Lubyanka (KGB)

Lubyanka (KGB)

The Lubyanka is the popular name for the headquarters of the KGB and affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. It is a large building with a facade of yellow brick, designed by Alexander V. Ivanov in 1897 and augmented by Aleksey Shchusev in 1940-1947.

The Lubyanka was originally built in 1898 as the Neo-Baroque headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company, noted for its beautiful parquet floors and pale green walls. Denying its massiveness, the edifice avoids an impression of heroic scale: isolated Palladian and Baroque details, such as the minute pediments over the corner bays and the central loggia, are lost in an endlessly-repeating classicizing palace facade, where three bands of cornices emphasize the horizontal lines. A clock is centered in the uppermost band of the facade.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the structure was seized by the government for the headquarters of the secret police, then called the Cheka. In Soviet Russian jokes it was referred to as the tallest building in Moscow, since Siberia could be seen from its basement. Another joke referred to the building as "Adult's World" as compared to "Children's World," the name of the popular toy store across the street.

During the Great Purge, the offices became increasingly cramped due to staff numbers. In 1940, the most famous Soviet architect, Shchusev, was commissioned to double its size by adding another storey and engulfing backstreet buildings. Shchusev's design accentuated Neo-Renaissance detailing, but only the left part of the facade was reconstructed under his direction in the 1940s, due to the war and other hindrances. This asymmetrical facade survived intact until 1983, when the symmetry was restored at the urging of Yuri Andropov in accordance with Shchusev's plans.Although the Soviet secret police changed its name many times, its headquarters remained in this building. Secret police chiefs from Lavrenty Beria to Yuri Andropov used the same office on the third floor, which looked down on the statue of Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. A prison at the ground floor of the building figures prominently in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's classic study of the Soviet police state, "The Gulag Archipelago". Famous inmates held, tortured and interrogated there include Sidney Reilly, Raoul Wallenberg, János Esterházy and Father Walter Ciszek, S.J.

After the dissolution of the KGB, the Lubyanka became the headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia, and houses the Lubyanka prison and one directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). In addition a museum of the KGB was opened to the public. On November 11, 1999 a fire broke out in the Lubyanka. Four FSB agents were injured, but damage was relatively mild. The fire was later traced to faulty wiring.

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