structure with a pointed, concertina roof – a true gem of Soviet-era design.