Recommended Architectural Blogs and Articles, along with My Gratitude

Leonidov's Proposed "Ministry of Heavy Industry" (1934)

I should like to thank the following architecture-related websites and point to some of their best articles:

  1. dpr-barcelona: I would like to thank Ethel Baraona not only for her enthusiastic promotion of my site on Twitter and so on, but for her friendship.  After I posted some links to a few of the journals I’d uploaded, she immediately e-mailed me personally expressing her thanks.  That said, she and her co-contributor have produced some excellent content of their own, in articles both in English and in Spanish.  To point to just a couple of them: “Ivan Leonidov and the Russian Utopias” and “Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms | Iakov Chernikhov.”
  2. Critical Grounds: Thanks to the author of this blog for pointing his students to the English-language modernist architectural archive I created.  And if you have the time, please read the following excellent articles: “In the Name of Being: Critical Regionalist Landscape Urbanism, a Critique,” his reference to another critique of environmentalism in “Ross Adams on the ‘eco-city’,” and finally his own “Parallel Lines: formal expression as publicity in the architecture of Hadid’s Central Building for BMW Leipzig.”
  3. sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy: As always, the Bolshevist and “interdistrictite” Owen Hatherley must make the list.  Not only for his incredibly helpful promotion of my own blog, but for his numerous good articles.  Some of his older articles from his previous blog are more immediately related to what I’ve been working on: “No Rococo Palace for Buster Keaton: Americanism (and Technology, Advertising, Socialism) in Weimar Architecture,” “The Functionalist Deviation Politics of building, aesthetics of anti-architecture,” and especially “A Pod of One’s Own — Architecture or Revolution: the Congres International d’Architecture Moderne, 1928-33.”
  4. Kosmograd: There’s too much good, cosmopolitan material at this site, which is mostly dedicated to early Bolshevik architecture and the Soviet space program.  He has linked to my site on several occasions, for which I am very thankful.  Interesting articles on this site include “Communal House of the Textile Institute,” the hilarious “Eco-town of Tomorrow and Its Planning,” and his interesting piece on “Decaying Orbiters.”

Free PDFs of the German Avant-Garde Architectural Journal Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst und Städtebau (1926-1931)

Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst und Städtebau's Coverage of Ivan Leonidov's Proposal for the Lenin Institute

 The modernist movement was alive and well in interwar Germany.  Not only at the Bauhaus, which stood at the forefront of the avant-garde, under the leadership of Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, but all over the country.  László Moholy-Nagy and Gropius published their famous Bauhausbücher series, El Lissitzky established his journal ABC: Beitrage zum Bauen, and Theo van Doesburg transplanted his Dutch De Stijl magazine to Germany. Continue reading

Another Batch of Soviet Avant-Garde Architectural Journals (Free PDFs)

Plan for "New Moscow" (April 1929)

Here’s another batch of early Soviet avant-garde architectural journals, from between 1929-1930.  The 1929 one is the one I most recently worked on; the others were converted into PDFs back before I had perfected the method of separating out the text from the rest of the page.  As a result, these are all in grayscale, though they remain very readable.  The image quality is a little lower than on my more recent uploads.  But here they are, so enjoy!

  1. Строительство Москвы – (1929) – № 4
  2. Строительство Москвы – (1930) – № 7
  3. Строительство Москвы – (1930) – № 8/9
  4. Строительство Москвы – (1930) – № 10
  5. Строительство Москвы – (1930) – № 12

Nadezhda Krupskaia, Articles on the Socialist City (1929-1930) — Free PDF Download

A Young Nadezhda Krupskaia

The problem of the “socialist city” introduced by Sabsovich was not exclusively pondered over by architects and urban planners.  Indeed, quite a number of prominent Soviet officials weighed in on the matter, from the People’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii, to the renowned Bolshevik and member of the Politburo Grigorii Zinoviev, all the way to Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaia.

Krupskaia, who will be the subject of the present post and whose writings will be included along with it, had largely been relegated to the sidelines of Soviet politics by 1929-1930.  The Stalinist bloc had by then established itself on fairly firm footing in the political sphere, but knew that Krupskaia was too symbolically important to the Revolution to silence altogether.  So Krupskaia was still able to publish some political articles here and there, and became a popular pedagogical and matriarchal figure for the young Soviet regime for her writings on education and children.

In 1929, when the economist Sabsovich published his seminal article on the Socialist city, Krupskaia became intrigued by the prospect of a new mode of social and municipal reorganization.  Early on, she sided with Sabsovich’s proposal to overcome the antithesis of town and country with a more uniform system of settlement.  She thus wrote her article, “Cities of the Future,” which can be found on pages 161-165 of the volume uploaded below, in which she announced her support for Sabsovich’s Urbanist plan.  As a correlative of that plan, in which Sabsovich had proposed that children have their own “little cities” (детьские городки), Krupskaia responded by writing an article posing the question, “Where will Children Live in the Socialist City?”  This can be found between pages 206-209.

Also, as the competition for the “Green City” of Moscow heated up, Krupskaia offered her input, as she (amongst other Soviet intellectuals) tried to conceptualize a city for workers’ rest and leisure.

Надежда Крупская – Педагогические сочинения в десяти томах – Том 6

The articles:

  1. “Where will Children Live in the Socialist City? (in the order of consideration)” = «Где жить детям и социалистическом городе? (в порядке обсуждения)»
  2. “‘The Green City’ and the Leisure Activities of the Workers” = ««Зеленый город» и задачи отдыха рабочих»
  3. “The City of the Future” = «Города будущего»
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Man and nature

.

Nature! We are encircled and enclasped by her — powerless to depart from her, and powerless to find our way more deeply into her being. Without invitation and without warning she involves us in the orbit of her dance, and drives us onward until we are exhausted and fall from her arm.

[…]

We live in the midst of her, and yet to her we are alien. She parleys incessantly with us, and to us she does not disclose her secret. We influence her perpetually, and yet we have no power over her.

— Goethe, Ode “To Nature”[1]

With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old issue of humanity’s relationship to nature. The proper exposition of the problem requires a great deal of space; therefore, I propose to divide my treatment of the issue into four separate sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it.

After all, the problem of man’s relation to nature has been conceived in a number of distinct ways over the ages, many of which survive into the present day, in various mutations. So perhaps it might be useful to begin with an overview, a genealogy of sorts, so that these different conceptions and their relation to one another can be clarified. The presentation will be dialectical, but not out of any obligation to some artificially preconfigured format. It will be dialectical because the subject at hand is itself really dialectical,[2] as the various conceptions of nature interweave and overlap in their progress through history. For man’s orientation to nature has by no means been the same over time; and by that same token there are no later conceptions of nature that do not bear the traces of those that came before it. Continue reading

Leonid Sabsovich, Urbanism, and the Socialist City [Соцгород] (1929-1931)

Sabsovich’s “The USSR in (literally ‘after’) 15 Years”

In July 1929, the economist Leonid Sabsovich sparked a debate regarding the future of Soviet urbanism with an article he wrote for Плановое Хозяйство (Planned Economy), entitled «Проблема города» (“The Problem of the City”).  Sabsovich was convinced that the major urban centers of the USSR were overcrowded and overpopulated; they needed to be reduced to a more manageable size, while preserving the industrial base they provided.  At the same time, he considered the countryside to be far too provincial and culturally isolated to remain in the state it was in at that point.  So Sabsovich proposed instead a uniform distribution of the population at regular intervals, of interconnected “socialist cities” — both industrial cities and “agro-cities.”  These would be evenly populated, with between thirty and fifty thousand inhabitants each.

Sabsovich’s position came to be called the “urbanist” vision of Soviet municipal reformation.  The widely-respected group of modernist architects — the brothers Leonid, Aleksandr, and Viktor Vesnin — endorsed his proposal.  They all saw Sabsovich’s proposal as a way to overcome what Marx, Engels, and Lenin had termed “the antithesis between town and country.”  Reduce the size of the filthy, noisy, and overcrowded mega-cities, Sabsovich argued, and disperse the population into new municipal units that could still maintain their industrial productivity.  Conversely, these measures would reorganize the largely peasant population of the various Soviet Republics and grant them access to the culture, education, and opportunity that larger towns would make available.  Quite ambitiously, Sabsovich thought that the entire population of the USSR could be redistributed accordingly within a period of ten years — or two five-year plans.  He thus wrote a wildly utopian book under the title of СССР через 10 лет (The USSR in 10 Years), elaborating his vision and stressing the practical feasibility of the plan.  Later, he would revise this figure to a more modest (but still outlandish) fifteen years, and stressed the central importance of this goal to the greater project of social transformation under communism.

Against Sabsovich’s notion of the middle-path between town and country, the sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich and the renowned Constructivist architect Moisei Ginzburg would oppose their idea of “disurbanism,” abandoning the notion of centralized resettlement altogether, advancing instead their notion of a “linear city.”  This would lead to the first major split in the editorship of the journal Современная архитектура (Modern Architecture), as Ginzburg and the Vesnins for the first time found themselves at odds with one another.  Luckily, by then, the position of main editor of the magazine had passed on to Roman Khiger, so the one side did not totally drown out the other.  Khiger clearly sided with Ginzburg and Okhitovich, however, and so Sabsovich was forced to promote his viewpoint from the pages of Плановое Хозяйство and the various books he managed to publish through Генплан (Genplan, the central planning agency of the Soviet Union at the time).  The Urbanist-Disurbanist dispute would continue through until 1931, when both sides were reigned in for utopian speculation.  At that point, a number of foreign architects — Le Corbusier and André Lurçat from France, and Bruno Taut, Hannes Meyer, and Ernst May from Germany — were called in to assist in the process of planning Soviet urbanism.  Their presence would in turn become unwelcome by 1937, at the height of the Stalinist terror, when the state would hand down the order that all foreign experts exit the country, under suspicion of “sabotaging” Soviet progress.

The following is the original journal article that sparked the whole controversy, reproduced in its entirety:

Леонид Сабсович – «Проблема города» – Плановое Хозяйство – (1929) – № 7

The Architecture for the Palace of the Soviets/Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939) – Free PDF Download

The Archetype of Stalinist Architecture - The Palace of the Soviets

Continuing our theme of the decline of architecture, literature, and the visual arts under Stalin, it is perhaps appropriate to post here a document that was printed in order to educate the public on the proposed architectural design of  the building.  The Architecture of the Palace of the Soviets (Архитектура Дворца Советов) was intended to accomplish this task.  In it, numerous architects, some of them having formerly belonged to the now-vanquished Soviet avant-garde, sing the praises of this bizarre, wedding-cake blend of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical stylization (the columns and lavishly-decorated façades).  Some, like Vladimir Paperny, have suggested that Stalin himself might have had a hand in its design, personally stepping in to oversee the realization of Iofan, Fomin, and Shchuko’s abominable vision.  Considering the sheer monstrosity of the final structure, it is not too unlikely that this might have been the case.  Either way, below you can download a free .pdf file copy of the 1939 text, which sadly includes a declaration from the once-great architectural modernist Nikolai Miliutin written in in support of the final proposal:

Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939)

And the following is a Stalinist propaganda film made a year before this text, in 1938, called New Moscow (Новая Москва), which features both the interior and exterior of the proposed building:

An Interesting Elaboration of My Last Entry

Shurpin’s "Morning of our Fatherland"

Sonia-Belle has posted an interesting elaboration and expansion  of my recent entry on “The Stalinization of Post-Revolutionary Art and Architecture.”  She noted how, despite the limitations imposed on them by the tenets of Socialist realism, some artists were still able to achieve interesting artistic and painterly effects.  Despite its repugnant subject-matter, with Stalin in one of his characteristic poses gazing out onto his Soviet Fatherland with dignity and resolve, Shurpin’s use of yellow-on-yellow is extremely striking.  The white of Stalin’s uniform is only barely suggested beneath its absorption of the sun’s soft rays.

The Stalinization of Post-Revolutionary Soviet Art and Architecture

Panteleimon (brother of Il'ia) Golosov's Submission for the Narkomtiazhprom Competition

The vibrant artistic culture that existed in post-revolutionary Russia thrived up until the early 1930s. During that time, the Soviet government allowed a great deal of creative liberty, with a number of independent artistic and architectural movements sprouting up in the aftermath of October.  Some state oversight existed in the capacity of Narkompros, the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment.  Its Fine Arts division sponsored some projects, but gave no special preference to any particular group or style.  Narkompros’ director (and Lenin’s old friend) Anatolii Lunacharskii may have been more fond of the classics of Western civilization than he was of the modernists’ brash iconoclasm, but he was remarkably tolerant of any group that displayed enthusiasm for the Bolsheviks’ social and political revolution.

Post-revolutionary art and architecture can be disaggregated into three main categories: the modernist, the atavistic, and the “proletarian.”  This third category traced its origins to Aleksandr Bogdanov, one of leading figures in Russian Social-Democracy and Lenin’s early rival within the Bolshevik party.  Modernism had emerged in pre-war Russia out of the fragmentation of Symbolism in the fields of literature, poetry, and art, but absorbed international influences as well.  The traditionalist eclecticism of artistic and architectural atavism was passed on through the Imperial Academy system, which had been imported from Western Europe some two hundred years before.

Tatlin's Tower (1919) Digitally Superimposed on the Petersburg Skyline

Out of these three groups, the modernists were the first to lend their support to the Bolshevik cause during the Revolution.  Only months after October 1917, Maiakovskii and others declared their solidarity with Lenin’s party.  They saw the social and political revolution carried out by the communists as a parallel to the artistic revolution that they were attempting to realize.  But the Soviet avant-garde was far from being a unitary movement.  In the fifteen years following the October Revolution, numerous avant-garde currents were established, each with their own agendas and often antagonisms against one another.  They shared a rejection of the ways of the past, and they tended to be more internationalist and experimental in orientation.  There were the Russian Futurists (very different from their Italian counterparts), painterly and architectural Suprematists, Productivists, artistic and architectural Constructivists, and Formalists in architecture and literary theory, etc. These various groups also invited modernists from other countries to join in the project of building a new society.

Eclectic Architecture from 1924

At the same time, however, there was the more conservative brand of eclectic art and architecture inherited from the old academy system. These artists and architects were generally referred to as the academicians, and were generally despised by the avant-gardists.  They saw artistic and architectural history as a sort of inventory of recognized styles that could be arbitrarily combined or juxtaposed at the whim of the artist or architect.  This is why their style was often referred to as “historicist.”

Anti-Capital (1920)

Alongside this, there was the Proletkult/proleterian art movement that Lenin and Trotskii were so uncomfortable with, that tended to be more realist and “heroic” in its representation of workers, Bolshevik leaders, and revolutionary battle scenes.  They believed that there would emerge a new form of art and architecture that was both created by and legible to the revolutionary proletariat.  They believed that the working masses had already established their own essential culture in opposition to bourgeois taste and high society under capitalism.  Lenin and Trotskii criticized them for believing that the culture of the proletariat would be that drastically different than the culture that had predominated under capitalism.  The other aspect that disturbed them was that the Bolshevik Revolution was meant to create a classless society, not a specifically proletarian society.  Nevertheless, Proletkult and proletarian art merged with elements of a strange brand of monumentalist avant-gardism that in architecture banded together in the group VOPRA, and this led to the Stalinist synthesis of Socialist realism.

Around 1931-1933, Stalin and his henchmen intervened and wanted to put an end to the various competing groups and form an official style that would be run by forcibly unionizing the different art and architectural groups together. Once all the groups had been subsumed into All-Union appendages of the state, bureaucratized and monitored closely, the decision was made to institute Socialist realism.  This way, all artists and architects had to be registered with and licensed by the state and made to conform to union mandates handed down from above, by the Stalinist hierarchy.  Those who did not join with the state-funded unions would not have their work supported or even recognized by the Soviet government, and would not receive the regular income that the union provided.

Works now had to be:

  1. Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
  2. Typical: scenes of every day life of the people.
  3. Realistic: in the representational sense.
  4. Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.

Continue reading

Leonid Vesnin, Vladimir Shchuko, & Ludwig Hilberseimer Designs All in One Issue (1928), Full-Text PDF Download

The Vesnin Brother's Later Entry for Narkomtiazhprom (1934)

The following issue of Строительство Москвы is a classic.  Submissions for a design competition for a new textile workers’ factory were under discussion, with entries from Leonid Vesnin, Vladimir Shchuko, and Iakov Kornfel’d, among others.  A brief on Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Grosstadt Architectur, as well as his conception of a “vertical city,” are also included.

Download the full journal here:

Строительство Москвы – (1928) – № 7