Not all of the early Soviet architectural avant-garde was “Constructivist,” strictly speaking. Though this was the title often generically ascribed to all modernist architecture coming out of Russia, only those pieces produced by the architectural group OSA can be considered constructivist. OSA’s self-proclaimed position was that of constructivism, which was founded on the principle of the “functional method” of design, as Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers described it.
An earlier avant-garde group, ASNOVA, had been founded in 1923 by Nikolai Ladovskii, Nikolai Dokuchaev, Vladimir Krinskii, and El Lissitzky (though Lissitzky spent most of his time abroad). This school of architectural thought was deeply informed by the principles of abstract Suprematism in painting, the style invented by Kazimir Malevich some years before. In fact, Lissitzky’s PROUN series led directly into his architectural phase of production.
As opposed to the Constructivists in OSA, which was founded two years later (in 1925), the premise of architectural Rationalism, as it came to be called, was formalistic, rather than functional. The members of ASNOVA appealed to evidence gleaned from the study of psychotechnics, a science imported from Germany and America, to claim that certain formal shapes and patterns of design had a direct effect on the psychology of those who viewed the structure of a building. Once these formal principles could be discerned, they could be used to produce an ideological effect, lifting viewers out of their state of false consciousness and inspiring their participation in the construction of the new society.
Nikolai Dokuchaev was, next to Ladovskii, the main theoretical exponent of Rationalism in architecture. With Lissitzky in Germany, working on periodicals like G, ABC, and Merz, and the majority of Krinskii’s time devoted to teaching and designing new projects, it fell to Dokuchaev and Ladovskii to explicate ASNOVA’s programmatic stance. In the following series of articles, taken from the early Soviet periodical Советское искусство (Soviet Art), Dokuchaev compares the Soviet Constructivist architecture of the OSA group with architectural parallels he sees in the capitalist West. He criticized the Constructivists’ “functional method,” equating it with the spare style of Functionalism that was prominent in Germany at the time. Then, in a later article, published in the journal Строительство Москвы (Building Moscow) [the issue is reproduced in full], Dokuchaev lays out his proposal for the Socialist city of Magnitogorsk, one of the first of many experimental cities that were planned to be built.
These articles and the one complete issue can be downloaded below: