El Lissitzky’s “Architecture in the USSR” (1925)

IMAGE: El Lissitzky’s Wolkenbügel (1924)

 From Die Kunstblatt, No. 2 (February 1925)

Modern architecture in Russia?

There is no such thing.  What one does find is a fight for modern architecture, as there is everywhere in the world today.  Still nowhere is their a new architectonic CULTURE.  Any isolated really new buildings were designed only to meet the need of the moment, and only by some anonymous character, some engineer, over the head of the artist with a diploma.  At the same time, modern architects in various countries have been fighting for some decades to establish a new tectonics.  The main watchwords remain the same: expedient, in suitable material, constructive.  Every generation puts a different meaning into the same ideas.  For many this process is not developing rapidly enough.  There is certainly no lack of forces.  The trouble lies in the economic abnormality of the present time and the utter confusion of their intentions.

In the world of today, Russia is moving at record speed.  This is manifested even in the name of the country: — Russia, RSFSR, SSSR.  Art also advanced at the same tempo.  There the revolution in art began by giving form to the elements of time, of space, of tempo and rhythm, of movement.  Before the war cubists in France and futurists in Italy advanced new theses in art.  There re-echoed loudly in Russia; but from the early years of our isolation we went our own way and put forward antitheses.

The European thesis was: THE FINE ARTS (BEAUX-ARTS) FOREVER.  Thus the arts were made to become a completely private, subjective-aesthetic concern.  The antithesis was: ANYTHING BUT THE FINE ARTS.  [372] Let us have something universal, something clear and simple.  Thus a square is simple, or a glass cylinder.  Out with the painting of pictures! ‘The future belongs to those who have a remarkable lack of talent for the fine arts.’  Organic growth is a simple thing — so is building, architecture.

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Color illustration from Modern Architecture (1929) of a disurbanized dwelling

Ginzburg’s reply to Le Corbusier on deurbanization

IMAGE: Color illustration in Modern Architecture
of a “disurbanized” dwelling unit (1929)


My dear Le Corbusier,

Our recent conversation about city planning and your letter have compelled me to rethink the entire problem, to recall your objections, the objections you made when you visited me and which you now write about in your letter.

Like all my friends, I value you tremendously not only as a subtle master architect but also as a man with the ability to solve radically and fundamentally the important problems of organization.

For me you are today the greatest and most brilliant representative of the profession that gives my life content, goal, and meaning.

That is why your ideas and solutions in the area of city planning have for us a quite exceptional interest and importance. Continue reading

Le Corbusier’s “The Atmosphere of Moscow,” along with His Letter to Ginzburg on Deurbanization

Barsch and Ginzburg, Proposal for the Green City (1930)

From Le Corbusier’s Precisions on the Present

State of Architecture and City Planning (1930)


I am not trying to learn Russian, that would be a wager.  But I hear people saying krasni and krassivo.  I question.  Krasni means red, krassivo means beautiful.  Before [the Revolution], they say, the terms meant the same: red and beautiful.  Red was beautiful.

If I base myself on my own perceptions, I affirm: red is what is a living being, life, intensity, activeness; there is no doubt.

So naturally I feel I have the right to admit that life is beautiful, or that the beautiful is life.

That little linguistic mathematics is not so ridiculous when one is preoccupied with architecture and planning.


The USSR has decided to carry on a general program of equipment for the country: the five-year plan.  It is being carried out.  It was even decided to concentrate the greater part of the product of present work on carrying out this program: that is why there is no longer any butter on the spinach here,nor any more caviar in Moscow; the savings are used to make foreign exchange.

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