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SOVIET ARCHITECTURE

 

 

OVERVIEW  
 

Before World War I architecture in Russia reflected the same influences as we have already noted elsewhere: National Romanticism. Art Nouveau, and a vibrant avantgarde. The October Revolution in 1917, however. irrevocably changed the cultural as well as the political scene in Russia. National Romanticism and Art Nouveau faded away and members of the Russian avant-garde allied their program of cultural transformation with the political program of the revolution. Designers put their talent to work in the service of the Soviet state.

Vladimir Tatlin and Constructivism

In 1919 Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) proposed a Monument to the Third International that would both represent and facilitate the agencies of the revolution. Over 400 meters tall, Tatlin's model invited comparison with the Eiffel Tower and other great engineering monuments of the nineteenth century. The combination of an inclined spine thrusting up through a spiralling latticework created a dynamic composition. Three volumes -a cube, a pyramid, and a cylinder-set within the open skeletal frame housed various agencies of the Third International. Each volume was to rotate at a different speed designed to coincide with the frequency of the scheduled meetings for each agency: once a year for the legislative, once a month for the administrative, and once a day for the information agency, This transparent, kinetic composition, the antithesis of the solid. earthbound forms of tradition, illustrates the formal character and the spirit of what, in the 1920s, came to be called Constructivist architecture.

Constructivist architects sought to extend the formal language of abstract art to the design of buildings. The buildings were "constructed" conceptually as well as physically of the basic visual elements such as lines, planes, and volumes. This new syntax of form, according to the Constructivists, was grounded in A scientific understanding of human perception and social organisation. For Russian architects. a potent combination of political revolution, material progress, and aesthetic innovation held the promise of a new universe of possibilities. By developing a new formal language for design, architects believed they were answering the revolution's call to bring into existence a new Communist society.

However, Constructivism was more than simply a response to the revolution. Convinced that the built environment influences everyone who inhabits it. Constructivist architects believed they could affect the development of the new society. In the design of buildings and spaces (both public and private). architects could encode the basic elements of the new social order and vividly convey to all members of society the enormity of the political, economic, and social changes unleashed by the October Revolution.

ASNOVA and OSA

Enthusiasm does not guarantee consensus, however; Constructivism hardly constituted a uniform movement. In the early 1920s different orientations emerged within Soviet architecture and crystallised around several professional societies. In 1923 the Association of New Architects (identified by the Russian acronym ASNOVA) was formed, followed shortly by another group, the Union of Contemporary Architects (OSA). Both groups emphatically rejected the notion that traditional (now labeled bourgeois) forms could give proper shape to socialist culture, but they differed over the relative weight to give expressive versus functional concerns.

Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974) was a prominent member of the ASNOVA group. He achieved international success with his design for the Soviet Pavilion at the 1925 "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industries Modernes" in Paris which contrasted sharply with the Art Deco style characteristic of other fair pavilions. Between 1927 and 1929 he built six workers' clubs in Moscow. The workers' club was an important building type; it was conceived as a center- literally a "social condenser" for the formation of the new proletarian culture of Communism. For the Rusakov Workers' Club in Moscow, Melnikov allowed the blocks of auditorium seating inside to project through the front of the building so that the building reads as a sculpturesque composition of solids and voids. He also provided a system of moveable partitions that allows the interior spaces to be reconfigured in a variety of ways.

Moisei Ginzburg (1892-1946), one of the leading figures of the OSA group, was responsible, together with Ignatii Milinis (1899-1974), for the design of the Narkomfin Communal House in Moscow, erected as housing for dependents of the Russian Ministry of Finance. Ginzburg conceived this project as prototypical Communal House (Dom Kommuna). In the Constructivist vision, communal housing would serve as the incubator of the new socialist society and facilitate the transition from bourgeois to Communist conception of personal and social space. The Narkomfin included a communal kitchen. dining and laundry facilities, and a gymnasium and library (a communal childcare center was projected but never built). Accommodation for 200 households in A variety of configurations was provided. As an acknowledgment of the transitional state of Russian society, a handful of Narkomfin units included small kitchens to satisfy traditional conceptions of private family life. Like Grete Schütte-Lihotzky's work in Frankfurt (see fig. 2.38), OSA designers planned these kitchens as small, functional work- stations. With its long horizontal bands of windows, flat roof. and slender pilots, the design of the Narkomtin reflected the impact of Le Corbusier's work in Russia.

VOPRA and Socialist Realism

The contrast between the expressive plasticity of Melnikov's Rusakov Workers' Club and the lean, almost puritanical severity of the Narkomfin design is indicative of the respective orientations of the ASNOVA and OSA groups. In 1929, however, a new association, the All-Union Society of Proletarian Architects (VOPRA), was founded signalling a new direction on the debates concerning revolutionary architecture. VOPRA began to undermine the position of both ASNOVA and OSA architects, charging them with ignoring the real conditions of Soviet society in favor of exercises in abstract formalism. In Soviet terms, formalism was a feature of bourgeois art that reinforced the distinction between popular and elite cultures. The VOPRA attacks paralleled similar criticism against the experiments of the avant-garde in literature and art. In the early 1930s, the Communist Party began to reformulate its approach to artistic activity. In 1932 all independent groups were suppressed and the memberships of various cultural organisations were combined into unions representing the interests of each discipline. By 1934 the regime had adopted socialist realism as the official cultural policy.

Defining socialist realism in architectural terms is not as easy as it is for other visual arts because one can attach various meanings to the word realism in build- ing. However, the issue of legibility is central to the socialist realist view of design. One party edict stated: "In its search for an appropriate style, Soviet architecture must strive for realistic criteria for clarity and precision in images, which must be easily comprehensible by and accessible to the masses." While projects like Tatlin's Monument to the Third International were impractical given the economic and technological state of the Soviet Union at the time, ultimately it was the pursuit of a novel language of form based on abstraction rather than tradition that doomed the Constructivist vision. In Stalin's Russia, to be avant-garde literally in front of the mass audience was to court danger.

In 1931 an international design competition was announced for the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow. The program called for meeting halls and offices for various state agencies and identified the projected building as the preeminent architectural symbol of the Soviet Union. The competition progressed through a series of rounds and attracted entries from around the world. Many Constructivist architects submit- ted proposals and the entries included a broad spectrum of traditional and modern designs. Finally, in 1934 a team headed by Boris lofan (1891-1976) was awarded the prize. The result influenced the development of Russian architecture for decades.

lofan's enormous tower had the setback silhouette of an American skyscraper which, by then, had become an instantly recognisable image of modernity. But lofan's palace would never be mistaken for capitalist office building: a statue of Lenin over one hundred meters tall crowned the design and brought the total height of the tower to more than four hundred meters, lofan rejected the Constructivist language of form and relied on the traditional elements of monumentality such as mass, symmetry, and axiality for effect. The vivid contrast between Tatlin's Monument to the Third International and lofan's Palace of the Soviets reveals the trajectory of political architecture in Russia.

Russian modernists, however, continued to enter major architectural competitions. The 1934 competition for the People's Commissariat for Heavy Industry Headquarters (NKTP) in Moscow included a range of Constructivist entries. In his proposal, Melnikov moved away from the more abstract forms characteristic of his earlier work and transformed machine parts into giant architectural elements which he combined with enormous figural sculpture (fig. 4.15). But his efforts to match the epic scale and popular iconography of the Palace of the Soviets were no more succossful in gaining official support than the bold abstractions submitted by other Constructivists, Ultimately, socialist realism in architecture was equated with the application of classical models in the service of proletarian society. The leaders of the recently constituted Union of Soviet Architects explicitly identified the classical heritage of Greco-Roman antiquity and the Renaissance as the appropriate model for Soviet architecture.

Stations designed for the Moscow subway system provided a vivid demonstration of this new design doctrine of palaces for the people. The new underground system was an important part of the modernisation program for the city; the first completed stations date to the mid-1930s and work continued for decades. The imposing Doric columns of the Kurskaya metro station's central hall, opened in 1949, transform this transit facility into a patriotic shrine. Like a cult figure, the statue of Stalin dominates the space and the words of a new national anthem are inscribed on the colonnade. The decorative programs of other stations celebrated Russian military and industrial achievements.

The USSR

Soviet architecture in the immediate postwar years followed a different path than design in the West. The Moscow State University, for example, demonstrates a very different solution to the problem of housing an academic institution. Rather than conceived as a group of buildings, the university was planned as a single, enormous structure. The university building was one of eight such towers (of which seven were ultimately built) to be erected at key points around the city, There is no strict relationship between architectural type and functional program for these towers and they served a variety of purposes including government offices, hotels, and apartments. According to Soviet planning ideology of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the dispersal of tall buildings across the city would distinguish Moscow, as a model Communist city, from the concentration of skyscrapers in the urban center characteristic of Western capitalist cities. The site atop the Lenin Hills overlooking the city provides the university with an imposing presence on the city's skyline. but the ornate setback tower appears anachronistic in the context of postwar design. The undecorated glass box characteristic of American skyscrapers in the 1950s represents the wedding of the formal and tectonic preferences of modern architects with the concerns of real-estate interests for maximizing the profitability of land in the urban center. However, neither the autonomous aesthetic preferences of the design profession nor a concern for profit were factors in Soviet architecture during the Stalinist era. The Moscow State University reflects the continued significance of Boris loan's prizewinning design for the Palace of the Soviets as a model for Russian architects (see page 102). It was not until after Stalin's death in 1953 that Russian architects could begin to reconsider the premises of socialist realism and explore alternative design strategies to promote the modernisation of the Soviet Union.

 

Dennis P. Doordan. Twentieth-century Architecture. H.N. Abrams., 2002.

 
   
   
   
   
   
   
GALLERY  
   
 
  1919-1920, a monument to the Third International, Vladimir Tatlin 
   
 
  1925–1927, the Izvestiia Building, Moscow, RUSSIA, Grigory Barkhin
   
 
  1926, Leningrad Textile Complex, Leningrad, RUSSIA, Erich Mendelsohn
   
 
  1926–1927, the Leyland Bus Garage, Moscow, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
 
  1927–1928, the Rusakov Club, Moscow, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
 
  1927–1929, the Zuev Workers’ Club, Moscow, RUSSIA, Ilya Golosov
   
 
 

1927, Trade Department Store, Moscow, RUSSIA, Vesnin Brothers

   
 
  1927–1929, MELNIKOV HOUSE, Moscow, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
 
 

1928–1930, the apartment housefor the People’s Commissariat of Finance, Moscow, RUSSIA, Moisei Ginzburg

   
 
  1928-1935, Tsentrosoiuz Building, Moscow, RUSSIA, Le Corbusier
   
 
  1928-1940, Lenin State Library, Moscow, RUSSIA, Vladimir Shchuko, V. Gelfreikh
   
 
  1931–1937, the Likhachev Palace of Culture, Moscow, RUSSIA, Vesnin brothers
   
 
  1933–1935, Palace of the Soviets, Boris Iofan, Vladimir Gelfreikh, Vladimir Shchuko
   
 
  1934, Narkomtiazh People's (Commissariat for Heavy Industry) competition project, Konstantin Melnikov
   
 
  1934, Apartment house, Marx Prospekt, Moscow, RUSSIA, Ivan Zholtovskii
   
 
  1949, Kurskaya metro station, central hall, Moscow, RUSSIA, Grigorii Zakharov and Zinaida Chernysheva
   
 
  1949–1953, Moscow State University, Moscow, RUSSIA, Lev Rudnev, Pavel Abrosimov, Alexander Khriakov
   
 
 

1954, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow, RUSSIA, M. Minkus, V. Gelfreikh

   
 
  1956, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, RUSSIA
   
 
 

1959–1961, the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Moscow, RUSSIA, Mikhail Posokhin (in collaboration with A. Mndoiants and others) 

   
 
  1962-1963, Prospekt Kalinina, Moscow, RUSSIA
   
 
  1967, the Ostankino Television Tower, Moscow, RUSSIA, N.Nikitin, L.Batalov, and others
   
 
  1971, National Research University of Electronic Technology, Zelonograd, RUSSIA, Novikov F.
   
 
  1972, Ploschad Yunosti, Zelenograd, RUSSIA
   
 
  1973,VINTITI, Moscow, RUSSIA, Belopolsky, Ya.
   
 
  1973, Pulkovo Airport, Saint Petersburg, RUSSIA, Zhuk A.
   
 
  1974, Инженерный корпус Министерства автомобильных дорог Грузии, Tbilisi, Georgia, Dzhalaganiya Z.
   
 
 

1975, Apartment block, Baku, Azerbaijan, Belokon A.N.

   
 
  1975, Rossiya Cinema, Yerevan,  Armenia, Tarhanyan A.
   
 
  1977, Dvorec Pionerov, Kirov, RUSSIA, Gazerov. L.
   
 
  1977, Dvorec Molodezhi, Yerevan,  Armenia, Tarhanyan A.
   
 
  1980, Cycling Track, Moscow, RUSSIA, Voronina N.
   
 
  1980, Olympic Village, Moscow, RUSSIA
   
 
   
   
   
   
   
ARCHITECTS  
 

GINZBURG, MOISEI

GOLOSOV, ILYA

LEONIDOV, IVAN ILICH

MELNIKOV, KONSTANTIN STEPANOVICH

VESNIN, ALEXANDER, LEONID VESNIN, AND VIKTOR VESNIN

 
   
   
   
   
   
   
BUILDINGS  
  1874–83, the Historical Museum, Moscow, RUSSIA, Vladimir Shervud
   
  1889–93, the Upper Trading Rows, Moscow, RUSSIA, Alexander Pomerantsev
   
  1897–1912, the Museum of Fine Arts (since 1937 the Pushkin Museum), Moscow, RUSSIA, Roman Klein
   
  1899–1905, the Hotel Metropole, Moscow, RUSSIA, Lev Kekushev, Adolf Erikhson, William Walcot
   
 

1900–02, a mansion for Stepan Riabushinsky, Moscow, RUSSIA, Fedor Shekhtel

   
  1901, the Alexandra Derozhinsky mansion, Moscow, RUSSIA, Fedor Shekhtel
   
  1902–04,  the Singer Building, Saint Petersburg, RUSSIA, Pavel Siuzor
   
  c. 1905, the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, RUSSIA, Viktor Vasnetsov
   
  1906–08, the Muir and Mirrielees department store, Moscow, RUSSIA, Roman Klein
   
  1911–12, the Hotel Astoria,  Saint Petersburg, RUSSIA, Fedor Lidval
   
  1925–27, the Izvestiia Building, Moscow, RUSSIA, Grigory Barkhin
   
  1929, GARAGE, MOSCOW, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
  1929, RUSAKOV CURTURE HOUSE, MOSCOW, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
  1927–29, the Zuev Workers’ Club, Moscow, RUSSIA, Ilya Golosov
   
  1929, MELNIKOV HOUSE, MOSCOW, RUSSIA, Konstantin Melnikov
   
  1928, NARKOMFIN HOUSE, MOSCOW, RUSSIA, Moisei Ginzburg
   
  1931–37, the Likhachev Palace of Culture, Moscow, RUSSIA, Vesnin brothers
   
  1933–35, Palace of the Soviets, Boris Iofan, Vladimir Gelfreikh, Vladimir Shchuko
   
  1949–53, Moscow State University, Moscow, RUSSIA, Lev Rudnev, Pavel Abrosimov, Alexander Khriakov
   
  1959–61, the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Moscow, RUSSIA, Mikhail Posokhin (in collaboration with A. Mndoiants and others) 
   
  1967, the Ostankino Television Tower, Moscow, RUSSIA, N.Nikitin, L.Batalov, and others
   
  1978–79, the Velotrek bicycle racing stadium, Moscow, RUSSIA, Natalia Voronina and others
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
MORE  
 

INTERNAL LINKS

Art Nouveau; Constructivism; Golosov, Ilya; Leonidov, Ivan Ilich; Melnikov, Konstantin; RUSSIA and USSR; Vesnin, Alexander, Leonid, and Viktor

FURTHER READING

Modern Russian architecture and particularly the early Soviet avantgarde have received considerable attention from Western scholars, as well as from Russians. The following list is a sample of some of the more prominent works.

Barkhin, M.G., et al. (editors), Mastera sovetskoi arkhitektury ob arkhitekture (Masters of Soviet Architecture on Architecture), 2 vols., Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1975

Bliznakov, Milka, “The Realization of Utopia: Western Technology and Soviet AvantGarde Architecture,” in Reshaping Russian Architecture: Western Technology, Utopian Dreams, edited by William C.Brumfield, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991

Borisova, Elena A., and Tatiana P.Kazhdan, Russkaia arkhitketura kontsa XIX—nachala XX veka (Russian Architecture of the End of the 19th Century and the Beginning of the 20th), Moscow: Izd-vo “Nauka,” 1971

Brumfield, William C., The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991 ——, A History of Russian Architecture, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993

Cohen, Jean-Louis, Le Corbusier et la mystique de l’USSR, Brussels: Mardaga, 1987; as Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR, translated by Kenneth Hylton, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991

Cooke, Catherine, Russian Avant-Garde: Theories of Art, Architecture, and the City, London: Academy Editions, 1995

Ginzburg, Moisei IAkovlevich, Stil i epokha, Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo, 1924; as Style and Epoch, translated and edited by Anatole Senkevitch, Jr., Cambridge, Massachusetts: MITPress, 1982

Yaralov, Yurii Stepanovich, compiler, Zodchie Moskvy (Architects of Moscow), edited by S.M.Zemtsov, 2 vols., Moscow: Moskovskii Rabochii, 1988

Khan-Magomedov, Selim O., Pioneers of Soviet Architecture: The Search for New Solutions in the 1920s and 1930s, translated by Alexander Lieven, edited by Catherine Cooke, New York: Rizzoli, and London: Thames and Hudson, 1987

Khazanova, V.E., Sovetskaia arkhitektura pervykh let Oktiabria, 1917–1925 gg. (Soviet Architecture of the First Years of October, 1917–1925), Moscow: Nauka, 1970

Lissitzky, El, Russland: Architektur für eine Weltrevolution, Berlin: Ullstein, 1965; as Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution, translated by Eric Dluhosch, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1970

Lodder, Christina, Russian Constructivism, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1983

Riabushin, A.V., and N.I. Smolina, Landmarks of Soviet Architecture, 1917–1991, New York: Rizzoli, 1992

Starr, S.Frederick, Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978

Былинкин Н.П., А.М.Журавлев, И.В.Шишкина и др., Современная советская архитектура, Стройиздат, 1985

Хазанова В.Э., Советская архитектура первой пятилетки: проблемы города будущего

Хан-Магомедов С.О., Архитектура Запада. Мастера и течения, Стройиздат, 1972

Хан-Магомедов С. О., ВХУТЕМАС, Издательство Ладья, 1995

Хан-Магомедов С.О., Кривоарбатский переулок, 10 

Хан-Магомедов С. О., Константин Мельников, Стройиздат, 1990

Хан-Магомедов С.О., Пионеры советского дизайна, Галарт, 1995

Хан-Магомедов С.О., Супрематизм и архитектура (проблемы формообразования)

   

 

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