Architect Karo Halabian was a prominent name in the first years of the architecture of Soviet Armenia and later he continued a prolific career in Russia.
He was born in the city of Elizavetpol, the former Gandzak in the province of Utik (historical Armenia), on July 26, 1897. Gandzak, now in the territory of Azerbaijan, was called Kirovabad in Soviet times and renamed Ganja after the fall of the Soviet Union. Halabian graduated from the Nersessian School of Tiflis (Tbilisi) in 1917 and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in 1929. He sculpted the busts of Bolshevik revolutionaries Stepan Shahumian and Kamo (Simon Ter Petrosian), a series of satirical drawings, and illustrated several works by the famed poet Yeghishe Charents.
In 1924, he was the stage designer, together with Mikayel Mazmanian, of the plays “Red Mask” by Anatoli Lunacharski and “Nazar the Brave” (Derenik Demirjian) at the First State Theater of Armenia (now Gabriel Sundukian Academic Theater of Yerevan). He was the head of the Institute of State Planning, the first institution devoted to architectural planning in Armenia, between 1929 and 1931. He directed the works of planning and construction of different towns in Armenia together with architects Mikayel Mazmanian and Gevorg Kochar. Halabian designed various buildings in Yerevan, such as the Club of Constructors (1928-1929, now the Konstantin Stanislavski Russian Theater and the Armenian Olympic Committee), the Geological Committee (1929-1930), the “chess-shaped” house of the hydroelectric station (1930–1932), as well as the central plan of Gharakilise (then Kirovakan, nowadays Vanadzor) in 1930. The early period of his career was characterized by the spirit of constructivism and an expressive style of composition. His works show a conjunction of innovative trends and the general principles of classical architecture, which was reflected in his best works of the later period.
He moved to Moscow in 1932, where he lived until the end of his life. He was secretary of the USSR Architects Union (1932-1950) and editor in chief of the journal “USSR Architecture” between 1933 and 1948. He was elected honorary corresponding member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1936) and was one the founders of the International Union of Architects. He earned the title of Emeritus Art Worker of Armenia (1940).
Among the most important works by Halabian are the building of the central theater of the Soviet army (nowadays the Central Theater of the Russian Army), designed in a five-pointed star shape (1934-1940, with architect Vasili Simbirtsev) and the pavilion of the Soviet Union in the international exposition of New York (1939, with architect Boris Yoffan). The latter earned him the title of honorary citizen of New York. He also designed the pavilion of Soviet Armenia in the all-Soviet exposition of agricultural conquests (Moscow, 1939 and 1954, with architect Samvel Safarian), which was characterized by a fresh approach to the traditions of Armenian architecture.
During World War II, Halabian headed the special workshop adjunct to the Academy of Architecture of the Soviet Union and led the blackout actions for the most important industrial and defense complexes. In 1943, he went to lead the work of reconstruction of Stalingrad (nowadays Volgograd) and the preparation of new types of designs for housing. He was a member of the Academy of Architecture of the USSR and its vice-president (1949-1953).
In 1948, Karo Halabian married the noted actress Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, 22 years younger than him, who was by her fourth marriage. They had one child, Alexander. Halabian projected the port of Sochi (Georgia) in 1950-1951 with architect L. Karliki. He suddenly fell out of favor with Stalin’s henchman Lavrenty Beria and lost his job and his home. Until 1953, when Stalin died and Beria was shot, the couple had to live with their friends and relatives. In the last years of his life, Halabian designed and the big housing complex of Khimki-Khovrino in Moscow (built in the 1960s). He passed away in Moscow on January 5, 1959. Streets of Yerevan and Moscow have been named after him. On the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a memorial was inaugurated in the Ring Park of Yerevan, and a statue of Halabian was installed on the Moscow street bearing his name in 2021.