In the decades after Kars was ceded to the Russian Empire in 1878 an entirely new district of European-style buildings was built. Although there has been a large amount of destruction since 1920 and especially in recent years, many buildings from the Russian period still survive. The general appearance of these buildings matches the restrained, neo-classical architecture in use throughout the Russian Empire at this period. However, many of them have architectural details derived from medieval Armenian architecture; many also have distinctly Art-Nouveau features. Many have building inscriptions: most of these are in Armenian, some are in Greek or Russian.

The surviving buildings are mostly one or two stories high and built of basalt stone. They generally have ornate street facades of carefully cut ashlar, with side and rear facades of rubble masonry. On the street side there is often a balcony with iron railings. The rear of a building often has a veranda with wooden columns and carved wooden tracery. The buildings were well lit; windows always have two layers of glass because of the extremely cold winters in Kars. Roofs were clad in iron sheets. Rainwater from the roofs was channelled into drainpipes with projecting spouts that threw the water directly onto the streets. These spouts sometimes have animal features: the mouth of a dragon, for example. The streets were paved in cobblestones and had underground rainwater drains. Many of the streets were lined with trees, a tradition maintained in Kars to this day.

Because of a lack of examples it is difficult to say much about the insides of these buildings. Very few intact interiors survive, and probably none have their original furnishings. Rooms were heated by large, upright, cylindrical or square stoves, inserted into walls or located in the corners of rooms. Open fireplaces do not seem to be found. Floors were of timber; walls were either plastered or lined with wood panels. Ceilings sometimes had plasterwork ornamentation, mostly on cornices or on a central roundel from which lighting would have hung. Houses in Kars during the Russian period had access to an electricity supply. There was also street lighting in some districts.

The buildings illustrated here are commercial, administrative, or domestic. Religious and military buildings will be covered in future pages. The street names mentioned are those currently in use - all of the original street names have been altered.