Richard Stites’ chapter “Utopia in Space: City and Building” from his book Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life (1981)

Cover to Stites' book on utopianism

If there is truly a proletarian concept, it is the word “We.”

— Anatoly Lunacharsky

The Soviet government in the 1920s was the first in modern history to possess such mammoth power to design living quarters for its population; to determine the number, size, and style of buildings; to plot the density of the population on the land and within each structure; to decide where to place such structures; to plan future cities and variants of the city; to shape the balance of the population between town and countryside — in other words to proclaim the layout and location of all human services — factories, offices, schools, hospitals, and homes.  Town planning in a planning state — which is what Soviet Russia became in 1928 — was not simply a minor occupation; it was in fact “nation planning,” macro-community design — in other words, Utopia building on the ground and on the grandest possible scale.  Faced with such possibilities for the expression of their talents and imaginations, what planner, architect, economist, sociologist, or geographer would not have become breathless with anticipation?

City planning and the design of future living space requires a mentality and an imagination closely resembling the concoction of science fiction and Utopia.  As S. Frederick Starr has written, “the architect could leap into the future even more easily than the novelist.  Sitting at his drafting table, he could simply obliterate present reality with a few strokes of the pen and create a new world with a few more strokes.” ‘ Even in “normal” times and in developed nonrevolutionary milieux, city planning is a blueprint for living in the very near future.  In the Russian Revolution, architects and town planners had visions of reshaping an entire nation, of aligning the structures and anti-structures with high-speed economic development plans, of providing “social condensers” for the nurturing of a new socialist race of people.  Soviet architects, bound by material limitations and political considerations, could not match the global fantasies of the all-world cities of science fiction.  They had to design for real people and for the imminent future.  Yet the architectural imagination in Soviet Russia in the late 1920s and early 1930s often verged upon the fantastic, and its treatment of space, privacy, interaction, mobility, social harmony and community, work, family life, and domestic labor intersected continuously with the major themes and issues of Utopian speculation of the revolutionary period.

Since socialism in all its variants, including the Marxist one, implies community — some sense of sharing life, residence, and work in a spirit of harmonious and fraternal interaction — socialist architects and town planners had to pose certain questions.  What measure of social distance or popular density is required to achieve it? How far apart can people live and still be called a community? How much private space (and time [191] within that space) does the individual require without violating a sense of community? These questions remain pressing ones in the contemporary world of development, dispersion, town and regional planning, and ordinary edificial architecture, and they shaped the vivid debates, blueprints, and presentations made by Soviet architects of the Russian Revolution.

The Antiurban Impulse

The history of the Russian city as a social organism and as a public concept reveals that many Russians were possessed of a vague “antiurban” sense.  The fear of what the Germans called the menace of “civilization” or “Kultur” lay at the heart of intellectual and moralizing anxiety over the steady growth of urbanization.  Since the Bolshevik Revolution was suffused by an urban mystique — unmistakable in the force of its rhetoric and its poetics — conflict was inevitable.  Indeed the birth of Utopian town planning in the 1920s grew directly and self-consciously out of a strong distaste for the current city, a distaste with a long tradition and deep roots in Russian society.

Marx’s comment about “the idiocy of rural life” was not sufficiently potent to resolve such an issue as the future of cities.  Against it, town planners of the 1920s often cited Engels’ equally suggestive remark on “the disappearance of the big cities” and Lenin’s comment to H.G. Wells that “the towns will get very much smaller” and that “they will be different.” These feelings resembled the recurrent malaise among Western intellectuals and statesmen of the nineteenth century — Jefferson, Schiller, Carlyle, the French romantics among them — who saw the city as the home base of industry, crime, capitalism, and glut.  The city became a metaphor of the discomfort with noise, “the fever of the world,” ugliness, machine-like rhythms of life, clocks, railroads, hustle and bustle, mobility, and restless change — in short, a naked menace to a real or fanciful pastoral world.  In the nineteenth century, the big city no longer remained a spatial concept, but an emblem for immense transformational, subversive, and destructive power.

Like some early American urbophobes, Russian public figures were pulled into antiurbanism not by hatred of towns or industry as such — but by repugnance for such foreign cities as Lyons and Manchester, perceived as festering centers of vice and crime, populous headquarters of dangerous ideas, and flashpoints of social disorder.  The attitude of Nicholas I to industrial growth was ambivalent.  Russian officials who pondered the agglomeration of the proletariat in the West worried about its appearance in Russia.  Because of this, the tsar sought to “halt the further aggregation of factory people in Moscow.”

Nicholas’ finance minister, E.F. Kankrin, on the other hand, believed that even with urban and industrial growth (which he by no means pushed) the Russian worker would not become a proletarian of the European type because of his strong and permanent roots in the village and his habit of returning there periodically.  This keen comment by Kankrin is highly suggestive of things to come: it was a vision of the city as a shell, not a living organism.  He wished not to destroy Russian cities but rather to retain them as static places that workers visited seasonally in order to work and to keep them from becoming those dreadful sewers of anarchy that festered in the West and bred a “spirit of coalition.” The odd-sounding concept of a “part-time” city was central to many science fiction Utopias and — in variant form — to the Disurbanist school of Soviet city planning.


Conservative anti-urbanism acquired another dimension in the years of industrialization (c.  1890-1914): rightwing anti-modernism.  Economic motivations certainly drove the mechanism of the Russian Right, and its main social focus was the Jews.  But its geographical target was the city.  As in many societies of that time — Germany in particular — industry, city, and Jew were blended into a dreamy and myopic vision contrasted to a pure pastorale of Russia-of-the-Russians, a fairyland disrupted by the energies and schemes of urban interlopers.  This was a kind of perverted Slavophilism and “Muscovite nostalgia.”

In the radical response to the city, we detect another kind of repugnance.  The “first Russian radical,” Alexander Radishchev, in the Journey from St.  Petersburg to Moscow (1790) displayed frank hostility to urban life as unhealthy and immoral.  Mid-century Russian Populism, as we have seen, emerged with a strong anti-urban sensibility.  To extremists like Bakunin, modern cities deserved nothing less than violent destruction in an act of sweeping vandalism.  More moderate Populists were ambivalent about cities in their futuristic programs and Utopias.  Most of them believed that the new society would grow out of village communes.  The theorist of Populism, Nikolai Mikhailovsky, taught that only rural life allowed for full and free development of human faculties since capitalist cities required the dehumanizing division of labor.  Sofia Perovskaya, a major terrorist figure in the People’s Will, complained that the premature sexuality of the young (before the age of thirty) was attributable “to the artificial stimuli of urban life,” and a later Populist writer, N.N. Zlatovratsky, called the city “the incarnation of sinister forces.” A curious anticipation of things to come was the little known Utopian tract, Communist States of the Future (1879) by the leftist but non-revolutionary lawyer, V.I. Taneev (1840-1921), brother of the composer Sergei.  In his sketch of a future Europe, Taneev depicts self-governing agrarian communes organized into states and federations, each commune composed of 2,000 adults and covering one square mile.  In this semi-socialist and semi-technocratic world, cities — capitals, administrative centers, and ports — contained no permanent residents, the population continuously rotating in and out.  As in many Soviet science fiction works of the 1920s, children were kept out of the cities altogether.

In the generation before the collapse of the monarchy, a whole chorus of liberal, socialist, neo-populist, and Tolstoyan publicists joined the Right in a moral assault on cities as bastions of decadence, prostitution, faceless anomie, and raging vice.  The Russian flood of “sin city” literature was of course a local version of the antiurban moral crusading that appeared in many places at the turn of the century, but its edge was very sharp.  The outcry over “decadence” (anything from free love to sex clubs and perversion through violence and child seduction) was a major thread in the intelligentsia’s discourse in the years after the 1905 Revolution.  Its connection with general culture and political climate has never been fully explored.  Elements of city hatred sometimes combined with a latent and tortured sexual envy as in the anguished book by P. Dneprov, The Cruel City (1907), portraying Petersburg as a mass of icy stone and at the same time in inferno of lust.  A revealing piece of evidence from the world of popular culture is the fact that urban song as a genre was widely known as zhestokii romans (cruel song).  A wide variety of opinions, divergent and even mutually contradictory, seemed to reflect a readiness to change drastically, at the very least, the character of Russian cities.

The wars and revolutions of 1914-21 uncovered new levels of antiurbanism: peasant hostility to towns and urban flight from the cities in search of security and survival. [193] Odious depictions of the city as such found expression in two literary schools that arose early in the Revolution: the muzhik socialists and the Scythian poets.  The former were a half-dozen or so peasant-born poets who spoke with an urbanized voice in the Proletcult movement and other forums, decried (and confounded) the city, the West, and government and reached out for a romanticized idyll of the countryside.  Among them, though not quite of them, Sergei Esenin called the city “a labyrinth where men lose their souls,” a familiar graphic demonology of city space itself.  The Scythians and others (Blok, Bely, Pilnyak, and Ivanov-Razumnik) projected a negative image of the city — a chillingly rational world of atomization, lack of community, and isolation (all in spite of the supposed density of population).

Literary currents and the peasant Utopias provided a vivid link between the deep layers of city fear and the architects’ practical concerns about what to do with existing cities.  In literary works, towns were destroyed, abandoned, emptied, gutted, or transformed in various ways into administrative centers or temporary camps or visiting sites.  In the urbanist science fiction of the twenties, where big cities did exist independent of a single world-city complex or a megacity, the old ones had been torn down, allowed to rot, blown up in the wars, or — in part — preserved as picturesque ruins and archeological sites.  Rare was the literary visionary who remained content to reform Moscow or Leningrad, or simply let them grow organically.  The revolutionary city planners, educated, well-trained, and socially alert people, were alive to the Utopian traditions of Europe and Russia, to the deep anti-urban currents of its past, to the German Marxist urban schemes of the turn-of-the-century, and to Russia’s own pre-revolutionary garden city movement.  The question was: what would they do with these legacies?

The Greening of Russia: The Disurbanists

The major schools of Utopian city planning came to be known as the Urbanists and the Disurbanists, yet both grew out of anti-urban sentiments and traditions.  Both the European socialist movement and the international garden city movement — with occasional but not extensive overlap — fed revolutionary Russian town planning.  Socialists glorified the city and its productive capacities but lamented its capitalist social evils; they scorned the countryside, but envisioned a world without the contradiction between town and country — a vague formula.  In Spain where the linear city was conceived (in the 1880s) and in England where a spate of novels and Utopias preceded the garden city movement of 1900-14, social reformers and architects sought to create new communities to illustrate the possibility of planned living in defiance of the historical growth of medieval towns, fortuitous anarchic industrial patterns, and the resultant nexus with the surrounding hinterland.  E.P. Howard’s Tomorrow (1898) — a scheme for an anti-city town in the midst of natural greenery (variously called “green city” and “garden city”) dominated this tradition for about twenty years.  Russian “gardenists” were discussing these town plans in the years before the Revolution, and their ideas attracted socialists, Tolstoyans, religious groups, and even vegetarians who linked healthy diet with healthy environment, open space, and modified residence patterns.

The Soviet Disurbanists and Urbanists of the 1920s took Marxist writings as their avowed texts but were clearly touched by deeper currents.  Some had direct links with the garden city movement of the pre-revolutionary period.  But their models were also shaped by social concerns, plans for “organizing the psyche of the masses,” technical [194] limitations, esthetic impulses, the need for personal expression, professionalism, and ideological considerations.  Since “ideology” — though Marxist in name — was in a state of flux and still uncodified, this allowed considerable latitude in urban planning for the future.  The Disurbanists in particular disdained modern cities as museums of eclectic styles, haphazard reminders of uneven growth, “irrational” accretions created by ignorant power, and clusters of concretized social evil.  Their anti-urbanism went beyond Marxism.  They believed that Moscow was a dying city and they wanted to hasten the process; they believed in their “utopian” schemes for creating a new spatial world of work and residence.  And in the brief era of their prominence (c.  1928-32), they believed in and worked for the immediate and complete realization of their designs.  In this they were for a time supported by the authorities.

Who were the Disurbanists? Not all were architects; their ranks included sociologists, social theorists, journalists, political figures, economists, and professional planners from the Soviet central planning organ (Gosplan).  The “ideologist” of the group, Mikhail Okhitovich (1896-1937; died of natural causes), a sociologist, wrote regularly for the main Disurbanist organ, Contemporary Architecture, the journal of the Society of Contemporary Architects to which most Disurbanist architects belonged.  His associate Mikhail Barshch was a practicing architect and a member of that organization.  Moisei Ginzburg, (1892-1946), one of the most influential builders and theorists of the late 1920s, joined them in 1928.  Leonid Puzis of Gosplan added his own designs to the main Disurbanist schemes, and the independent and fertile Nikolai Milyutin (1889- 1942), though not properly speaking a Disurbanist, provided a “linear” variant to their visions.  According to Puzis, they enjoyed wide support in Soviet official circles, including the Commissar of Health Semashko, the housing specialist N.L. Meshcheryakov, and the influential party figure, Yury Larin.

In its most irreducible form, Disurbanism meant the nonurban redistribution of the population.  Okhitovich conjured up “a destationed world” meaning a land not only without cities but also without capitals, without a “center,” that magic word which then and now in Russian denoted not only geographical situation but also concentration of power, communication, and culture.  To Okhitovich, the converse was openness, motion, freedom.  In arguing against the Urbanist notion of big cities and buildings as the pathway to communal life, he asserted the then not-so-obvious fact that form did not guarantee content; that a dormitory remained a dormitory whether in a barracks, in a sector of an apartment building, or in a separate communal dwelling; and that a patriarchal izba (peasant family home), with all its sociological overtones, could be found in a skyscraper as well as in a village — an acute observation whose truth would become apparent in the communal apartments of the Stalin era.

Okhitovich opposed oppressive and unnatural “collectivism” as much as he did excessive individualism.  “Personal property, personal needs, personal initiative, personal development, personal hands, feet, head, and brain not only do not disappear [under socialism] but will be for the first time accessible.” Economy of scale, he argued, becomes dysfunctional in life as well as in production when taken to extremes.  In a graphic refutation of some classical Utopian formulations, he made it quite clear that twenty-five laundries serving about a thousand people apiece were superior to a single laundry for 25,000 people.  Collective services, therefore, had to be reasonable and manageable in scale — and not the product of a mathematical mentality.  By engaging in oblique debate with Urbanists and science fiction writers, Okhitovich was exhibiting [195] the utility of Utopian discourse once again.  Unnatural or “social” division of labor — between capital and labor, between men and women, between town and country, between mental and physical labor, between nation and nation (or metropolis and colony) must be abolished — but not the natural and functional division of labor essential to all human life.

Under the slogan “down with the city,” Okhitovich called for the depopulation of Moscow and other cities and their regreening as parks.  The new locus of population was to be linear — an endless road of habitation flanked by individual dwelling places.  His own preference was for prefabricated, portable or mobile, collapsible homes that could be set up anywhere along the “magistral,” or line of communication and service points.  Some of his colleagues preferred homes on stilts, or adjoining rows of what we would now call “town homes,” consisting of one spacious room per person.  The service points, easily accessible to residents, were the key element of communalism: shopping, culture centers, and communal gathering points.  Their mechanism and administration did not come under Okhitovich’s scrutiny, a curious lapse for a professional sociologist interested in human dynamics and not just employment of space.  There are diagrams (see Fig. 33) suggesting what the Disurbanists had in mind.  But they are aerial views — often misleading to the layman attempting “real” visualization.

If we wish to transport ourselves to the Disurbanists’ world, we must look in our minds down a broad and straight paved road heading into spatial infinity (the Russian milieu certainly allowing for such a perspective).  Instead of towns or super-cities every 40-50 miles, we see an endless and uninterrupted stretch of dwellings on either side of the road — rows of individual apartment cells, mobile homes on wheels, or boxes on sturdy columns stuck in the ground.  Beyond the roads are fields and forests, perhaps farms, industrial sites hidden away along the route.  We stop and plant our house; in time we acquire a spouse and plant another box beside our own and attach it; with the coming of children comes the attachment of more boxes.  Work and goods are within easy distance (public transport, personal auto, or foot, depending on the scheme).  The world beyond the roadside boxes is organized (in a vaguely specified way) along socialist economic lines.  At the service points and the workplace occur the moments of communal interaction or spiritual community so important to other prophets of Utopian experiment in these years.  But it is never described, much less analyzed: space and structure alone seem to possess the power to “communalize” people, an implication quite at odds with Okhitovich’s original point.

Other scenarios simply altered the details of the major vision.  The “Green City” of Barshch and Ginzburg, for example, stressed row houses as the ideal (not the separate boxes or little houses).  They are flanked front and rear by a green world but on the sides by neighbors — endlessly in both directions.  Only in the collective of space, argue the architects, can the individual come into full play.  The nearby “bases” enrich this semi-private, semi-communal life: bus stops that are also reading stations, autoparks, cafeterias serving 250 citizens, and nearby centers of sport, culture, education, and communal utilities (kindergarten, laundries, etc.).  The world is brought in via nearby production centers, radio, T.V., and telephone.  As with Okhitovich, marriage, divorce, and family growth are made possible by the constant switching of adjoining rooms with lockable doors.  All the planners were extraordinarily sensitive to personal quarters for women and the possibility of divorce, a sensible notion at a moment in Soviet history when divorce was reaching mammoth proportions after the 1926-27 family reforms.  [196] Barshch and Ginzburg put more emphasis on air, light, drenching sunshine, and greenery than did Okhitovich, but no more on the actual problems and dynamics of residential interaction or communal living.

In later years, Barshch called Disurbanism “our futurological fantasy,” based on a perception of the decay and self-destruction of the then existing cities and a vision of the reign of the automobile.  In retrospect the Disurbanist planners occupied a peculiar place in Utopian thinking.  They did not share the basically “rural” sensibilities of the Russian anti-urbanists in poetry or science fiction or of the peasants themselves.  But they are akin to those Utopian writers such as Shelonsky (see Chapter 1) before the Revolution and Belyaev at the end of the 1920s who saw privacy as the only means to true community.  The characters in Belyaev’s Struggle in the Atmosphere are constantly on the move, almost permanently separated from each other.  Parents, relatives, friends, and loved ones never actually visit each other, yet they converse constantly by means of what we might someday call “conference video” (or satellite interview) — a device that apparently provided the same kind of satisfaction for Belyaev’s people as does ordinary close-up “company” for present-day mortals in Russia and elsewhere on the globe.  The proximity of housing and “service points” are pathetic attempts to compensate for the missing “street life” of the old city.  Today’s dwellers in and visitors to suburban “communities,” forest condominiums, town home developments, and the gallerias and malls that “service” them might offer a different testimony about the communal utility of such visions.

Apparently no one noticed at the time that Disurbanism seemed to herald the end of architecture as a profession — or at least a major branch of it: residential design.  The portable boxes or adjoining cells were standardized, leaving the ensembles of service center or communal points as the only foci of constructive genius.  Some of the existing designs remind us of present day American shopping centers along the major strips, or “modern” universities built on podiums and pods.  In some sense Disurbanism resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s scheme for a Broad Acres — a dispersionist design for America that would individualize living by blending the structures into the contours of nature.  What we have gotten instead in Russia is the continuation of the cubic block of apartments marching outward from the city lines.

Disurbanism highlighted in a very dramatic way the eternal conflict in modern, urban society between the yearning for community, sociability, conviviality, the animation of crowds, and neighborliness on the one hand and the need for privacy, family life, individual space on the other.  The Disurbanists, for all their claims about synthesizing and reconciling these needs, clearly leaned in the direction of individualism.  The extreme dispersionism, the yearning to cover all the Russian land with criss-crossing magistrals of residence, the insistence on separate living units, and the hollowness and blandness of their visions of communitarian interaction at loosely conceived bus stops and cultural-shopping points all point to this and underline their highly developed aversion to the city life they knew as well as to the massive and grandiose schemes of their rivals, the Urbanists and Superurbanists, whose dream would cluster millions of people together in unheard of communal density.


Supercity: The Urbanists

Although both Urbanists and Disurbanists were inspired by the antiurban impulse in Russian history and fueled by hostility to the “rotting” cities they saw around them, they divided on whether cities as such would replace the current ones or be wholly eliminated from the socialist landscape.  Lenin in 1913 had written that “cities are the centers of economic, political, and intellectual or spiritual life of a people and constitute the chief promoters of progress.” The notion of the city remained very strong in the Bolshevik vision of the future.  Trotsky in the 1920s was quite emphatic: “The city lives and leads.  If you give up the city, that is if you let it be torn to pieces economically by the kulak and artistically by Pilnyak, there will remain no Revolution, but a violent and bloody process of retrogression.  Peasant Russia, deprived of the leadership of the city, not only will never get to Socialism, but will not be able to maintain itself for two months, and will become the manure and peat of world imperialism.” A Bolshevik economist, arguing with leftover “Populists” of the 1920s, wrote in 1927 of “the leading role of the city in modern history” as “the bearer of the most advanced economic forms.” Men and women of power, culture, and economic weight — however much they allowed for “reshaping” the city — seemed unable to dispense with it altogether.  It was their base, their camp, their headquarters — as well as the locus of putative progress.

This explains why there was so much furor in the discussion of the city, so much fear and hostility to an antiurbanism that threatened to become a reality and make Chayanov’s dream of detonation come true.  It also explains the eventual decisiveness of the Stalinists in reaffirming the city — even in its present form.  For ruling circles and responsible administrators, the city was a practical necessity — without it they might float through the void of a vast countryside without power and influence, their voices echoless.

For some intellectuals, however, the attraction of the city was positive — like that of the machine.  A humble rank-and-file communist, Lev Kopelev, used to dream that Moscow, Kharkov, and Kiev would be as big and as well built as Berlin, Hamburg, and New York, with giant skyscrapers, autos, bikes, fine clothes, and lots of watches, planes and dirigibles.  Mayakovsky, Meyerhold, the Futurists, and the factory poets made a regular fetish out of the shape and dynamic quality of the big city.  One ought not to see this as a Marxist-urban vs.  Russian-rural dichotomy.  Superurban fantasy was just as “Russian” in its appeal as was antiurbanism.  Architects, science fiction writers, poets, and artists of every sort dreamed up numerous visions of futuristic cities before and after the Revolution.  The Anarchists, who were viscerally opposed to most Bolshevik programs and style, projected more than their share of “Free Cities” and “Giant Urban Communes” filled with millions of workers.  “We shall build,” wrote the Anarcho-Syndicalist Grachev, “as yet unheard of giants from concrete, glass, and steel.”

The earliest years of the Revolution evoked a strange mix of architectural fantasy and social vision.  The school sketches and projects of the period — especially in the famous avant-garde academy V.Kh.U.T.E.M.A.S — show a variety of abstract, Constructivist projections of hanging, floating, flying, and jutting structures, fantastic temples, mausoleums, crematoria, and monuments.  Out of it emerged the victorious principle of “rationalism” in architecture whose main spokesman, Ginzburg, drew on the ideas of the father of modern psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, to prove that the correct appearance of buildings had a healthy civic-minded effect upon the viewer and that simple geometric forms required less physical energy to perceive.  Apparently influenced [198] by Ford, Taylor, and Gastev, he stressed symmetry and geometric precision, and the honesty of showing the function of the structure openly.  A major Constructivist architect, Alexei Gan, designed a kiosk that would speak to the peasants and help mold in them an urban mentality.  A still minor current was early monumentalism.  The competition for a Palace of Labor (unrealized) in 1922 brought forth an oft-quoted reverie of Sergei Kirov:

On this new, magnificent, splendid and revolutionary earth, we the workers born in miserable hovels, will leave those hovels in comradely ranks to enter our enchanted palaces to the strain of the great ‘Internationale’…[We] are capable of embellishing this wretched earth with monuments such as our enemies could never imagine, even in their dreams.

This was another rhetorical link between fantasy, architectural discourse, and prominent policymakers.  The various “Red City” projects of the early 1920s encased both these tendencies, but were almost never built.

Like the Disurbanists, the Urbanist school of town planning was a child of the Society of Contemporary Architects — O.S.A.  It adhered to the view, voiced by R. Khiger in 1928, that the city was a “social condenser,” and that the architect’s mission was to “alter radically the structure of human life — productive, social, and personal.” By merging Western technology with Russian revolutionary notions of cooperation and communalism, O.S.A. designers hoped to change the texture of life in the U.S.S.R.  and create the New Soviet Person.  Furthermore, O.S.A. believed — and said so openly — that this was the responsibility of professional planners and designers, not party officials, and that it should be done not by dogmatic fiat or administrative order, but by a process of experience and experiment — building, inhabiting, testing, and revising.  It was the perfect example of the fusion of Utopia and experiment directly inspired by the October Revolution.

The O.S.A. planners’ decision that big new urban formations would replace the towns of the present produced two ironies: they were widely imitated by other schools, of town planning — including some of their enemies — and, after several years of Urbanist speculation, some of them shifted suddenly to Disurbanism.  As early as 1926, B. Korsunov printed in O.S.A.’s journal a project for a city of skyscrapers surrounded by open space and green parks (in the manner of Le Corbusier) and ringed by seven-story workers’ dwellings in the form of House Communes.  Grounding their argument on cost as well as sociability, O.S.A. writers promoted concentration, density, planning, and mammoth city-forms.  In 1928, N.  Krasilnikov’s city plan required a population density of three quarters of a million persons per square mile — more than double that of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1890s! Cities would contain clusters of half-million people housed vertically in tall buildings with helicopters serving as elevators.  Varentsov’s “City of the Future” was a dream of immense Y-shaped communal buildings linked to a circular community service center — all surrounded by greenery.  N. Ladovsky’s 1929 “Dynamic City” plan placed a giant arrow-shaped residence building (with administrative offices at one wing) inside a horseshoe of industrial establishments — for density and ease of access to workplace.  The group of proletarian architects who came out to assault O.S.A. in the late twenties hardly differed from its opponents in proposing huge house commune cities — with enormous residential structures resembling airplanes and ocean liners.

The ultimate Urbanist scheme was launched dramatically by L.M. Sabsovich, a [199] high official of Soviet Russia’s central state planning organ (Gosplan), in the very heat of the first five-year plan.  In a burst of arrogant optimism, he called his prospectus The U.S.S.R.  in Ten Years.  In comprehensiveness, detail, and ambitiousness it outstripped all previous urban plans and openly invoked “the great projects” of Bogdanov’s Red Star.  It was widely circulated and discussed in the Soviet Union and translated into foreign languages.  Though written by an economist, it was the most extravagant of all city planning exercises produced in the Revolution and a codification of major themes from the whole realm of utopianism and experimental life.

The Soviet Union in 1939 — and one must recall the actual condition of the country in that fateful year in order to appreciate the irony — will be a land where the “material and social base of socialism” is already laid down by the complete abolition of private property in the means of production, the disappearance of classes, and the industrial and agricultural transformation of the economy.  There will be no great cities, unnatural and inhuman hazards to physical and mental health.  Industries and citizens will have been dispersed across the length and breadth of the nation into “agglomerations” of 50,000-75,000 people, the optimum for sane and comfortable living.  Creation of new enterprises in the old cities will have ceased, small operations will have been combined into complexes, and both will have been transplanted.  The village world will have been eliminated, together with the muzhik mentality (in 5-8 years!); collective and state farms will have been unified around agro-towns on geographically and demographically equal territorial units.  Eventually the new industrial cities and the agro-towns would combine into Industrial-Agrarian Cities serving a given geographical unit.  This would “drastically change the face” of Russia, destroy “rural barbarism and isolation,” and end abnormal urban concentration.

In Sabsovich’s vision, communal life replaces the wasteful and deadening private household, a “scourge that deforms the lives of adults and children alike” (p.  123).  The aims of communalism? To free all workers (especially women) from responsibility for the provision of daily needs and from the private obligation of childrearing and education, to make woman equal to man by opening the doors of her domestic jail, to release energies for the fulfillment of individual needs and collective life, to enhance the health of children, to raise the cultural level of all people, and to end the distinction between hand and brain labor.  The means? The “industrialization” of all tasks previously performed, separately and wastefully, inside the “petty bourgeois” home.

Building on the whole tradition of socialist dreams of household collect!visim, Sabsovich imagined the coordination of all food producing operations in order to transform raw food products into complete meals, deliverable to the population in urban cafeterias, communal dining rooms, and the workplace in ready-to-eat form by means of thermos containers.  No food shopping, no cooking, no home meals, no kitchens.  Similar industrialization of laundering, tailoring, repair, and even house cleaning (with electrical appliances) would allow each person a sleeping-living room, free of all maintenance cares.  Russia would in fact become a vast free-of-charge hotel chain.  In his cities of 50,000-70,000, Sabsovich suggested that 25-50 large residence buildings would accommodate the entire population — meaning 1,400-2,000 persons per building (children being housed nearby) — or about the size of Fourier’s phalanstery (1,700).

Sabsovich’s New City would service its inhabitants culturally at three levels: reading rooms, halls, and galleries within each building; larger and more elaborate culture centers in the city; and higher courses, studios, and laboratories in every workplace and factory.  The work week would fall to three days (two of work, one of rest) and then to [200] five days (three of work, two of rest) — and all workers would retire at age forty-nine.  The nation’s health would be protected by athletic and medical facilities, the short work regime, and acres of greenery surrounding the cities.  Sabsovich’s mammoth “social condenser” would serve as the physical shell of social being which in turn would shape consciousness.  Thus the cultural and spiritual level of all would actually be transformed in a few years.

One is left breathless by the scope and grandeur of Sabsovich’s predictions.  So outlandish did they seem that he revised his schedule a bit later to project fifteen instead of ten years into the future and reduced some of his exorbitant figures.  But if one stands back from any version of the scheme and adds other technological details contained in it (transport, efficiency, sheer output levels), one gazes upon a land utterly refashioned, enveloped in Utopian themes — a land of ultramodern medium-sized cities whose population is bursting with productivity and at the same time speeding across the land in large passenger planes or personal aviettes and living happy communal lives in the midst of utmost comfort and convenience.  One could cut away the statistical tables and economic prognostications, add some laughter, a few characters, and any feeble plot to build from it a typical science fiction novel of the 1920s.  Larri’s Land of the Happy, written at about the same time, though projecting several decades further, hardly differs from it in the majestic scope of its fantasy.

Socialism in One Building: The House Commune

The word “commune” (kommuna) became a regular part of the Soviet lexicon right after the October Revolution.  “House Commune” or Communal Dwelling (dom-kommuna) designated a structure or cluster of them designed for collective and communal life.  Radical architects freely and often uncritically plundered the works of the nineteenth century Utopian socialists, especially Fourier, though often without discussion of social meaning.  The earliest on record, called “Phalanstery” and designed by the architect Venderov in 1918, was exactly that: a Fourierist project for thirty-eight families — never built.  Indeed very few were ever built; most remained on paper, and the bulk of communal experimentation was done in already existing houses, apartments, or dormitories.  Yet the communal house was one of the most crucial elements in architectural experimentation for a new life: the concretized rendering of a hundred Utopian dreams.

In the relatively serene years after the Civil War, designers began to combine their colorful fantasies with practical considerations about buildings and their future occupants.  The first examples were extremely eclectic and much too lavish to be the models for a general pattern of construction.  The 1921 Phalanstery of Tverskoi and Buryshkin, for example, looked like a classical palace from one angle — although its modern outward curving wings place it in the tradition of the American motel also (see Fig. 34).  It was a prize-winning entry for a project to be built in the suburbs of Petrograd for thirty proletarian families with common dining room, kitchen, reading room, and daycare center built around a courtyard, and with residence rooms above and in the wings.  Leonid Vesnin’s Moscow housing ensemble of 1922 was more ambitious: a dozen buildings, including club, bath-house, technical shack, daycare and kindergartens, and residential buildings, with a large play area between them.  It was in fact what we call a “garden court apartment complex,” spacious and self-sufficient, with common services including a place for socializing.  Other projects from this period display the same [201] attractiveness and common sense — but without elaboration on how the inhabitants would achieve communal sensibilities.  Though strikingly modern in form, the projects had little ideological content.  They seemed to reflect the comfort level of professionals rather than factory workers.

With the formation of O.S.A. and its doctrine of “social condenser,” the House Commune came into its own as the central ingredient in town planning of the future among the Urbanists.  Recognizing the indisputable fact of overcrowding in Moscow, invoking the wastefulness of repetitive individual living units (homes or separate, fully equipped apartments), O.S.A. leaders saw the House Commune as the only solution: it would cut costs by communalizing services, release women (and men) from repetitive domestic housework and thereby raise national labor productivity, promote a spirit of communism through collective living, and allow some privacy as well.  The ideological portion of the campaign announced a “collectivist-social” psychology and the elimination of the “petty bourgeois” and “individualistic” habits of the past — meaning the excessive privatization, hoarding, inwardness, egoism, and coziness that some foes of the family accused it of.  The first big O.S.A. scheme for a house commune within the supercity was that of Barshch and V.M. Vladimirov in 1929: two intersecting buildings with 1,000 adults in one, 360 preschoolers in the left intersector, and 320 schoolchildren in the right (see Fig. 35).  The adult wing had four communal and six sleeping floors and a communal dining room equipped with a conveyor-belt table.  Adults dined with the older children and paid regular visits via a corridor to the little ones.  Similar schemes sprouted in 1928 — 29, with a crossed nest of boxes, a tooth-roofed H-shaped house for students, and an eight-spoked wheel of buildings — the essential combination of communal buildings easily accessible to sleeping space, the separation of adults and children, and available privacy of single rooms for all.  The most interesting social issue to emerge out of these plans was that of the kitchen and the family.  It is a singular fact that to this day the individual kitchen is the strongest symbol of a nuclear family (as it once was its main meeting place).  Classical House Commune theory had always made the collectivized kitchen its central tenet: to save costs, promote eating together, and rescue housewives from the slavery of kitchen life.

The “women question” and the family, hotly debated in the first decade of the Revolution, had informed home planning discourse from the beginning.  All Bolsheviks were verbally committed to ending the drudgery of housework for wives, though the question of separation of children from parents — even in a nearby building — evoked considerable division.  The most extreme advocate of “de-familization” within the House Commune by means of mandatory communal dining and separation of children from parents, V. Kuzmin, codified his appeals in 1930 in a famous piece entitled “Problems of the Scientific Organization of Everyday Life.” To his rigid arguments on the abolition of the known family within the precincts of the commune, he added more than a touch of Gastevism: organized and scheduled efficiency for every moment of the day.  Kuzmin’s system of “supercollectivism” (his own term) deserves comment precisely because it has sometimes been seen to epitomize the architectural utopianism of the 1920s, even though in fact the opposite is true.

Kuzmin believed that the architect’s mission was to frame the expressive side of people’s life, how they “suffer, enjoy, rejoice, and lament” as well as work and eat.  This could not be done, he argued, by the “hammer and sickle” — in other words by symbol and ritual.  Here Kuzmin seems to be filling the void left in science fiction Utopias about the nature and quality of communal life, recognizing that symbolic and [202] ritual assemblies of masses did not provide this.  It must arise where men and women live, through the “scientific organization of material life” — living space, light, color, ventilation, and the total environment in inner space.  The main realms of life — rest, eating, sex, parenting, sanitation, decent medical and cultural levels — were too rich to be satisfied within the realm of the sleeping space alone.  Kuzmin offered a “graph of life” — not as an enforceable regulation (“man is not an automaton”) but as a guide for joining architectural design with the daily life in a communal situation.

  1. Lights out.  10:00 P.M.
  2. Eight hours of sleep.  Reveille.  6:00 A.M.
  3. Calisthenics — 5 min.  6:05 A.M.
  4. Toilet — 10 min.  6:15 A.M.
  5. Shower (optional — 5 min.) 6:20 A.M.
  6. Dress — 5 min.  6:25 A.M.
  7. To the dining room — 3 min.  6:28 A.M.
  8. Breakfast — 15 min.  6:43 A.M.
  9. To the cloakrooms — 2 min.  6:45 A.M.
  10. Put on outdoor clothing — 5 min.  6:50 A.M.
  11. To the mine — 10 min.  7:00 A.M.
  12. Work in the mine — 8 hours.  3:00 P.M.
  13. To the commune — 10 min.  3:10 P.M.
  14. Take off outdoor clothing — 7 min.  3:17 P.M.
  15. Wash — 8 min.  3:25 P.M.
  16. Dinner — 30 min.  3:55 P.M.
  17. To the rest room for free hour — 3 min.  3:58 P.M.
  18. Free time.  Those who wish may nap.  In this case they retire to 4:58 P.M.
  19. the bedrooms.
  20. Toilet and change — 10 min.  5:08 P.M.
  21. To the dining room — 2 min.  5:10 P.M.
  22. Tea — 15 min.  5:25 P.M.
  23. To the club.  Recreation.  Cultural development.  Gymnastics.  9:25 P.M.
  24. Perhaps a bath or swim.  Here it is life itself that will determine how time is spent, that will draw up the plan.  Alloted time: four hours.
  25. To dining room, supper, eat, and to bedrooms — 25 min.  9:50 P.M.
  26. Prepare to retire (a shower may be taken) — 10 min.  10:00 P.M.

Kuzmin — in a way that reminds us of Gastev and the Table of Hours in We — is meticulous in timing and arranging the “normal,” repetitive and noncontroversial side of the daily round right down to electrified cloakrooms for outer garments (a very crucial aspect of Russian life — thus the many minutes allowed for it).  Radio is enlisted to assist the communards in keeping to this suggested rhythm.  But sex and leisure remain in a mist.  Kuzmin hopes to sleep the unmarried, by gender, in rooms of six (without describing how their sex lives will operate) and “couples” in adjoining rooms whose connecting door is locked when divorce occurs.  The family as such evaporates, since the children are housed apart, though, as always, parents have access to them.  Everything else in life is assumed to be communal — work, motion, dining, leisure.  But the big block of playtime at night is left vacant so that “life itself” will decide what kind of things will be done, and at what level of participation.  As in many such projects, a familiar aspect [203] of life is taken away — sitting around the kitchen table, talking, eating with one’s own family, lounging with them or tinkering in the evening.  Yet the new conviviality is not plotted.  The big leisure room of public space remains an empty church.

Most of the O.S.A. architects winced at the prospect of designing away the family at once and forever.  They reached compromise instead.  Although opposing the oppression of women and the old family that enslaved her, O.S.A. leaders designed a so-called F-Unit of one-room efficiency apartments for couples, complete with kitchens that could be removed in the future when occupants advanced to the level of full communal life and began to cook and eat in common rooms.  Children would, however, be segregated.  Thus, from the old family hearth was preserved at least a companionate couple with ample arrangement for dining together in privacy.  It was far more than many real couples could ever enjoy in the crowded buildings of Moscow and other big cities.  It was, in a way, a prelude to the system of small “separate” apartments (otdelnye kvartiry) that have replaced the “communal” flats of Stalin’s time in the last thirty years [Stites was writing in the early 1980s].  The reasonableness of the O.S.A. architects was apparently conditioned by the response they received to a 1926 questionnaire sent out to workers about their preferences in matters of communal life.  Important independent architects such as Milyutin and Leonidov also opted for transitional stages from family unit to family-less communes.

But, aside from the organization of space, time, and daily life, how was one to achieve “socialism in one building” or communalism in the social and spiritual sense that everyone spoke of so glibly and sincerely? The most common answers were through the mechanism of common space and passageways to encourage interaction, communal dining — a mode of enlarging a family custom — and variants of the workers’ club.  A typical example was Leonidov’s 1929 project for a club that contained labs, lecture halls, sports facilities, game rooms, space for military drill, a museum, gardens, playgrounds, libraries, parks, a gymnasium, rooms for radio, T.V. and film, and a planetarium — in order words, a city within a city.  Obviously not all communal dwellings could afford such facilities.  And where they would exist, their very vastness and variety would hardly make for community — but rather for much specialization and pluralism.  Indeed the more one examines architectural notions of community, the more one sees a replication of already existing urban life, but on a smaller scale in a place called communal.  Judging from the kinds of rituals and ceremonies conducted in workers’ clubs in the 1920s, not much in the way of developing an emotional sense of community could be accomplished by such activity.

The most outlandish communitarian project to come out of the architectural experimentalism of this era was Konstantin Melnikov’s 1929 entry in a competition for a Green City (the winner was Ladovsky, but the city was never built).  Although meant as a rest town or resort for workers, Melnikov’s Green City vividly illustrates how much a practical and talented architect was drawn into the Utopian atmosphere that dominated town planning and community design in those years.  The main buildings were commodious transient hotels with private rooms.  And what did Melnikov offer by way of communal intercourse? A mammoth railroad station to welcome the travelers and surround them by spacious arenas for interaction, galleries and pathways and recreational opportunity — mostly nature trails.  Crowning the establishment was the famous Laboratory of Sleep — a double winged structure with sloping floors, multiple sleep chambers, and an elaborate set of controls by which the sleep-inducers could bathe the restin workers in delicious aromas, sweet fresh air, soothing sounds of nature and music, and [204] gently rocking beds (see Fig. 36).  Inspired by discussions of sleep therapy that were in the air at the time, Melnikov was also indirectly indebted to science fiction: not, ironically, Soviet works but a 1911 story by the father of American science fiction, Hugo Gernsback, called Ralph-124-C41 +.

Architectural Utopia, like science fiction Utopia, was clearly a product of the intelligentsia — that element in Russian history which had always displayed the greatest extravagance, variety, and richness of fantasy.  In the case of science fiction, the state had played a negligible role, the peasants were oblivious to it, and its urban readership consumed it.  Town planning and architecture possessed an altogether different political dimension.  Its impact was immediate, it made claims on labor resources, it pointed to radical changes in the social landscape, it demanded power and freedom to destroy and rebuild — on the ground and in the present or near future.  The state could not be indifferent to such pretensions.  But the state, embodied in the party, was ambivalent.  Prior to 1928, it paid little attention to the emerging schemes.  During the five-year plan, especially 1928-30, the Utopian town visions seemed to mesh with the economic designs of the plan.  Frederick Starr has shown in meticulous detail how the combination of haste, euphoria, partial delusion, and lack of clarity led both sides to see convergence and compatibility between visionary dispersion and the new projected industrial complexes already underway, between visionary house communes and barracks-like collectives already sprouting up all over the industrial sites, between Okhitovich’s Disurbanism and the extreme mobility of the population in these years, and between the social-familial dimensions of house commune schemes and the realities of an immense upsurge in female labor.

The fragile symbiosis of visions collapsed in 1931 in the face of economic realities, revival plans for the older cities, competing transportation networks, the sudden deluge of peasants into already established towns, and the painful realization of Russia’s backwardness in the midst of transformation.  Reinforcing this collapse were the attitudes and behavior patterns of the rural population who flooded the towns, of workers who were expected to occupy the planned towns and ideal buildings, a people thoroughly unprepared psychologically and culturally for the kind of communal living — Urbanist or Disurbanist — that the Utopian blueprints had conjured up as an imminent possibility.  Science fiction and visionary town planning both offered visions of a new world.  Ironically their convergence came in the year 1931, when both were repudiated.

Death and Modern Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright with his model for the Getty Museum in Manhattan

Until the dead-past has buried its dead — Life us poisoned and itself dies of its own dead.

— Frank Lloyd Wright, “The Logic of Contemporary Architecture as an Expression of This Age” (1930) in Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts, pg. 243

When they came to design a new Kamenny Bridge over the Moskva River for their projected Utopia (No. 1, pg. 30), they dispatched a gravedigger to ‘carry out a thorough excavation of the archives, to unearth a historical reference to the Kamenny bridge’ and then to ‘present a detailed report, of which the separate data will together constitute a basis for consideration, when selecting the artistic-architectonic shape of the new bridge.’

— El Lissitzky, “The Catastrophe of Architecture” (1921), pg. 369

This pseudomodern decorative architecture, governed by caprice and artificial fashions, puts its own era and culture to shame, even if it did assume a representative, official place within it.  In the way it conjures the old specter of historicism from its grave, there lurks a betrayal of international modern civilization, modern culture, and contemporary life.  Such a betrayal must inevitably fail.

— Karel Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia (1929), pg. 155

Pod-people: Soviet disurbanism and individual housing units

There actually were socialist proposals for something like the Futuro. Though he initially worked on a number of plans for communal housing, Moisei Ginzburg, along with Mikhail Okhitovich, Aleksandr Zelenko, and Aleksandr Pasternak (Boris’ brother), came close to this in their plans for “disurbanism” in late 1929 and early 1930. They opposed the existence of the traditional, centralized city as they viewed it as bound up with the capitalist social formation. Ginzburg, Okhitovich, & co. were much more interested in the development of personality and the free individual under socialism, rather than in the creation of vast collectivist dwellings. This was a welcome corrective to Leonid Sabsovich and others for whom communism meant merely the abstract negation of capitalism, and who wanted to substitute collectivism for individualism, which they associated with capitalism.

Anyway, the Disurbanists proposed small but accommodating individual housing units, or “pods,” which would moreover be mobile and collapsible. These spaces would aid in the cultivation of the individual personality, and would moreover allow each person the freedom to associate with others as he would like. If someone got married, he could “link” his pod to another’s. If the couple would then have children, they could “plant” more pods for each child to live in. Moreover, the Disurbanists believed that this would help solve the problem of divorce, housing space, and property, since a divorced couple would no longer have to fight over the space they shared or other proprietary issues. The two divorcees could simply uncouple their pod-houses from each other and go their separate ways.

Communal dwelling for comrades [товарищеская коммуна] № 17, Modern Architecture (1930)

Communal dwelling for comrades [товарищеская коммуна] № 17, Modern Architecture (1930)

The Disurbanists thus also hoped that this would help dissolve the traditional social unit of the family and more broadly “socialize” them. Like Sabsovich and the Urbanists, Ginzburg and his allies believed that the care of children in their upbringing should be primarily provided for by institutions established by society. But while familial bonds and affection would doubtless remain in many cases, one would not be forced by his involuntary association with his family to remain attached to it. Once a child would reach the age of maturity, it would be his right to dissociate himself from the rest of his natural family. Continue reading

Radical Bourgeois Philosophy, Week 4: Immanuel Kant and Benjamin Constant

Immanuel Kant

Benjamin Constant

Last week we covered Adam Smith’s excellent Wealth of Nations, focusing on the way in which Smith can be regarded as “the philosopher par excellence of the manufacturing period of capitalism,” as Marx called him.  We took note of the way that Smith registered the development of the division of labor, relations of exchange, and the nascent possibility of a society in which everyone could work less while still producing more useful goods for consumption.  This week we are reading Kant’s brief essays on “What is Enlightenment?” and his “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.”  The interpretation that is being presented is that Kant articulates the new, modern subjectivity of bourgeois society, based on the principle of universal freedom.  This parallels the way that Smith articulates the new, modern economic form of bourgeois society as being founded on the principle of universal exchange.  To this end, we are also reading Benjamin Constant’s “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns,” as Constant spells out more explicitly the difference between Kantian freedom and earlier philosophical/theological treatments of free will, as say by Augustine or Leibniz.

Preliminary Notes and Quotes for a Post on Marxism and Technology

1. Outline of Marxist and non-Marxist approaches to the question of technology

2. A non-stagist version of the Marxist theory of history

A. Neolithic Revolution (10,000 BCE — 1300 ACE)

B. The Capitalist Revolution (1300 — 1800 ACE)

C. The crisis of capitalism (1750 — 1850 ACE)

3. Traditional society and modern society

4. Progressive and regressive tendencies within the social application of technology

5. The Problem of Reification

6. Against facile, multicultural, and Romantic anti-technologism

7. Conclusions Continue reading

Film Review: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011)

Poster for Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" (2011)

Summary: A breathtaking cinematic vision, but deeply flawed.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

I would like to preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Terrence Malick, particularly of his first two films, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978).  I also greatly enjoyed The Thin Red Line (1999), though I do not hold it in as high regard as the first two.

And so naturally I entered into the theater earlier today expecting greatness.  Upon leaving it, however, I could not help but feel a little disappointed.  Perhaps I had raised my expectations too high, but as a whole the movie left me underwhelmed.  While the film featured stunning sequences, of undeniable cinematic sublimity, there was a distinct sense in which the movie began to drag (unbearably, in parts).  I could find no fault in the acting; Brad Pitt’s performance as the father was solid, and the character he portrayed was actually very compelling in his complexities.  Even most impressive was the performance turned in by Hunter McCracken, who plays the younger self of Jack O’Brien.  Compared to Sean Penn, who played his older incarnation, McCracken was probably featured in double the length in scenes.  As a lover of Johannes Brahms, and his immortal German Requiem, I can’t say I was let down by the soundtrack, either.  In fact, I found the role of music in the film to be one of its strongest elements, both as background and insofar as it was integrated into the plot, through Mr. O’Brien’s obsession with the legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Sissy Spacek in Badlands (1973)

Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life (2011)

The best way to articulate my reasons for disliking elements of The Tree of Life would be to trace it through some of the similarities I see the as having both with films made by different directors, and those made prior by Malick himself.  Several key similarities stand out immediately.  First, there is Malick’s tendency to depict small-town narratives from 1950s America (or a few decades prior).  Badlands is the most obvious parallel, though Days of Heaven might also qualify, taking place in the 1920s panhandle.  His films also seem to share the presence of strikingly pale or freckled redheads as the main actresses, with Sissy Spacek in Badlands and Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life.

Scene from Badlands (1973)

Scene from The Tree of Life (2011)

In each case they are paired with a rather hunky Hollywood star playing characters with distinct Southern accents.  To be fair, though, Brad Pitt is already a very well-established actor, whereas Martin Sheen in Badlands was still a relative unknown.  Pitt’s a celebrity who I tend to mind less than most others.  He acts his part well in The Tree of Life.  Sheen’s performance in Badlands is of a different caliber, however — indeed, one of the most memorable of all time.

Kit and Holly from Malick's Badlands (1973)

Jack O'Brien from Malick's Tree of Life (2011)

Another commonality between Malick’s films, which may seem strange to point out, is his repeated emphasis of featuring his characters taking long, sauntering walks along wide and mostly empty streets.  This fact is even harder to illustrate.  The present dearth of film stills for The Tree of Life, still in theaters, prevents me from finding some of the more blatant examples of these scenes.  Of course, this might strike one as a trivial point, but anyone who has seen both Badlands and The Tree of Life will surely notice the prevalence of such scenes in both films and their importance, perhaps, as a motif.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

 Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Scene from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)

Still from Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)


Scene from Andrei Tarkovskii’s Stalker (1979), reminiscent of some of the sequences in Malick’s film

Not having read any of the previews surrounding the film, I was especially unprepared for the film’s sudden and baffling cosmological interlude, in which the origin of the universe, the proliferation of stars, planets, tides, and organisms is borne out in a series of stunning and unforgettable images.  I was, of course, familiar with such sequences, being a huge fan of Kubrick’s 2001.  So I naturally felt extremely vindicated upon checking the reviews later to see that Roger Ebert as well as a host of others had made a similar observation.  Still, though Kubrick’s groundbreaking ending of 2001, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” must be seen in some respects as incredibly self-indulgent and cosmo-maniacal (however brilliant it is), Malick’s meandering foray into the evolution of the cosmos is still then a bit trying by comparison.  This 15-25 minute sequence — I have no idea how much actual time elapsed — struck me as incredibly over-the-top, especially with its dinosaur scenes, which I’ve since learned have been much-maligned.  I couldn’t but feel that this portion of the movie dragged along, just as it did later with the overlong portrayal of the three boys’ trials of boyhood/adolescence.  And while I know the movie only ran about two-and-a-half hours, and though I am an unabashed enthusiast of such epic films as Tarkovskii’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001 (both of which feature long sequences without any dialog whatsoever), I felt that The Tree of Life was hopelessly ponderous.  Some of its “deeper” moments were filled with an all-too-knowing profundity, of which I couldn’t help but be suspicious the whole time.

One of the parts of the film I most enjoyed, the transition from Jack’s birth and early childhood all the way up to his adolescence, where the temporality of the film once again becomes somewhat stable, was pulled off gracefully and economically by comparison.  The pattern of disjointed memories from childhood, coupled with the voiceovers, reminded me greatly of Tarkovskii’s masterpiece Зеркало (Mirror), as well as parts of his later sci-fi epic Stalker.  All three set forth phantasmagorical reminiscences, in an episodic and alogical fashion, by almost a free play of associations.  Accompanying all three are whispered voiceovers from some of the film’s main characters.  Though Malick certainly used this device before in his films, in both Badlands and Days of Heaven, his use in this film actually reminded me more of Tarkovskii’s films.  Malick’s use of this technique is very effective, even if it does not quite equal Tarkovskii’s.

I would like to add, before closing, that besides the other mindblowing visuals shown in the film, I thought Malick’s camerawork in depicting architecture in the Sean Penn parts of the movie was exceptional.  It takes incredible art and skill to show through the camera’s eye the rhythm and dynamism of modern architecture’s curves, angles, and vortices.  Those were some of the parts I most enjoyed.  As a lover of architecture, I was blown away.

Film Review: Danton (1983)

IMAGE: Georges Danton, French Revolutionary

Summary: A vivid portrayal of several of history’s greatest revolutionaries.

Rating: ★★

The 1983 film Danton actually came out of a project originating in the Polish Solidarity Movement.  It had been intended as a collaboration between a largely Polish cast and a French production company, Gaumont, which, because of the Soviet-led coup in 1981, was forced to move its entire base of operations back to Paris.  Despite such difficulties, the film’s “execution” is masterful.  The cinematography is flawless; even better is the soundtrack, which included bits used for Kubrick’s “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Wojciech Pszoniak’s portrayal of the tormented Robespierre, a man unyielding in his conviction that the Republic must be upheld, but whose ideals are hopelessly compromised by the Committee for Public Safety’s increasingly despotic regime of terror, is outstanding.  The figure of Danton, whose role is no less demanding, is presented as simultaneously the victorious hero of August 10, 1790 and the defeated martyr of 1794.  His character brims with masculinity, and yet retains an air of tragic fragility.  The cruel drama of Camille Desmoulins, the last member of the Convention to whom Robespierre had any sort of sentimental attachment, along with Desmoulins’ wife and young child, is depicted tastefully, without maudlin overtones.  Saint-Just, a minor character in the affair, is shown in all of his boyish revolutionary bloodlust.

If any objections were to be raised against the film, they would perhaps center on the outlandishly over-the-top representation of the Committee for Public Safety.  They are shown as wild-eyed, deranged sociopaths, sweating profusely beneath the deathly pallor of their lead-based foundation.  The monstrosity of the Committee is accentuated absurdly by one of the members shown in a crude, half-rusted, and primitive wheelchair contraption, with sudden and violent motions spinning along the way.

Opening of a Monument to Danton in 1919, RFSFR

Leonard Quart, in his official essay on the film for the Criterion Collection, explains the historical origins of the drama: “The film was based on the play The Danton Affair, by Stanisława Przybyszewska, first performed in 1931. Przybyszewska was a Communist whose sympathies lay with the radical Robespierre. Wajda revived the play in 1975, but he turned it on its head, making a hero out of the more moderate Danton.”  Quart continues:

 Still, even more generally, so much of what is depicted can be seen as prophetic of how later totalitarian governments ruled, including Robespierre’s use of the secret police and informers to intimidate a restive public and arrest dissenters; the extraction of confessions of nefarious plots from Danton’s followers; and a show trial where normal procedures are suspended and Danton is stopped from defending himself or calling witnesses. There is also a striking sequence where Robespierre, wrapped in the robes of Caesar while posing for a heroic portrait by the painter David, tells him to delete one figure, a man he has condemned, from a painting of the Revolution’s early leaders [the unfinished Tennis Court Oath] — like Stalin erasing Trotsky from the history of the Russian Revolution.

Yet, as Trotsky himself attested, Stalin was more a Bonaparte than he was a Robespierre.  Stalin did not even have half the revolutionary credentials of Robespierre, let alone a direct hero and leader like Danton or Trotsky.

I had seen the movie once before, but recently rewatched it at the excellent film screening accompanying Platypus’ Radical Bourgeois Summer Reading Group.

Danton’s famous speech to the Revolutionary Tribunal, in which he declares that “the Revolution is like hungry Saturn, devouring its children”

You can download a Blu-Ray edition of Danton for free using the data at the following sites.  I highly recommend a downloading program like JDownloader to automatically extract them.  Just copy the URLs en masse and they will be placed on your download list:

Karel Teige’s The Minimum Dwelling (1932), Printer’s Copy PDF Download

Karel Teige

Karel Teige, the Czech communist, avant-garde artist, and architectural critic, was known for many insightful works.  The Minimum Dwelling, finished in 1932, attempted to take stock of the International Congress of Modern Architects’ (CIAM’s) plan to create comfortable, livable standardized dwellings for the working masses of Europe and the world.  It was meant as an answer to the housing crisis that had pervaded Europe for decades, about which the late Engels had composed his popular polemic, The Housing Question.  Yet at the same time it was an attempt to elaborate an international program for architecture, based in the Constructivist/Functionalist style developed by Moisei Ginzburg and others, with explicitly socialist implications in its proposed implementation.  Yet he was writing as the reality in the Soviet Union was turning deeply reactionary on the artistic, architectural, and cultural fronts, and so his work can be seen as capturing the last flickering of hope of revolutionary modernism.  Teige unwittingly invokes Stalin and Kaganovich in support of his radical proposals, yet little did he know that it was precisely these figures who closed the books on the architectural avant-garde in the USSR for decades.  After Czechoslovakia became integrated into the Eastern Bloc after the Second World War, Teige remained optimistic.  Yet soon thereafter he was publicly accused of being a Trotskyist, and he died in 1952, after suffering several nervous breakdowns.

The perfect printer’s copy of the PDF, complete with searchable text and illustrations, can be downloaded here:

Karel Teige – The Minimum Dwelling (1932)

My War against Vandana Shiva: A Long but Interesting Exchange with Michael from Archive Fire regarding Marxism and the Environment

The following exchange stemmed from a thread that Michael posted over at Archive Fire, attached to a post in which the famous eco-feminist and advocate of indigenous peoples Vandana Shiva is interviewed.  Though I was more than a little rude and dismissive in my initial statements, the conversation ends up going in different directions, and along the way I clarify my positions on Marxism, capitalism, history, different cultures, and the environment.  Michael’s points are well-argued and demand the elaboration of many of the subtler nuances of Marxist thought, or at least my version of it.  These often do not fit comfortably with the categories established by more pluralistic, multicultural, and syncretistic positions of post-structuralism and beyond.  Michael’s latest thoughts on the matter are contained in a new post that provides some reflections.  I plan to post a detailed response to this on my own blog, and perhaps in sections over on his. Continue reading

Moisei Ginzburg, “New Methods of Architectural Thought”/Моисей Гинзбург, «Новые методы архитектурного мышления» (1926)

[From Modern Architecture, 1926 (no. 1, pgs. 1-4)]

[Pg. 1]

One decade separates us from the architectural “affluence” of the pre-Revolutionary era, when in Petersburg, Moscow, and other great centers the best Russian architects lightheartedly cultivated every possible “style.”

Is a decade so much?

It is a small fissure in time.  But the Revolution, in sweeping away the stagnant prejudices and outlived canons, has turned the fissure into an abyss.  On the far side of that abyss remain the last witherings of the already decrepit system of European thinking, of that unprincipled eclecticism which always has a thousand aesthetic recipes at the ready, all of them approved by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.  Such thinking was ready to ladle out truth from wherever suited — provided it was from a source in the past.

On this side of the abyss is opening up a new path which still has to be paved, and great new expanses of space which still have to be developed and populated.  The outlook and worldview of the contemporary architect is being forged in the circumstances of today and new methods of architectural thinking are being created.

Instead of the old system in architectural designing, where the plan, construction, and external treatment of the building were in a state of constant antagonism, and where the architect had to use his powers to the full as peacemaker in irreconcilable conflicts of interest, the new architectural work is characterized above all by its single indivisible aim and aspiration.  It is a process in which the task is hammered out logically and which represents a consciously creative [sozidatel’ny] process from beginning to end.

In place of the abstracted and extremely individualistic inspiration of the old-style architect, the contemporary architect is firmly convinced that the architectural task, like any other, can only be solved through a precise elucidation of the factors involved [the “unknowns”] and by pursuing the correct method of solution.

The architect sees around him the fearless creativity of inventors in various fields of contemporary technology, as with gigantic steps it conquers the earth, the ocean depths, and the air, winning new bridgeheads by the hour.  It is not difficult to see that these astonishing successes of human genius are explained, in general, by the fact that the right method was pursued in tackling the task.  The inventor knows full well that however energetic the upsurge of his creative enthusiasm may be, it wil be useless without a sober consideration of all the minutiae in the circumstances surrounding his activity.  He is fully armed with contemporary knowledge.  He takes account of all the conditions of today.  He conquers the future.

Certainly it would be naïve to replace the complex art of architecture by an imitation of even the [Pg. 2] most sparkling forms of contemporary technology.  This period of naïve “machine symbolism” is already outdated.  In this field it is only the inventor’s creative method that the contemporary architect must master.  Any mould or model from the past must be categorically repudiated, however beautiful it may be, for the pursuits of the architect are in their essence precisely such invention, just like all other invention.  His is a work of invention which has set itself the aim of organizing and constructing a concrete practical task not just in response to the dictates of today but as something that will serve the needs of tomorrow.

Original model of the Vesnin brothers’ proposal for the Leningrad Pravda building

Thus first and foremost we face the question of clearly exposing all the unknowns of the problem.  First among these are the unknowns of a general charcter, dictated by our epoch as a whole.  Here we are identifying those particular features of the problem which derive from the emergence of a new social consumer of architecture — the class of workers, who are organizing not only their own contemporary way of life but also the complex forms of new economic life of the State.  It is not a question of adapting to the individual tastes of this new consumer.  Unfortunately, in posing the problem it is often reduced to precisely this, and people hastily try to attribute to worker tastes and preferences which are essentially echoes of old pre-revolutionary attitudes.

Least of all is it a matter of tastes here at all.  What we are concerned with is elucidating the characteristics of the new consumer, as a powerful collective which is building a socialist state.

It is a question, above all, of the principle of plannedness.  This must not just be a feature of the way leading state organs operate, but must become part of the work of every architect.  It is how the solving of individual problems becomes part of the larger productive network of the country as a whole.

The character of a contemporary architect’s work is radically altered by the fact that he recognizes his activity to be the establishing of architectural standards for the organization of new dwellings and towns, rather than the fulfillment of individual commissions.  He sees it as his task to be continually advancing and improving those standards, in connection with the larger characteristics of production and with the advancing technological levels both here and internationally.  In the conditions through which we are living as we develop socialism, each new solution by the architect, be it a dwelling block, a workers’ club, or a factory, is conceived by us as the invention of a more advanced model or type, which answers the demands of its brief and is suitable for multiple production in whatever quantities the needs of the state require.  From the very start, this situation diverts the architect’s energy away from the pursuit of a solution answering individual tastes, and redirects it towards further improvement of the standard type which he has devised, and a fuller, more sophisticated standardization of its details.  But in order that these type-solutions may undergo a genuinely radical renewal, they must derive from the new principles of a rational urbanism which will satisfy tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s. It is thus obvious that the conditions of our State will authoritatively throw us from the single architectural unit, through a complicated manufacturing process, to the whole complex, the village, the township, and the city.

Sketch of the Vesnins’ Leningrad Pravda Building (1924)

Unfortunately, the specialists at the head of those state organs in charge of our building are the ones least concerned about this important issue, who are least of all inclined to keenly look ahead. They [Pg. 3] are quite satisfied, for example, that construction in the largest center of the USSR — Moscow — is limited to four-or six-storey buildings.

It is needless to say that for smaller cities or housing estates these are nothing better than garden cities [goroda-sada], with their small mansions, courtyards, and flower-gardens, and yet no one seems to have this on his mind. But meanwhile this Howardian [Ebenezer Howard — RW] ideal has lagged behind modernity for no less than ten years (and also behind our Soviet modernity for an even more substantial period of time)?

In order for a modern architect to deal with such anachronisms, the greater is his need to fight on two fronts: [1] the elaboration of new, rational principles for the planning of architecture for the aggregate population [naselennykh mest] and [2] the creation of standards that would serve as a prerequisite for the foundation of a new, more prudent image of the city.

The social conditions of our modern world are such that questions of individual aesthetic developments in architecture arise only secondarily.  Today’s conditions focus our attention first and foremost onto the problem of rational new types in architecture, and by including the architect within the overall production chain of the country, they abolish the isolation which previously existed between various forms of architectural and engineering activity.  Certainly the complex development of our life is such that more than at any other time, it compels the architect to specialize in a specific field, but at the same time the firm conviction that has arisen amongst all contemporary architects that their different specialties — housing, community buildings, factories — are merely subsections of a homogeneous territory [ubezhdenie v odno-znachnosti ikh tvorchekoi deiate’nosti].  So some are busy creating a new type of housing, others with the development of new public facilities, and still others with the building of a new factory or plant.  And precisely because construction possessing a factory/industrial or engineering character was never firmly linked to the stagnant traditional art of the past, [the engineers] found that the principles underlying their mode of creation were much more responsive to the needs the time, and better suited to the serving of a new life.  As a result, not only has the boundary between engineering structures and public architecture been wiped out of our thinking, but those very engineering structures themselves have come to be seen as front-line pioneers in the shaping of a genuinely contemporary architecture.

Sober calculation of all these circumstances, which have been created and intensified by our present social conditions, is not just the first condition for a correct solution of our architectural tasks.  It is also the source of all those purely architectural possibilities which lie concealed within the changes which have taken place in our mode of life.

But alongside these, there is a series of other “unknowns” facing the architect, which derive quite separately from the particularities of each factor of the given piece of work, from the particular features of the task in hand, from its functional requirements and from the productive and locational conditions obtaining in that situation.

The solving of these ‘unknowns’ leads to an entirely new method of architectural thinking: to the method of functional design.

Free from the handed-down models of the past, from prejudices and biases, the new architect analyzes all sides of his task, all its special features.  He dismembers it into its component elements, groups them according to functions and organizes his solution on the basis of these factors.  The result is a spatial solution which can be likened to any other kind of rationally conceived [razumnyi] organism, which is divided into individual organs that have been developed in response to the functional roles which each fulfills.

As a result of this we are seeing in the works of contemporary architects the emergence of entirely new types of plan.  These are generally asymmetrical, since it is extremely rare for functional parts of a building to be absolutely identical.  They are predominantly open and free in their configurations, because this not only better bathes each part of the building in fresh air and sunlight, but makes its functional elements more clearly readable and makes it easier to perceive the dynamic life that is unfolding within the building’s spaces.

That same method of functional creativity leads not only to clear calculation of the ‘unknowns’ of the task, but to an equally clear calculation of the elements of its solution.

The architect then arranges [ustanavlivaet] the main path to the secondary in his work, from the core to the outer shell.  Only functional architectural thinking establishes [ustanavlivaet] the spatial organization firmly as the starting point of the work, indicating the place at which the bulk of the impact should be directed.  Thus, the determination [ustanovlenie] of the specific conditions of the job — the number of individual spatial variables, their dimensions and mutual connection — emerges as the primary function. From this first point alone does the modern architect proceed; it is this that compels him to unfold his plan from the inside out, rather than vice versa, as was done during the period of eclecticism.   This directs his entire future path.

The second moment for the architect becomes the framing from within of the spatial problem or from a particular material and one or another methods of construction.  It is clear that this is an inevitable function of the baseline spatial resolution.

The next stage in the work of the new architect is the ratio of the spatial volume of the outside, a grouping of architectural masses.  Their rhythm and proportions follow naturally from the first half of the architect’s activity — they stand as a function of the constructive material of the exterior and its hidden spaces.

[Pg. 4]

And finally, there is the interpretation of some wall surfaces and the design of individual — elements, holes, poles, etc. — all the functions of some of these, or any other extraneous data.

Thus the very method of functional creativity leads us to a unified organic creative process where one task leads from another with all the logic of a natural development, instead of the old-style chopping up into separate independent tasks which are usually in conflict with each other.  There is no one element, no one part of the architect’s thinking which would be arbitrary.  Everything would find its explanation and functional justification in its suitability for a purpose.  The whole unifies everything, establishes equilibrium between everything, creates images of the highest expressiveness, legibility, and clarity, where nothing can be arbitrarily changed.

In place of the ready-made models of the past which have been chewed over endlessly, the new method radically re-equips the architect.  It gives him a healthy direction to his thiking, inevitably leading him from the main factors to the secondary ones.  It forces him to throw out what is unnecessary and to seek artistic expressiveness in that which is most important and necessary.

There is absolutely no danger in the asceticism of the new architecture which emerges from this method.  It is the asceticism of youth and health.  It is the robust asceticism of the builders and organizers of a new life.

[Из Современной архитектуры 1926 (No. 1, pgs. 1-4)]

Одно десятилетие отделяет нас от архитектурного «благополучия» довоенного времени, когда в Ленинграде, Москве и других крупных центрах лучшие русские зодчие беззаботно насаждали всевозможные «стили».

Много ли десятилетие?

Маленькая трещинка времени. Но революция, уничтожив косные предрассудки и отжившие каноны, превратила трещинку в пропасть. По ту сторону пропасти остался последний этап увядания одряхлевшей системы европейского мышления, беспринципный эклектизм, имеющий наготове тысячу художественных рецептов, апробованных нашими дедами и прадедами, готовый черпать истину откуда угодно, — но только в прошлом.

По эту сторону открывается новый путь, который еще надо прокладывать, новые просторы, которые нужно еще заселить. В обстановке сегодняшнего дня куется миросозерцание современного зодчего, создаются новые методы архитектурного мышления.

Вместо старой системы архитектурного творчества, где план, конструкция и внешнее оформление задания постоянно находились во взаимной вражде и где архитектор был по мере сил своих примирителем всех этих неразрешимых конфликтов, — новое архитектурное творчество, прежде всего, характеризуется своим единым нераздельным целевым устремлением, в котором органически выковывается задача и к которому сводится созидательный процесс от начала до конца.

Вместо отвлеченного и крайне индивидуалистического вдохновения старого архитектора — современный зодчий твердо убежден в том, что архитектурная задача решается, как и всякая иная, лишь в результате точного выясненияне известных и отыскания правильного метода решения.

Зодчий видит вокруг себя смелое творчество изобретателя в разных областях современной техники, гигантскими шагами побеждающей землю, недра и воздух, с каждым часом отвоевывающей все новые и новые позиции. Не трудно понять, что этот изумительным успех человеческого гения объясняется, главным образом, правильным методом творчества. Изобретатель твердо знает, что как бы ни был ярок подъем его творческого энтузиазма — он будет бесцелен без трезвого учета мельчайших обстоятельств, окружающих его деятельность.  Он во всеоружии современного знания, он учитывает все условия сегодняшнего дня, он смотрит вперед завоевывает будущее.

Конечно, наивно было бы подменить сложное искусство архитектуры подражанием тем или иным, хотя бы [Pg. 2] самым блестящим формам современной техники. Этот период наивного «машинного символизма» уже изжит. Лишь творческий метод изобретателя должен быть завоеван современным архитектором. Должно быть категорически отвергнуто наличие каких-либо штампов прошлого, как бы прекрасно оно ни было, ибо искания зодчего по существу своему такое же изобретение, как и всякое другое, изобретение, ставящее себе целью организовать и сконструировать конкретную практическую задачу, не только диктуемую сегодняшним днем, но и пригодную для завтрашнего.

Итак, прежде всего, ясное раскрытие всех неизвестных. И, в первую очередь, неизвестных общего характера, диктуемых нашей эпохой в целом, раскрытие особенностей, связанных с появлением нового социального потребителя архитектуры — класса трудящихся, организующего не только свой современный быт, но и сложные формы новой хозяйственной жизни государства. Тут, конечно, речь идет не о подлаживании к индивидуальным вкусам нового потребителя. К сожалению, часто именно к этому сводят постановку вопроса, при чем еще стараются поспешно приписать рабочему вкусы и вкусики, являющиеся по существу отголоском старых дореволюционных взглядов.

Но тут дело меньше всего заключается во вкусах. Речь идет о выяснении особенностей нового потребителя, как мощного коллектива, строящего социалистическое государство.

Речь идет, прежде всего, о принципе плановости, который должен войти в работу не только тех или иных руководящих государственных органов, но и в работу каждого зодчего, о включении отдельных замыслов в общую производственную сеть всей страны.

Коренным образом меняет характер работы современного архитектора то, что он сознает свою деятельность не как выполнение отдельных заказов, а как установку стандартов архитектуры, организующих новые жилища и города, как непрерывное совершенствование этих стандартов, в связи с общими производственными особенностями, с уровнем нашей и международной строительной техники. В условиях переживаемого нами строительства социализма, каждое новое решение архитектора — жилой дом, клуб, фабрика — мыслится нам, как изобретение совершенного типа, отвечающего своей задаче и пригодного к размножению в любом количестве, сообразно с потребностями государства. Это обстоятельство заранее отводит энергию архитектора от поисков индивидуально-вкусового решения — к совершенствованию своего стандарта, к уточнению и максимальной типизации всех его деталей. Но для того, чтобы эти стандарты были действительно радикально обновлены, для того, чтобы они стали подлинно новыми архитектурными произведениями, конечно, они должны быть задуманы не на индивидуальном участке, не произвольной прихотью, не в тесных рамках скученного и случайно планированного города, а обратно, исходить из общего целого, из новых принципов рационального урбанизма, пригодного и для завтрашнего дня. Таким образом, очевидно, что условия нашей государственности властно отбрасывают нас от архитектурной единицы через сложный производственный процесс к целому комплексу, селению, поселку, городу.

К сожалению, специалисты, стоящие во главе государственных органов, ведающих нашим строительством, меньше всего озабочены этим важным вопросом, меньше всего расположены пытливо смотреть вперед. Они [Pg. 3] вполне удовлетворены тем, что ограничили, например, застройку крупнейшего центра СССР — Москвы — четырех-или шестиэтажными домами.

Нечего говорить о том, что для меньших городов или рабочих поселков ничего лучше города-сада, со своими маленькими особнячками, двориками и цветничками, и в мыслях не имеется. А между тем этот Говардовский идеал не отстал ли от современности не меньше чем на десяток лет, а от нашей советской современности и на более значительный срок?

Тем острее необходимость современного зодчего бороться с подобными анахронизмами, бороться с двух стороп: разработкой новых рациональных принципов планировки архитектуры населенных мест и созданием стандартов, которые послужили бы предпосылкой к созданию нового разумного облика города.

Социальные условия современности таковы, что они ставят лишь во вторую очередь вопросы индивидуально художественного развития архитектуры, они обращают наше внимание прежде всего на проблему новых рациональных типов архитектуры и, включая архитектора в общую производственную цепь страны, уничтожают обособленность, которая существовала раньше между различными видами архитектурной и инженерной деятельности. Конечно, сложное развитие нашей жизни таково, что более чем когда-либо заставляет зодчего специализироваться в той или иной области, но в то же время у всех современных зодчих выросло твердое убеждение в однозначности их творческой деятельности: одни заняты созданием типа нового жилья, другие нового общественного сооружения, а третьи — новой фабрики или завода. И именно потому, что сооружения фабрично-заводского и инженерного характера никогда не были крепко связаны с косными традициями художественного прошлого, они оказались, по принципам, лежащим в их созидании, на много более отвечающими потребностям момента, более пригодными к обслуживанию новой жизни. Таким образом, не только стерлась в нашем представлении грань между гражданским или инженерным сооружением, но даже это последнее оказалось передовым застрельщиком в формации подлинно современной архитектуры.

Трезвый учет всех этих? обстоятельств, выдвинутых и обостренных новыми социальными условиями, не только первое условие правильного решения архитектурной задачи, но и источник тех чисто архитектурных возможностей, которые таятся в изменившихся условиях нашей жизни.

Но на ряду с ними, перед архитектором стоят и другие «неизвестные», вытекающие из особенностей каждого момента работы в отдельности, из особенностей самого задания, его функций, условий и места производства.

Решение этих «неизвестных» приводит к совершенно новому методу архитектурного мышления — к методу функционального творчества.

Свободный от всяких штампов прошлого, от предрассудков и предубеждений, новый зодчий анализирует все стороны задания, его особенности, он расчленяет его на составные элементы, группирует по их функциям и организует свое решение по этим предпосылкам. Получается пространственное решение, уподобленное всякому разумному организму, расчлененное на отдельные органы, получающие то или иное развитие, в зависимости от функций, ими выполняемых.

В силу этого, мы видим в работах современных архитекторов появление совершенно нового плана, большей частью асимметричного, — так как редко функции частей эданин бывают абсолютно одинаковыми — предпочтительно открытого и свободного в своей конфигурации, потому что тогда не только лучше омываются все части сооружения воздухом и светом, но и четче читается его функциональная члененность, легче угадывается развертывающаяся в них динамическая жизнь.

Тот же метод функционального творчества приводит не только к ясному учету «неизвестных» задачи, но к такому же учету элементов ее решения.

Зодчий устанавливает тогда в своем творчестве путь от главного к второстепенному, от костяка к оболочке. Только функциональное архитектурное мышление жестко устанавливает пространственную организацию, как исходную точку работы, указывает то место, куда должен быть направлен основной удар. Таким образом, выясняется как первая функция конкретных условий задания — установление количества отдельных пространственных величин, их размеров и взаимной связи. Из этого, прежде всего, исходит современный архитектор, это заставляет его развертывать свой замысел изнутри наружу, а не обратно, как это делалось в периоды эклектизма, это направляет весь его дальнейший путь.

Вторым моментом становится конструирование изнутри развертывающейся пространственной задачи из того или иного материала и теми или иными конструктивными методами. Ясно, что оно является неизбежной функцией основного пространственного решения.

Дальнейший этап работы нового архитектора: — соотношение пространственных объемов извне, группировка архитектурных масс, их ритм и пропорции вытекают естественно из первой половины его деятельности, — становятся функцией сконструированной материальной оболочки и скрытого за ней пространства.

[Pg. 4]

И, наконец, трактовка той или иной стенной поверхности, оформление отдельных элементов, отверстий, опор и т. д., все это функции тех или иных перечисленных, или каких-либо других привходящих данных.

Таким образом, самый метод функционального творчества вместо старого дробления на отдельные независимые и обычно враждебные друг другу задачи — приводит к единому органическому творческому процессу, где одна из задач вытекает из другой со всей логикой естественного развития. Нет ни одного элемента, ни одной части замысла архитектора, который был бы стихиен. Все находит себе объяснение и функциональное оправдание в своей целесообразности. Целое все объединяет, все уравновешивает, создает образцы высочайшей выразительности, четкости, ясности, где ничто не может быть изменено.

Вместо готовых, бесчисленное множество раз пережеванных образцов прошлого, новый метод коренным образом перевооружает зодчего. Он дает здоровое направление его мыслям, неизбежно устремляя их от главного к второстепенному, заставляет его отбрасывать ненужное и искать художественную выразительность в самом важном и необходимом.

Нет никакой опасности в вытекающем из этого метода аскетизме новой архитектуры, который отпугивает близоруких. Это — аскетизм молодости и здоровья, бодрый аскетизм строителей и организаторов новой жизни.