lesson plans
T H E   P O W E R   O F   A R C H I T E C T U R E

written by Susan Michal, Forest Knolls Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD

Grade Level: Upper Elementary and Middle School


  • The Face of Russia
    episode 1, “The Face on the Firewood”, for pre-18th century examples
    episode 2, “The Facade of Power”, for 18th century examples
  • The Face of Russia Web site for still photos of churches with onion shaped domes, Winter and Summer Palaces
  • Background Information for the Teacher
  • Teacher print resources


  • Recognize the architecture of another culture
  • Understand how the architecture of a people records their history
  • Understand how artistic elements—line, shape, color, and texture—are incorporated into architectural designs
  • Explore and use geometric concepts of shape, pattern, and symmetry
  • Apply measurement concepts
  • View architectural structures with increased sensitivity to detail


  • Heavy weight white drawing paper cut to 12" by 18" or 9" by 12"
  • Pencils
  • Soft art erasers which will not damage the surface of the paper
  • Water colors or colored pencils
  • Fine point black felt tipped pens or markers


  1. Review the term “architecture” (the art of designing and building structures that are usually lived in or used by people. It is one of the oldest art forms in history and it is always changing.)
  2. Cue the tapes or select still photos to review both early Russian architecture and structures built in the 18th century.
  3. Explain that students will design a structure based on one of the styles of Russian architecture. Students will choose the kinds of lines, shapes, colors, and textures that were used during their chosen period of history. The structures must be designed to meet the needs of people and they could include churches, monasteries, offices, palaces, libraries, universities, and museums.
  4. Demonstrate that the paper should be held vertically for the design of tall buildings like churches or offices and horizontally for spacious elongated buildings like libraries and palaces.
  5. Once students have selected an architectural style, have them list some of the features of that style that they would like to include in their structures.
  6. Students should lightly draw their structures in pencil using a ruler to measure the height, length, and width of the walls. Using the ruler also will aid them in correctly drawing symmetrical structures.
    NOTE: Remind students to include a ground line and setting for their structures.
  7. Students will color their completed drawings with colored pencils or watercolor paints. If using paints, make sure that students do not work on adjacent areas because the paint will run.
  8. Students will use fine point black pens to outline their structures to further define the lines and add textures.
  9. Students should write a description of their structure which includes:
    • Title of structure
    • Designer
    • Type of structure
    • How it is used
    • Details incorporated from Russian architectural design
    • Kinds of building materials to be used to construct the structure (wood, stone, clay)
  10. Mount the artwork and description on black construction paper for exhibit.

Background Information for the Teacher:

Architecture is the art of designing and building structures that are usually lived in or used by people. It is one of the oldest art forms in history and it is always changing. Through architecture, we can see how people before us lived and worked. Unlike some of the fine arts such as painting, sculpture, and hand crafted arts, architecture is everywhere and it is designed to be used, enjoyed, and touched.

Cathedral of St. Basil
This magnificent cathedral located in Moscow, the capital of Russia, was designed by Barma and Postnik and built for Czar Ivan IV (the Terrible). Construction began in 1554 and ended in 1560. This church demonstrates the Byzantine elements of tent roofs and onion shaped domes on drums. This ancient structure is located in Red Square, next to the Kremlin, a large fortress built in the 12th century, which contains government buildings, churches, and a museum. It was built as a memorial to eight saints on whose special name days the Russians won battles over the Tartars—invaders from the East.

The central church building has a tent shape with eight interconnecting small chapels each dedicated to one of the saints. The architects added four more chapels. High atop the chapels there are towering domes on drums. The domes are covered with onion shaped shells to protect them from snow and ice. These ornamental fluted and twisted domes are hand painted in bright stripes that contrast with the dark red orange of the brick exterior.

Winter Palace in St. Petersburg
The original palace was built in St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland under the reign of Peter the Great. It was designed by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, the son of an Italian sculptor, who designed many of the government buildings. When Elizabeth came to the throne she ordered the rebuilding of a grander more elaborate palace in 1749-56. This linear structure had to fit in with the architecture of the city because it would be viewed from all four sides. To do this, Rastrelli determined that the height would be only seventy feet or three stories high while the length would be an enormous 450 feet. It was planned to be extremely ornate with hand carved and hand painted figures, designs, and gold trim especially detailed in the ornate entrance. There were nearly 200 rooftop statues that decorated this majestic structure with mighty colonnades and a large Angel of Victory column made of granite.

Peterhof is another of the grand palaces in and around St. Petersburg. It was landscaped with formal gardens and terraces with elaborate fountains and cascades surrounded by mythological statues such as Samson Slaying the Lion. A 65-foot spray of water is emitted from the jaws of the mighty lion. This statue in the grand fountain is the symbol of Russia’s victory over the Swedes which occurred on Samson’s Day, June 27, 1709. The lion had been the symbol displayed on the Swedish flag.

Summer Palace at Tsarskoe Selo
Each summer, Catherine the Great took her entire court to the three-story Summer Palace in the countryside near St. Petersburg. This structure was also designed by Rastrelli and was rebuilt under Elizabeth’s reign from 1750-1755. It too was a masterpiece of grandeur with its richly colored facades of bright blues and greens ornamented with ornate golden statuary and pure white trim. The huge courtyard stretched across the entire length of the palace for 326 feet. The grounds were designed as an English park with slopes and paths and sculptured statues, not linear designs like those on the grounds of the Winter Palace.

Print Resources

Hamilton, George Heard. The Art and Architecture of Russia. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1954.

Myers, Bernard and Copplestone, Trewin. Art Treasures in Russia. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1970.

Voyce, Arthur. The Art and Architecture of Medieval Russia. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

Design an Icon | The Power of Architecture | Living Under Communism
Interview the Artists | Persona Project

© 1998 WETA. All rights reserved.