Since the 1851 Great Exhibition, world's fairs have always attempted to celebrate cultural diversity. In pavilions, participating countries promoted their natural resources and industrial products, while celebrating their national identity. However, not all cultures could be accurately portrayed. These exhibits did not prevent negative stereotypes about other people's cultures for persisting.
Stereotyping almost became an art form, and was particularly apparent at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, where specific buildings were built to exemplify architectural stereotypes of different countries. As part of an exhibition called L'Histoire de L'Habitation Humaine or History of Human Habitation, which was the creation of architect Charles Garnier. Many of these small structures related to remote and "exotic" locations around the world. One of the countries that received the exotic treatment was Russia, despite this country's political power.
Charles Garnier was born in 1825 and studied architecture at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After he was awarded the Grand Prix de Rome in 1848, he went to study architecture in Italy. In 1860, Garnier won the competition for the new Paris Opera House, which was not completed until 1875 and remains his most important commission. His other works include villas he built in Bordighera, Italy, an Observatory in Nice, the Cercle de la Librairie in Paris, and many very famous works in Monte Carlo, including a casino resort.
Charles Garnier was also a self-appointed expert in world cultures and their architecture. Thanks to the fame he had acquired at the Paris Opera House, he was asked by the fair commission to design "foreign" buildings for the World's Fair in 1889. Later in 1892, Garnier wrote a campanion book called Histoire de L'Habitation. Most of the information below is taken from this book written in 1892, and Garnier should not be taken as a real worldwide expert on cultures. Therefore, this information is not necessarily the whole truth, but it makes us understand Garnier's rationale behind the Russian House.
He first examined the origins of the Russian people. The country came out of the Dark Ages in the 9th and 10th centuries under the influence of people Garnier called the Varègues. These descendants of the pirates of Scandinavia were present all over Northern and Eastern Europe. Scandinavian residential architecture did not meet with resistance when it came to Russia, because it was similar in color schemes to that of the Slavic people. The main difference related to its greater reliance on wood. In Slavic society, a strict control over contact between the sexes was exercised, in order to minimize their interaction. In the Russian House, the...