The Graveyard of Utopia: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde

Ivan Kudriashev’s “Luminescence” (1926)

Table of Contents

I. Introduction: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde

II. A Structural Overview of the Proceeding Work: The Sociohistoric Phenomenon of the International Avant-Garde and Soviet Urbanism as Its Decisive Moment

III. The Dialectic of Modernism and Traditionalism: The Development of the International Avant-Garde in Architecture

A. The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism

B. Traditionalist Architecture

C. Modernist Architecture — Negative Bases

1. Traditionalist Architecture: “Style,” Ornamentation, and Eclecticism

2. The Academic Establishment

3. The “Anarchy of Production” under Capitalism

D. Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

1. The Spatiotemporal Dimensions of Abstract Art (or, the Volumetrics of Modern Architecture) 

2. Industrialism (or, the Ergonomics of Modern Architecture) 

3. The Housing Shortage, the Urban Proletariat, and the Liberation of Woman (or, the Sociohistoric Mission of Modern Architecture)

IV. The Soviet Moment: The Turn toward Urbanism, the Crisis in the West, and the Crossroads of the Architectural Avant-Garde in Russia

A. The Artistic and Intellectual Origins of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde

B. The Further Development of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde into the 1930s

C. Totality, Total Architecture, and the Turn toward Urbanism

1. Totality

2. Total Architecture

3. The Turn toward Urbanism

D. The Crossroads of the Architectural Avant-Garde in Russia

V. Conclusion: The Sepulchral Cities of Modernity

VI. Notes

Ivan Leonidov, proposal for a section of Magnitogorsk (1930)



The twin fires of war and revolution have devastated both our souls and our cities. The palaces of yesterday’s grandeur stand as burnt-out skeletons. The ruined cities await new builders[…]

To you who accept the legacy of Russia, to you who will (I believe!) tomorrow become masters of the whole world, I address the question: with what fantastic structures will you cover the fires of yesterday?

— Vladimir Maiakovskii, “An Open Letter to the Workers”[1]

Utopia transforms itself into actuality. The fairy tale becomes a reality. The contours of socialism will become overgrown with iron flesh, filled with electric blood, and begin to dwell full of life. The speed of socialist building outstrips the most audacious daring. In this lies the distinctive character and essence of the epoch.

— I. Chernia, “The Cities of Socialism”[2]

Between 1928 and 1937, the world witnessed the convergence of some of the premier representatives of European architectural modernism in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities throughout the Soviet Union. Never before had there been such a concentration of visionary architectural talent in one place, devoting its energy to a single cause. Both at home and abroad, the most brilliant avant-garde minds of a generation gathered in Russia to put forth their proposals for the construction of a radically new society. Never before had the stakes seemed so high. For it was out of the blueprints for this new society that a potentially international architecture and urbanism could finally be born, the likes of which might then alter the face of the entire globe. And from this new built environment, it was believed, would emerge the outlines of the New Man, as both the outcome of the new social order and the archetype of an emancipated humanity. With such apparently broad and sweeping implications, it is therefore little wonder that its prospective realization might have then attracted the leading lights of modernist architecture, both within the Soviet Union and without. By that same account, it is hardly surprising that the architectural aspect of engineering a postcapitalist society would prove such a captivating subject of discussion to such extra-architectural discourses as politics, sociology, and economics.

Le Corbusier in Paris unveiling his model for his Palais des Soviets (1931)

Le Corbusier sitting in front of the construction site for the Tsentrosoiuz Building in Moscow (March 1931)

The bulk of the major individual foreign architects and urbanists who contributed to the Soviet cause came from Germany. Such luminaries as Walter Gropius,[3] Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Peter Behrens each contributed to Soviet design competitions. Former Expressionists — now turned modernists — like Bruno Taut, his brother Max, Arthur Korn, Hans Poelzig, and Erich Mendelsohn all joined the greater project of socialist construction in the USSR.[4] Major architects also arrived from other parts throughout Western Europe, eager to participate in the Soviet experiment. Foremost among them, hailing from Switzerland, was the French-Swiss archmodernist Le Corbusier, whose writings on architecture and urbanism had already become influential in Russia since at least the mid-1920s. From France additionally appeared figures like André Lurçat and Auguste Perret,[5] lending their talents to the Soviet cause. The preeminent Belgian modernist Victor Bourgeois actively supported its architectural enterprise as well.

Foreign architects at work on Magnitogorsk, including Mart Stam and Johan Niegeman (circa 1931-1932)

Ernst May’s “May Brigade” (1930)

Ernst May lecturing in the Soviet Union on his proposal for Magnitogorsk (1930)

Ernst May dressed in heavy winter gear in the Soviet Union, late 1930

Besides the major individual figures attached to this effort, there existed several noteworthy aggregations of international architects and urbanists, under the heading of “brigades.” The German socialist Ernst May, mastermind of the highly-successful Neue Frankfurt settlement, traveled to Russia along with a number of his lesser-known countrymen, including Eugen Kaufmann, Wilhelm Derlam, Ferdinand Kramer,[6] Walter Kratz, and Walter Schwagenscheidt. The Austrians Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (designer of the famous “Frankfurt Kitchen”), her husband Wilhelm Schütte, and Anton Brenner also accompanied May in his journeys.[7] Together with the Hungarian Bauhaus student Alfréd Forbát,[8] the German-Swiss builder Hans Schmidt, and theBauhaus and De Stijl veteran Mart Stam, originally from Holland, these architects comprised the famous “May’s Brigade” of city planning. Many other German architects and city-planners, still less well-known, belonged to May’s group as well: Hans Burkart, Max Frühauf, Wilhelm Hauss, Werner Hebebrand, Karl Lehmann, Hans Leistikow, Albert Löcher, Ulrich Wolf, Erich Mauthner, Hans Schmidt, and Walter Schulz, to list a few.[9]

André Lurçat in Moscow, 1934

Members of Hannes Meyer’s “Red Brigade” in the Soviet Union (1931)

Hannes Meyer, another Swiss German, also departed for Moscow, after being suddenly dismissed from his position as director of the Bauhaus on grounds of his leftist political sympathies.[10] He took with him seven of his best students from Dessau, who were themselves of quite varied backgrounds: Tibor Weiner and Béla Scheffler, both Hungarian nationals; Arieh Sharon, of Polish-Jewish extraction; Antonín Urban, a Czech architect; and finally Konrad Püschel, Philip Tolziner, René Mensch, and Klaus Meumann, all German citizens.[11] These members together comprised the so-called “Red Brigade.” A number of other German architects associated with Kurt Meyer’s (unrelated to Hannes) urban and suburban group were also shown in attendance at the international building conference in Moscow in 1932: Magnus Egerstedt, Josef Neufeld, Walter Vermeulen, E. Kletschoff, Julius Neumann, Johan Niegemann, Hans-Georg Grasshoff, Peer Bücking, and Steffen Ahrends.[12]

Albert Kahn’s Cheliabinsk tractor factory (1934)

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. and Mrs. Iofan at a banquet, Moscow (1937)

Czech modernists Vítězslav Nezval and Karel Teige in Moscow (1926)

The newly formed constellation of Eastern Europe that emerged out of the postwar dissolution of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires was also represented in force by some of its leading modernists. From Czechoslovakia, the great Constructivist poet and architectural critic Karel Teige[13] lent his incisive observations to the Soviet Union’s various attempts at regional and municipal planning. Two of Teige’s close compatriots in the Czech avant-garde, the functionalist architects Jiří Kroha[14] and Jaromír Krejcar,[15] were already active in the Soviet Union at that time. Besides Wiener, Scheffler, and Forbát, who were associated with May’s and Meyer’s groups in Moscow, the Hungarian modernists Laszlo Péri, Imre Perényi,[16] and Stefan Sebök[17] each worked independently for the Soviet state. Finally, the Polish avant-gardists Edgar Norwerth[18] and Leonard Tomaszewski[19] also collaborated with various organs of the government of the USSR during the execution of its second five-year plan.

The radical architect and Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer (1930)

Bruno Taut, Grete Schutte-Lihotsky, and others in the Soviet Union (1933)

A number of American architects contributed to the Soviet effort as well.  Albert Kahn, the celebrated builder of Detroit — along with his brother, Moritz Kahn — helped design over five hundred factories in the Soviet Union as part of its push toward industrialization.[20]  Thomas Lamb, the well-established constructor of many of America’s first cinemas, and Percival Goodman, an urban theorist who would later build many famous American synagogues, also offered their abilities to the Soviet state.[21] The pioneering American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, though he would not officially visit Russia until 1937, nevertheless spoke openly about the greatness of the Soviet project during the early 1930s. By the early 1930s, Wright was disillusioned with the capitalist socioeconomic system: “The capitalistic system is a gambling game. It is hard to cure gamblers of gambling and everybody high and low in this country prefers the gambler’s chance at a great fortune to the slower growth of a more personal fortune.” By contrast, he exclaimed the virtues of the Soviet project: “I view the USSR as a heroic endeavor to establish more genuine human values in a social state than any existing before. Its heroism and devotion move me deeply and with great hope.”[22]

VKhUTEMAS students, 1927

First OSA Conference, 1928

Despite the great influx of foreign modernists seen during this period, however, the influence of the new architectural avant-garde was hardly alien to the Soviet Union. On the contrary, it had begun to establish itself there as early as 1921 — if one discounts the renowned monument proposed by Tatlin for the Third International in 1918.[23] That year witnessed the appointment of the architects Nikolai Ladovskii, Nikolai Dokuchaev, and the sculptor Boris Efimov to the faculty of VKhUTEMAS, the well-known Moscow technical school often compared to the Bauhaus in Germany.[24] Along with Vladimir Krinskii, Konstantin Mel’nikov, and the international modernist El Lissitzky, Ladovskii and Dokuchaev went on to constitute the avant-garde group ASNOVA (the Association of New Architects) in 1923, though it would only publish the declaration of its existence in 1926. Ladovskii’s brightest pupil and laboratory assistant Georgii Krutikov would join the group upon graduating the academy in 1928. Opposed to ASNOVA, the equally-stalwart modernist OSA (Society of Modern Architects) formed the Constructivist school of architectural thought in 1925, led by such outstanding designers as Leonid, Aleksandr, and Viktor Vesnin and their chief theorist Moisei Ginzburg. Il’ia Golosov officially became a member in 1926, followed by two of their exemplary students, Ivan Leonidov and Nikolai Krasil’nikov, in 1927 and 1928 respectively. Though divergent in terms of their fundamental principles, both OSA and ASNOVA were united in their opposition to atavistic architecture and their mutual commitment to modernity.

Wall Street crash, 1929

Schmitt’s “Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy” incarnate: Burning of the German parliament, the Reichstag (1933)

The overwhelming gravity that the debates over Soviet urbanism held for the avant-garde, their seemingly high stakes, is difficult to emphasize enough. Just as the USSR was first embarking upon its five-year plans, the nations of the West were facing the threefold crisis of global capitalism, of parliamentary democracy,[25] and of the European sciences[26] in general. At no prior point had the future of the worldwide socioeconomic system of capital seemed so uncertain — never had its basis been so shaken. On nearly every front — economic, political, and epistemological — it faced defeat. Italy, Germany, and finally Spain fell beneath the rising tide of Fascism. Everywhere it seemed that Europe was entering into the darkness of Spenglerian decline.

Comrade Lenin clearing the Earth of the rabble (1920)

Workers of the World, Unite!

But by that same score, in a positive sense there had never been a planning project as ambitious as the Soviet centralized economy. It represented a moment of unprecedented opportunity for international modernists to build on the highest possible scale, the chance to realize their visions at the level of totality.[27] For with the huge projected budgets set aside for new construction toward the end of the 1920s, the modernists saw an opening to implement their theories not just locally, but on a regional, national, and — should the flames of revolution fan to Europe — a potentially international scale. This mere fact alone should hint at the reason so many members of the architectural avant-garde, who so long dreamed of achieving an “international style”[28] without boundaries, would be attracted to the Soviet cause. That the number of international representatives of the avant-garde swelled to such an unparalleled degree should come as no surprise, either, given the prospect of imminently realizing their most utopian dreams. In the midst of the collapse of the old order, as heralded by world war, pestilence (Spanish influenza), revolution, and a nearly universal depression, it appeared as if the modernists were being granted their deepest wish — of erecting a new society upon the ashes of that which had preceded it. “Our world, like a charnel-house, lays strewn with the detritus of dead epochs,” Le Corbusier had thundered in 1925.[29] In the wake of global instability, crash, and catastrophe, the Soviet five-year plan seemed to offer to him and his fellow avant-gardists the chance to wipe the slate clean.

VKhUTEMAS poster celebrating the Five-Year Plan

Poster for the First Five-Year Plan (1928), with vaguely antisemitic overtones

It is therefore little wonder that the tenor of the debates over Soviet urbanism should have been cast in such stark terms. The fate of the entire avant-garde, if not society itself, hung in the balance. Whichever principles won out might ultimately determine the entire course of future building for the USSR, and perhaps the world (pending the outcome of the seemingly terminal crisis in the West). Modernist architects, who had up to that point been mainly concerned with the design of individual structures, and only here and there touched on the greater problem of urbanism, now scrambled to articulate their theoretical stances on the issue of “socialist settlement.” As a number of rival positions emerged, they came into heated conflict with one another. Whole books were written and articles published in popular Soviet journals defending one theory and attacking all that opposed it. And so the disputes did not merely take on the character of modernism combating its old traditionalist rival, but that of a radically fractured unity of the modernist movement itself. The fresh lines of division being carved within the architectural avant-garde did not owe so much to national peculiarities as it did to the radicality of the question now being posed before it: that of the fundamental restructuring of human habitation. For the issues at hand were not simply the reorganization of already-existing cities, but also the construction of entirely new settlements from the ground up. The intransigent tone that the debates subsequently assumed is thus more a testament to the urgency and sincerity of the modernist theories of the city being put forth than it is to some sort of arbitrary disagreement over matters of trivial importance.

Le Corbusier, Sergei Eisenstein, and Andrei Burov (1928)

Members of the forcibly unionized Union of Soviet Architects (1932)

This point is especially important to stress, moreover, in light of some interpretations that have recently dismissed these crucial differences in the avant-garde’s architectural visions of utopia as a quantité négligible. Not long ago, the argument was advanced that these theoretical disputes amounted to little more than quibbling pettiness on the part of the members of the avant-garde. According to this version of events, the modernists merely dressed up their personal animosities, jealousies, and professional rivalries in high-sounding rhetoric and thereby ruined any chance for productive collaboration with one another. Moreover, it asserts that it was this very disunity that led to the modernists’ eventual defeat at the hands of the Stalinists. Weakened by the years of petty bickering, this argument maintains, the two main groups representing the architectural avant-garde (OSA and ASNOVA) were easily undercut by the fledgling, proto-Stalinist organization VOPRA, working in cahoots with the party leadership. Had the members of the avant-garde been willing to set aside their differences, this outlook would have it, they might have prevailed against the combined strength of their opponents.[30]

Plan for the Functional City (1932), for a conference that was to have been held in Moscow

Of course, this account almost completely overlooks the international dimension of the debates, choosing instead to narrowly focus on the faculty politics taking place within the walls of the VKhUTEMAS school of design. While this was doubtless an important stage of the debate, it can scarcely be considered the decisive grounds on which the war over Soviet architecture was waged. It is symptomatic that such an interpretation would leap suddenly from the middle part of the 1920s to the final defeat of the architectural avant-garde in the 1937, ignoring practically everything that transpired in between. As a result, it is able to treat the problem as a merely internal affair, concerning only Soviet architects. This then allows the importance of the tensions within the VKhUTEMAS leadership throughout the early- to mid-1920s to be grossly overstated.[31] Even if the field of inquiry is thus limited, however, the polemics can by no means be reduced to mere cynicism. Such bitterness and resentment could just as easily be an outcome of (rather than a ground for) heated argumentation.

Zinoviev in a motorcade (1929)

Lunacharskii at a congress of Working Artists (1923)

But this notion — that the real differences within the modernists’ debates over Soviet architecture and urbanism were largely exaggerated — is swiftly dispelled once one takes note of the extra-architectural interest surrounding their potential results. For architects were hardly the only ones worried about the form that new Soviet settlements would take. The ideological influence of architecture on society was not lost on non-architects within the Soviet hierarchy. Many thinkers, scattered across a wide range of vocations, were therefore drawn into the discourse on socialist city planning. Quite a few economists participated in the discussion. Besides Leonid Sabsovich, a writer for the state journal Planned Economy and a major figure in the debates, economists like Stanislav Strumilin (one of Planned Economy’s editors) and Leonid Puzis weighed in on the material aspects of the various schemas of town planning. Professional sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich joined OSA in 1928, and went on to become one of its major spokesmen. The celebrated journalist and author Vladimir Giliarovskii reported on some considerations of nervo-psychological health in the socialist city.[32] Even more telling of the perceived centrality of the problem of Soviet urbanism to the five-year plan is the number of high-ranking party members and government officials who wrote on the matter. The Commissar of Enlightenment Anatolii Lunacharskii, Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaia, the old guard Bolshevik Grigorii Zinov’ev, and the doctor and Commissar of Health Nikolai Semashko all devoted lengthy articles to the consideration of different proposed solutions to the issue of urban planning. So clearly, the detailed differences between the various Soviet urban projects concerned more than solely the architects.

Painting of Stalin atop the Kremlin in Moscow (1935)

Lazar’ Kaganovich, far right, Stalin’s Commissar of Railways and overseer of the rebuilding project for Moscow, including the Moscow metro system (1932)

Another historiographical point that must be made is that what appears to have been “Stalinist” from the outset could not have been recognized as such at the time. The emergent features of what came to be known as Stalinism — its bureaucratic deformities, thuggery, and cultural philistinism — had not yet fully crystallized by the early 1930s. While it is true that these qualities may have been prefigured to some extent by the failure of the German and Hungarian revolutions after the war, the USSR’s consequent isolation, and the cascading effects of the political involutions that followed — none of this could be seen as yet. The betrayed commitment to international revolution, the disastrous (if inevitable) program of “Socialism in One Country,” did not bear their fruits until much later. The residual hope remaining from the original promise of the revolution echoed into the next two decades, before the brutal realities of Stalin’s regime eventually set in. In 1930, there was no “Stalinist” architecture to speak of. Even the eclectic designs of the academicians did not fully anticipate what was to come. The contours of what would later be called “Stalinist” architecture — that grotesque hybrid-creation of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical arches, façades, and colonnades — only became clear after a long and painful process of struggle and disillusionment. Toward the beginning of the decade, a number of possibilities seemed yet to be decided upon, and so the utopian dream of revolution continued to live on.[33]

Viktor Kalmykov, project “Saturn,” proposal for a levitating city (1930), studio of Nikolai Ladovskii

Soviet utopia: Proposal for Krasnoiarsk, the “red city” (1931)

Whatever latent realm of possibility may have still seemed to exist at the moment the Soviet Union initiated its planning program, however, its actual results admit of no such uncertainties. The defeat of modernist architecture was resounding and unambiguous. And while it would survive and even flourish in the West following the Second World War, the avant-garde left something of its substance behind in Russia. Its external form remained — with its revolutionary use of concrete, glass, and other materials, its austere lines and structural severity — but it had been deprived of its inner core, and now stood devoid of content. For architectural modernism had hitherto expressed an inseparable duality, and deduced its role as both a reflection of contemporary society and an effort to transform it. These two aspects, its attempt to create a universal formal language that corresponded to modern realities and its sociohistorical mission to fundamentally reshape those very realities, were inextricably bound up with one another. When the architectural avant-garde ultimately failed to realize itself by achieving this mission, it became cynical; its moment of opportunity missed, it chose instead to abandon the task of helping remake society. Cast out of the Soviet Union, the modernists let go of their visions of utopia and made their peace with the prevailing order in the West. They pursued traditional avenues like public contracts and individual commissions to accomplish each of their proposals. No longer did they dream of building a new society, but focused on limited projects of reform rather than calling for an all-out revolution. Emptied of its foundational content, however, modernism gradually gave way to post-modernism as architecture became even further untethered from its basis. Reduced to a set of organizational forms, modernist design grew increasingly susceptible to criticisms of its apparently “dull” and “lifeless” qualities. Modernism’s capitulation to the realities of bourgeois society doomed it to obsolescence. The modern itself had become passé.

Georgii Krutikov’s “flying city” (1929)

Georgii Krutikov's proposal for a "city of the future" (1929)

Georgii Krutikov’s proposed “city of the future” (1929)

Shuttlepod for Georgii Krutikov's "flying city" (1929)

Shuttlepod for the “flying city”

Framed in this way, this paper will assert that the outcome of the debates over Soviet urbanism in the 1930s sealed the fate of the international avant-garde. All of its prior commitments to general social change were reneged. Modernism’s longstanding duty to solve the problem of “the minimum dwelling,”[34] which for Marxists was closely tied into Engels’ work on The Housing Question,[35] was relinquished after only the first few CIAM conventions (1929-1931). Its resolution to put an end to wasteful (even criminal[36]) ornamentation and make all building more functional was scaled back to a mere stylistic choice, rather than a general social practice. Likewise, modernism’s call for a uniform, standardized, and industrialized architecture of the home was replaced by a tendency to custom-design each individual dwelling — usually the wealthier ones — as its spare, geometric style became chic among the upper classes. The mass-production of housing, serialized with interchangeable parts, was instead taken up by companies building in a more traditional style, hoping to turn a cheap profit housing students or the poor. Those bleak modernist housing complexes that were created all too often became places to merely stuff away the impoverished classes, cramped and out of sight. (That such places would become areas of high concentration for drug use and petty crime is only fitting). Finally, the quest for a universal architectural language was abandoned. This language was adopted exclusively by those particular architects who identified themselves with the modernist movement, and even then it was pursued on only a piecemeal basis.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s monument to Karl Liebkneckt and Rosa Luxemburg (1926)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958)

The Soviet Union alone had presented the modernists with the conditions necessary to realize their original vision. Only it possessed the centralized state-planning organs that could implement building on such a vast scale.[37] Only it promised to overcome the clash of personal interests entailed by the “sacred cow” of private property.[38] And only it had the sheer expanse of land necessary to approximate the spatial infinity required by the modernists’ international imagination.[39] The defeat of architectural modernism in Russia left the country a virtual graveyard of the utopian visions of unbuilt worlds that had once been built upon it. It is only after one grasps the magnitude of the avant-garde’s sense of loss in this theater of world history that all the subsequent developments of modernist architecture in the twentieth century become intelligible. For here it becomes clear how an architect like Mies van der Rohe, who early in his career designed the Monument to the communist heroes Karl Liebkneckt and Rosa Luxemburg in 1926, would curry favor with the Nazis in the 1930s,[40] and then later become the man responsible for one of the swankiest monuments to high-Fordist capitalism, the Seagram’s Building of 1958. And here one can see how Le Corbusier, embittered by the Soviet experience, would briefly flirt with Vichy fascism during the war before going on to co-design the United Nations Building in New York.

The City of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

A Structural Overview of the Proceeding Work

The following study will be divided into two major sections. These will then be followed by a brief conclusion surveying their results and drawing out any further implications. Both sections are intimately related to one another. Along the way, a number of figures appearing in the one will recur in the other. Reference will be had throughout to some of the claims previously established or in anticipation of those yet to be made. The principle underlying this division is not simply one of organizational clarity, however; the objects under investigation in each section demand separate treatment, as they vary in terms of size, scope, and generality. Moreover, the historical forces and valences operative in the second section require prior exposition in the first.

Tony Garnier's "Cité industrielle" (1917)

Tony Garnier’s “Cité industrielle” (1917)

Antonio Sant’Elia’s “Città Nuova” (1914)

To be a bit clearer, the first section will seek to analyze the historical phenomenon of the avant-garde, and to relate it to the societal conditions out of which it emerged. It will begin by examining the broadest features of the nineteenth-century European society in which architectural modernism first took shape, and then proceed to detail the specific dynamics that led to its appearance. This will necessarily involve, however, a description of modernism’s immediate predecessor in the field of architecture: academic eclecticism, or traditionalism. As the discursive backdrop against which the avant-garde would later define itself, an understanding of the origins and peculiarities of traditionalism is crucial to any interpretation of the modernist movement. From there, we can relate modernism in architecture to its disciplinary context, as well as to concurrent developments in the realm of abstract art and industrial technology. Both of these would exercise a distinct influence over the avant-garde as it first began to appear in prewar Europe. Modernism’s connection with socialist political tendencies and the larger “ideology of planning” that fomented during this time will also be spelled out.[41]

Ivan Leonidov’s proposal for the Narkomtiazhprom building (1934)

Ivan Leonidov’s Narkomtiazhprom proposal (1934)

Transitioning to the next section of the paper, the focus will shift from an overview of the international avant-garde in general to a survey of Soviet modernism in particular. The internal divisions of the Soviet avant-garde will serve to expose some of the principal tensions and contradictions that existed as part of architectural modernism’s fundamental reality and concept. Section two will then more generally take up the major forces and agents introduced in the first section as belonging to the avant-garde phenomenon and highlight a defining moment in its history: namely, the debates over Soviet urbanism in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The USSR, as the stage of this historical drama, will need to be adequately contextualized. The paper will thus discuss it in terms of its overall place within the prevailing socioeconomic order of world capitalist intercourse, its political exigencies, and its program of revolutionary planning. Within this context, the convergence of domestic and international groups and individuals around the question of urbanism and regional reorganization will be shown in all its complexity and variety. It will demonstrate the sheer range of modernist theories of urban-planning by taking a look at the most original and provocative proposals. The precise relationship of these architectural schemes to the greater Soviet project of the “revolutionization of everyday life” will be elucidated as well.[42] Tracing the shifting course of the debates, the different political and practical obstacles facing the avant-garde will be brought into sharper relief. The state intervention into these affairs and the slow turn toward a more rigidly prescribed and conservative architectural doctrine will also be documented. Parallel developments taking place across the arts, literature, theater, and cinema during the cultural revolution will be noted as well. This section will close with a dissection of the various defeats of the international avant-garde in Russia and the final deathblow it was dealt, remarking on some of its immediate consequences.

Aleksandr Vesnin, Leonid Vesnin, Viktor Vesnin – Narkomtiazhprom Project (1934)

The Vesnin brothers’ proposal for the Narkomtiazhprom building (1934)

Finally, the conclusion will consider the aftermath of the debates on Soviet urbanism and the ultimate effect it had on the international avant-garde. Remembering the way in which architectural modernism first emerged, and how the movement was constituted, the questions will be posed: How was the historical trajectory of the avant-garde affected by its encounter with the Soviet enterprise? To what extent was it irrevocably altered? To what extent did it come out unscathed? The impact of modernism’s failed romance with revolutionary socialism in the USSR will be assessed according to the subsequent path of architectural development in the West. The fate of the international avant-garde after its failure to realize itself in Soviet urbanism — the loss of its utopian element — can then be gauged with respect to the fate of society in general after the Stalinist betrayal of Marxist cosmopolitanism. The degree to which Stalinism would later absorb aspects of modernist art and architecture (in a sort of perverse sublation), as contended by authors like Groys and Paperny, will also be evaluated here.[43]

Dialectical flux

Dialectical Architectonic (Kant)

The spiraling course of the dialectic through the evolution of reason


The Dialectic of Modernism and Traditionalism: The DEvelopment of the International Avant-Garde in Architecture

Modernist architecture is incomprehensible without reference to its opposite: eclecticism, or traditionalist architecture. Each, however, is equally a product of modernity. Though traditionalism lacks modernism’s seemingly inherent connection to its namesake, the former was no less a result of modern society than the latter, and even arrived at an earlier point in history. Both emerged out of an internal dynamic operating at the heart of capitalist modernity, one that conditioned the very spatiotemporal fabric of social life. Traditionalism owed to one of the elements constituting this dynamic, while modernism owed to the other. While each of these elements existed from the moment of capitalism’s inception in Western Europe, it would not be until the social formation reached a higher stage of maturity that they would recognizably rise to the surface. Only after the effects generated by one of the sides of this underlying process made themselves sufficiently felt did architecture begin to reflect its objective characteristics.

Louis Visconti’s and Hector Lefuel’s neo-Baroque Louvre of the Second Empire (1874)

Street scene from Budapest, with eclecticist architecture (1910)

Eclecticism in architecture first appeared toward the beginning of nineteenth century. It would achieve increasing hegemony over the domain of constructive practice as the disciplines of art and architectural history began to firmly establish themselves within the academies. As theorists surveyed the field of European architecture, they discerned a range of distinct historical “styles.” These they believed to correspond to the civilizations that produced them, as the expression of their age. Identifying the dominant features of these styles, they compiled an ever more exhaustive dataset, detailing the fine points and minute variations that occurred within them. With a progressive degree of refinement, these classificatory systems proceeded to plot each style along the historical continuum, assigning them precise dates and periodicities. Their specific attributes, as well as the different techniques employed to create them, were also elaborated.

Alfred Recoura’s Palais pour les sociétés savantes (1893)

Julien Guadet’s illustration of an ancient Roman Basilica (1867)

Viewing the mass of historical information collected before their eyes, nineteenth-century architects now saw what appeared to be a vast inventory of styles, forms, and techniques. Starting from this broad basis in the architectural traditions of the past, contemporary practitioners could now borrow and mix various stylistic elements from each to achieve a new aesthetic effect. So not only would builders seek to reproduce structures belonging to one particular period in its purity, but would freely juxtapose features from a number of different traditions. For these architects viewed themselves as the inheritors of the entire history that had preceded them. The classical, the Gothic, the Romanesque — these were simply distinct modes of building that could be mastered and combined by the builders of the present. And so the latter half of the nineteenth century witnessed an intense proliferation of hybrid and heterogeneous forms, a heightened sense of the importance of ornamentation, and increasing historicism in the building arts.

Le Corbusier’s Aménagement de la porte Maillot, Paris (1929)

Ludwig Hilberseimer’s terrifying Hochhausstadt proposal (1926)

Modernism understood itself not only as a polemical response to the eclecticism and historicism of its day, but as also arising out of positive advances that had taken place within modern society. Indeed, while the architectural avant-garde would spend much of its time decrying the academies (“those hothouses where they fabricate blue hydrangeas and green chrysanthemums, where they cultivate unclean orchids”[44]), it would never fail to mention its indebtedness to the achievements of the “machine age.” The progress of industrial technologies, the invention of new building materials — these would help form the bedrock of modernist architectural theory. The avant-garde would fiercely advocate the standardization of parts, the utilization of glass and ferroconcrete, and the overall industrialization of the building process. Only by emulating these aspects of modernity could they create an architecture adequate to their age.

From Erich Kettelhut’s storyboard for the movie Metropolis (1927)

From Erich Kettelhut’s storyboard for the movie Metropolis (1927)

From Erich Kettelhut’s storyboard for the movie Metropolis (1927)

But at the same time, the modernists were just as strongly influenced by concurrent developments in modern abstract painting. The painters’ stress on repeating geometric patterns and formal simplicity was also taken up by the architects. This abstract spatiality in avant-garde thought was mirrored in its temporal dimension: while no doubt aware of the historical succession of styles, modernism considered itself to be their negation. Most modernists had deep respect for the building practices of the past. They simply believed that their own work rendered these past practices obsolete. For the modernists, they felt that the technical and social revolutions of their time had landed them at a sort of Year Zero, whereafter the procession of human experience could be more uniformly organized, rationalized, and homogenized. The ideal of industrial efficiency was captured by the Taylorist system of scientific time-management, for which the architectural avant-garde sought to provide spatial expression.[45] The optimization of floor layouts, thoroughfares, and household conveniences was thus one of its primary concerns.

Breugel’s “Little Tower of Babel” (1563); “If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted,” Kafka

Though these preliminary sketches of modernism and traditionalism in architecture must be regarded as provisional, they nevertheless point to some of the principal features that remain to be explained by the ensuing study. The difficulty will consist primarily in showing how a single social formation, capitalism, could give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought. This twofold development, as mentioned earlier, must be seen as emerging out of the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. The dynamic responsible for both architectural modernism and traditionalism can be termed, for the purposes of the present essay, “the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism.”[46] For it was this unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that would form the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Although the complete excogitation of this concept requires more space than the present inquiry can allow, some of its most pertinent points can still be summarized here in an abbreviated form.

Mies van der Rohe's design for Friedrichstrasse (1919)

Mies van der Rohe’s design for Friedrichstrasse (1919)

(One terminological caveat should be mentioned before moving on, however. For the purposes of this paper, the notions of “modernity” and “globality” will be seen as bearing an intrinsic relationship to capitalism. Modernity, this study will maintain, is merely the temporal register of capitalism, while globality is its spatial register. In accordance with this assertion, modernization and globalization are both aspects of capitalization).

Scaffolding around St. Stephen’s Tower, which would later become the famous Big Ben clock (1857)

The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism

Capitalism does odd things to time. On the one hand, it standardized the measurement of time to obey the artificial pulse of the mechanical clock. This standardization was at the same time part of a larger project of rationalization that took place under the auspices of capitalism as it spread throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the first time in history, society was synchronized according to a single regime of time; its movement was as clockwork. This new temporal order replaced the traditional system of timekeeping, based as it was on the arbitrariness of convention and the natural cycles of the changing seasons and daylight. This sort of time, abstracted from all events that might take place under its watch, can be referred to as Newtonian time — pure, uniform, untainted by the messiness of historical change.


The unnatural aspect of abstract time

Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (1931): Abstract and Concrete time commingled in the unconscious

On the other hand, however, capitalism after a certain point seems to have generated a new sense of historical consciousness separate from the abstract, Newtonian time with which it coincides. This was brought about by an aspect inherent to the composition of capital itself, located specifically in its value-dimension. For once capital began to revolutionize the basis of the production of what Marx termed “relative surplus-value,” a series of accelerating social and technological innovations began to send shockwaves throughout the rest of society. This was correspondingly experienced as a sequence of convulsive social transformations, continuously uprooting the time-honored organic social relations that preceded the rise of capitalism. As capitalist production developed further into the early nineteenth century, this dynamic became increasingly pronounced. Since these successive transformations could now be seen as occurring within the space of a single generation, a new consciousness of time arose around the notion of progressive “phases,” “stages,” or “epochs” of history. Opposed to both the mode of abstract time manifested by capitalism as well as the kind of historical temporality that preceded it, this can be referred to as historical time as it exists under capitalism.

Jean François Millet – Peasant watering her cow (1863)

Vincent van Gogh – Red Vineyard (1888)

Beginning with the former of these temporalities, some background is useful. Before the advent of capitalism, the workday was regulated by the organic rhythms of sunup and sundown, by the rooster’s crow and the dim fade into twilight. Time was measured, not by the mechanical regularity of the clock, but by much more arbitrary and conventional standards. For example, in seventeenth-century Chile, “the cooking-time of an egg could be judged by an Ave Maria said aloud.”[47] Even at the level of months and days, the calendar was less important than the events that occupied it. Planting-time, harvest-time, and the celebration of religious and secular holidays — these were the patterns by which precapitalist societies understood the passage of time. “In terms of the human organism itself,” observed Lewis Mumford, “mechanical time is [physiologically] foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action.”[48] The digital precision of time-measurement, to which we have become so accustomed today, would have been an utterly alien concept to a person born prior to the rise of capitalism.

Grandfather clock by Gerret Drappee, 1720-1740

George Graham, London. A fine and rare pocket watch, circa 1718

The mechanical calculation of time can be traced to the fourteenth century, when public clocks were mounted in cities and large commercial towns. Their impact on society at this point was still limited, however; the clocks’ accuracy was often dubious. Some improvements were made in the seventeenth century with the introduction of the pendulum in the grandfather clock by Christiaan Huygens in 1656, which allowed for the isochronous measurement of time. Still, their circulation throughout society remained minimal.[49] The broader dissemination of chronometric devices took place in the first half of the eighteenth century, and only then it was the typically the gentry who would own a pocket-watch, as a symbol of their status. But it was the industrial revolution that first made the exact measurement of time socially universal. As Mumford explained, “[t]he popularization of time-keeping, which followed the production of the cheap standardized watch, first in Geneva, was essential to a well-articulated system of transportation and production.”[50] The British Marxist E.P. Thompson verified Mumford’s claim when he later wrote: “Indeed, a general diffusion of clocks and watches is occurring (as one would expect) at the exact moment when the industrial revolution demanded a greater synchronization of labour.”[51]

“Railway time”: The introduction of standardized time between deliveries — Clock detail at the Liverpool station (1844)

And why was the precise measurement of time so vital to a society founded on the exchange of commodities? Why did the workday have to be so artificially broken down into abstract units of time? For exactly the reason Marx explained when he wrote that

A use-value, or useful article…has value only because abstract human labour is objectified [vergegenständlicht] or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the “value-forming substance,” the labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc. [my emphasis]

Of course, this duration is not determined by how long it takes this or that particular individual to complete the production of a commodity. “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article,” Marx then continued, “is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.”[52] Marx makes it clear that this time is abstract, in the sense that value is determined by the time necessary to produce a commodity through abstract, homogeneous human labor.[53]

The Cyclolinear Temporality of Capital

Harold Lloyd in the famous clock scene from Safety Last (1922)

Here it may be worthwhile to briefly reflect on the way capitalism transforms the temporal dimension of social experience. On the one hand, it homogenizes time into a set of quantitatively equivalent metric units — minutes, seconds, hours, days. These units are effectively interchangeable; one minute lasts exactly the same duration as any other minute, regardless of the time of day. Such time, abstracted from any concrete events or occurrences that may take place in that time, is essentially universal — devoid of any particulars or peculiarities.[54] It is Newtonian time: pure, repetitive, and scientific. It is unsullied by natural or historical accidence. As the Marxist theoretician Moishe Postone puts it,

“Abstract time,”…by which I mean uniform, continuous, homogeneous, “empty” time, is independent of events. The conception of abstract time, which became increasingly dominant in Western Europe between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, was expressed most emphatically in Newton’s formulation of “absolute, true and mathematical time [which] flows equably without relation to anything external.”[55]

This time is, moreover, also cyclical. Of course, it cannot be claimed that nature has no cycles or rhythms of its own; but these natural cycles are organic and matters of quality. The artificial cycles of abstract time are mathematic and matters of quantity. Every day has twenty-four hours, and every hour sixty minutes. Each minute in turn has sixty seconds, and all these remain invariable quantities. Once one minute is over, another begins, and once an hour has passed another has started. Such is the nature of abstract, cyclical time.

Prague, astronomical clock (early 16th century)

1737 painting of St. Mark’s Place and Clocktower in Venice, Italy (erected 1493)

All this is well and good conceptually, but when historically did this new sense of time-consciousness become normalized? At what point did the majority of society come to march to the tick of a synchronous clock? Our investigation thus far has suggested that it became increasingly prevalent and normative along with the contiguous spread of capitalism during the industrial revolution. But this brings us into a longstanding debate within the study of horology. To this point, it would seem that we have downplayed or dismissed the prior invention of the clock, such that our treatment of the subject has failed to acknowledge the longue durée of timekeeping itself. But there is often a great disconnect between the mere moment an innovation occurs and the generalization of its consequences to the rest of society. “Although abstract time arose socially in the late Middle Ages, it did not become generalized until much later,” asserts Postone. “Not only did rural life continue to be governed by the rhythms of the seasons, but even in the towns, abstract time impinged directly upon only the lives of merchants and the relatively small number of wage earners.”[56] Only later did this profoundly ahistorical mode of thinking about time arise historically, as part of the deep social transformations that were taking place at the time. The compulsion to synchronize the whole of society only took effect with the advent of capitalism. As Postone writes emphatically, “[t]he tyranny of time in capitalist society is a central dimension of the Marxian categorial analysis.”[57]

The Decimal Clock from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

By the middle part of the nineteenth century, this form of time-consciousness, or time-discipline, had spread to virtually all of the more mature capitalist nations in Europe and America. Over the course of the latter half of the century, this way of timekeeping exercised an ever-greater degree of control over the thinking and behavior of the citizens of these nations. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, the practice of time-discipline would be apotheosized in its most systematic form by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who advocated a mode of scientific oversight and monitoring of all time-expenditure of employees. In his Principles of Scientific Management, he wrote that “[t]he enormous saving of time and therefore increase in the output which it is possible to effect through eliminating unnecessary motions and substituting fast for slow and inefficient motions for the men working in any of our trades can be fully realized only after one has personally seen the improvement which results from a thorough motion and time study, made by a competent man.”[58] At this point, the exactitude of one’s use of time was to be internalized and automated to the utmost degree, leading to an ideal of the standardization of all labor. The most thorough practitioners of Taylor’s theory, the husband-and-wife tandem of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, perfected this method. [59]

“Today I saw history riding on horseback.” — Hegel, 1806, after seeing Napoleon win the Battle of Jena (Jacques-Louis David)

Joseph Wright of Derby’s “A Philosopher giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun” (1766)

Just as society under capitalism was manifesting this abstract form of time, however, it was simultaneously giving birth to a new form of concrete time, distinct from the sense of concrete time that existed before the preponderance of commodity exchange in society. This concrete sense of time was not that of habit, convention, or task-orientation. It was rather a newfound sense of historical time, understood as a linear chain of events, or as a succession of “stages” leading up to the present. Along with this newfound sense of concrete, historical time came a new consciousness of time, specific to capitalism. As the historian T.S. Ashton observed, “[a] new sense of time was one of the most striking psychological features of the industrial revolution.”[60] What lay behind this new historical consciousness?

William Blake’s “Newton” (1795)

Asher B. Durand’s “Progress: The Advance of Civilization” (1853)

For one, it was the increasing dynamism exhibited by the new form of society under which they were living, such that time-honored social institutions and traditional practices now underwent a visible series of sudden and spasmodic transformations. Longstanding social relations were often uprooted and replaced within the span of a single lifetime. As Marx and Engels famously recorded in the Manifesto, “[t]he continual transformation of production, the uninterrupted convulsion of all social conditions, a perpetual uncertainty and motion distinguish the epoch of the bourgeoisie from all earlier ones.” This shift in the underlying socioeconomic basis of society entailed a corresponding shift in the ideological superstructure: “All the settled, age-old relations with their train of time-honored preconceptions and viewpoints are dissolved; all newly formed ones become outmoded before they can ossify. Everything feudal and fixed goes up in smoke, everything sacred is profaned.”[61]

James Barry’s “The Triumph of Navigation” (1792)

François-Joseph Gossec’s “Le Triomphe de la République” (1829)

Zygmunt Bauman has thus rightly credited “[t]he considerable speeding up of social change” as a necessary condition for the creation of this historical consciousness. This speeding up, he added, “was duly reflected in the…novel sense of history as an endless chain of irreversible changes, with which the concept of progress — a development which brings change for the better — was not slow to join forces.”[62] The notion of progressive historical development was aided, moreover, by the ongoing technical revolutions taking place in the field of production. This concept of a progression of stages was then conversely projected backward through time, in the interpretation of history. It is therefore no surprise that this period saw the emergence of thinkers like Giambattista Vico[63] and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,[64] who looked to the past and interpreted it as an unfolding of qualitatively distinct “stages” or “phases” — as modes of consciousness passing the torch of civilization from one society to the next.

Brian Dettmer’s “History of the Modern Worldview”

Walter Benjamin’s “Angel of History” (1939), from a painting by Paul Klee

But what was the actual dynamic in capitalism that necessitated this series of convulsive transformations? For it is easy to say that capitalism forced this state of chronic instability, but it is much harder to actually trace out the dialectical aspect of capitalism that compels its continuous flux. And so the specific origin of this dynamic must be discovered, as it is rooted in a dimension of capital itself.

Factories in the 19th Century

Factories in the 19th Century

A brief investigation into the constitution of capital will reveal that this dynamic is located in the value-dimension of capital. Value, when it appears in the form of capital, ceaselessly strives to augment itself through a process of self-valorization.[65] It here becomes clear that the Lukácsean simultaneous subject-object of history is not Labor as constituted by the proletarian class, but Capital as constituted by self-valorizing value, which assimilates the non-identical to itself through its own activity while remaining at all times identical with itself.[66] As Marx wrote, “[capital] is constantly changing from one form to another, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject.” Value is still the operative concept in its form as capital, however: “In truth,…value is here the subject of a process in which…it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value to itself is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization.” It thereby obtains an almost magical character: “By virtue of being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself.”[67]

Thomas Anschutz’s “Ironworkers at Noontime” (1882)

Vladimir Magalis’ “Steelworkers”

Capital achieves this valorization through the purchase of labor as a commodity. Productive labor thus enters the process of capitalist circulation as a socially mediating activity necessary for augmenting capital. “[C]apital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus-value, to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labor.”[68] Labor, which alone possesses the ability to enhance the value originally invested in its purchase,[69] produces surplus-value for its temporary owner in either of the following ways: 1) by an absolute increase in the time spent laboring beyond the socially average time necessary to reproduce the value advanced;[70] or 2) by a relative decrease in the time required to produce an equivalent value below that same social average, since “the prolongation of the surplus labor must…originate in the curtailment of the necessary labor-time,” assuming the length of the working day remains constant.[71] The latter of these methods can only be accomplished by an increase in the productivity of labor. This increase, in turn, is achieved by technical or organizational means, either by the introduction of new machine technologies or a more efficient division of labor.[72]

Government inspector visits factory children (1881)

Able-bodied poor breaking stones for roads in Bethnal Green, London (1868)

Historically, capital at first relied on the production of absolute surplus-value through the extension of the working day in order to valorize itself, until labor negotiations and parliamentary legislation managed to secure a normal working day through the famous Factory Acts. These set a legal limit on the maximum number of hours a worker could be assigned in a day.[73] Thereafter, capitalist production was generally forced to make do with the generation of relative surplus-value, which it achieved by the successive institution of cooperative action between workers, the detail division of labor in manufacturing, and the implementation of heavy machinery in large-scale industry.[74]

Johannes Vermeer’s Clio, the muse of History

At this point, our digression into the inner workings of capitalism reconnects with the investigation of the unprecedented historical consciousness linked to the inner dynamic of capital. For it is the category of value undergirding capitalist society that is the source of its dynamism; the dynamic character of value in the form of capital is built into its very concept. The dialectical tension which characterizes capital always exists in potentia as part of its logic, but begins to unfold more rapidly with the general stabilization of the workday and the increased stress placed upon the generation of relative surplus-value.[75] Since relative surplus-value demands that the technical and social basis of production be constantly revolutionized so that productivity can be increased, but at the same time the rate of surplus-value thereby gained begins to vanish as soon as these technical and organizational advances are generalized, there is an overall “speeding up” of the production process. These frequent, usually violent speed-ups give rise to what Postone has called the “treadmill effect” of capitalist production, involving a “dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.”[76]

Inside the Jefferson Memorial

Jacques-Louis David’s “Tennis Court Oath” (1791)

This is how an historical consciousness in the modern sense first manifested itself in society. For it was only with the further elaboration of the dialectic immanent to relative surplus-value that the concept of history as an unfolding progression of stages even became available. Postone explains: “Considered temporally, this intrinsic dynamic of capital, with its treadmill pattern, entails an ongoing directional movement of time, a ‘flow of history.’ In other words, the mode of concrete time we are examining can be considered historical time, as constituted in capitalist society.”[77] This mode of concrete time described by Postone serves to ground what the contemporary philosophers Reinhart Koselleck and Jürgen Habermas have called “modern time-consciousness,” which would only begin to first show itself around 1800, but which in its understanding of itself rightly traced its origins to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.[78] This was made manifest in the qualitative recognition of itself as the neue rather than the neueste Zeit,[79] as reference to one’s own historical age as nostrum aevum was recast as nova aetas, the new age, later captured be its conception of itself as modernity (Moderne, modernitéModernität).[80]

Dramatization of Lenin delivering a speech (painted 1930)

Leon Frederic’s “Ages of the Worker” (1895)

Reviewing these two distinct senses of time that emerge out of capitalism, we may briefly state the characteristics that differentiate them and determine the extent to which they interact. Some differences between the two should be obvious. One is abstract and homogeneous, the other concrete and heterogeneous. The one is cyclical and repetitive, while the other is linear and unprecedented, irreversible, and unreplicable in its exact constitution. Abstract, Newtonian time is scientific, and can be measured mechanically, by the gears in a watch. Concrete, historical time, on the other hand, must be comprehended either organically (in precapitalist societies) or dialectically (under capitalism), as a dynamic sequence of forces and events.

Lenin’s “spiral of history”

Spiral clock

But despite all their differences, it is not as if these two forces are divided by an unbridgeable chasm. Rather, they are intricately and dialectically intertwined. If anything, the two separate temporal elements combine to create the unique structure of capitalist development through history. While on the one hand society is being propelled forward through a series of irreversible transformations, on the other, the repetitious pattern of day-to-day, hour-to-hour routines of social production continue according to their usual cycles. And so it is proper, when speaking of the dialectical motion of capitalism, to describe it as following a cyclolinear path of production and circulation punctuated by periods of boom and crisis. The “historical” element of capitalist time allows the way in which capitalism manifests itself to change over time, such that distinct phases of capitalism can be identified (liberalism/monopolism/imperialism/Fordism/neo-liberalism or “flexible accumulation”). The homogeneous, “repetitive” element of time under capitalism allows it to remain capitalism throughout all of its various phases, founded on the same principle of the supervaluation of value.

The Abstract Space of Capitalism

There is a spatial duality inherent in capitalism analogous to the temporal dialectic that was just covered. For there are two distinct types of space engendered by capitalism — both an abstract, global, and empty space as well as a concrete, hierarchical space composed of concentrated and distributed masses. As with both the concrete and abstract components of capitalist temporality, these stem from the basic character of capital.

Descartes’ whirlpools of matter

Cartesian space; Descartes’ sketch of magnetic fields

The former of these, abstract space, as constituted under capitalism, can be referred to as “Cartesian” space, just as abstract time was called “Newtonian.” And just as Newton considered the abstract time he described to be “empty” (i.e., devoid of real happenings or events), the abstract space that Descartes described was conceived as “empty” (i.e., devoid of real bodies). Or, in his own words, this sort of spatiality is “comprised in the idea of a space — not merely a space which is full of bodies, but even a space which is called ‘empty.’”[81] This space unfolds temporally, as capitalism spreads throughout the world. It carries the traits of universality and homogeneity: it makes no difference what particular, heterogeneous forms of culture and society it encounters. The abstract space of capitalism absorbs them regardless and makes them more like itself. Nor does it honor any national or traditional boundaries; geographical barriers likewise mean nothing to it.

M.C. Escher’s “House of Stairs” (1951)

Céline Meisser’s “The City”

The concrete space of capitalism, on the other hand, describes the very real spatial disparities and inequalities that emerge out of the inner dynamic of capital. It accounts for the antithesis of town and country, the unevenness of capitalist development, and the huge urban agglomerations that resulted from the concentration of capital in different areas of the world. This more concrete form of spatiality could be called, moreover, the “topographical” space of capitalism. For even within the limits of a single municipality, this type of space can be witnessed in the various sectors that comprise the city: the dirty factories and centers of production, the clean, slick financial district, workers’ housing, the more “upscale” estates of the urban elites, and the palliative parks and green spaces, which serve to interrupt the dense overcrowding of the city. Concrete space would also help locate the centers of state power — the government buildings, judicial courts, and jails. Finally, it would include the main conduits of capitalist intercourse, the highways and backstreets, the subway systems of major cities, the train stations, bus stations, and railroad networks.

World map from the early 1500s, minus the new world

World map, 1689

The abstract dimension of capitalist spatiality is expressed by its global quality. For capitalism, from the moment of its appearance, was in concept a global phenomenon. This is so despite the fact that it did empirically emerge under historically determinate, localizable conditions. Circumstances would have it that these conditions first fermented in England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.[82] But it could nevertheless be contended that no matter where it arose, once primitive accumulation had reached the point where capital was able to reproduce itself with a surplus such that it could be reinvested, the socioeconomic system and the relations it entailed were bound to spread and eventually wrap the globe. To the extent that capitalism could be imagined to have hypothetically emerged in a different part of the world (even on a different planet), the logic of capitalist reproduction would in any case eventually require its extension beyond any spatial boundaries that had previously contained it.

Johannes Vermeer’s “The Astronomer” (1668)

The necessity of precapitalist social formations is a matter of debate; it is unclear whether there are necessary “stages” a nation or region must go through before arriving at capitalism. However, there can be no doubt that capitalism possesses this totalizing and compulsively expansive character once it comes into its own. In this sense, it can be distinguished from all the socioeconomic forms that preceded it, since these different systems can be said to have existed in relative isolation from one another. Oppositely, “[with capitalism, w]e are dealing with a new sort of interdependence, one that emerged historically in a slow, spontaneous, and contingent way,” explains Moishe Postone. “Once the social formation based upon this new form of interdependence became fully developed, however (which occurred when labor power itself became a commodity), it acquired a necessary and systematic character; it has increasingly undermined, incorporated, and superseded other social forms, while becoming global in scale.”[83]

Newton’s expansion of Cartesian spatiality

For all these reasons mentioned above, the claim that capitalism possesses an innate globality can be justified. Insofar as capitalism could have potentially emerged anywhere and at any time that the conditions necessary for its existence obtained, the space it inhabits can be said to be abstract. The fact that it would expand outwardly and swallow all other social forms that come into its orbit, irrespective of their specific, concrete, distinguishing features, also attests to its abstractness. Regardless of national, geographical, or artificial boundaries, capitalism is able to transgress every border. “Through rapid improvement in the instruments of production, through limitless ease of communication, the bourgeoisie drags all nations, even the most primitive ones, into civilization,” Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto. “Cut-price commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces undeveloped societies to abandon even the most intense xenophobia. It forces all nations to adopt the bourgeois mode of production or go under; it forces them to introduce so-called civilization amongst themselves, i.e. to become bourgeois. In a phrase, [capitalism] creates a world in its own image.”[84]

Grandville’s “Bridge across the Planets” (1840)

Vaugondy globe, 18th century

Indeed, quite early in their careers, Marx and Engels recognized the international character of the capitalist mode of production. What in 1848 was limited to only a few of the more developed nations in Europe and North America would within the course of a century reach the remotest parts of the globe. Marx and Engels noted that capitalism had this unifyingeffect on all the nations and cultures of the world, such that for the first time there was truly a world market. Through this, the two young authors contended, this new global interdependence revealed itself:

Through the exploitation of the world market the bourgeoisie has made the production and consumption of all countries cosmopolitan. It has pulled the national basis of industry right out from under the reactionaries, to their consternation. Long-established national industries have been destroyed and are still being destroyed daily. They are being displaced by new industries — the introduction of which becomes a life-and-death question for all civilized nations — industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials but use raw materials from the ends of the earth, industries whose products are consumed not only in the country of origin but in every part of the world. In place of the old needs satisfied by home production we have new ones which demand the products of the most distant lands and climes for their satisfaction. In place of the old local and national self-sufficiency and isolation we have a universal commerce, a universal dependence of nations on one another. As in the production of material things, so also with intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common currency. National partiality and narrowness become more and more impossible, and from the many national and local literatures a world literature arises.[85]

“As Joseph Wright’s representation shows, affect positions the witnesses — man, woman and child alike in the enlarged socius of the late eighteenth century — vis-à-vis the object under examination.”

With the consolidation of the capitalist mode of production, no longer were there so many discrete, disconnected, and incomparable societies existing in relative isolation from each other. In their stead there arose a single, monolithic, and all-encompassing entity called Society. Only in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries did authors first begin writing of “society” as such, rather than with reference to this or that particular society. And so also was it only with Comte, Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, and Weber — from the middle part of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth — that the discipline of “sociology” carved out its place amongst the division of the human sciences.

Giuseppe Mazzini haranguing the mob in Milan, April 1848

Victorian-era bourgeois society

“Bourgeois society carried out the process of socializing society,” wrote the Marxist theorist, Georg Lukács. “Capitalism destroyed both the spatio-temporal barriers between different lands and territories and also the legal partitions between the different ‘estates’…Man becomes, in the true sense of the word, a social being. Society becomes the reality for man.”[86] Society treats its members, its constituent parts, as belonging to “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.”[87] No longer do they appear as divided into qualitatively different estates in which membership was more or less determined by birth. Neither is society absolutely divided along national or regional lines, into fundamentally distinct societies. Instead, as Adorno noted, “‘Society’ in the stronger sense…represents a certain kind of intertwinement which leaves nothing out; one essential characteristic of such a society — even though it may be modified or negated — is that its individual elements are presented as relatively equal.” Adorno then specified that “the concept of society…[is] an essentially bourgeois term, or a ‘concept of the third estate.’”[88] Society, it would seem, is only as old as capitalism.

M.C. Escher’s “Humanity” (1951)

But what is it specifically about capitalism that compels its stretch outward, absorbing non-capitalist societies along the way? What is the root of its cosmopolitanism? It was the later Marx, in his groundbreaking Grundrisse for the critique of political economy, who would pinpoint the specific aspect of capitalism that lay behind its international movement. The lynchpin of capitalism’s global spatiality was to be “located” in its drive to open up new markets, in the realm of circulation, to reach greater and greater distances by revolutionizing the means of transport and communication. “The more production comes to rest on exchange value, hence on exchange, the more important do the physical conditions of exchange — the means of communication and transport — become for the costs of circulation,” observed Marx. “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time — becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”[89]

Late nineteenth-century German map depicting trade routes to Africa

As the critical geographer and Marxist scholar David Harvey has noted, the centrifugal movement of capitalism relies upon a general improvement of the means of transport and communication, such that the turnover time (production + circulation time) required for commodities to realize their value is consequently shortened. Proportionate to the shortening of this turnover time, moreover, is the widening of the scope of capital’s potential reach. “The reduction in realization and circulation costs helps to create, therefore, fresh room for capital accumulation,” writes David Harvey. “Put the other way around, capital accumulation is bound to be geographically expansionary and to be so by progressive reductions in the costs of communication and transportation.”[90] The result of this continuous expansion is the creation of the “world market” Marx had talked about in the Manifesto. As Marx would later put it: “If the progress of capitalist production and the consequent development of the means of transport and communication shortens the circulation time for a given quantity of commodities, the same progress and the opportunity provided by the development of the means of transport and communication conversely introduces the necessity of working for ever more distant markets, in a word, for the world market.”[91] And so it is by the creation of this global market that capitalism inevitably “conquers the world,” imposing its logic onto the preexisting social structures with which it comes into contact. “Marx…argued,” Harvey reminds us, “that the historic tendency of capitalism is to destroy and absorb non-capitalist modes of production at the same time as it uses them to create fresh room for capital accumulation.”[92]

An armillary sphere

M.C. Escher’s “Dyson Sphere”

The space of capitalist imperialism thus seeks to consume everything that lies outside of its radius. It is a homogenizing space — it takes all that is different, heterogeneous, and external to it and makes them more like itself. The non-capitalist structures that capitalism brushes up against lose their identity to its all-encompassing logic. If the abstract temporal aspect of capital can be called “Newtonian,” its abstract spatial component can be called Cartesian — almost an empty grid of length, breadth, and width. Considered in itself, it is thus a sort of vacuous res extensa, conceptually distinguishable from the objects that occupy it. In relation to the concrete objects it pulls into its fold, this space is wholly abstract, ethereal, and invisible. Yet it wraps them in its essence, imbuing them with its likeness. And so too does it encapsulate the social relations that are objectified in these products and their built environment. The space of capitalism leaves nothing untouched.

Wassily Kandinsky’s “Small World VII” (1922), the cover to David Harvey’s “Spaces of Capital”

In his major work on the subject of spatiality, The Production of Space, the famous French Marxist Henri Lefebvre developed his own notion of “abstract space.” From our description of the phenomenon above, it can be seen how his understanding of abstract space roughly coincides with the account given here. “Abstract space,” wrote Lefebvre, “is not defined only by the disappearance of trees, or by the receding of nature; nor merely by the great empty spaces of the state and the military — plazas that resemble parade grounds; nor even by commercial centers packed tight with commodities, money and cars. It is not in fact defined on the basis of what is perceived.”[93] In other words, this abstract space cannot be identified by the concrete objects that inhabit it. As Lefebvre observed, the change undergone by society once engulfed by the abstract space of capital is more immediately noticeable in the altered relations of production rather than the actual products themselves. Lefebvre thus noted the manner in which “[t]he reproduction of the social relations of production within this [abstract] space inevitably obeys two tendencies: the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other.”[94] Wherever the abstract space of capital enters new territories, it tends to create the same concrete contradictions that exist throughout the capitalist mode of production. “It is in [abstract] space that the world of commodities is deployed,” wrote Lefebvre, “along with all that it entails: accumulation and growth, calculation, planning, programming. Which is to say that abstract space is that space where the tendency to homogenization exercises its pressure and its repression with the means at its disposal.”[95]

The geometric character of abstract space under capital

Another strong tendency of abstract space was highlighted by Lefebvre is its quantitative (and indeed “geometric”) character. In this, he parallels our own definition of abstract space as Cartesian. Like abstract time, this quantitative feature of abstract space gradually overtakes the qualitative spaces that exist before it. “Abstract space is measurable,” wrote Lefebvre. “Not only is it quantifiable as geometrical space, but as social space, it is subject to quantitative manipulations: statistics, programming, projections — all are operationally effective here. The dominant tendency, therefore, is towards the disappearance of the qualitative, towards its assimilation subsequent upon such brutal or seductive treatment.”[96] This space is eminently calculable, in its distances, its vortices, its contours.

Ludwig Kirchner, “Street Scene” in Dresden (1908)

George Grosz’s “The City” (1916)

The concrete dimension of spatiality under capitalism is less important to the present study, but a short overview of its features still may be given. Whatever the preexisting antagonisms of precapitalist societies may have been, once a new territory has been enveloped by capitalism’s ever-expanding abstract spatiality, it imposed its own pattern of contradictory relations upon it. The concrete institutions and forms of association that had been established prior to the spread of commodity-production to a region may have survived the sequence of violent upheavals that capitalism forced upon it, but their essence was forever changed. In some cases old contradictions vanished, only to see new contradictions arise. Whereas the abstract space of capital is conceptually empty, the people and objects that inhabit it are concretely embodied, and their contradictory and antagonistic relations to one another are concretely manifested.

Portrait of “The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster,” leading up to the Peace of Westphalia, where the concept of the modern nation-state was born

Descending from the abstract globality of capitalism’s spatiality to the highest levels of its concrete incarnation, we arrive at the modern nation-state. We find ourselves asking a question that Lefebvre posed at a pivotal moment in his Production of Space. “How and why,” he asked, “is it that the advent of a world market, implying a degree of unity at the level of the planet, gives rise to a fractioning of space — to proliferating nation states, to regional differentiation and self-determination, as well as to multinational states and transnational corporation which, although they stem this strange tendency towards fission, also exploit it in order to reinforce their own autonomy? Towards what space and time will such interwoven contradictions lead us?”[97]

1836 French map of Europe

Eugène_Delacroix’s “Liberty Guiding the People” (1830)

Indeed, one of the most concrete, yet contradictory, spatial novelties of the capitalist era was the invention of the nation-state. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the modern nation-state was (and remains) the concrete political expression of the bourgeoisie. This new national consciousness, or Volksgeist,[98] came into conflict not only with aristocratic-monarchical structures that had preceded it, but also with more regional and linguistic identities that did not conform to the established geographical boundaries of a given nation. At this point, in its unifying capacity, nationalism played an eminently progressive role in dissolving the feudal bonds of vassalage, and along with it the extended kingdoms and fiefdoms that had formed during the medieval era.

National personifications “Uncle Sam” (U.S.A.) and “John Bull” (Britain) in 1898 poster

However, no sooner did the form of the nation-state attain ascendance over these antiquated social systems than it was superseded at the social and economic level by world capitalist intercourse. At this point, national structures were forced to negotiate the international character of commodity-production and universal trade while defending their own basis (and spatial borders) in terms of common populist bonds — whether ethnically or linguistically defined. Contradictions also arose between nations and the spatial distribution of capitalist development, with some parts of the world enjoying a high concentration of capital — with all the wealth and technological innovations brought with it — while others experienced a dearth. “Within [the] global framework, as might be expected,” remarked Lefebvre, “the Leninist principle of uneven development applies in full force: some countries are still only in the earliest stages of the production of things (goods) in space, and only the most industrialized and urbanized ones can exploit to the full the new possibilities opened up by technology and knowledge.”[99]

View of Nuremburg, 1390

View of Nuremburg, 1390

A painting of medieval Dubrovnik from the Maritime Museum

A painting of medieval Dubrovnik from the Maritime Museum

Some of the contradictory spaces that one finds under capitalism were not wholly engendered by capitalism. In fact, one of them predated capitalism by several centuries. The antithesis of town and country, for example, existed long before the abstract space of capitalism spread its net over both of these spaces, ever since feudal times. This antagonism remained prominent under capitalism, for example, but now in an exacerbated form. The town, formerly almost totally dependent on the countryside for food and provisions, now gained the upper hand. The countryside, in which most of the population had lived up to that point, now found itself subjugated to the rule of the town, with huge numbers of the dislodged peasantry moving to the cities to find work.

Jörg Breu the Elder, Village Festival (16th century)

Gerrit Adriaensz’s Berckheyde – Amsterdam (early 17th century)

Nor did the character of the city itself remain the same. Once the seat of all political authority in medieval times, the commercial character of the city began to predominate over it in the era of mercantilism. This in turn was increasingly usurped by the industrial function of the city, as factory clusters became more prominent in the towns and the thin outline of blackened smokestacks rose to dominate the skyline.[100] Needless to say, these transitions were not accomplished according to any preestablished plan, and so new sites of construction were grafted upon the older neighborhoods and districts. The result was an intense agglomeration of contradictory structures existing alongside each other, the accumulated debris of past ages. The old beside the new, the antiquated beside the modern, the sleek utilitarian warehouses next to the most atavistic façades — in short, the most concrete anachronisms imaginable could be witnessed in close proximity to one another. The historical accretions of centuries of development piled upon one another, leaving the face of the city irrevocably transformed.

Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street on a Rainy Day” (1877)

Photo by Edward Steichen of The Flatiron Building (1904)

The concrete, contradictory space of capitalism can therefore be seen at work on two different levels: in the tension between the national and the international as well as the antithesis between town and country. These contradictions will remain important to our inquiry insofar as the avant-garde strove to eliminate them. Now that the abstract and concrete spatiotemporal elements of capitalism have been explained, however, we may finally proceed to their reflection within the domain of architecture. Despite the complex and theoretical character of this account thus far, this digression into the sociohistorical roots of the avant-garde phenomenon nevertheless provides crucial context — as well as a robust framework — for the interpretation that will follow.

The Urban Totality of Late Capitalism

The modern megalopolis

A chart reviewing the various traits belonging to the spatial and temporal aspects of capitalism, along with their relationship to both the traditionalist and modernist forms of architecture, may be found on the following page. Though schematic in nature, these categorical clusters can nevertheless be held to be roughly applicable.





























Modernism Traditionalism
FIGURE 1: The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism and Architecture[101]

Sketch of the Louvre Palace (1642)

Traditionalist Architecture

Traditionalism in architecture, the broad outlines of which we described at the beginning of this section, can now be fleshed out in more detail. This may be done, moreover, with a view to the social forces from whence it sprang.[102] For it is not difficult to see how the historical consciousness engendered by capitalist modernity must have contributed to the nineteenth-century recognition of the distinct architectural epochs that preceded it. There had, of course, been some cognizance of the central features of classicism dating back to at least the Renaissance. It would not be until the end of the eighteenth century, however, that the history of architecture would present itself as a sequence of civilizational styles. Naturally, this followed from the more general conception of history as a succession of discrete stages, in which certain “nations” or peoples held sway. This could only appear as such under the aegis of that linear, punctuated temporality peculiar to modernity. The famed chronicler of modern architecture in the twentieth century, Sigfried Giedion, would thus historiographically remark in his lectures of 1938 that “[i]n the arts, periods are differentiated by the ‘styles’ which became fixed and definite in each stage of development. And the study of the history of styles was the special work of nineteenth-century historians, a work most skillfully carried through.”[103]

L’École des Beaux-Arts (1820)

L’École des Beaux-Arts (1880s)

Presumably, these styles had always existed. They were simply lying inert, waiting to be discovered. Historians prior to the nineteenth century, it seemed, had just failed to see what had been standing before them the whole time, and therefore could not grasp the evolution of past architectural forms in all their richness, complexity, and variety. In fact, there were very few historians before this time to have even taken up the question of the history of architecture. Those who had investigated this issue at any length had evidently proved unable to properly understand the connection these forms had to the different civilizations that had produced them. Only with figures like Johann Winckelmann and Giovanni Piranesi did the first inkling of such an understanding appear. As a result, the majority of premodern architectural theorists felt themselves to be dealing with timeless and immutable principles such as “proportion” (proportio), “symmetry” (symmetria), “eurhythmics” (eurhythmia), and “distribution” (distributio). From the rediscovery of Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture in the Renaissance down to its subsequent exegesis and elaboration by the great master Leon Battista Alberti,[104] the subject of history in the discipline of architecture factored in only peripherally.[105] But with the newfound sense of historical consciousness rising out of the temporal dialectic of modernity, the manifold styles of architecture revealed themselves with increasing clarity.

The great Mexican communist painter Diego Rivera’s “Man, Controller of the Universe” (1933), embodying the classic post-Christian humanist metanarrative

William Miller’s frontispiece engraving for an 1825 essay on Gothic architecture

19th-century French sketch cataloguing the Greek columnal orders

It may be fairly objected, however, that these apparently distinct stylistic “epochs” of architectural creation were not at all self-evident, and that they were instead the artificial invention of later thinkers. In their attempt to organize and make sense of the past, it is argued, these historians imposed flimsy or arbitrary criteria on the objects of their study so that they could be more easily classified and grouped together. This was all part of the modern project of drafting secular “metanarratives” in the nineteenth century, intended to somehow ratify or legitimate the present. “[T]he diachronical periodization of history is typically a modern obsession,” noted Jean-François Lyotard, the French philosopher.[106] According to postmodernists, of course, the notion of history as a sequence of inevitable stages leading up to the present has itself lost its legitimacy — “the grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses.”[107] One of the results of its delegitimation, as the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson has pointed out, is that the general validity of qualitative demarcations between historical periods has been radically undermined. It “raise[s] the whole issue of periodization and of how a historian (literary or other) posits a radical break between two henceforth distinct periods.”[108] Can one really pinpoint a specific moment as marking the end of one era and the beginning of another? “One of the concerns frequently aroused by periodizing hypotheses,” Jameson explained in his treatise on Postmodernism, “is that these tend to obliterate difference and to project an idea of the historical period as massive homogeneity (bounded on either side by inexplicable chronological metamorphoses and punctuation marks).”[109]

The skeletal remains of Western civilization

Collapse of the grand metanarrative: Postwar ruins of modernity

In light of such postmodern objections or concerns, does it therefore follow that the modern understanding of history as a progression of distinct periods or epochs is a total fabrication, the sequence of architectural styles wholly a lie? To be sure, the historians of the nineteenth century did not dream up their notion of successive “ages” of world history out of thin air. There was a certain objectivity that held sway in their investigations of the past. The characteristic features they identified as belonging to a specific age or to a particular style of architecture doubtless possessed some underlying reality. This does not mean, however, that these objects of the modern historians’ contemplation were mere facta bruta allowing for no alternate explanation. For their very subjectivity had itself been molded by the various social forces prevailing during its day. The categories by which these historians apprehended the past reflected the epistemic structures that existed at their time. If these corresponded to the historical consciousness emerging out of the temporal dialectic of capitalism, such an understanding would only be appropriate.

Svetlana Boym’s “Return Home,” from her essay on the “ruins of the avant-garde” (1989)

Warsaw in Winter, photo by Owen Hatherley

The unconscious theoretical underpinnings for the traditionalist account of historical architecture — which then forms the point of departure for the practice of architectural traditionalism — are best explained by the concept of “invented traditions,” which was first introduced by the British Marxist Eric Hobsbawm several decades ago.[110] “In short, [‘invented traditions’] are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, or which establish their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition,” wrote Hobsbawm. “It is the contrast between the constant change and innovation of the modern world and the attempt to structure at least some parts of social life within it as unchanging and invariant, that makes the ‘invention of tradition’ so interesting for historians of the past two centuries.”[111] Notice how Hobsbawm specified the last couple centuries as the ones in which this pattern of constant transformation and upheaval was occurring. This is consistent with our previous claim that modern historical consciousness arose precisely during this period.[112] Not only was the view of the past as an unfolding series of stages formed on this basis, but also the need for a stable body of historical traditions appearing to endure throughout this instability. Distinct from organic customs and conventions that exist in precapitalist societies (some of which occasionally survive modernization), which are hardly set down in stone the way they are once they have been exalted as belonging to “perennial” tradition,[113] “traditions” in the Hobsbawmian sense are rigid, codified, and elaborately formalized.[114] In fact, the creation of these strictly circumscribed traditions is far more a feature of modern society than it is of so-called “traditional” society.[115] As Hobsbawm himself indicated, the void of Weberian traditional authority[116] left by the bourgeois revolutions in Europe during the nineteenth century often meant that fledgling liberal regimes felt it necessary to invent traditions in order to supplement their purely legal authority. “Invented traditions,” he wrote, have become more prevalent “since the industrial revolution,” as more generally longstanding traditions like monarchy, fealty, and serfdom were usurped.[117]

19th-century German sketch of Greek architecture

19th-century German sketch of Roman architecture

Applying this concept specifically to the architectural and ornamental histories that took shape during the nineteenth century, it becomes clear that the various styles that they described had not been simply “discovered” by archeologists and observers. They were to some extent, by the very dint of their enshrinement as traditions, also “invented.” For all its utility, unfortunately, this terminology is still slightly misleading, because it is not as if the common characteristics identified by these architectural historians as belonging to a particular style had been created by them ex nihilo. The buildings and ruins they grouped together usually did possess a great deal of structural and stylistic similarity. It is rather that the historians of the nineteenth century were investigating building practices that had been founded upon a fluid and organic set of customs and convention. By taking certain aspects of a given period of building as the ones most typical of that era, however, it was as if they were freezing these architectural “traditions” in a more fixed state than they had ever possessed during their life. In selecting those features of art or architecture that captured a style in its utmost “purity,” as its apogee or apotheosis, modern historians often formalized these practices to a far greater degree than they had been in actuality. Thus could Sir Joshua Reynolds assess the relative quality of the Florentine, Bolognese, Roman, and Venetian schools of Italian painting in expressing the Renaissance ideal.[118] So also could John Ruskin declare that “it is in the pause of the star [tracery] that we have the great, pure, and perfect form of French Gothic.”[119]

19th-century German sketch of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Sketch of a Gothic Cathedral, 1850s

Before examining specific examples of the architectural periodicities compiled during this time, one further peculiarity can be noted. This occurs in connection with an aspect of the concrete spatiality of capitalism discussed above. For it was the ubiquity of the form of the nation-state and the nationalist sentiments accompanying it that colored modern historians’ view of past political entities.[120] Though nationalism was a relatively recent development, historians understood the past in terms of their present. The modern concept of the “nation” was transposed upon the past. Despite the fact that the “nations” they referred to were often self-contained empires, kingdoms, and principalities, it would nevertheless be an error to think of them as nationalities in the strict sense of the term. Again, however, these historians should not be blamed for making what appears to us as a rudimentary category mistake; this mistake itself bore the mark of its age, the impress of capitalism’s concrete spatiality, and could hardly have been otherwise.

Sketch of St. Martin-in-the-Fields from James Gibbs’ Book on Architecture (1728)

Thomas Shepherd’s sketch of Surrey Theater (1828)

And so we can see that on the one hand nineteenth-century architectural discourse temporally divided styles according to their “age,” “era,” or “epoch,” while on the other hand it spatially divided them according to their “nation” of origin. Statements like the following, by the British architectural historian Edward A. Freeman, writing in 1849, are thus symptomatic of this approach to history: “The most remarkable feature in the history of architecture…is the fixedness with which each age and nation adhered to its own form of the art.”[121] This assertion leads off Freeman’s second chapter, on the “Causes of the Diversity of Styles” in architecture. The following chapter explains how, despite the multiplicity of peoples and distinct societies in any given era, one particular “nation” can gain civilizational ascendance over all its peers. At the same time, Freeman claimed that particular ages rise above the others in terms of their significance and value. “In a survey of the world’s history,” he wrote, in a very Hegelian vein, “some periods, some nations, stand forth conspicuous above others for their intrinsic splendor, and their influence in molding the minds of institutions of other lands and peoples.”[122] With this concept in mind, Freeman thus divided the succession of architectural styles as “Celtic — Pelagian — Hindoo — Central American — Egyptian — Grecian — Roman — Romanesque — Saracenic — Gothic — Revived Italian [Renaissance].”[123]

19th-century German table of the orders of Greek columns

19th-century British “table of architecture”

Freeman’s early History of Architecture was in many ways typical of the overarching tendency we are trying to demonstrate. For roughly the same pattern can also be found in Louise C. Tuthill’s contemporaneous History of Architecture from Earliest Times,[124] James Fergusson’s massive three-volume History of Architecture in All Countries from the Earliest Times to the Present from the 1860s,[125] Thomas Mitchell’s Rudimentary Manual of Architecture of 1870,[126] N. D’Anver’s Elementary History of Architecture of All Countries from 1883,[127] Arthur Lyman Tuckerman’s 1887 Short History of Architecture,[128] Clara Erskine Clement’s 1886 Outline of the History of Architecture for Beginners and Students,[129] Alfred Hamlin’s Text-Book on the History of Architecture written in 1896,[130] Harold Edgell’s and Fiske Kimball’s co-authored History of Architecture from 1918.[131] Minor variations appear between each author’s selection of individual styles, but the commonalities between them are too overwhelming to be denied. While certain interpretive choices were made — for example the subsumption of “Babylonian” architecture into “Assyrian” architecture — the sequential periodization of architectural styles was largely the same. There were obvious chronological reasons that lay behind this, of course, and so again it should not be imagined that these divisions were wholly arbitrary. But the very fact of the presentation of these styles in such a manner is itself significant, an indication of these authors’ historical consciousness.

Late 18th-century interior featuring Roman arches and Corinthian columns

19th-century sketch of Byzantine architectural types

Nor were the British the only ones compiling such histories of style, either. French historians also produced a number of works in this vein, especially at L’École des Beaux-Arts. Among the architectural histories and treatises produced during this time, one must include Léonce Reynaud’s landmark Traité d’architecture from 1850,[132] Charles Blanc’s Grammaire des arts du dessin of 1867,[133] Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 1877 Lectures on Architecture,[134] Roger Peyre’s 1894 Histoire générale des beaux-arts,[135] and Auguste Choisy’s Histoire de l’architecture of 1899. The Germans and Austrians were no less prolific in their production of carefully periodized histories. Carl Schnaase’s Hegelian Geschichte der bildenden Künste from 1843,[136] Wilhelm Lübke’s Geschichte der Architektur of 1858,[137] Gottfried Semper’s 1860 Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or, Practical Aesthetics,[138] and his great critic Aloïs Riegl’s own Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament[139] from 1897 took up the question of historical styles in the building arts. Their inquiries yielded many similar results, in terms of their overall progression.

Proposed staircase to the Royal Library (1768)

19th-century color sketch of the Acropolis

Riegl’s Problems of Style brings us to an academic field that was closely allied to the history of architecture during this period: namely, the history of ornament. This field was virtually founded by singular act of publication, by Owen Jones, a close friend and colleague of Ruskin’s. In 1856, Jones released what would come to be regarded as his masterpiece, The Grammar of Ornament.[140] The book was released to rave reviews that appeared in many of the major British newspapers and journals, making it an instant success.[141] Not only did it have a profound influence on young designers, however. It also inaugurated the popular new genre of chromolithographic folios devoted to the study of historic ornament. A number of authors followed in Jones’ footsteps by writing books like this. Albert Charles Auguste Racinet wrote L’Ornement Polychrome in 1869,[142] Heinrich Dolmetsch wrote Der Ornamentenschatz in 1883,[143] and Alexander Speltz wrote The Styles of Ornament.[144] Each of these works similarly aspired to achieve the encyclopedic effect of Jones’ original Grammar. More formal histories on the subject were also written, such as Ralph N. Wornum’s 1855 lecture Analysis of Ornament[145] and A.D.F. Hamlin’s History of Ornament, published in 1916.[146]

Classical revivalist architecture, photographed in the early part of the 20th century

Early 20th century photo of the Roman Pantheon

All that has been established so far tells us much about the architectural histories that were written during the nineteenth century. However, it does not say much of the actual architecture that was produced simultaneously. For how exactly did traditionalism in architecture evolve out of the ever more elaborate histories of architectural tradition? Indeed, the transition is by no means as obvious as it was been previously suggested. The historians of architecture during this period considered their work very important at a descriptive level, but did not thereby endorse the forms they described as the prescriptive basis for a new architecture. “[The] example [of past styles],” warned Tuckerman, “teaches us never to copy slavishly, but to initiate old examples only so far as they may suit modern needs, in principle rather than detail, and to eschew the reproduction of defects, however picturesque, so that architecture may be a living art instead of the mummified representation of archaeological researches.”[147] Whence the traditionalist architects came to their predisposition to historicist eclecticism, then, cannot be so easily derived from the work of the architectural historians.

Ecole Nationale des Arts Industriels, Roubaix, Nord

19th-century courtyard, built in an eclecticist fashion

Nevertheless, the fact of architectural traditionalism’s tendencies toward historicism and eclecticism remains. No less a figure than Viollet-le-Duc spoke out against it in his time, anticipating many of the criticisms that the modernists would later level at it. And in his vicious excoriation of the architects of his day, he would cite the very wealth of historical knowledge regarding past architecture as an “obstruction” blocking the creation of a new style. It would thus seem that Viollet-le-Duc himself identified the historical consciousness of architectural tradition as the root of eclecticist architecture’s imitative degeneracy. His call for the development of a new architectural methodology is so unequivocal that it deserves to be quoted at length. Toward the end of his Lectures on Architecture, he therefore asked:

Is the nineteenth century destined to close without possessing an architecture of its own? Will this age, which is so fertile in discoveries, and which displays an energetic vitality, transmit to posterity only imitations or hybrid works, without character, and which it is impossible to class? Is this sterility one of the inevitable consequences of our social conditions? Does it result from the influence on the teaching of the art exercised by an effete coterie? And can a coterie, whether it be young or old, acquire such a power in the midst of vital elements? Assuredly not. Why then has not the nineteenth century its architecture? We are building everywhere, and largely; millions are being expended in our cities, and yet we can only point here and there to a true and practical application of the very considerable means at our disposal.

Since the Revolution of the last century [1789] we have entered on a transitional phase; we are investigating, searching into the past, and accumulating abundance of materials, while our means and appliances have been increased. What then is wanting to enable us to give an original embodiment and form to so many various elements? Is it not simply method that is lacking? In the arts, as in the sciences, the absence of method, whether we are engaged in investigating or in attempting to apply the knowledge we have acquired, occasions an embarrassment and confusion proportional to the increase of our resources; the abundance becomes an obstruction. Every transitional period however must have a limit; it must tend towards an aim of which we get a glimpse only when, weary of searching through a chaos of ideas and materials brought from every quarter, we set to work to disentangle certain principles from this disorderly mass — to develop and apply them by the help of a determinate method. This is the work that devolves upon us, and to which we should devote ourselves with uncompromising persistency — struggling against those deleterious elements which are invariably engendered during all transitional periods, just as miasmas exhale from matter in a state of fermentation.

The arts are diseased; architecture is dying in the midst of prosperity, notwithstanding the presence of energetic vital principles; it is dying of excesses and a debilitating regime. The more abundant the stores of our knowledge, the more strength and rectitude of judgment is needed to make a productive use of them, and the more necessary is it to recur to rigorous principles. The disease from which architectural art suffers dates from a remote period; it has not been developed in a single day; we see it increasing from the sixteenth century to our own times; from the time when, after a very superficial study of the architecture of ancient Rome — certain of whose externals were made objects of imitation — our architects ceased to make the alliance of the form with the requirements and the means of construction the chief consideration. Once out of the way of truth, architecture has been more and more misled into degenerating paths.[148]

Viollet-le-Duc’s sketch of the cathedral of St. Denis

The so-called “iron gothic” of Viollet-le-Duc

Incidentally, Viollet-le-Duc would not be the only one to identify the imitative aspect of the Renaissance and its reverence for classical forms as the beginning of the decline of architecture. Though impressive in its formal accomplishments, the otherwise-celebrated Renaissance was viewed as symptomatic of an ideological regression. Wright would thus later remark, in the opening years of the twentieth century, that “with the beginning of the sixteenth century, the malady of architecture is visible. It becomes classic art in a miserable manner; from being indigenous, it becomes Greek and Roman…It is this decadence which we call the Renaissance…It is the setting sun which we mistake for dawn.”[149] This same sentiment was simultaneously expressed by Hermann Muthesius in 1901: “What was achieved in Renaissance building-art could be but a pale image of a superior original art — a claim that will be evident to every visitor to Italy who observes how any single antique building (the Roman Coliseum or the Pantheon, for example) eclipses the entire building-art of the Renaissance.”[150]

19th-century eclecticism: Roman arches with Gothic spires and Greek friezes

The Goode House in Manchester, 1893 eclecticist office building

It was probably Muthesius who best summarized the development of what he referred to as “style-architecture” [Stilarchitektur] in his famous book, Style-Architecture and Building-Art: Transformations of Architecture in the Nineteenth Century and Its Present Condition. To some extent, he adopted this term from one of his architectural idols he met while he was living in England, W.R. Lethaby. Lethaby was known to often refer contemptuously to what he called “the catalogued styles.”[151] In a retrospective on the traditionalist architectural construction that went on during this time, Muthesius dated the beginning of the modern discourse on styles to 1762.[152] He followed its development through Schinkelite Hellenism in Germany, neoclassicism in France and England, Louis XIV-XVI French revivalism, restoration mania on the continent, Nordic Romanticism and the neogothic, German Renaissance, all the way up to post-1870s eclecticism proper.[153] During this last phase, there took place what Muthesius termed a “battle of the styles”: “Like a hungry herd, architects and artisans of the last two decades grazed over all periods of artistic development subsequent to the German Renaissance for their models. A stylistic battle began, in which the late Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Zopf, and Empire were slaughtered indifferently.”[154] The result of this battle was what later architects would pejoratively call “eclecticism” (what Muthesius called “architectural formalism”). It would reign until the end of the century: “Architectural formalism appeared most directly in the stylistic hunt that began with the German Renaissance of the 1870s and cursorily rushed through all the styles of the last four hundred years.”[155]

Melbourne eclecticism (1920s)

Sydney eclecticism (photo 1930)

Thus was the outcome of traditionalism in architecture. Most construction took place under the order of the “catalogued styles” described by Lethaby. These styles, which had been so thoroughly compiled by the historians of the nineteenth century, were accepted by the architects of the time as canonical embodiments of a particular nation or epoch. This reflected the new historic and national consciousness that had been awakened by capitalism. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, following the “battle of the styles” described by Muthesius, exclusive adherence to one style or another was itself replaced by a casual borrowing from multiple styles all at once. “Styles were regarded as matters of habit, and any claim of exclusiveness was now regarded as outmoded,” the historian Leonardo Benevolo recorded. “[T]he architect’s prerogative…was the freedom to choose this form or that…, dependent on feeling, not on reason.”[156]Such unlimited freedom on the part of the architect lent itself to capriciousness and accidence, since the forms used were all subject to the builder’s fancy. This is what so enraged the modernists.[157]

Le Corbusier, perhaps the greatest avant-garde polemicist (photo 1933)

Modernist Architecture — Negative Bases

One of the motive forces in the move toward modernist architecture, its negative thrust, was its categorical rejection of the traditionalist architecture that preceded it. Certainly, the formation of the architectural avant-garde in the early twentieth century had its very positive basis in social processes going on at the time, in economic industrialization and the newfound understanding of “space-time” expressed by abstract art. But exploration into the more positive underpinnings of modernist architecture will be saved for the next subsection; for now, we will confine ourselves to an investigation of its negative bases. For while the modernists could easily point to aspects of modern society that they stood for, they could just as easily point to eclecticist architecture as an example of that which they stood against. Because so much of the ground for the modernist project was staked out polemically, this side of its development deserves separate treatment.

Marinetti, Sant’Elia, and Boccioni (1915): “We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! We intend to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world. We intend to destroy museums, libraries, academies.”

Russian Cubofuturists (1912): “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, etc., etc. off the steamship of Modernity.”

But eclectic historicism in architecture was not all that the avant-garde stood against. In a broader sense, as a sort of analogue to its architectural rival, the standpoint adopted by the modernists placed them in critical relation to bourgeois society as a whole. While this did not amount to an outright opposition to capitalism as such, there were still many features associated with early twentieth-century bourgeois society of which they strongly disapproved. As it happened, many of the same things that the modernists criticized in traditionalist architecture were reproduced on a larger scale at the level of society. For the apparent anarchy, capriciousness, and confusion of production that seemed to govern capitalism was mirrored in the arbitrariness and stylistic disorder of eclecticism. A more generalized feeling of discontent — the haunting sense that the productive forces of the present remained enchained to the dead labor of the past — loomed over the avant-garde with respect to both society as well as architecture. The “[t]radition from all the dead generations weigh[ed] like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”[158]

Student leftists expelled from the Bauhaus along with Meyer (1930)

Ludwig Hilberseimer (1926)

Mart Stam (1930)

Though one might reasonably contend that the modernists’ stance against bourgeois society was built on the positive basis of leftist movements existing at the time, their discontent with the society of their day did not lead them into any determinate tendency. While there were many committed communists within the avant-garde (Teige, Ginzburg, Lurçat, Meyer), there were also many who belonged to the less radical Social-Democrats (Bourgeois, May, Hilberseimer, Taut), and a number who had no tangible affiliation with any party at all (Gropius). In certain cases, the positive link between the architectural modernists and anti-capitalist political parties was more apparent. The connection of the architectural avant-garde to the Bolshevik political vanguard in the Soviet Union was especially obvious, despite their divergent temporalities.[159] In Germany, the ties between SDP ideology and modernist architecture was likewise quite strong, as Manfredo Tafuri rightly pointed out.[160] Often times, as he observed, the modernists simply countered the “anarchy” of capitalism with the ideology of “the plan.”[161]From this, it would seem that the modernists were defined more by an inchoate anti-capitalism than they were by any particular political alternative, at least any that immediately presented itself in the 1920s.

Hermann Muthesius with his wife in England (1896)

Muthesius’ Stilarchitektur und Baukunst (1903)

“Style,” Ornamentation, and Eclecticism

The most immediate point of reference for the avant-garde’s negative definition was, as would seem natural, traditionalist architecture. The prevailing atavistic practices in architectural construction toward the turn of the century had to be torn down before a new practice could be built up. And this the modernists pursued with zeal. “For nearly two centuries,” Ginzburg declared in 1923, “architectural creativity in Europe has lived parasitically off its past.” The reproduction of motifs and patterns stemming from the stylistic traditions of the past, he argued, was an exercise in necromancy — the social foundations on which these styles had been erected had disappeared, and along with them the vitality they had originally possessed.[162] For many of the modernists, this led them to reject the concept of “style” altogether. As Le Corbusier would proclaim: “Architecture has nothing to do with the ‘styles’…Louis XV, XVI, XIV and Gothic are to architecture what feathers are to a woman’s head; they are pretty sometimes, but not always, and nothing more.”[163] Modernist architecture thus sought to divorce building processes from notions of fashion, taste, ornamentation, and “style.” All these elements, it held, were extraneous to the actual practice of architecture. “The concept of ‘form,’” wrote Adolf Behne in 1926, “does not deal with accessories, decoration, taste, or style (from Gothic to Biedermeier) but with the consequences arising from a building’s ability to be an enduring structure.”[164]

Soviet architect Moisei Ginzburg, author of “Style and Epoch” (1923)

Original cover to Ginzburg’s book, designed by Aleksandr Vesnin

Indeed, among the international modernists there was a certain ambivalence when it came to the prospect of inventing a new “style.”[165] On the one hand, they felt themselves tasked with the problem of formally expressing the essence of their age, of creating a language of architecture adequate to modern life. Walter Curt Behrendt would thus write of The Victory of the New Building Style, the title of his 1928 reflective on the successful development of modernist architecture.[166] Despite his opposition to “the styles,” so also could Le Corbusier write with confidence that “[o]ur era fixes its style every day. It is right before our eyes.”[167] In Russia, Ginzburg arrived at much the same notion in his outstanding work Style and Epoch, where he first outlined the “prerequisites for the new style,” the acceptance of which demanded the negation of architecture’s servility to past forms.[168] The signatories of the international “Call for Elementarist Art,” issued in 1922, addressed this paradox concretely. “Reject the styles,” they implored. “We demand freedom from the styles to reach the STYLE.”[169] Muthesius, lecturing fifteen years earlier in Berlin, would state that while a style could not be consciously sought out, one could nevertheless emerge out of the social Zeitgeist.[170] Hannes Meyer, who would later rise to the position of Bauhaus director, echoed these sentiments in 1926 by writing: “Each age demands its own form. It is our mission to give our new world a new shape with the means of today. But our knowledge of the past is a burden that weighs upon us, and inherent in our advanced education are impediments tragically barring our new paths. The unqualified affirmation of the present age presupposes the ruthless denial of the past.”[171]

Walter Gropius (1919)

Ernő Kállai (1928)

On the other hand, however, many feared the conceptual rigor mortis that might set in with modernism’s formalization as a new “style” or “tradition.” Despite the inherent negativity that a new style would express with respect to the old, the members of the avant-garde hoped to prevent the petrifaction of its stylistic elements into a lifeless and formulaic system. The modernists, to be sure, aimed at a universal language of form, but they would take great measures to ensure that these forms would not ossify and be held apart from life. “Wherever possible,” advised Muthesius, “we should for now ban completely the notion of style.”[172] This was, in particular, a concern of the Bauhaus brand of modern architecture, which suddenly (and unexpectedly) found that its forms had become stylish in late Weimar society. The brilliant Hungarian critic Ernő Kállai would thus reflect in his article, “Ten Years of Bauhaus”:

What, during the early years at Weimar, used to be the vehemently disputed activity of a few outsiders has now become a big business boom. Houses and even whole housing settlements are being built everywhere; all with smooth white walls, horizontal rows of windows, spacious terraces, and flat roofs. The public accepts them, if not always with great enthusiasm, at least without opposition, as the products of an already familiar “Bauhaus style”…Today everybody knows about it. Houses with lots of glass and shining metal: Bauhaus style. The same is true of home hygiene without home atmosphere: Bauhaus style. Tubular steel armchair frames: Bauhaus style. Lamp with nickel-coated body and a disk of opaque glass as lampshade: Bauhaus style. Wallpaper patterned in cubes: Bauhaus style. No painting on the wall: Bauhaus style. Incomprehensible painting on the wall: Bauhaus style. Printing with sans-serif letters and bold rules: Bauhaus style. everything written in small letters: bauhaus style. EVERYTHING EXPRESSED IN BIG CAPITALS: BAUHAUS STYLE.[173]

Piet Mondrian in the Bauhaus-book series (1926)

The Czech avant-garde magazine ReD (1927)

According to the precepts of its founder, this was a most unwelcome development. “The object of the Bauhaus,” asserted Gropius, was not to propagate any ‘style,’ system, dogma, formula, or vogue, but simply to exert a revitalizing influence on design. We did not base our teaching on any preconceived ideas of form, but sought the vital spark of life behind life’s ever-changing forms.” Even less ambiguously, he stated that “[a] ‘Bauhaus Style’ would have been a confession of failure and a return to that very stagnation and devitalizing inertia which I had called it into being to combat.”[174] Gropius’ successor, Meyer, would reiterate the school’s social commitment as follows: “work means our search for the harmonious form of existence. we are not seeking a bauhaus style or a bauhaus fashion.”[175] But the members of the Bauhaus school were not the only ones to warn against the reduction of modernist architecture to a set of readymade forms and solutions to be applied to every imaginable situation. Already by its fourth issue in 1926, the iconic Constructivist journal SA declared that it was not content to “merely push that ‘objective’ hodgepodge of prerevolutionary tripe that has today unfortunately become fashionable as ‘the constructive style.’”[176]

Adolf Loos, the great Viennese critic of ornamentation in present-day architecture

Adolf Loos’ classic invective, “Ornament und Verbrechen” (1908)

Regardless of how they came down on the question of “style,” however, the avant-garde was almost uniformly opposed to the lavish ornamentation that had characterized nineteenth-century architectural production. By 1908, the first major volley had been fired in the modernists’ war against overdecorative eclecticism by the Austrian Adolf Loos, in his seminal essay on “Ornament and Crime.” “[O]rnament is no longer a natural product of our culture,” sneered Loos, “s[uch] that it is a phenomenon either of backwardness or degeneration.”[177] But while Loos’ text would provide perhaps the most bombastic condemnation of ornament, he was not the first to call for a scaling back of decorative forms in artistic and architectural production. Otto Wagner, his predecessor in Vienna and one of the great initiators of architectural modernism, had already anticipated this austere gesture through his advocacy of simple, practical, and indeed “military” forms in his book Modern Architecture, published in 1896.[178] Muthesius spoke out with force against “the ornament craze,” lamenting that “[w]e were and are still today fixed in the ornamental phase of the craft arts; the so-called new ornament has now simply stepped in and replaced the previously fashionable Rococo ornament. Still the concept of ornament prevails everywhere.”[179] Karl Grosz, one of the many influenced by Muthesius in the Deutscher Werkbund, extended this line of criticism further. In a 1911 article he wrote on “Ornament,” he asserted: “The use of ornamental decoration for objects of mass consumption is strictly speaking a devaluation…Industry can only achieve its real goals if the following principle is remembered: everything of a decorative nature must possess artistic and technical quality.”[180]

Drawing by Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier’s 1923 illustration of the solid geometric basis underlying superficially ornamented architecture

These initial critiques of nineteenth-century ornamental extravagance were taken up again after the war, this time with even greater ferocity. What had begun as merely a call to bring decorative excesses back into order, a primarily moralistic critique,[181] was now elevated into a matter of architectural principle. Decrying “romantic” and “baroque” tendencies in early twentieth-century construction, the Dutch architectural modernist and innovator J.J.P. Oud thus complained that “as long as…beauty is equated with ornament then the slogan ‘all ornament is founded upon construction’ has not been supplanted.”[182] Five years later, his one-time colleague and leader of De Stijl, Theo van Doesburg, would assert plainly: “The new architecture is anti-decorative.”[183] The following year, Le Corbusier came out with his major work devoted to the subject, The Decorative Art of Today. Here he eulogized the oncoming extinction of ornamentation in design: “Without a revolution, barricades, or gun-fire, but as a result of simple evolution accelerated by the rapid tempo of our time, we can see decorative in its decline, and observe that the almost hysterical rush in recent years towards quasi-orgiastic decoration is no more than the final spasm of an already foreseeable death.”[184] In 1929, Roman Khiger, a Constructivist architect and Ginzburg’s successor as editor of SA, would go so far as to write that “[i]n the organic epochs of history architecture was never decorative or ornamental, but always — constructive.”[185] Whether or not this held true throughout history, architecture could no longer remain decorative and ornamental in the modern age, as Behrendt pointed out. “[The new] way of designing,” he maintained, “no longer permits chance ornament, superfluous adornment, or applied decoration.”[186] Gropius drew a definitive conclusion from this fact, writing that modern architecture “bodies itself forth, not in stylistic imitation or ornamental frippery, but in those simple and sharply modeled designs in which every part merges naturally into the comprehensive volume of the whole.”[187]

St. Petersburg architectural academy, Russia

The Academic Establishment and Bourgeois Taste-Mongering

One final aspect of traditionalist architecture — besides its excessive ornamentation and historicist stylization — united the architectural avant-garde in opposition. This was its institutionalization in the high academies that trained young architects and accustomed them to its practice. Everywhere the modernists revolted against “beautiful academic art, ars academica, les beaux arts, which modernity dethrones.”[188] In many cases, this led the avant-garde to oppose “Art” as such, at least insofar as it had been hypostatized and canonized by the academies. “WE DECLARE UNCOMPROMISING WAR ON ART,” Aleksei Gan thus exclaimed in 1922, in the opening pages of his foundational book on Constructivism.[189] Though most architects would refrain from such brazenly iconoclastic antiaestheticism,[190] the modernists by and large did not hesitate to attack the academies. “[T]here are, in all countries,” wrote Le Corbusier, “national, regional, municipal schools for architects that muddle young minds and teach them the falsehood, fakery, and obsequiousness of courtiers. National schools!”[191] Lissitzky, in one of his earliest essays on architecture, maintained that these institutions had taken the vital practices of building and artificially divorced them from life. He claimed that “[e]ver since they transplanted our living, naturally-cultivated creations into the hothouses of the academies, everything truly creative has passed these conservatories by.”[192] Le Corbusier’s friend and official historian of avant-garde architecture, Sigfried Giedion, similarly wrote that “academic incrustations bear the blame” for architecture lagging behind the other modern arts in France.[193] The academies were thus seen as obstructions rather than effective means to the realization of an architecture adequate to modern times. “With a few notable exceptions,” wrote Behrendt, “the official educational institutions — the academies and the technical colleges — charged with acquainting the next generation with the new building problems now pay no attention to this present responsibility…Historical styles, however, are discussed all the more.”[194] Nikolai Dokuchaev, one of the chief theorists of the Rationalist movement within the Soviet avant-garde, wrote that besides ASNOVA and OSA, “academic epigonism and eclecticism” reigned in the field of architecture.[195]

Vienna Academy of Fine Arts (photo 1910)

Burlington House, home of the British Royal Academy of Arts since 1867

Many modernist theorists extrapolated from the specific state of architecture under the influence of post-1762 traditionalism and its institutionalization in the academies to view these as mere surface manifestations bespeaking a deeper crisis within bourgeois civilization. Karel Teige expressed this viewpoint with exceptional clarity:

Historical academicism, in which today we rightly see both the true manifestation of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture and the mature expression of its ideological thought, remained hostile to the prosaic, almost scientifically exact and sober work of the classicistic Empire style. The romantic cult of the Gothic, the romanticizing fancy sought in ruins and asymmetrical forms, would lead the art of building astray, away from true architecture. The stylized, historicist architecture that reached its zenith in the 1850s and persisted until the century’s end…was affected, unhealthy, exhausted, and decadent. It produced formally decorative and monumentalizing agglomerations, which merely led architecture down a blind alley…[T]he architecture that followed sought only to dazzle us with vacuous academic formulas borrowed from a dead past.[196]

Louis H. Grimshaw’s Grainger Street, Newcastle upon Tyne (1902)

Teige’s view, that traditionalist architecture was simply an outcropping of the logic of nineteenth-century bourgeois society, must to some extent be confirmed by our own analysis of the concrete side of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism.[197] This bridges modernist architecture’s negative basis in traditionalist architecture with its negative basis in bourgeois society as a whole. The identification of historicism and eclecticism as the architectural ideologies of the ruling class was common amongst political leftists within the avant-garde. So wrote the radical Czechoslovakian modernist organization in its Founding Manifesto of 1929:“The basis on which the Left Front is being built is revolutionary: the Left Front is an organized and conscious resistance movement of intellectual productive forces against the ruling, disintegrating culture of liberalism, and takes a stand of resolute non-conformism against its traditions, outdated ideas, academies, aesthetics and morals of a disorganized and decaying social system.”[198] There was a sense in which the European bourgeoisie already stood for the status quo, or worse yet, the “old order” — blocking the path to architecture’s revitalizing of the new society. The image of the bourgeoisie clinging to the tatters of its outdated social structure even in the face of sweeping historical transformations made a deep impression on the avant-garde. Even outside of Bolshevik Russia and their supporters in Eastern Europe, the prevailing attitude of the modernists with respect to bourgeois society was highly critical. Alfréd Kemény, a Polish constructivist, remarking on the revolutionary art of the West, observed that “[t]he revolutionary element in West European art lies on a different plane [than in Russia]. Those artists who operate on that plane do not embrace abstraction as a refuge from the reality of a decaying society. They make realistic works that unmask the decay of bourgeois society and fight against it for a better future.”[199]

View of the Colnaghi gallery at 148 New Bond Street, London (photo 1911)

“Decadent” 19th-century bourgeois apartment

Beyond the general feeling that bourgeois society was a sinking ship, many of the artists and architects in the avant-garde felt on a more immediate level that the bourgeois fetishization of “taste” stood in the way of cultivating new constructive forms. Giedion, far less radical than many when it came to his politics, recognized bourgeois taste as an impediment to the growth of modern architecture: “The backbone of the young people is still artificially broken in the schools, and the ideal ofthe Academie des Beaux-Arts survives in the minds of the bourgeoisie.”[200] Taking stock of the historical development of the arts under modern capitalism, and the progressive separation of art from life, the Polish theorist Mieczysław Szczuka commented on the bourgeois mentalité in a 1927 essay on “Art and Reality.” In particular, he noted the atavistic qualities that it tended to foster, as it sought to anchor itself in ancient history, despite having uprooted the social forms whose traditions it was now laying claim to. “This social situation, this cowardly sneaking one’s way into the ranks of the privileged, results in the great-bourgeoisie having a deeply parvenu attitude to art and life” he asserted. “Typically parvenu is its fixation with all things past, with all kinds of ‘styles,’ with outdated fashions, its searching for beauty in that which is old, which has lost all utility value, and its feeling ashamed of those real, utilitarian values which it has brought in. Hence those aesthetic theories which separate beauty and utility — beautiful is only that which has no longer, or never had, any use (the cult of old ruins etc.).”[201]

Lavish 19th-century bourgeois interior

19t-century Victorian “oriental” interior

In the Soviet Union, leftover bourgeois prejudices of taste were seen as a major roadblock to be overcome in the building of a new, socialist society. Old-fashioned notions of artistic “beauty” and middle-class “coziness” were relics of the old way of life, and had to be scrapped in order to make way for the new. And so the editors of OSA’s Modern Architecture declared early on that “issues of quality — these are the questions of a new socialist culture: the question of making a new life for the workers, of combating the atavistic reservoirs of the middle class; issues of derogating petty-bourgeois conceptions of beauty and comfort [uiute, more literally ‘coziness’]; and issues of building-up [narastaniia] a new cultural stratum, without which there can be no genuine socialist construction.”[202]

Economic chaos

The Reigning “Anarchy of Production” under Capitalism

Bourgeois taste, its propensity for atavism and “style-mongering” (a product of its unique historical consciousness), was not the only thing that the architectural modernists found problematic about modern capitalist society. Of a more general concern was the apparent chaos of its economic conditions, and the productive anarchy that resulted from this. The avant-garde saw in the disorganized and seemingly arbitrary nature of capitalist relations of production the macrocosmic embodiment of the stylistic capriciousness they found in architectural eclecticism. This was reflected on an even higher level in the disorderly arrangement of bourgeois towns and cities. Some of these, to be sure, were inherited from antiquity and the middle ages, and thus possessed a further accumulation of buildings from disparate epochs. But others had experienced this uncoordinated growth and haphazard pattern of development under capitalism alone, as the conflict of private tastes and the rapid turnover of stylistic norms gave rise to a disconcerting heterogeneity of forms within the space of a single city, or even from building to building within a single neighborhood. “All our modern great cities or industrial landscapes are chaotic,” lamented Cornelis van Eesteren, the Dutch urbanist who would later oversee CIAM’s project for “The Functional City.”[203] With this assessment, Le Corbusier, who would later be one of Eesteren’s closest colleagues, no doubt concurred. He diagnosed that “in the last hundred years a sudden, chaotic, and sweeping invasion, unforeseen and overwhelming, has descended upon the great city; we have been caught up in this, with all its baffling consequences, with the result that we have stood still and done nothing. The resultant chaos has brought about that the modern Great City…is today a menacing disaster.”[204] For the avant-garde, this disorganized state of affairs — the outcome of the individualistic and unplanned character of modern society — could only be remedied through a thorough process of reorganization. And above all this, planning.

Industrial catastrophe: Washburn mill explosion, 1878

The patent absurdity of the reigning anarchy of production under capitalism

“The plan is the basis,” recorded Le Corbusier in Toward an Architecture. “Without a plan, there is neither grandeur of intention and expression nor rhythm, nor volume, nor coherence. Without a plan there’s that sensation, unbearable to man, of formlessness, of something mean, disordered, arbitrary.”[205] Tafuri, in his inquiry into Architecture and Utopia, recognized the ideological character of this will-to-planning, its compatibility with later, more administrative modes of Fordist capitalism, and yet its “ingenuous radicalism” at the same time.[206] The solution to the problem of chaotic urban growth seemed to lie in transferring planning authority to socially minded specialists. “It is only among intelligent professional and public-spirited circles that we can hope to arouse a determination to have done with the noxious anarchy of our towns,” asserted Gropius.[207] But it was perhaps Le Corbusier who expressed the ideology of professionalized planning in the most breathtaking terms. In his Radiant City of 1933, he wrote:

“What we need, Sir, is a despot!”

Do you too yearn for a king or a tribune? Weakness, abdication, and illusion. The despot a man? Never. But a fact, yes.

The calendar is a succession of happy or empty days, of spontaneously occurring events, of unlooked-for incidents. [Note the tacit opposition to organic, heterogeneous time.]

What is the result? The result is that the city is walking on crutches. That it runs into more and more dead ends; that nothing is ever ready; that nothing ever fits. Feverish haste, precipitate action, incoherence, cacophony, submergence: our will is enslaved by the rush of events, all order swallowed up. The human idol you are yearning after could not stem this tide. Only a fact can do it. A PLAN. A suitable, long-pondered plan firmly founded on the realities of the age, created with passion and imagination, a work of human divination: man is a being capable of organization.


I shall tell you who the despot is you are waiting for.

The despot is not a man. The despot is the Plan. The correct, realistic, exact plan, the one that will provide your solution once the problem has been posited clearly, in its entirety, in its indispensible harmony. This Plan has been drawn up well away from the frenzy in the mayor’s offices or the town hall, from the cries of the electorate or the laments of society’s victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds. It has taken account of nothing but human truths. It has ignored all the current regulations, all existing usages and channels. It has not considered whether or not it could be carried out in accordance with the constitution now in force.

And this plan is your despot: a tyrant, a tribune of the people. Without other help, it will plead its cause, reply to objections, overcome the opposition of private interest, thrust aside outworn customs, rescind outmoded regulations, and create its own authority. The authority will follow the plan, not precede it. Such and such a plan, such and such requirements for its execution: creation of an authority adequate to them.

The plan is an emanation of modern society, an answer to its needs, an urgent necessity. It is a product of technology.

Insist on the organization of that Plan. It alone is the despot you need.[208]

Le Corbusier’s counterposition of the haphazardly accumulated mass of Manhattan versus his own Plan Voisin (1925)

And so it was that the chaos and disorganization plaguing modern towns and countries came to be viewed by Le Corbusier and many of his fellow architectural modernists as the result of a fundamentally diseased social order: bourgeois society, or capitalism. This shows up even more explicitly in lines like the following: “Since I am a professional man, I make plans according to my professional concepts; this is where my judgment is good. If everyone did the same thing and the plans were coordinated by an authority in charge of the public interests, the result would, of course, be a Five-Year Plan, impossible to implement. Impossible because of our present social system! So now what?”[209] While his rhetoric would never approach such lofty proclamations as those of Le Corbusier, even Gropius would despair, after immigrating to America during World War II, that “the public is still very ignorant of the great benefits awaiting it from good planning. The average citizen is inclined to see an interference with his personal freedom when given direction by government agencies. The necessity continuously to inform him why communal planning is to his own best advantage calls for the highest psychological ability in a planner.”[210]

Le Corbusier’s plan for Algiers (1930)

Those in the architectural avant-garde who were convinced Marxists already did not hesitate to link the unplanned, chaotic nature of the cities of modern Europe to its social basis in contemporary capitalism. “Quite obviously,” wrote Nikolai Krasil’nikov, the young Soviet Constructivist, “the whole look of a town that forms such a politico-economic center and seedbed for socialist culture will differ significantly from that of the contemporary town which was shaped by capitalism and its anarchically unplanned economy. The arguments of commercial speculation determined the plan and form of its buildings.”[211] Teige, a member of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, believed that the unmasking of the chaos of the capitalist system was one of the primary tasks facing Constructivism in architecture. His language was quite similar: “Constructivism asserts that the order of our civilization is a coat of paint that conceals the flagrant reality of the individualist anarchy of production.”[212] Others contrasted the strictures on municipal organization under capitalism with the planning possibilities opened up by the advent of socialism in Russia, however. “[T]he transition from a privately owned, unregulated construction industry to a planned and centralized one, committed to rationalization and the reduction of costs, represents an undeniable advance,” concluded Ginzburg. “The Building Committee of the RSFSR is an agency with unlimited powers responsible for the rationalization of the whole building process.”[213] In making these claims, these authors were consciously echoing one of the central tenets laid out by Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhenskii in their popular handbook on The ABCs of Communism. Therein they asserted: “ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL TASKS OF THE SOVIET POWER WAS AND IS THAT OF UNITING ALL THE ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES OF THE COUNTRY IN ACCORDANCE WITH A GENERAL PLAN OF DIRECTION BY THE STATE…[O]ne of the great merits of the communist system is that it puts an end to the chaos, to the ‘anarchy,’ of the capitalist system.”[214]

Building of the State Planning Agency building (1928)

Gosplan (the State Planning Agency) building, 1935

The assimilability of state planning and governmental regulations to market-based economies was at this point unclear to many intellectuals within the avant-garde and in Europe more generally. Nearly all of them underestimated the flexibility of the capitalist system, and the heavily bureaucratized administrative society that predominated under Fordism would give the lie to many of their assertions. At the time, many architects saw their position within the capitalist system as untenable. As Tafuri would later wisely point out, “[o]rganization and planning are…the passwords of both democratic socialism and democratic capitalism.”[215]This would only become apparent later, however.

Iakov Chernikhov’s “Architectural Fantasy” (1929)

Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

The theory and practice of modernist architecture were positively based on two primary phenomena that developed under capitalism: the abstract sense of space and time created by the internal dynamic of capitalism, and the more concrete process of industrialization that took place in Europe over the course of the nineteenth century. The former of these developments, the abstract side of capitalism’s spatiotemporal dialectic, first manifested itself spatially in the medium of Cubist and post-Cubist abstract painting (Neo-plasticism, Purism, Suprematism) and temporally in the simultaneous representation of motion and light by movements such as Futurism and Rayonism. This abstract temporal dimension was deepened and refined by the avant-garde’s appropriation of Taylorism, the system of “scientific management” in industry founded in America just prior to the First World War.[216] A discussion of Taylorization’s impact on modernist architecture will lead into a more general discussion of the inescapable influence that European industrialization had on its overall development. Specifically, it will examine the modernists’ fascination with machine technologies, efficiency, and the principle of standardization. All these aspects of modern society had been brought into existence by nineteenth-century capitalism in the shift from more primitive manufacturing techniques to full-blown industrialism. In this way, modernist architecture can be seen in its positive connection to the forces and logic unfolding out of capitalist modernity, in addition to its negative bases that were outlined in the previous subsection. Modernism captured in its architecture the greater project of “rationalization” that was taking place throughout the Western world during this time, as theorized by thinkers such as Weber, Adorno, and Horkheimer.

Ecoliers dans la cour intérieure du Palais social du Familistère

Sewer constructed under the Boulevard de Sebastopol in Paris, engraving Illustrated World (1858)

Sewer constructed under the Boulevard de Sebastopol in Paris, engraving Illustrated World (1858)

A tertiary influence may be cited alongside these two main positive bases of avant-garde architecture: the working class. In some sense, the modernists’ identification with the European proletariat can be traced to their general disgust with bourgeois society, coupled with the widespread leftist idea that the working class could play a revolutionary role in the construction of a new and more rational society. But in another sense, the modernists’ valorization of working class must have stemmed from its association with industrial production, which held an obvious positive appeal for avant-garde architects. Though this affirmation of the laboring masses of Europe thus had its sources in both positive and negative aspects of modern society, its general character should be seen as positive. Either way, the avant-garde expressed its solidarity with workers in its quest to provide them with adequate dwelling conditions, and, more broadly, to overcome the chronic shortage of urban housing. The modernists’ efforts to this end can be seen in their commitment to the creation of a standard Existenzminimuml’habitation minimum, Kleinstwohnung,or “minimum dwelling.”[217]

Kinematic inversion

Before detailing this more social component of modernist architectural ideology, it is proper to examine the formal properties imparted to it by the abstract spatiotemporal dimension of capitalism. Referring back to the characteristics established beforehand as belonging to the abstract forms of space and time manifested under capitalism,[218] the extent to which these qualities were expressed by modernist art and architecture will be made clear. The scientific, cyclical, and synchronous character of its temporality; the geometric, centrifugal, and global/international character of its spatiality; their mutual homogeneity — all these categories will be important to bear in mind moving through the following analysis. For these traits, generated by the inherent dynamism of modern society, would embed themselves in the artistic unconscious of a generation of painters and architects. These then would bubble to the surface in the works of the modernists, which expressed the new spatiotemporal sensibility of their age. Such expressions of this new aesthetic orientation should be seen as manifestations of the latent social dynamic of capitalism, however, mediated perhaps by the genius of individual artists.[219]

Ivan Kudriashev’s “Construction of a Rectilinear Motion” (1925)

Iakov Chernikhov’s “Architectural Fantasy 11” (1925-1931)

The Spatiotemporal Dimensions of Abstract Art (or, the Volumetrics of Modern Architecture)

In his groundbreaking 1938 lectures on Space, Time, and Architecture, the modernist and insider historian of the avant-garde movement Sigfried Giedion credited the rise of the new architecture to a newfound sense of “space-time” that congealed around the turn of the twentieth century. According to Giedion, this modern aesthetic[220] sensibility described an abstract, four-dimensional unity of temporalized spatiality, much like the kind outlined in physics by Albert Einstein in 1905. This placed a heavy emphasis on the notion of “simultaneity.”[221] Giedion could have easily added the work that was taking place in philosophy in the writings of Henri Bergson around the same time.[222] In either case, he claimed that explicit awareness of this new sense of space and time appeared first in the works of abstract art, years before the artists’ insights were later taken up and applied by modernist architects. In the first decade of the century, Giedion asserted, “[p]ainters very different in type but sharing a common isolation from the public worked steadily toward a new conception of space. And no one can understand contemporary architecture, become aware of the feelings hidden behind it, unless he has grasped the spirit animating this painting.”[223]

Georges Braque’s “Le Guéridon” (1911)

Pablo Picasso’s “Violín en el café” (1913)

The pioneers of this radically new approach to spatiality, in Giedion’s account, were the Cubists. While Cubism was restricted mostly to the medium of painting, and only found itself translated directly into architecture in rare instances,[224] its explosion of linear perspective was a crucial step in the move toward a new spatiality. “The cubists dissect the object, try to lay hold of its inner composition,” wrote Giedion. “They seek to extend the scale of optical vision as contemporary science extends the law of matter. Therefore contemporary spatial approach has to get away from the single point of reference.” A consequence of this approach is the simultaneous representation of a single object from multiple points of view. Following Giedion, this is what the Italian architectural historian Bruno Zevi called “the Cubist revolution in the concept of space.”[225] Giedion continued: “Fragments of lines hover over the surface, often forming open angles which become the gathering places of darker tones. These angles and lines began to grow, to be extended, and suddenly out of them developed one of the constituent facts of space-time representation — the plane.”[226] This was one of the major achievements of the Cubists in painting: their move toward a geometric, planar spatiality. In this respect, even the self-styled “Cubist” architects in Czechoslovakia before the war failed to live up to their artistic counterparts. As Teige observed, with characteristic astuteness: “Czech cubist architecture failed to assimilate the most fertile lesson of cubism: the adherence to geometry, to [Paul] Cézanne’s truth of geometric archetypes. Czech cubists might have been able to derive the principles of regularity and perpendicularity required by the new architecture from these sources.”[227] Marcel Janco, a Romanian-born Dadaist, in his 1928 “Reflections of Cubism,” was so bold as to assert that architecture would have never freed itself from the decorative arts had it not been for the contribution of Cubism.[228]

Aleksandr Rodchenko’s “Red Yellow Blue” Triptych (1921): “I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting.”

Thus was the geometric aspect of capitalism’s abstract spatiality given definite form, depicted by the Cubist painters in the first decade of the twentieth century. After the war, a new wave of abstract painters rose up to build upon their accomplishments. Kazimir Malevich founded Suprematism in Russia, Piet Mondrian formulated Neo-Plasticism in Holland, and Amédée Ozenfant established Purism in France. Giedion regarded these painters as merely carrying Cubism forward to its logical conclusion. And as he correctly noted, each of these movements eventually extended themselves into the sphere of architecture. “In France appeared Le Corbusier and Ozenfant; in Russia, Malevich; in Hungary, [László] Moholy-Nagy; in Holland, Mondrian and van Doesburg,” recorded Giedion. “Common to them was an attempt to rationalize cubism or, as they felt was necessary, to correct its aberrations. The procedure was sometimes very different in different groups, but all moved toward rationalization and into architecture.”[229] Each of these painters would eventually address the question of architecture in their theoretical writings. Moreover, each of them would have major modernist architects join them as allies in the search for new tectonic forms. Malevich’s paintings inspired El Lissitzky’s PROUNs as well as his subsequent move toward architecture. Le Corbusier extended Ozenfant’s Purism into his writings on building for L’Esprit Nouveau. Oud and van Doesburg for the most part followed Mondrian’s conception of Neo-Plasticism in their architectural works of the 1920s.

Piet Mondrian’s “Composition with Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black” (1921)

Theo van Doesburg’s “Contra Composition XVI” (1922)

The members of the De Stijl movement in Holland were fully aware of the evolution of modern architecture out of the new spatiotemporal sensibility established by painting. “Only in our time,” wrote van Doesburg, “has the leading art form, painting, shown the way which architecture must take in order that it may,…with mechanical means and disciplines, realize in material form what is already present in the other arts in imaginary (aesthetic) form.”[230] Mondrian and van Doesburg, both during their years together in De Stijl and after their split, authored several programmatic essays on Neo-Plasticism and architecture. The first was written by Mondrian shortly after J.J.P. Oud joined the group in 1922. In it, he challenged the notion that “Neo-Plasticism’s ‘planar’ expression is…inapplicable to architecture.” Mondrian stressed the “planar” aspect of Neo-Plasticist architecture’s abstracted and absolutized notion of space and time, just as Teige would later. As in his paintings, the relativity of Renaissance linear perspective was abandoned in favor of the standpoint of infinity. “The new vision…does not proceed from one fixed point of view: it takes its viewpoint everywhere and is nowhere limited,” wrote Mondrian. “It is not bound by space or time…In practice it takes its viewpoint before the plane (the most extreme possibility of plastic intensification). Thus it sees architecture as a multiplicity of planes: again the plane.[231] Doesburg, in his 1924 manifesto “Towards a Plastic Architecture,” likewise expressed the spatiotemporal element of Neo-Plasticism in architecture: “§10. Space and time. The new architecture takes account not only of space, but also of time as an accent of architecture. The unity of time and space gives the appearance of architecture a new and completely plastic aspect (four-dimensional temporal and spatial plastic aspects).” At no point did he forget the indebtedness of modernist architecture to modernist painting, however. “[T]he plastic architect, under which heading I also include the painter, has to construct in the new field, time-space.”[232] Even after breaking with van Doesburg in 1924, Mondrian continued to push for Neo-Plasticism in the medium of architecture. Seconding Doesburg’s insistence on the use of color in new construction,[233] Mondrian proposed the total unity of plane and color: “[A]s the plastic expression of the plane, Neo-Plastic architecture irresistibly calls for color, without which the plane cannot be living reality.”[234] Doesburg, though his publication of De Stijl came to be less important (and less frequent), would continue to be one of best European commentators of modernist architecture, as can be clearly seen from his articles for Het Bouwbedrijf in the latter half of the 1920s.[235]

Le Corbusier’s “Red Violin” (1920)

Amédée Ozenfant’s “Le pichet blanc” (1926)

Meanwhile, in France, Le Corbusier-Saugnier (he would later drop the “Saugnier”) and Ozenfant were formulating their own post-Cubist doctrine, “Purism,” through their journal, L’Esprit Nouveau. In their co-authored manifesto for the movement, written in 1920, the intrinsic relationship between painterly and architectural modernism is stated explicitly: “[P]ainting is a question of architecture, and therefore volume is its means.”[236] Though both men were originally trained as painters, and though Ozenfant would never venture into architecture, their approach to the link between architecture and painting was nevertheless the inverse of that taken by Doesburg and Mondrian. For Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, architecture did not simply extend the results of modern painting to the realm of building; rather, architecture was already built into painting. Both had to be seen in terms of abstract space: “Space is needed for architectural composition; space means three dimensions. Therefore we think of the painting not as a surface, but as a space.”[237] The universality of such spatial composition was implied by the authors’ search for a “universal language”[238] of forms and colors, its mathematico-geometric character shown in its search for a “mathematical order…[to] be sought among universal means.”[239] What is more, the homogeneous quality of Purism’s modernist spatiality was conveyed through its ideal of artistic “unity”: “Unity in plastic art…is the homogeneous relationship of the surface or volume with each of the elements brought into play.”[240] Many of the concepts Le Corbusier and Ozenfant introduced in this early manifesto later reappeared in the former’s Towards an Architecture written three years later, especially in its notions of “volume,” “surface,” and “regulating lines.”[241] Ozenfant, reflecting on the subject of modernist architecture in his 1928 Foundations of Modern Art, declared the artistry of the architect to consist in the spatial precision of his designs: “The architect’s genius is in relating all the internal organs of the house…Each square centimeter must yield its maximum, and the rooms must be exactly related if they are to be pleasant to live in: a perfect harmony which though much to be desired, is rarely attained.”[242]

Kazimir Malevich’s “Suprematist Painting: Eight Red Rectangles” (1915)

Olga Rozanova’s “Non-Objective Composition” (1916)

Nikolai Suetin’s Suprematist “Composition” (1922)

Kazimir Malevich’s evolution out of Russian Cubo-Futurism into what he dubbed Suprematism was accomplished as early as 1916.[243] Although he would not foray into architecture until the mid-1920s, the fundamental reconception of space enacted in his paintings had immediate consequences for the development of modernist architecture, first through a fellow Russian painter, El Lissitzky, and second through Lissitzky’s Hungarian associate and collaborator, László Moholy-Nagy. Nevertheless, Malevich prophesied the birth of a Suprematist architecture out of the principles it established previously in painting, in his internationally-renowned book on The Non-Objective World, published in German as part of the Bauhausbücher series in 1926. “The new art of Suprematism,” he wrote, “which has produced new forms and form relationships by giving external expression to pictorial feeling, will become a new architecture: it will transfer these forms from the surface of canvas to space.”[244] Malevich took up this subject at greater length in several articles he contributed to the Ukrainian avant-garde journal New Generation, particularly his 1928 essay regarding “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.” As with the Purists in France and the De Stijl Neo-Plasticists in Holland, Malevich asserted that Suprematism could be easily transposed from the easel into space.[245] But Malevich himself was not interested in proposing new architectural designs; at most, he submitted abstract sculptural models of intersecting geometric shapes that he called “architectonics.”[246] Giedion recalled the significance of these projects as “spatial research”:

Interrelation, hovering, and penetration form the basis of Malevich’s half-plastic architectural studies, which he calls architectonen. These objects are not intended for a particular purpose, but are to be understood simply as spatial research. Interrelations are created between these prisms, slabs, and surfaces when they penetrate or dislodge each other.[247]

Nikolai Suetin’s “Architecton” (1926)

Kazimir Malevich’s “Architecton Beta” (1926)

Malevich left it to professional architects to design the buildings that would embody the architecture of Suprematism. Unconsciously, he felt, modernist architects in the West were already moving towards its realization. “I do not mean to say that the new architecture of the West is Suprematist,” he clarified, “but I can say that new Western architecture stands on the road to Suprematist architectonics.”[248] Malevich made his feelings about international modernist architecture well known. He generally tended to prefer buildings produced by the French Purist and Dutch Neo-Plasticist architects[249] (for reasons one might guess) to the utilitarianism of Russian Constructivism[250] and German functionalism, the so-called “New Objectivity,”[251] though he did state his approval of the works of the Germans Gropius and Korn.[252] Malevich did not fail to notice the abstract planar aspect of the new architecture’s spatiality, as Teige and Mondrian had also pointed out: “Analyzing new architecture we find that it is under the influence of ‘plane painting,’ i.e. of artistic form containing the plane element…For this reason contemporary architecture gives the impression of being two-dimensional.”[253]

Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2” (1912)

Umberto Boccioni’s “Bottle Evolving in Space” (1912)

Before passing on to the subsequent development of Malevich’s spatial theories by Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy, the more temporal aspect of avant-garde experimentation in the early twentieth century deserves mentioning. For while Doesburg might have spoken of spatiotemporal unity in De Stijl architecture,[254] the specifically temporal dimension of this unity remained underdefined. As Giedion argued, however, this work was carried out in the “research into movement” undertaken by members of the Futurist movement in art, along with some strains of Cubism. Again, he claims this mirrored a new scientific understanding of time that arose concurrently.[255] Avant-garde art, in turn, attempted to simulate dynamic motion within static media, either in painting or in sculpture. Giedion thus cited the Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni’s Bottle Evolving in Space (1912) and famous Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), the painter Gino Severini’s Walking Dog (1913), and the unaffiliated artist Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) as examples of modernism’s exploration of temporal simultaneity.[256] He could have easily added Giocamo Balla’s Light and Movement.

Umberto Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” (1913)

Giedion’s claims are corroborated not only by the Futurists’ works, but also by their writings. From the moment of its foundation, Futurism in Italy championed dynamism, movement, and speed. “We intend to exalt movement and aggression, feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the slap and the punch,” shouted Marinetti, in his 1909 Manifesto. “We affirm that the beauty of the world has been enriched by a new form of beauty: the beauty of speed.”[257] This attitude, the Futurists claimed, reflected the modern pace of life — hectic, buzzing, and frantic — especially in the newfound sphere of the metropolis. In an odd way, the concrete spatial accumulations of the modern capitalist city converged with its abstract temporality of deadlines, the daily punch-in clock, store hours, the whole tyranny of standardized time to create the hustle and bustle of city life. As the legendary Russian Cubo-Futurist poet Vladimir Maiakovskii put it:

The city has enriched our experiences and impressions of the new urban elements, which were not known to poets of the past. The whole modern cultural world is becoming a vast, Cyclopean city. The city replaces nature and the elements. The city itself becomes an environment out of the bowels of which arises a new, urban people. Telephones, airplanes, express-elevators, rotating machines, sidewalks, chimneys, stone masses, soot and smoke — these are the elements of beauty in the new urban nature. We see electric light more often than the old, romantic moon. We, the urbanites, do not know the forests, fields, and flowers — we are familiar with the tunnels of the streets with their traffic, noise, their roaring, flashing, perpetual circuit. And most importantly — they have altered the rhythm of life. Everything has become lightning-quick, as fleeting as film on a tape. The smooth, quiet, slow rhythms of old poetry do not correspond to the psyche of the modern city dweller. Feverishness — that symbolizes the pace of modernity. In the city there are no smooth, measured, rounded lines: angles, bends, zigzags — these are what characterize the picture of the city.[258]

Giacomo Balla’s “Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences” (1913)

This new feeling of constant, feverish motion had major repercussions for the members of the Futurist current. “In sculpture as in painting,” declared Boccioni, “renewal is impossible without looking for a style of movement.”[259] The Russian Ego-Futurist Vadim Shershenevich shared this sentiment: “We have lost the ability to understand the life of a motionless statue.” This loss, he suggested, was symptomatic of the dynamism of their age.[260] The struggle for the Futurists, therefore was to capture in a moment the evolution of an object in time. Their mathematical approach to understanding this time, moreover, was commensurate with the abstract time of capitalism.[261] Unlike Cubism, which created merely spatial fragmentation, Futurism aimed at temporal oblivion — the decomposition of flux. This effect, the simultaneous representation of dynamic continuity, produced in the object a quality that the founder of Futurism, F.T. Marinetti, called “geometrical and mechanical Splendor,” while provoking in the subject “the numerical sensibility.”[262] In Severini’s 1913 manifesto on “Plastic Analogies of Dynamism,” the artist recognized the historical character of this new sense of temporality. “Today, in this epoch of dynamism and simultaneity,” he wrote, “one cannot separate any event or object from the memories, the plastic affinities or aversions, which its expansive action calls up simultaneously in us.”[263] Hence the Futurists’ fascination with the whirring of machines, automobiles, and airplanes.[264] Zevi, expanding on Giedion’s interpretation, spelled out exactly how this Futurist concept of dynamism in art had repercussions for architecture:

In painting, the fourth dimension [time] is a quality inherent in the representation of an object, an element of its reality which a painter may choose to project on a flat surface without requiring physical participation on the part of the observer…The same thing is true of sculpture: in sculpture the “movement” of a form, for example by Boccioni, is a quality inherent in the statue we are looking at, which we must relive visually and psychologically…But in architecture we are dealing with a concrete phenomenon which is entirely different: here, man moving about within the building, studying it from successive points of views, himself creates, so to speak, the fourth dimension, giving the space an integrated reality.[265]

Mikhail Larionov’s “Red Rayonism” (1913)

Futurism’s temporal self-understanding was of a twofold nature, however. While the movement was interested in achieving a more dynamic, rationalized comprehension of the passage of time as it transpired under modernity, the Futurists understood themselves to be the culmination of the artistic processes of their age and thus the supersession of all that came before it. Their nihilistic stance toward the past, and ruthless intolerance for anachronism in the present, was taken up by subsequent incarnations of the avant-garde. Each new “ism” that established itself within the avant-garde claimed to render all others obsolete.[266] If, for Malevich and the post-Cubist abstract painters his Black Square was to spatially embody “[t]he absolute zero that was to mark the beginning of a new world in which the new ‘white humanity’ would be cleansed of all previous images,” as Groys put it,[267] then for the Futurists, the present was to mark a sort of Year Zero. The plodding, irrational time of the past was to be abandoned in favor of a sleeker synchronicity, the rationally choreographed motions of a new, harmonious humanity. Renouncing the spatiotemporal order that had come before, the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner wrote in 1920: “We proclaim: For us, space and time are born today.”[268]

Naum Gabo’s “Construction in Space” (1925)

While contradictory temporal elements persisted into the present, inhabiting the same space, these were to be extirpated — cleared to make way for the new spatiotemporal order. Traditionalism held onto remnants of the past at the expense of the future. “The speed of cultural evolution is reduced by the stragglers,” lamented Loos. “I perhaps am living in 1908 [the year of his essay’s publication], but my neighbor is living in 1900 and the man across the way in 1880.”[269] Loos’ sentiment was later conceptualized more rigorously by the German Marxist Ernst Bloch, in his notion of “non-synchronicity.” In an essay he wrote on the subject, he explained succinctly: “Not all people exist in the same Now. They do so only externally, by virtue of the fact that they may all be seen today. But that does not mean that they are living at the same time with others.”[270] This can be seen as the incarnation of the concrete, contradictory spatiality of capitalism that was described earlier.[271] The leftovers of ages that had been superseded by the ceaseless revolutions in production (itself a result of the concrete temporality that stemmed from relative surplus-value)[272] were deposited in one and the same locality. The “unevenness” of capitalist development could be witnessed in a single space. Ginzburg observed this phenomenon precisely: “The old is regenerated gradually; frequently one can observe how elements of the old world, still persisting by reason of traditions that have outlived the very ideas which engendered them, coexist side by side with elements of the new world, which overwhelm us with their barbaric freshness and the absolute independence of their unexpected appearance.”[273]

Modernism’s encounter with social backwardness: Le Corbusier standing next to a Russian peasant woman (1928)

Modernism’s encounter with social backwardness: Le Corbusier standing in front of a Russian peasant house (1928)

Of course, this fact did not sit easily with the members of the Futurist avant-garde, nor with those who succeeded them. It could well be argued that the very recognition of such concrete anachronisms, of “backwardness” in general, was unique to modernity, a symptom of the heightened pace of life. Either way, the Futurists were notoriously impatient with those who could not keep up with new developments, and who kept them from instituting a new regime of rationalized, uniform time. This might have been the source of their violent anti-traditionalism. Marinetti thus heaped scorn upon those who revered the art of the past, calling museums “cemeteries,” “public dormitories,” and “absurd slaughterhouses.”[274] The Futurists detested “Academicians,” as well as the works and figures they had canonized. “SHIT to…Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoi, Goethe,” roared one of Marinetti’s young followers in France, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.[275] Their counterparts in Russia, the Cubo-Futurist contingent, were equally blunt. “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, etc., etc., overboard from the steamship of Modernity,” they advised. “We alone are the face of our Time. Through us the horn of time blows in the art of the world.”[276] This unapologetic hostility toward tradition would be continued by all the avant-garde movements that followed. Even Malevich, who was generally more respectful, announced proudly that “we, the most daring, have spat upon the altar of its [tradition’s] art.”[277]

El Lissitzky’s “PROUN 24” (1922)

El Lissitzky “PROUN” (1923)

The ultimate synthesis of Cubist and post-Cubist painting’s abstract spatiality and Futurism’s abstract temporality in architecture was achieved in the theoretical writings of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy. In one of his earliest essays on architecture, Lissitzky explained the spatiotemporal aspects of modernist art and where they came from: “[T]he revolution in art began by giving form to the elements of time, of space, of tempo and rhythm, of movement. Before the war Cubists in France and Futurists in Italy advanced new theses in art.”[278] Lissitzky began his career as a painter following Malevich’s path of Suprematist non-representation, but later fell under the influence of the Constructivists in art, Tatlin and his protégé Aleksandr Rodchenko. Upon arriving in the West, he was greeted nearly universally as a cause célèbre, playing a pivotal role at the International Congress of Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf.[279] His abstract PROUN compositions were featured prominently at the Exhibition of Russian Art that took place in Berlin in 1922. Journalists and critics such as Paul Westheim,[280] Adolf Behne,[281] Ernő Kállai,[282] and Branko Ve Poljanski[283] all took note of Lissitzky’s innovations in the field of abstract art, and reviewed his work favorably. Giedion, reflecting on Lissitzky’s work in 1929, recalled how the artist himself regarded his PROUNs as “the interchange station between painting and architecture.”[284] Even in designing the room in which the PROUNs were to be viewed, one of Lissitzky’s foremost concerns was with the spatiotemporal layout of the exhibit. “Space has to be organized in such a way as to impel everyone automatically to perambulate in it,” he wrote.[285] Lissitzky ended his article on the PROUN room with an emphatic statement: “We reject space as a painted coffin for our living bodies.”[286] Later he would propose that art could create a sort of dynamic “pangeometry” in which abstract time and space could be interchangeably united.[287] With such goals in mind, it is therefore little wonder that the new spatiotemporal sensibility described by Giedion would prove so important to Lissitzky in his writings on architecture. In a 1926 article on “Architecture of the Steel and Ferro-Concrete Skeleton,” he thus wrote that “[w]e are faced with the task of creating spatial architecture which is not only seen by the eye from a distance, as in painting, and not only touched by the hands, as in sculpture, but among which people live and move — an architecture of space and time.”[288]

Composition by Moholy-Nagy (1924)

Moholy-Nagy’s Composition A-II (1924)

Moholy-Nagy, whom Lissitzky converted to Constructivism soon after they met in the early 1920s, would also present a concept of architecture born out of an organization of space and time. Following his initial encounter with Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Hungarian avant-gardist Alfréd Kemény collaborated on a project for a kinetic sculpture entitled “Dynamic-Constructive System of Forces.” They expressed their idea of a temporally dynamic, motive sculpture moving through space. In the terms Moholy-Nagy and Kemény were using at the time (following Liubov Popova), this amounted to utilizing dynamic-constructive forces. “Vital constructivity is the embodiment of life and the principle of all human and cosmic development,” they declared. “Translated into art, today this means the activation of space by means of dynamic-constructive systems of forces.”[289] Not long after writing this, Moholy-Nagy was appointed by Gropius as a professor at the recently opened Bauhaus school of design. In his 1928 lectures on The New Vision, Moholy-Nagy laid out the successive stages of art in painting, sculpture, and architecture as corresponding to material/surface, volume, and space. Already beginning in his section on “Kinetic Sculpture,” he cited Boccioni and the Futurists as well as his own work with Kemény. He also quoted from the Russians Gabo’s and Pevsner’s “Realistic Manifesto” of 1920: “Space and time are the two exclusive forms for the fulfillment of life, and therefore art must be guided by these two basic forms if it is to encompass life.”[290] All this, for Moholy-Nagy, still only takes place within the sphere of volume, or sculpture. It is only with the transition to “space” that architecture enters the picture. “The root of architecture lies in the mastery of the problem of space,” wrote Moholy-Nagy. “One of its most important components is the ordering of man in space, making space comprehensible, and taking architecture as the arrangement of universal space.”[291] But just as it was in sculpture, he maintained, “[t]he common denominator is the concept of the dynamic (kinetic) in the balanced application of all elements of a [spatial] relationship.”[292]

Walter Gropius’ Fagus Factory (1911-1913)

Industrialism (or, the Ergonomics of Modern Architecture)

The spatiotemporal properties of architecture that were developed by experiments in abstract art reached their highest expression in the work of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy. Stepping back from our analysis of this development, however, we may witness a crucial conjuncture between the realm of abstract art and the other major positive basis for the existence of modernist architecture — industrialism (and more specifically, the machine). This conjuncture occurred on two levels. At one level, leading avant-garde artists and architects began to draw inspiration from the monumental improvements in both factory production and machine technologies, seeing in these an ideal of economy and efficiency. On another level, however, the research into the abstract time of capitalism undertaken by the Futurists through their representation of kinetic dynamism and motion was advanced in a more systematic and precise form by the advocates of Taylorism, whose time-and-motion studies of labor established the foundation for scientific management in industry. Taylorism, as a science of the mechanics of movement and a means for the optimization of productivity, exerted huge influence over the modernists in architecture. Moreover, the broader cult of the machine and of the engineer in particular provided the avant-garde with a positive image for the spirit of their age. The traditionalists, who remained lost studying the annals of architectural history and reproducing its forms, were thus blind to the most obvious feature of the modern epoch — industrialization.

Frank Baldwin’s Pin-Wheel Machine (1905)

Fernand Léger’s “Mechanical Elements” (1926)

Several of the artists affiliated with the movements of abstract painting we already discussed began, during the early 1920s, to grant aesthetic legitimacy to the machine. The Futurist Severini, for example, wrote in 1922 that “[t]he precision of machines, their rhythm and their brutality, have no doubt led us to adopt a new form of realism.”[293] Even more emphatically, the former Cubist and Purist painter Fernand Léger authored an essay on “The Machine Aesthetic” in 1924. In this piece, he discovered the implicit connection between the abstract, geometric spatiality of capitalism and the form of the machine: “Modern man lives more and more in a preponderantly geometric order,” he explained. “All man-made mechanical and industrial creation is dependent on geometric forces.”[294] Léger further asserted that the new form of “mechanical beauty” called into question the representational values of traditionalist aesthetics.[295] The inherent link the machine held through its aesthetic with the medium of architecture was not lost on him, either. “What I have to discuss,” Léger explained, “is a new architectural order: the architecture of mechanization.”[296] Even those abstract painters who denied the aesthetic quality of the machine or works of engineering, like Malevich[297] or Ozenfant,[298] often admitted that the formal and geometric simplicity of mechanical objects was pleasing. “A mechanical object can in certain cases affect us, because manufactured forms are geometric, and we respond to geometry,” asserted Ozenfant. “[I]ntuitively geometry communicates to us a feeling that some higher dispensation is being subserved, which thus becomes a pleasure of the mind, and a feeling that we are satisfying the laws that govern our being.”[299] In nearly every quarter of avant-garde art, the subject of “mechanization” was discussed.[300] Perhaps the most philosophically refined affirmation of the aesthetic value of the modern machine came from Kurt Ewald, in his 1926 article on “The Beauty of Machines.” Ewald was confident enough in his claims to invoke that quintessential aesthetician, Immanuel Kant, writing that “most modern machines arouse in us that feeling that Kant regards as the criterion of ‘beauty.’ A good modern machine is thus an object of the highest aesthetic value.”[301]

Gio Colucci’s “Bonheur du monde III Etching” (1929)

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

The architects, who had lagged behind the artists when it came to understanding the new spatiotemporal dimension of modernity, were by contrast much quicker to realize the import of modern machine technologies. Indeed, beginning with Wright’s essay on “The Art and Craft of the Machine” in 1901, architects recognized the time in which they were living as “the machine age.”[302] This moniker, taken up with great gusto by men like Le Corbusier,[303] became so pervasive that Reyner Banham would title his groundbreaking study of this classical phase of avant-garde architecture Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.[304] In Le Corbusier’s estimation, the machine had fundamentally reshaped the very Weltgeist of modernity: “The machine, a modern phenomenon, is bringing about a reformation of the spirit across the world.”[305]

Mechanized 19th-Century Factory

Man and the Machine

But on what grounds could Le Corbusier seriously maintain that this was the case? Machinery had arguably existed for millennia prior to the twentieth century, in more or less rudimentary forms. The extent to which a machine is distinguished from any normal, manual tool seems to reside only in the degree of its complexity or automatism. Of course, this would tend into increase cumulatively in proportion with the rate at which the knowledge of engineering was improved. But at what point could this purely quantitative increase shift over to engender a qualitative change? It was Marx who perhaps located this distinction with the most precision. “A system of machinery,” wrote Marx, “whether it is based simply on the cooperation of similar machines…or on a combination of different machines,…constitutes in itself a vast automaton as soon as it is driven by a self-acting prime mover.”[306] This is accomplished as soon as there is constituted “[a]n organized system of machines to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from an automatic center.”[307] It is at this point that the machinery of the era of the nineteenth century, the period of heavy industry, came to embody a qualitatively different kind of object than the more primitive machinery that preceded it.

Farman Goliath (1920) – Biplane featured in Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture

RMS Aquitania – Featured in Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture

Voisin C5 Torpedo-Sport — Featured in Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture (1923)

“A house is a machine for living in,” Le Corbusier famously declared in his Toward an Architecture.[308] Rejecting the “suffocating routine” of architectural eclecticism, he contrasted the remarkable innovations that had taken place in the field of mechanical technologies, measuring architecture against the trailblazing examples of modern ocean liners, aircraft, and automobiles.[309] A similar method of argumentation was adopted by Ginzburg in his contemporaneous Style and Epoch,[310] and was later ratified in succinct form by Behrendt: “An architecture that is to be a living component of our time and a true expression of our new sense of life…cannot be essentially different than our machines, our mechanical devices, our airplanes, and our automobiles.”[311] Adolf Behne outlined the various ways in which the modernists understood the machine as a technical ideal for their own building projects.[312] He also noted avant-garde architecture’s unique connection with “machine aesthetics,” unknown in earlier ages.[313] But it was perhaps Ginzburg who spelled out the relationship between the modernist ideal of the machine and its implications for the new architecture most eloquently, collapsing the traditional distinction between the mechanic and the organic:

One of the fundamental characteristics of the machine as an independent organism is its extraordinarily well-defined and precise organization. Indeed, a more distinctly organized phenomenon can hardly be found in nature or in the products of human effort. There is no part or element of the machine that does not occupy a particular place, position, or role in the overall scheme and that is not the product of absolute necessity. There is not and cannot be anything in the machine that is superfluous, accidental, or “decorative” in the sense conventionally applied to habitation. Nothing can be either added to or taken from it without disrupting the whole.


The machine demands of the constructor an extraordinarily precise expression of concept, a clearly realizable goal, and an ability to articulate a scheme into separate elements related to one another by an indestructible chain of interdependence, with each element constituting an independent organism that clearly manifests the function for which it was made and to which all its aspects are subordinated.[314]

Caproni Triplane – Featured in Moisei Ginzburg’s Style and Epoch (1923)

HMS Dreadnought – Featured in Moisei Ginzburg’s Style and Epoch

As with Léger and Ozenfant, Ginzburg claimed that the machine achieves a new sort of beauty peculiar to the modern age, although he asserted that this owed to its utilitarian rather than its geometric character.[315] Taking up the same line of reasoning as Severini had in his article on “Machinery,” Ginzburg also stressed the importance of the dynamic qualities of the machine. “The motion of the machine is characterized by what for us is an extremely important feature, which stems from its basic properties,” wrote Ginzburg. “A given machine is the consequence of movement in a particular direction and of a particular character and purpose…[T]he distinguishing feature of the machine’s dynamic properties is [thus] an actively manifested, characteristic direction of movement.”[316] The abstract temporal elements of capitalism were thus addressed in the streamlining of architectural spaces for optimum functionality, maximizing output while minimizing input.[317] Gerrit Rietveld, the great Dutch architect, recalled in 1932 the way that the machine’s influence on the formal quality of architecture also became relevant to the question of living in these spaces: “The appearance of machines…contributed a great deal towards turning the form-question into a life-question. Machines, which had already had an opportunity in the quest for honesty, found in the new style the straight-lined and simple forms that were appropriate for mass-production.”[318]

J.J.P. Oud’s Mathenesse Housing Estate, Rotterdam (1920)

Mart Stam’s Serial Housing at the Stuttgart Weissenhof Exhibition (1927)

Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret’s Serial Duplexes for the Loucher Laws (1929)

The standardization, mass-production, and overall industrialization of architectural construction was thus one of the avant-garde’s foremost preoccupations. While the rest of Europe was embroiled in World War I, J.J.P. Oud, appointed city builder of Rotterdam in Holland, had 3,000 standardized dwellings constructed in order to combat the town’s housing crisis.[319] Oud, who had already strongly endorsed the implementation of the machine in modern art,[320] became one of the earliest spokesmen for the standardization of architecture in his 1918 article, “Architecture and Standardization in Mass Construction.” Emphasizing the strongly social aspect of housing construction,[321] Oud advocated the creation of standard types of buildings: “The design of standard types of buildings will bring back the proportions and rhythms of a town which are so lacking in the present-day townscape.”[322] Gropius took Oud’s suggestion one step further, adding that beyond more general standard housing units, even the individual parts of different structures could be standardized and thereafter used interchangeably. In this respect, the house would begin to approximate the modern machine even more closely. “Dwellings must be designed in such a way that justified individual requirements derived from the family size or the type of profession of the family head can be suitably and flexibly fulfilled,” wrote Gropius in his 1924 work, “The Housing Industry.” “The organization must therefore aim first of all at standardizing and mass-producing not entire houses, but only their component parts which can then be assembled into various types of houses, in the same way as in modern machine design certain internationally standardized parts are interchangeably used for different machines.”[323] In this way, houses could still be somewhat individualized for their residents. Gropius further insisted that standardization would in no way diminish the aesthetic quality of residential housing.[324] Although he would a year later warn that “standardization cannot resolve an architectural difficulty,”[325] Le Corbusier stated his substantial agreement with Gropius in his own 1924 piece on “Mass-Produced Housing”: “Mass production demands a search for standards. Standards lead to perfection.”[326] Like Oud and Gropius, Le Corbusier felt that the overall stylistic unity brought about by standardized building elements would not only be more economically viable, but would also lead to a more harmonious overall urban aesthetic.[327] This would be achieved by the broader industrialization of architecture as a whole:

[S]lowly, construction sites will adapt to industrialization; the introduction of mechanization in construction work will lead to the general acceptance of standard elements; even the design of houses will alter, under the sway of the new economics; the standard elements will provide unity of detail, and unity of detail is an indispensable requirement of architectural beauty. Then our towns will lose that appearance of chaos which blights them at the moment. Order will reign and new networks of streets, more immense and with a wealth of architectural solutions will present us with magnificent sights.[328]

Henry Ford’s Automobile Assembly Line (1913)

Images from Ludwig Hilberseimer Grossstadtarchitektur (1928)

The push for standardized building did not take place exclusively in Western Europe, of course. Wright, the original proponent of the mechanization of architecture, authored an essay in 1927 entitled “Standardization, the Soul of the Machine.” It was the second part of his series “In the Cause of Architecture.” In it, Wright asserted: “Standardization should have the same place [as the poetic feeling of the artist-weaver] in the fabric we are weaving which we call civilization…This principle of standardization has now as its tool or body — the Machine. An ideal tool compared to which all that has gone before is as nothing.”[329] The Soviet avant-garde, for its part, fiercely promoted the standardization of building. It would go so far as to create a “commission for the standardization of housing construction” in 1929.[330] But already in Modern Architecture’s inaugural issue, the Constructivist builder Arkadii Mordvinov argued for the necessity of “new materials, the latest constructions, the standardization of types of housing and individual elements, the mechanization of building-production [stroiproizvodstva], etc.”[331] This was elevated into the journal’s official doctrine two years later in the “Resolutions in the Proceedings of the Ideological Section of OSA,” the outcome of the group’s first international conference.[332]

Machinery Section at the Great Exhibition of 1851

Galerie des Machines, Paris 1889

For the international modernists, such measures of industrialization in architecture would only bring building practices up to speed with the rest of society. All of Western society had undergone the massive (sometimes even apocalyptic) transition from simple manufacturing to large-scale industry over the course of the nineteenth century, and most now stood on the brink of developing finance capital.[333] Marx’s argument, regarding the advent of complex machine operations and the factory system sparking the revolution in industry[334] was recognized by Giedion as a “fundamental event” in the history of modern architecture: “The Industrial Revolution, the abrupt increase in production brought about during the eighteenth century by the introduction of the factory system and the machine, changed the whole appearance of the world…Its effect upon thought and feeling was so profound that even today we cannot estimate how deeply it has penetrated into man’s very nature.”[335] The fundamental changes that industrialism wrought in the sphere of commodity production reshaped the very world man lived in, replacing handicraft objects with serially-produced and standardized goods. Even the clothes men wore were made according to predetermined sizes and norms. “The Industrial Revolution,” Benevolo asserted, “[has] changed things, not only by increasing the possibilities of production to an extraordinary degree, but also by modifying the demand for available goods, including the spatial modifications with which architecture is concerned.”[336]

Time and Motion Study by Taylorist Frank Gilbreth (1913)

Time and Motion Study by Taylorist Frank Gilbreth (1913)

One facet of modern industrialism that caught the imagination of the modernists was a fairly recent development. The industrial practice of Taylorism, first theorized in the progenitor’s 1903 book Shop Management and given more systematic form a decade later in his Principles of Scientific Management, was a major source of inspiration for the architectural avant-garde. Stated broadly, the premise of scientific management was “the development of each [worker] to his state of maximum efficiency.”[337] As was alluded to earlier in passing, part of Taylor’s approach to optimizing worker efficiency involved the conducting of scientific “time and motion” studies.[338] This form of analysis can be seen as mirroring, in a more rigorous manner, the artistic attempts of the Futurists to capture the dynamics of movement and kinetics. On an even deeper level, it can be understood as a further extension and refinement of the regime of abstract time[339] that already held sway under capitalism. The Gilbreths’ invention of chronocyclegraph techniques[340] in order to meet “the necessity of recording unit times,…the need for including time study with motion study” so as to “record the [labor] motions used”[341] — this advanced the mode of abstract time calculation to almost an exact science. This had obvious implications for the increased efficiency and productivity of labor.

Time and Motion Study by Taylorist Frank Gilbreth (1913)

Time-Saving Frankfurt Kitchen (1929)

Undertones of mechanization[342] and standardization[343]could be found throughout Taylor’s prescribed system.[344] This held an obvious appeal for the modernist architects. Moreover, their respect for Taylor may have also been enhanced by his 1905 Treatise on Concrete: Plain and Reinforced, co-written with Sanford Thompson (although they only recommended the use of concrete in limited contexts).[345] Translated into architectural terms, Taylorism meant a more efficient process for the production of housing and the standardization of component parts for buildings. With respect to its research into the economy of motion, it further meant designing spaces that would facilitate movement and the execution of domestic responsibilities in the timeliest possible manner. Staircases, floor layouts, better arrangement of kitchen space and appliances (Schütte-Lihotzky’s so-called “rationalized kitchens” in Frankfurt) — all of these central concerns of avant-garde architecture could in some sense be traced to the influence of Taylorism. Le Corbusier, to take just one example, was explicit in his appreciation of the scientific management of industry. “I found myself in industry,” he wrote. “A factory. Machines. Taylorism, cost prices, maturities, balance-sheets.”[346] Karel Teige, while he deplored Taylorist methods as they were practiced under capitalism,[347] echoing Lenin,[348] he nevertheless credited Taylor’s rationalization of labor with the later industrialization of architecture.[349]

Housing in the Industrial Revolution

Workers’ Housing in the 19th Century

The Housing Shortage, the Urban Proletariat, and the Liberation of Woman (or, the Sociohistoric Mission of Modern Architecture)

By industrializing the process of building houses and other structures, the avant-garde believed that it could help to solve many of the profound problems that had emerged out of industrial society. The housing question, about which Engels and many others wrote, as well as the divide between town and country, along with the intense overcrowding of the cities and the alienation that came with it — all these confronted the modernists as problems in need of solutions. For Engels, the problem of housing shortages was more or less perennial. The peculiarity of the modern crisis consisted mostly in the spectacular rate of its urbanization, the magnitude of the population it affected, and by the fact that it was felt not only by the lower classes but by members of the petit-bourgeoisie as well.[350] While he correctly rejected the base analogy of the tenant-landlord relationship with the worker-capitalist relationship as Proudhonism,[351] Engels was emphatic that the housing question posed by industrial society could only be overcome by overthrowing capitalism as a whole. Drawing upon an early theme he had developed in collaboration with Marx, this also meant resolving the “antithesis between town and country.”[352] Although Engels insisted upon the dissolution of capitalist society, he wisely refrained from offering too much in the way of specifics as to what a postcapitalist solution would entail: “To speculate on how a future society might organize the distribution of food and dwellings leads directly to utopia. The utmost we can do is to state…that with the downfall of the capitalist mode of production certain forms of appropriation which existed in society hitherto will become impossible.”[353]

The Working Poor in Substandard Housing, 19th Century

Workers’ Housing near Ebbw Vale steelworks in Wales, 19th Century

Engels was not the only one to notice the acute urban housing shortage as well as the widening divide between town and country that was taking place under heavy industrial production. He himself was reacting polemically to treatments of the problem offered by the “Proudhonist” Arthur Mülberger and “bourgeois” Emil Sax. The problem was also recognized by more moderate writers like Alfred Smith, who in his own work on The Housing Question in 1900 wrote that “the grim irony of the situation could not go further — the laboring population, who daily contribute to the wealth and comfort of the city, are for the most part driven on to congested areas and into overcrowded rooms.”[354] A Christian socialist by the unlikely name of Moritz Kaufmann, who accused Marx of utopianism[355] and later briefly corresponded with him,[356] authored a text in 1907 on The Housing of the Working Classes and of the Poor. In this work, Kaufmann wrote of the evils of “slumlords,” of rural depopulation, and of the different manifestations of the housing crisis in Germany, France, and Belgium.[357] Ultimately, Kaufmann’s positive prescriptions for action in dealing with these matters were not far from what Social-Democratic architects like Ernst May later put forth. This mostly amounted to more government oversight in the provision of public programs and the bureaucratic deployment of specialists.[358] The housing question was exacerbated by the Great War, at least in the estimation of Edgar Lauer and Victor House, who wrote a brief treatise on The Tenant and His Landlord in 1921. “Recent housing difficulties are not a local phenomenon,” they wrote. “Insufficiency and inadequacy of living accommodation appear to be part of the worldwide aftermaths of the Great War.”[359]

J.J.P. Oud, Industrialized Housing in Rotterdam

J.J.P. Oud’s Housing in Rotterdam (1918-1920)

Like most of the modernists, Mies van der Rohe saw the answer to these problems as residing in the industrialization of architectural construction: “I view the industrialization of the building trade as the key problem of building in our time. If we achieve this industrialization, then the social, economic, technical, and even artistic questions can be resolved easily.”[360] Gropius, his colleague at the Bauhaus and fellow student of Peter Behrens, also saw “the industrial mass production problem of our living requirements” as the paramount concern of architecture in the modern age. Proposing a method of dry assembly to be used in housing construction, Gropius argued that “it becomes possible to assemble…prefabricated component parts of houses at the building site just like machines.”[361] A decade later, Gropius would make the claim that this industrialization of building was largely on the road to being accomplished.[362] Perhaps echoing Weber’s notion of modernity, Gropius saw this as all part of a greater process of rationalization that was occurring throughout society at the time. He thus proudly announced: “We are approaching a state of technical proficiency when it will become possible to rationalize buildings and mass-produce them in factories by resolving their structure into component parts.”[363] For Le Corbusier, this industrial rationalization would remove much of the confusion that prevailed in older building practices. “Urban and suburban sites will be vast and orthogonal and no longer horribly misshapen,” he explained. “[T]hey will allow for the use of mass-produced parts and the industrialization of the construction site.”[364] Hannes Meyer, Gropius’ successor as director of the Bauhaus (he would later be replaced by Mies van der Rohe), confirmed the industrial character of new housing construction and reiterated Le Corbusier’s point in his programmatic 1928 piece, “building”: “the new house is a prefabricated unit for site assembly and, as such, an industrial product.”[365] As Teige pointed out clearly, however, this development was only made possible by the prior development of industry and technologies of production carried out by capitalism. A serially mass-produced house would have been unimaginable in preindustrial times.[366]

Anton Brenner’s Municipal Housing in Vienna (1928)

Mart Stam’s Housing in Frankfurt-am-Main (1928-1929)

All of these architects and theorists stressed the benefit such industrialization could bring to society, but Meyer highlighted this social aspect especially well. “the new house is a social enterprise,” he asserted. Architecture could reshape social life itself: “building is the deliberate organization of the processes of life.”[367] Even more explicitly, in his article on “bauhaus and society” that appeared the following year, Meyer maintained that “building and design are for us one and the same, and they are a social process,” and stressed architecture’s social obligation: “our activities are determined by society, and the scope of our tasks is set by society.”[368] Behrendt, writing his Victory of the New Building Style just as Meyer was beginning his term as director, made this same point exactly. “The industrialization of the building industry will certainly find acceptance on an ever-larger scale and at an accelerating pace,” speculated Behrendt, “at least within the field of housing, which provides for the needs of the masses.” He therefore held the view that the implementation of industrial techniques in architectural construction was “an economic necessity.”[369] Ginzburg largely shared this sentiment of architecture’s social duty. This is probably what led him to assert in late 1927 that the preeminent task of the architect was to create “the social condensers of his epoch.” These would serve, Ginzburg argued, as “spatial repositories for the forms of the new life.”[370] This became a central concept for the Soviet Constructivists, developed through subsequent issues of their journal, Modern Architecture.[371] Though the first experimental dwellings OSA designed for mass production would ultimately prove disappointing, Ginzburg still upheld the importance of industrializing construction to à la Gropius in order to solve society’s housing crisis. In an otherwise apologetic 1929 article on “Problems in the Typification of Housing in the RSFSR,” Ginzburg maintained:

The constructive working-out [prorabotka] of housing must be built on the principle of the maximum standardization of all elements, and must also strive for the industrialization of building production. The light weight of the elements, the ability to manufacture them by assembly line [fabrichnym putem] during the winter period, and their on-site assemblage by lightly-skilled [malokvalifitsirovannoi] manpower.[372]

Moisei Ginzburg’s & Ignatii Milinis’ Narkomfin Workers’ Collective (1928-1931)

Moisei Ginzburg’s & Ignatii Milinis’ Narkomfin Workers’ Collective for the People’s Commissariat of Finance (1928-1931)

Others also commented on the potential of a universal restructuring of architecture’s ability to transform society, along with Meyer and Ginzburg. Inspired by the former’s social advocacy, Ernő Kállai thus affirmed: “It is not enough to force industrial mass production…Architecture must strive resolutely to accomplish ‘social, technological, economic, and psychological organization’ (Hannes Meyer).”[373] Teige, an admirer of the latter’s work, called for “an architecture that will provide the blueprint for a new life, one that builds structures that will become the ‘condensers’ of their epoch (as succinctly put by M.Ia. Ginzburg).”[374]

Promotional Poster for “The Dwelling” Exhibit by the Deutscher Werkbund (1927)

This general feeling of architecture’s social mission, captured most poignantly in such passages, eventually became the basis for a two landmark events for the avant-garde: the modernist projects of the Weißenhof estate that were built in Stuttgart, Germany in 1927, and the program for the CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) group, founded in 1928 as the brainchild of Le Corbusier and Hannes Meyer. While the broader social issues arising from housing shortages, overcrowding, and the urban-rural divide could only be addressed at the level of city planning, this had only been dealt with by the English garden city movement and a few isolated modernists before the general turn towards urbanism post-1925. These issues, which center around the problem of the urban metropolis, will be discussed in the following section. The Weißenhof Exhibition and the first three CIAM conferences, which merely attempted to tackle the problem of the individual structure, will be dealt with presently. Insofar as they touch upon the same themes, they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath, given their common focus on “the dwelling” (die Wohnung) and their internationalist emphasis.[375]

Mies van der Rohe’s Quadriplex at Weißenhof in Stuttgart (1927)

The plan to arrange an exhibition at the Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart was the idea of Mies van der Rohe, who was then the vice-president of the Deutscher Werkbund, itself founded some twenty years earlier by Muthesius. According to the foreword to the official catalog of the newly opened Weißenhof estate, written by Mies, he had simply “invited leading representatives of the modern movement to make their contributions to the problem of the modern dwelling.”[376] The list of contributors to the exhibit included J.J.P. Oud, Mies van der Rohe, Victor Bourgeois, Le Corbusier, Gropius, A. G. Schneck, Hans Scharoun, Peter Behrens, Mart Stam, Josef Frank, Adolf Rading, L. Hilbersheimer, Max Taut, Bruno Taut, Richard Döcker, and Hans Poelzig[377] — a fairly international selection. Indeed, as the Werkbund member Wilhelm Lotz noted, part of the aim of the Weißenhof project was to better “draw attention to the generation of architects who in every country are standing up openly and sincerely in support of the new architecture.”[378] Beyond featuring outstanding international architectural talent, the exhibition received global coverage in the various avant-garde presses of the world. Remarking upon the thirty-three dwellings erected at Weißenhof, the Soviet architect Gurevich, a member of SA’s editorial staff, wrote in an article on “The Modern Dwelling”: “Modern life, the fast pace of development of modern existence [bytiia], the colossal growth of population compared with the growth of dwellings, have, to begin with, put forward one of the major problems of production — THE ECONOMY OF TIME.”[379] This is, of course, consonant with the Taylorization of architecture mentioned earlier. Teige, for his part, was quite impressed with the exhibition’s results, both in terms of its international basis and its commitment to industrialized building:

The 1927 Stuttgart Werkbund Exhibition Die Wohnung and its associated experimental housing colony, the Weißenhof Siedlung, was the most important large exposition of modern architecture dedicated to the reform of housing of the last decade, perhaps even of our own century. It was organized on an international basis by its director, Mies van der Rohe, and has become an event of international significance for the entire modern world: at a time when modern architecture much too often depended on theoretical, speculative, and hypothetical efforts, it provided a much-needed opportunity to review some of its individual proposals and provide a forum for a critical comparison. The exhibition accomplished that comparison by including modern architectural designs from all civilized countries and by recognizing the reform of housing as a fundamental problem of the new architecture and making it the primary focus of its attention. It succeeded in shedding a new light on many facets of this problem most effectively: it combined a large exhibition of construction samples in the Gewerbehalle (which displayed the most modern achievements in the areas of construction materials, furniture, lighting, technical and hygienic installations, etc.), with the centerpiece of the enterprise, the Weißenhof model housing colony, where seventeen architects were commissioned to build thirty-three houses, all constructed with modern materials and all relying as much as possible on industrialized methods of construction.[380]

Peter Behrens’ Houses at Weißenhof in Stuttgart (1927)

According to Werner Gräff, one of Doesburg’s disciples and an important commentator on the Weißenhof estate, the social exigency that the exhibition intended to address was palpable. “[T]he customary dwelling which has served us for centuries seems unbearably ill-suited to the new generation,” wrote Gräff. For this reason, “the new architecture is striving towards a new way of living, and towards a more rational use of new materials and new constructional methods.”[381] Mart Stam, whose houses at the site were praised exceptionally, reaffirmed Gräff’s point regarding modern architecture’s cultivation of and adaptation to the new way of life.[382] Finally, Giedion wrote an occasional piece honoring the opening of the Weißenhofsiedlung, taking note of both the technical innovations it included as well as its potential social aspect: “The Weißenhof Housing Settlement gives evidence of two great changes: the change from handicraft methods of construction to industrialization, and the premonition of a new way of life.”[383]

Hans Scharoun’s House at the Weißenhof Stuttgart Exhibit, 1927

“Bau und Wohnung” catalog for the 1927 Stuttgart Exhibition

Hans Richter’s film on “Die neue Wohnung” (1930)

And indeed, not only were the houses constructed using prefabricated parts assembled on-site, not only did they promise to create a new spatial environment — they expressed an overall aesthetic. Most of them formed serial design patterns, painted entirely white and featuring flat-terraced roofs. Though Doesburg believed “[a] solution for the modern dwelling which is satisfactory in all respects has as yet not been found,…the architects Mies van der Rohe, Scharoun, Stam, and also Gropius…are closest to such a solution.”[384] In either case, the new houses at Weißenhof inspired a number of similar exhibitions throughout Europe: at Vienna in Austria, two in Zurich in Switzerland,[385] at Brno in Czechoslovakia,[386] and again in Germany at Breslau[387] and Dammerstock.[388] Doesburg, who visited the exhibition at Brno, immediately noted the connection between Stuttgart and its eastern successor.[389] According to his sources, similar projects were being scheduled to take place in Barcelona, in Rome (organized by Marinetti), in Berlin, Cologne, and then finally Moscow and Warsaw.[390] In addition to all this, the social mission embodied by the houses at Stuttgart provided a touchstone for the foundation of CIAM the following year.

Founding Members of CIAM at La Sarraz (1928)

Le Corbusier with other Members of CIAM (1928)

Convening at the Château de la Sarraz in the summer of 1928, the group of architects who would come to found CIAM laid down, in broad strokes, the most basic principles of modern architecture. From the very beginning, CIAM stressed architects’ “professional obligations towards society.”[391] It could, moreover, count among its members many the major modernist architects of the West.[392] The La Sarraz Declaration, announcing the group’s existence and program, outlined many of the major positive and negative bases of modern architecture that we have covered so far: the impact of the machine on modern society,[393] the need for standardization and rationalization in building,[394] the stultifying influence of the academies,[395] and a commitment to solving the housing problem.[396] This final point of CIAM’s statement of purpose culminated in its quest to determine “the minimum dwelling,” which was an ongoing topic of discussion from 1929 to 1931.[397] This topic, along with the group’s subsequent interest in urbanism and “the Functional City” (covered in the next section), will be our primary concern regarding CIAM.

Le Corbusier, Sigfried Giedion, and Gabriel Guévrékian (1928)

Ernst May & Emil Kaufmann: Experimental Housing in “New Frankfurt” (1926-1929)

The organization’s second international conference, CIAM-2, explicitly took up the question of the Existenzminimum. Fittingly, it was held in Frankfurt in 1929, in the midst of one of the most impressive housing experiments taking place at the time, Ernst May’s celebrated Social-Democratic Neue Frankfurt.[398] May’s experimental settlement, built according to modernist stylistic conventions, would figure prominently into the debates. Le Corbusier, Gropius, May, and Stam (all participants in the Weißenhof project) were the prime contributors to the Frankfurt summit. As Teige later noted, in his magisterial 1931 study on The Minimum Dwelling, CIAM here continued the work begun at Stuttgart and expanded its scope to address the wider housing shortage of Russia, Europe, and America. “The International Congresses of Modern Architecture [CIAMs] have placed the question of theminimum dwelling on its agenda as a top priority,” recorded Teige, “and declared it the most urgent task to be undertaken by the architectural avant-garde in all its practical work and theoretical deliberations, to be coordinated by its members in international cooperation in order to clarify and study the subject in all its complexity and ramifications.”[399] In terms of its social mission, it was the first modernist effort focused directly on providing housing to low-income families, the working poor and pauperized intellectuals.[400] As Stam observed, even the houses at Weißenhof had been designed for the middle-class.[401] At Frankfurt, by contrast, the need to produce standardized models to house the oppressed classes of society was explicit.[402] In the article that Stam later submitted to Das Neue Frankfurt during the 1929 CIAM conference, he clearly stated his conviction that “the minimum requirements in housing and the standard of living of many thousands of the working population remain unsatisfied.”[403] “[W]e need enough flats of sufficient quality to meet the needs of the poor and homeless,” asserted May, in the article he wrote for the conference. “We need flats for subsistence living.”[404]

Le Corbusier’s & Pierre Jeanneret’s Flats for a Subsistence Minimum (1928)

Promotional Poster for the CIAM-2 Conference in Frankfurt

Karel Teige’s masterpiece on “The Minimum Dwelling” (Nejmenší byt), 1931

Ernst May’s “Kleinstwohnung”: Propaganda Video of Neue Frankfurt for the CIAM-2 Conference (1928)

With this last point, May highlighted the dual nature of the problem posed by the minimum dwelling. For the issue was not simply that of the raw shortage of housing, put in terms of numbers. It was also that much of the housing that did exist was deemed by the modernists to be unlivable. “[T]he abode of the proletariat and the poor in tenements or workers’ barracks is not a dwelling in the true sense of the word, but merely a shelter,” wrote Teige.“It is not a home, but merely a lodging.”[405] Such conditions were, for the architectural avant-garde, simply unacceptable. Le Corbusier therefore felt it necessary to clarify: “By ‘the crisis in housing,’ we mean not only a quantitative crisis but a qualitative one as well.”[406] For architects like Le Corbusier, May, and Gropius, the question of determining minimum requirements for human habitation was thus (following Meyer) both a biological[407] and sociological matter.[408] Gropius wrote: “The problem of the minimum dwelling is that of establishing the elementary minimum of space, air, light and heat required by man in order that he be able to fully develop his life functions without experiencing restrictions due to his dwelling, i.e., a minimum modus vivendi in place of a modus non moriendi.”[409] Above all, this would mean a development of the dwelling’s interior, as well as those elements (doors, windows, walls) through which it was related to its exterior.[410] According to Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret,our studies…result in a revision of the dwelling’s functions, with this short, concise (and so very revolutionary) phrase as a slogan: ‘breathe, hear, see’ or again: ‘air, sound, light’ or again: ‘ventilation and isothermics (even temperature), acoustics, radiation of light,’ etc.”[411] In a similar vein, Gropius ecstatically proclaimed: “Maximum light, sun, and air for all dwellings![412] All these basic hygienic functions would contribute to the overall health and livability of the minimum dwelling.

“The War Workers”: 1916 British commentary on the shift of women’s work from domestic to industrial labor

The further dissolution of the traditional family structure: child labor in the 19th century

Beyond merely serving the physiological needs of its inhabitants, the modern house or apartment had to satisfy certain social and psychological requirements that had arisen historically. Most of the authors who wrote on the problem of minimum dwelling for the CIAM-2 Frankfurt conference were communists (Teige, Stam, Schmidt) or at the least Social-Democrats (May, Victor Bourgeois, Schütte-Lihotzky), and so they expressed a common sense of solidarity with the urban proletariat — sometimes bordering on facile workerism.[413] Anachronistic tendencies had been carried over from the traditions of rural populations into the contemporary setting of the metropolis.[414] Moreover, the articulation and elaboration of bourgeois individualism under the conditions of modernity began to undermine the traditional economic unit of the family. As modern subjectivity asserted itself more within the household, women increasingly felt a sense of independence from their traditional domestic duties. Teige derived his views from the theories of Marx and Engels (particularly the latter’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State);[415] Gropius appealed to the writings of a German sociologist, Franz-Karl Müller-Lyer.[416] The sociological authorities relied upon by the different modernist architects varied, but their conclusions were largely the same.

The Nineteenth-Century Family

Frauentag (Women’s Day) Demonstration, Vienna 1930

All these authors agreed with the premise that the traditional roles assumed by men and women had been destabilized by modern conditions. Not that any of them were sad to see the perennial institutions of marriage and the family disintegrate. Quite early in his career, Marx made it clear that the division of labor within the family condemned women to “domestic slavery.”[417] Engels, when he took up the subject thirty years later, did not mince words when it came to the power dynamics involved in monogamous marriage: “Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other.”[418] Müller-Lyer, in his History of Social Development, similarly described the historic formalization of marital relations in society as tantamount to the enslavement of women.[419] As Engels explained, the division of labor entailed by the marriage relation and the relegation of woman’s activities to the domestic sphere implied her exclusion from the possession of private property within the family.[420] Only with the expansion of large-scale industrial capitalism and the participation of women in factory production did the possibility of emancipating women emerge.[T]o emancipate woman and make her the equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor,” wrote Engels. “The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”[421] Müller-Lyer argued that “the professional woman and marriage are antithetic and inimical,”[422] and anticipated the modernists’ argument that women could be liberated from the drudgery of household chores by the implementation of labor-saving devices. He even suggested measures of socializing domestic labor that would later be advocated by the Soviet avant-garde: collective laundries, kitchens, cafeterias.[423] But according to Müller-Lyer’s analysis, the process of women’s social emancipation was already underway. “High capitalism,” he wrote, “helped to break up the family and drove many women out of the home into business.” This in turn gave rise to the modern women’s movement.[424]

Down with Kitchen Slavery! Bring Forth the New Life! (1931)

Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria: Women’s Demonstration, Vienna (1930)

Concerning the structure of the gens itself, Marx and Engels argued that it had been organized in such a manner so as to ensure the patrilineal passage of property from one generation to the next through partible male inheritance, primogeniture, or (more rarely) postremogeniture.[425] Families also functioned as the most basic unit of socioeconomic organization.[426] They remained fairly vague as to the specifics of what would replace the family in a postcapitalist society, but generally suggested that the form of the family would be abolished.[427] Luckily for those architects inspired by political Marxism (like Meyer, Nikolai Miliutin, and Teige), later theorists belonging to the movement made further contributions to the critique of the family and the inequality of the sexes. This critique was deepened by radical authors like August Bebel,[428] Clara Zetkin,[429] Rosa Luxemburg,[430] Vladimir Lenin, and Aleksandra Kollontai.Millions upon millions of women in…families live (or, rather, exist),” wrote Lenin, “as ‘domestic slaves,’ striving to feed and clothe their family on pennies, at the cost of desperate daily effort and ‘saving’ on everything — except their own labor.”[431] For Kollontai, the most important aspects of the “woman question” in the modern age were the dissolution of the traditional family structure[432] and the achievement of economic independence.[433] Ultimately, she concluded that “women can become truly free and equal only in a world organized along new social and productive lines.”[434]

Frauentag (International Women’s Day) 1930: Against Militarism, Against Social and Political Reaction

The New, Hermaphroditic Humanity: El Lissitzky’s Poster for the Russian Exhibit in Zurich (1929)

The social theories developed by Marx, Engels, and their followers, as well as by non-Marxists like Müller-Lyer and others, were invoked by the avant-garde architects in their proposed reforms of the dwelling. Notions of women’s rights and the changing role of the family influenced their designs. Gropius, paraphrasing Müller-Lyer’s arguments, thus wrote:

As the family era was ushered in by the rise of man, so the individual era is characterized by the awakening and progressive emancipation of woman. Woman’s duty of obedience to man vanishes, and the laws of society gradually grant her rights equal to those of men. As the family transfers numerous domestic chores to the machinery of socialized production, woman’s sphere of domestic activity shrinks and she looks beyond the family for an outlet for her natural need for occupation: she enters the world of business and industry. In turn industry, rejuvenated on basically new foundations by the machine, shows woman the impractical nature of her domestic hand labor.[435]

KPD’s Working Women (1929)

Proposals for the Rationalized Kitchen (1929)

Indeed, many of the efforts to Taylorize the dwelling space were inspired by elements of the feminist movement which were part of the greater social mission of the avant-garde. True sexual equality could only be achieved, the modernists felt, through the liberation of women from frivolous domestic obligations and their more general subservience to men. One of the major design concerns of the minimum dwelling at the Frankfurt conference thus centered around the ergonomic arrangement of the kitchen. Indeed, two new major design proposals for the standard kitchen had been introduced in the year leading up to CIAM-2. The Stuttgart Weißenhof estate featured a new kitchen layout, and Schütte-Lihotzky’s groundbreaking Frankfurt kitchen (a Taylorist design patterned after railway kitchens)[436] had been unveiled just months prior to the conference. Both of these models differed from the statistically-average kitchen in terms of their dimensions and the variety of appliances they included.[437] May commissioned an instructive video showcasing the Frankfurt kitchen to be viewed by the CIAM representatives. As Teige pointed out, the kitchen was a natural site for the employment of industrial techniques. “The kitchen is the nerve center of the apartment-household,” Teige maintained. “It is the best designed and most rationalized room of the modern house, simply because as a place of production, a workshop, or a miniature factory, it was the most obvious place to apply the organizational experiences of modern factory production methods — in this case, to the processes of food preparation.”[438] The Soviet modernist Nikolai Miliutin, though not in attendance at CIAM-2 in Frankfurt, proposed the following year the “collectivization” of petty household chores through the institution of public kitchens, day-cares, cafeterias, and laundries.[439][C]ollectivization of the life services of the population provides…the freedom of woman from domestic slavery,” wrote Miliutin.[440] Across the avant-garde, new dwellings were being designed to transform the conditions of family life and work toward achieving the equality of the sexes.[441]

Moisei Ginzburg, blueprint for a “Type K” apartment in his Narkomfin complex

Moisei Ginzburg, bedroom interior of a “Type K” Apartment (1928)

A Room of One’s Own: Gropius’ Private Bedroom at Bauhaus Dessau, with built-in cabinets (1926)

A concurrent social concern of the modernists when it came to the overall layout of the minimum dwelling was the need to cater to the psychological needs of the atomistic individual engendered by modern bourgeois society. Privacy within the context of the dwelling was therefore a top priority in its avant-garde designers. For most of the those who convened at the Frankfurt summit, this meant the provision of separate rooms for each individual living within a single housing unit. “To allow for the increasing development of more pronounced individuality of life within the society,” wrote Gropius, “and the individual’s justified demand for occasional withdrawal from his surroundings, it is necessary, moreover, to establish the following ideal minimum requirement: every adult shall have his own room, small though it may be![442] Following Müller-Lyer’s lead, Gropius stressed this minimum requirement despite the need for private individuals to develop a broader social consciousness.[443] Likewise Teige, though a communist, was in favor of partitioned dwelling spaces for every adult individual. He based this assertion on the breakup of the traditional family described by Marx and Engels as occurring under capitalism. “The disintegration of the traditional family began with the entry of women in the workforce, along with the establishment of the principle of equality between men and women,” wrote Teige. “As a result, the family has become atomized into independent individuals, which in turn has made it necessary for individuals to maintain a certain psychological distance vis-à-vis each other even in marriage, and therefore at home as well. For these reasons, any rational solution to the minimum dwelling must posit the following rule as its most basic requirement: each adult individual must have his or her own separate (living and sleeping) space.”[444]

Viacheslav Vladimirov’s Workers’ Club for the Compressor Factory (1927-1929)

Ad for Mercedes-Benz, 1927, outside Le Corbusier’s Weißenhof house

Moisei Ginzburg meeting with builders on site for the Narkomfin building (1928)

The methods employed to build these new dwellings were to reflect the industrialized approach that the architectural modernists had been advocating for years. “We must find and apply new methods, clear methods,” Le Corbusier maintained in his paper for the Frankfurt CIAM, “allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization (mass production).”[445] With reference to the serialized housing he created under France’s Loucheur Laws in 1928, Le Corbusier boasted that “we actually produced the prefabricated house, and we did what the builders of cars and railway carriages do.”[446] Lissitzky, who was at least an honorary member of CIAM (though visa problems prevented him from attending), proudly asserted in a book written simultaneously with the Frankfurt congress that “a system of easily assembled housing units…could be erected at various locations according to personal preference… — in other words, a prefabricated standard unit for individuals or families, easy to assemble.”[447] Teige, finally, summarizing his conclusions on the problem of the minimum dwelling, connected the social aspect of providing housing for the masses with the modernist theme of industrialized building. “Thus, too, the dwelling cell must be considered the primary and essential unit of space provided for every adult working individual,” wrote Teige. “The living cell is a strictly standardized element: the common basic needs of dwelling and lodging for the masses are therefore served by a mass-produced, standardized abode.”[448]

Still from Hans Richter’s “The New Dwelling” (1930)

Still from Hans Richter’s “The New Dwelling” (1930)

Pierre Chanel’s Architecture d’Aujourd’hui (1930)

Reviewing the positive bases of modernist architecture, then, we can see that it rests on three main pillars: 1. the spatiotemporal properties elucidated by abstract art; 2. the quintessentially modern mode of industrialized production; and 3. a social commitment to the alleviation of the housing shortage and an identification with the politics of class struggle and the fight for sexual equality. Two final (though not insignificant) points may be briefly noted before passing onto the next subsection.

Le Corbusier and other members of CIAM having some fun at the La Sarraz Conference (1928)

Le Corbusier with the Vesnins in Russia (1930)

Nikolai Kolli, Le Corbusier, and others in Russia (1930)

First of all, relating to the global/international quality of abstract space as manifested under capitalism — and reflecting the international basis of socialist and working-class politics in general — the modernist movement understood itself to be founded on a basis that transcended national boundaries and particularities.[449] As early as 1921, at the point when Reyner Banham argued that De Stijl entered its “international phase,”[450] the avant-garde in the arts and architecture worked self-consciously toward a universal aesthetic language bound together by a common social mission. Le Corbusier thus remarked in 1925: “There are now signs that [modern architecture] is emerging almost everywhere — in America, Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Holland, France — there are houses free from decoration where the problems of proportion and structure are posed.”[451] From the First International Congress of Progressive Artists that met in Düsseldorf in 1922,[452] all the way up through the founding of CIAM,[453] the modernists in both art and architecture expressed the international ideal. Giving voice to the abstract spatiotemporal character of the avant-garde’s architectural ideology (and thereby its internationalism), Hannes Meyer thus wrote in his 1926 essay, “The New World”:

“Ford” and “Rolls Royce” have burst open the core of the town, obliterating distance and effacing the boundaries between town and country. Aircraft slip through the air: “Fokker” and “Farman” widen our range of movement and the distance between us and the earth; they disregard national frontiers and bring nation closer to nation. Illuminated signs twinkle, loud-speakers screech, posters advertise, display windows shine forth. The simultaneity of events enormously extends our concept of “space and time,” it enriches our life. We live faster and therefore longer…The precise division into hours of the time we spend working in office and factory and the split-minute timing of railway timetables make us live more consciously…Radio, marconigram, and phototelegraphy liberate us from our national seclusion and make us part of a world community. The gramophone, microphone, orchestrion, and pianola accustom our ears to the sound of impersonal-mechanized rhythms…Large blocks of flats, sleeping cars, house yachts, and transatlantic liners undermine the local concept of the “homeland.” The fatherland goes into decline. We learn Esperanto. We become cosmopolitan.[454]

“International Style” Exhibition organized at MoMA in New York by Philip Johnson & others (1932)

Participants at the international CIAM-4 conference in Athens (1933)

Though this sentiment was nearly unanimous amongst the architectural modernists, it is important to reemphasize this point in light of recent historical accounts which have underplayed the role of internationalism in the modernist movement. William Curtis, author of the influential survey Modern Architecture Since 1900, wrote of avant-garde’s somewhat self-serving cosmopolitan representation of itself: “[B]y packing together things that happened to look like each other and by claiming that they were all part of a unified phenomenon, the proponents of an ‘International Style’ ran the risk of ignoring considerable differences of visual inflection, and great differences of intention and of belief.”[455] To be sure, this is a welcome corrective to those architectural historians who all too easily run together vernacular differences in stylistic expression or ideological intention. But no one was more aware of these differences and subtle variations than the modernists themselves. Fierce, polemical disagreements abounded within modernist architectural discourse.[456] Nevertheless, they remained committed to the creation of a universal, international language of form and the fulfillment of a common social mission. This fact is in itself significant. It is indicative of the abstract spatiality and temporality of capitalism, suggested by Meyer’s cosmopolitanism, his championing of simultaneity and synchronization, and his drive to annihilate the concrete spatial contradictions that exist between town and country and from nation to nation.

Antonio Sant’Elia, sketch from La Citta Nuova (1914)

Geometric, sunken roadways in Le Corbusier’s “Ville Radieuse” (1930)

Fiat Factory rooftop test-track in Italy, 1921

The final way in which the abstract spatiality of capitalism is positively reflected in modernist architectural theory is in its demand for a tabula rasa on which to construct their proposed designs. Rejecting the topographical unevenness and the peculiarity of geological formations found in empirical reality, the avant-garde called for the reshaping of the earth’s surface to facilitate their architectural visions. Writing in his prophetic and unprecedented Manifesto of Futurist Architecture, Antonio Sant’Elia wrote in 1914 that “architecture must be more vital…, and we can best attain that…by blowing sky-high, for a start, all those monuments and monumental pavements, arcades and flights of steps, by digging out our streets and piazzas, by raising the level of the city, by reordering the earth’s crust and reducing it to be the servant of our every need and every fancy.”[457] The terraforming fantasy of Sant’Elia was taken up by the avant-garde more generally. It was as if they demanded an empty, Cartesian grid on which to build. “WE MUST BUILD IN THE OPEN,” declared Le Corbusier. “The layout must be of a purely geometrical kind …The city of today is a dying thing because it is not geometrical. To build in the open would be to replace our present haphazard arrangements…by a uniform layout. Unless we do this there is no salvation.”[458] As Lissitzky also noted, most of the proposals for new buildings by the avant-garde were meant for flat, open spaces.[459] Through the power of modern technology, the modernists felt that they could literally change the face of the planet. This enthusiasm for the possibilities of industrial machinery was not limited to the architects, either. Leon Trotskii, one of the most famous political revolutionaries of the era, himself shared this excitement for reshaping the globe by advanced technology. “Socialist man will rule all nature by the machine, with its grouse and its sturgeons,” he wrote in 1924, in Literature and Revolution. “He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans.”[460] Trotskii continued:

The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final. Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are neither few nor insignificant. But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming. Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste.[461]

Cartesian towers from Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

Colored sketch of Le Corbusier’s proposal for his Ville Radieuse (1930)

This demiurgic impulse, as outrageously utopian as it may seem today, gripped not only modernist architects of the 1920s and 1930s, but some of the most powerful politicians of the period. In the following section, we will explore the aspirations of the Soviet avant-garde, as well as the international turn toward urbanism and the crossroads of modernism that took place in the USSR.

Solidarity with Soviet Russia (1927)

The journal The New Frankfurt, in an issue on “German Building in the USSR” (1929)


The Soviet architectural avant-garde was never as unified as its counterparts in the West. Almost from the moment of its emergence in the early 1920s, its members were divided along theoretical and methodological lines. The two main currents of modernist thought on architecture in the Soviet Union could not come to terms over which positive basis of the new architecture held primacy over the others. One side upheld the formal properties of abstract art as the prime determinant of avant-garde architectural practice; the other side stressed the functional properties of the machine as its foundation. A similar tension was always latent in modernist architecture internationally, but in no other nation did there result a full-on split like the one experienced by the Soviet avant-garde. The two competing tendencies were organized into the groups OSA and ASNOVA, as mentioned previously,[462] though subsequent schisms would also occur. These groups respectively identified themselves as Constructivists (disparagingly dubbed “functionalists” by their opponents) on the one hand and Rationalists (disparagingly dubbed “formalists” by their opponents) on the other. Though no equivalent rift ever formed within the other national avant-gardes, the Soviet example serves to highlight some of the internal contradictions that existed in modernist ideology as a whole.

German press release on behalf of the Soviet Union (1928)

El Lissitzky’s Russland: Neues Bauen in der Welt (1930)

Though the modernist architects in the USSR were fully conversant with avant-garde developments in the West, this was the fractured and fragmented theoretical landscape on which their European and American colleagues would have to stake out their positions. With the global crisis of capitalism in 1929 and the crisis of parliamentary democracy in the West — along with the ominous rise of ultranationalist (fascist) sentiments in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Spain — many architects outside the Soviet Union looked to the young socialist state as a beacon of hope in an increasingly dark world. As fortune would have it, the Soviet government was launching its revolutionary program of centralized planning and deliberate industrialization just as the international avant-garde was starting to expound its theories of urban planning post-1925. The Soviet Union seemed to offer an unprecedented opportunity to the modernists. It presented a vast canvas onto which the architects could project their most utopian ambitions.

L’Art Decoratif URSS Rodchenko (1925)

The New Russia, a German periodical (1928)

Here, the inherently totalizing aspect of modernist architectural thought was first made manifest. As the members of the avant-garde began to extrapolate their theories of urbanism from first principles, they came to a deadlock over which particular vision to follow. While many of the foreign architects were invited to the Soviet Union in order to negotiate some of these impasses, they often found it difficult to make such compromises themselves. New fissures surfaced as longstanding alliances between certain architects broke down. Meanwhile, Russia’s technological deficit and relative paucity of advanced building materials led to insurmountable obstacles, preventing the practical realization of the modernists’ plans. Even more troubling was a cultural shift that was taking place within the Soviet Union, as some of the more radical and novel forms introduced by the modernists in literature and the arts were condemned as “bourgeois” and illegible to the working masses. The logic of this shift may have owed to a dynamic intrinsic to Russian culture, as Paperny has suggested,[463] but if so, I would like to advance the hypothesis that this occurred mainly as a consequence of the failure of social revolutions to spread in the West following World War I. If socialism had been established on a more international basis, it is perhaps possible that the peculiarities of Russian culture might not have imposed their logic so unilaterally. This is, of course, a counterfactual speculation, and it is admittedly a dangerous business to insinuate what alternate historical sequence might have resulted had things only played out differently. Nevertheless, it is not a point of too much controversy to assert that the USSR’s political isolation had something to do with the grim turn of events that took place for the modernist enterprise in that country. Also, it should not be thought impossible that some of the cultural binaries that Paperny locates within Russian history (horizontal/vertical,[464] uniform/hierarchical[465]) might not have reflected — or even been reinforced by — broader social binaries emerging out of the dialectical development of global capitalism (such as the spatiotemporal dialectic we have hitherto identified).

OSA’s proposal for Magnitogorsk, by Moisei Ginzburg, Mikhail Barshch Okhi, and Mikhail  (1930)

Mart Stam’s blueprints for Makeevka (1932)

Ivan Leonidov – Magnitogorsk Proposal (1930)

Either way, it is crucial to review some of the proposed solutions to the question of planning in the Soviet Union advanced by the international avant-garde, insofar as they sought to address the social problems that so preoccupied them — the housing shortage, the liberation of woman, urban alienation, the antithesis of town and country, and man’s greater estrangement from nature. Even if these plans were never realized, even if their blatant utopianism foreclosed any possibility they might have possessed from the start, the fact that they were ever imagined at all is itself significant. For no such visions of an ideal world had ever been dreamt up on such an extraordinary scale: from Plato to More and Campanella, from Renaissance sketches of the città ideale to the fantasies of Boullée and Ledoux, to Owen’s New Harmony, Fourier’s phalanstère, and beyond — never had these propositions amounted to anything more than idle thought experiments or modest programs for single cities existing in isolation from the rest of society. “[The utopians] still dream of an experimental realization of their social utopias, the establishment of individual phalansteries, the foundation of home colonies, the building of a little Icaria — pocket editions of the new Jerusalem,” wrote Marx and Engels, in their famous Manifesto.[466] Such utopias were doomed to fail, they argued, as they simply fled from bourgeois society rather than try to overcome it. By the 1920s and 1930s, however, the Bolsheviks had seemingly uprooted capitalism in Russia, and the rest of the world still appeared ripe for revolution (especially with the onset of the Depression). For with the maturation of capitalism over the latter half of the nineteenth century, utopia had now been reimagined on a global scale, reflecting at once the real commercial and economic interdependence of nations as well as socialist theories of world revolution. H.G. Wells expressed this succinctly in his famous Modern Utopia (1905):

No less than a planet will serve the purpose of a modern Utopia. Time was when a mountain valley or an island seemed to promise sufficient isolation for a polity to maintain itself intact from outward force; the Republic of Plato stood armed ready for defensive war, and the New Atlantis and the Utopia of More in theory, like China and Japan through many centuries of effectual practice, held themselves isolated from intruders. Such late instances as Butler’s satirical “Erewhon,” and Mr. Stead’s queendom of inverted sexual conditions in Central Africa, found the Tibetan method of slaughtering the inquiring visitor a simple, sufficient rule. But the whole trend of modern thought is against the permanence of any such enclosures…A state powerful enough to keep isolated under modern conditions would be powerful enough to rule the world, would be, indeed, if not actively ruling, yet passively acquiescent in all other human organizations, and so responsible for them altogether. World-state, therefore, it must be.[467]

Comintern poster, May Day (1919)

Comintern poster (1919)

Fight for the Soviet Union! KPD poster (1932)

May Day 1929, 10 years of the Comintern

A Modern Utopia, which in many ways marked the culmination of the series of utopian novels that started in the last decades of the nineteenth century, envisioned the world that was already beginning to emerge around Wells.  This world stood in stark contrast to the ones portrayed in previous utopias, especially in that it was all-encompassing.  It did not admit of localization; nothing could rightfully stand outside of it.  Thereby mirroring the abstract, globalizing spatiality of capitalism, the planetary scale of modern utopianism was combined with the social mission of modernist architecture in its ambition to reshape all of society.  Though Stalin already formulated the notion of sotsializm v’odnoi strane (“Socialism in One Country”) by 1924,[468] the architectural avant-garde within Russia and without retained its commitment to internationalism.  As Paperny has rightly observed, “‘Workers of the world unite!’ — this Marxist slogan, written in Culture One [Paperny’s term for avant-garde culture] on the covers of nearly all architectural publications (and totally absent from that venue in Culture Two [Paperny’s term for Stalinist culture]), indicates that the idea of the international unity of a single class clearly dominated in Culture One over the concepts of either national or state unity.”[469]  The last traces of this celebrated slogan from the end of the Manifesto only disappeared in 1934 from the covers of the popular architectural journals Building Moscow and Architecture of the USSR (successor to the 1931-1934 union journal Soviet Architecture, itself the successor to the iconic 1926-1930 Constructivist periodical Modern Architecture).

Soviet pavilion advertisement, designed by Lissitzky (1925)

French fellow travelers with the Soviet Union (1925)

The ultimate collapse of the avant-garde project in the Soviet Union, symbolically marked first by the outcome of the 1932 design competition for the Palace of the Soviets and capped off by the expulsion of all foreign architects in 1937, signaled the demise of one important dimension of modernist architecture.  The social mission that had provided the avant-garde with such positive momentum in its early years was now abandoned.  Its fascination with the forms of industrial engineering and abstract composition remained, but its sense of duty to redress social grievances (or to even fundamentally transform society) vanished.  Curtis makes the following remark regarding this point: “The modern movement was a revolution in social purpose as well as architectural forms.  It tried to reconcile industrialism, society, and nature, projecting prototypes for mass housing and ideal plans for entire cities.”[470]  Following the Soviet fiasco and the general hiatus of new construction up through the end of the Second World War, this feeling of social purpose had evaporated.  Already by 1960, Banham could take stock of the way that modern architecture had come to be perceived as part of the armature of Fordist administrative capitalism.  “[I]f the [modern] style has finished up as the architecture of anonymous corporate domination,” reminded Banham, “it is worth remembering that this was not how it started out.”[471]  It is the thesis of the present study that the modernists’ experience in the USSR, the Soviet moment, marked the pivotal turning point in this development.  This second section will therefore strive to demonstrate how the modernists’ attempt to rebuild society on a new architectural basis reached its highest expression in the Soviet Union of the early 1930s, and how this vision unraveled in the aftermath of their defeat.

Architectural Experiment from Nikolai Ladovskii’s Studio at VKhUTEMAS, 1924

The Artistic and Intellectual Origins of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde

In his landmark structural analysis of the antinomical tendencies existing within Russian culture (broadly termed “Culture One” and “Culture Two”),[472] Vladimir Paperny locates a subset of contradictions operative in the context of the former considered by itself.  This second-order oppositional pair he identifies corresponds to the two main positive bases of modernist architecture we have already set forth: the contours of abstract art on the one hand, and modern industrialism (and more specifically, the machine) on the other.  While it is difficult to see how this opposition fits into Paperny’s broader scheme of Russian history as a whole — for he claims that these cultural patterns recur, and the existence of this particular binary in earlier epochs seems unlikely — his conceptual division of these two tendencies is entirely correct with reference to the 1920s.  He explained this internal tension within Soviet avant-garde culture as follows:

In Culture One there is yet another pair of opposing tendencies…One element in this pair is bespredmetnichestvo (nonfigurative art), the rejection of any resemblance between an artistic creation and life and thus the affirmation of the right of art to speak in its own language.  The other element is zhiznestroenie (life-building), the complete blending of art with life.

The first tendency in Culture One led to the appearance of abstract painting, the montage in cinematography, the experiments of Kandinsky and Ladovskii regarding the perception of forms and colors, the arkhitektons of Malevich, El Lissitzky’s PROUNs (Projects for the Affirmation of the New), and, ultimately, to rationalism [or formalism] in architecture.

The second tendency led to Maiakovskii’s political posters for the ROSTA (Russian Telegraph Agency) windows, Tatlin’s chair and flying device called Letatlin, the documentary films of Dziga Vertov and Esfir’Shub, the designs for a city of the future by the sculptor Anton Lavinskii, and, ultimately, to constructivism (or functionalism) in architecture.

Both these trends, as with the two preceding ones, barely existed in a pure form, and every position presented itself as an intervening point between the two poles…Culture One succeeded in seeing abstract beauty in efficacious structures and efficacy in abstract compositions.[473]

“Architecture of VKhUTEMAS” (1927), designed by El Lissitzky

OSA’s “Modern Architecture” (1929), cover designed by Aleksei Gan

Although many have made the point that in their realized structures — that is, in those buildings that were actually built — the works of the Rationalists in ASNOVA and of the Constructivists in OSA bear an undeniable resemblance to one another,[474] the theoretical differences between the two groups were by no means insignificant (even if they seemed to produce similar results).  Indeed, visiting the Soviet Union in 1929, no less an architect than Bruno Taut admitted that “it is really very difficult for an outsider to understand the difference between the so-called ‘constructivists’ and the ‘formalists.’”[475]  Even Moisei Ginzburg, who would come to be one of the staunchest representatives of Constructivist architecture, sought early on to minimize the differences between the two tendencies.  In 1923 he thus asserted: “‘Rationalism,’ ‘Constructivism,’ and all such nicknames are only outward representations of a striving for modernity, one which is more profound and fertile than might seem the case at first glance and which is engendered by the new aesthetic of a mechanized life.”[476]

J.J.P. Oud’s Cafe de Unie (1925) retains Neoplasticist overtones long after his split from De Stijl

Rietveld’s very Neoplasticist Schroderhuis (1923)

Despite such admissions, there are still many good reasons for taking this split within the Soviet architectural avant-garde seriously.  Their differences were both presented on consistently principled grounds and were, moreover, symptomatic of a broader and more basic contradiction within modernist theory as a whole.  Though professional rivalries and personal antipathies no doubt played a role in these groups’ relations, it is important to examine their points of disagreement on their own terms, as historians like Catherine Cooke and Anatole Kopp have to some extent.[477]  The suggestion that such deep-seated disputes were motivated simply by jealousy, dislike, or competition over commissions fails to hold up when placed under scrutiny.  Too many other factors intervene: parallel developments in the arts (particularly in theater) and sciences (particularly in the field of industrial psychology), similar divisions along international lines (between, for example, the Dutch Neoplasticists and the German Functionalists), and the privileging of one set of positive principles over another (as with the emphasis on abstract form versus concrete function).  What is more, the inherently totalizing and systematic nature of modernist architectural thought, which will be the specific focus of the next subsection, prevented the members of these rival avant-garde factions from readily compromising their ideals or making concessions.  They rejected any approach they felt was incompatible with their own doctrines.  This all-or-nothing mentality of the modernists is further evidenced in the turn towards city planning, which gave rise to even greater disagreements and divisions within both OSA and ASNOVA.  Such later fragmentations as these will be dealt with in the course of our discussion of the international avant-garde’s eventual turn towards urbanism in the second half of the 1920s.

Walter Gropius’ famous Bauhaus Dessau building (1926)

The Bauhaus Dessau Building (1926) with notes

Beyond those who were themselves involved in Soviet modernist architecture, there were a number of observers and commentators at the time who recognized these rival tendencies.  “[I]n Russia two tendencies can be discerned…: one of aesthetic experiment, and one of constructive functionalism,” noted Theo van Doesburg in his 1928 article, “Abstraction, Dream, and Utopia: Conflicting Movements in Russian Architecture.”[478]  This split he identifies, which corresponds to the distinction between the Rationalists and Constructivists in architecture, was in some sense mirrored in his own experience.  For while the division between painterly-aesthetic formalist tendencies on the one hand and industrial-constructive functionalist currents on the other was nowhere more pronounced than in Russia, especially at a national level, this tension could be seen at work in modern architecture elsewhere.  In some sense, this runs counter to Paperny’s thesis that no equivalent opposition existed in the West, but only superficially.[479]  Van Doesburg had witnessed firsthand the division between rigorous formalism based on abstract painting as practiced by himself and his countrymen — Robert van’t Hoff, and to a lesser extent, Gerrit Rietveld and Mart Stam — and rigorous functionalism based on industrial design as practiced by the (predominantly German) proponents of the Neue Sachlichkeit.  Even earlier, within the ranks of van Doesburg’s journal De Stijl, a similar feud had broken out between the architect Oud, who favored the examples of industrial machinery,[480] and the painter Mondrian, who favored his own Neoplasticist abstractions.[481]  Oud departed De Stijl in 1921 after van Doesburg sided with Mondrian on this issue,[482] though Oud would remain (at least tacitly) more committed to the aesthetic dimension of architecture than his more severe counterparts in German functionalism.[483]  At least in theory, the De Stijl architect Rietveld attempted to reconcile these two poles of modernist architecture by aiming “to determine the relationship between beauty and art, as well as the relationship between these two and utility and construction.”  He proposed (by way of negation) that architecture should seek a middle ground, choosing to take the somewhat safer position of neutrality: “It seems just as wrong to me to accept or reject constructional forms for aesthetic reasons as to accept or reject aesthetic elements on constructional or economic grounds.”[484]  And in practice, Rietveld was rather successful in compromising between the two poles, as his famous Schröderhuis attests.  Despite his earlier affiliation with De Stijl and painterly Neoplasticism, however, Rietveld eventually ended up identifying with the “international style” of functionalism by the beginning of the 1930s.[485]


The rift that existed in Soviet avant-garde architecture between its positive basis in abstract art and its positive basis in industrial design was reproduced in miniature in the debates between van Doesburg and his followers and Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus school at both Weimar and Dessau.  In 1921, after being denied a position at the newly opened Bauhaus, van Doesburg set up shop in Weimar as a competitor to its course of design.[486]  While he praised the school’s stated goal of unifying the various arts under the rubric of architecture,[487] van Doesburg was highly critical of its actual achievements.[488]  Following the emergence of the Neue Sachlichkeit in German architecture around the Bauhaus, van Doesburg swiftly wrote an article “Defending the Spirit of Space: Against a Dogmatic Functionalism.”  As its title would suggest, this piece defended the spatiotemporal basis of architecture imparted by abstract art against the overzealous application of industrial forms and ideas.  “Undoubtedly, a so strictly functionalistic layout of the spaces will be considered the most appropriate and most economical one,” he admitted.  “In reality, though, this is not true.  Already from a purely practical perspective this architecture, because of its individual shape, does not lend itself to spatial expansion.”[489]  Later, van Doesburg derided the overly Taylorized, industrialist approach to architecture as creating “an absolute rigidity and sterilization of our lives.”[490]  Likewise, his former collaborator Rietveld (whom Gropius did end up hiring for the Bauhaus) — although he eventually came to embrace functionalist architecture — also took aim at what he identified as German functionalism’s peculiar inflexibility.  Rietveld did not blindly endorse every sort of functionalism: “Not only in Holland, but in Austria and France (and maybe Japan and Russia, currently very much influenced by Germany, will soon follow), people now see very clearly that the German program for a new functionalism is much too narrow, uncompromising, and lacking in flexibility.”[491]  Mondrian, though long since estranged from Rietveld and van Doesburg, also stressed the abstract formal properties of the new architecture over utilitarian considerations.  “At present, I see no chance of achieving perfect plastic expression by simply following the structure of what we build, studying its utility alone…,” wrote Mondrian.  “We therefore need a new aesthetic based on the pure relationships of pure lines and colors, for only pure relationships of pure constructive elements can result in pure beauty.”[492]

Though Teige rightly credited the early De Stijl influence on the Bauhaus as helping “to eradicate [its] surviving expressionist tendencies,” the German functionalists coming out of this school toward the end of its years in Weimar and its first years in Dessau were mutually critical of the Dutch movement’s aesthetic adherence to “the new ‘orthogonal’ formalism.”[493]  In Gropius’ reflective 1934 “Appraisal of the Development of Modern Architecture,” he acknowledged its initial influence while dismissing its overall value, writing: “The ‘Stijl’ movement had a marked effect as propaganda, but it overemphasized formalistic tendencies, and so…made ‘cubic’ forms fashionable.”[494]  Indeed, though he viewed movements like the Neue Sachlichkeit as too limited and one-sided,[495] Gropius’ evolution from an organicist and expressionist architectural ideology to a functionalist approach can be witnessed by comparing his 1919 “Program of the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar” to his programmatic 1926 piece, written shortly after moving their operations to Dessau, “Principles of Bauhaus Production.”  In this latter essay, Gropius asserted that an object produced at the school “must serve its purpose perfectly, that is, it must fulfill its function usefully, be durable, economical, and ‘beautiful’.”[496]  Shortly thereafter, one of the great theoreticians of functionalism and Sachlichkeit in architecture, Adolf Behne, rejected the aestheticism of form to make way for purely functional construction.  “The surest guiding principle to absolutely sachlich, necessary, extra-aesthetic design,” wrote Behne in 1926, “seemed to be adaptation to technical and economic functions, which with consistent work must in fact lead to the dissolution of the concept of form.”[497]  On this point, Hannes Meyer, correctly noting the profound development of Bauhaus theory from Weimar to Dessau,[498] continued in his predecessor’s vein by warning against any “modishly-flat plane-surface ornamentation divided horizontally and vertically and all done up in Neoplastic style.”[499]

The final non-Russian example of this internal division within the international avant-garde between aesthetic formalism and utilitarian functionalism centers around the Swiss architectural journal ABC, edited primarily by Mart Stam and El Lissitzky.  In a way, this can be seen as a recapitulation of the controversy surrounding Lissitzky’s involvement with the earlier periodical Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, as van Doesburg aptly remarked.[500]  This was intimately connected with theoretical formulas advanced in Russia by the group ASNOVA, which had close personal and editorial ties to Lissitzky.  At the same time, it was bound up with subsequent developments within Dutch architectural modernism, as Stam’s growth reflected this broader pattern.[501]  Insofar as Lissitzky was one of the four founding members of ASNOVA,[502] he used ABC as an organ through which he could disseminate the ideas of architectural Rationalism from Russia.[503]  However, the ideals espoused by Stam, the second-ranking member of the group, would have logically placed him more in alliance with the hyperfunctionalist OSA current of Soviet architecture than with ASNOVA.[504]  Though the journal ABC was initially quite supportive of ASNOVA’s architectural agenda,[505] the Swiss group that published it later distanced itself from this early alliance.  “In 1927, [the members of ABC] realized that their alliance with Lissitzky and ASNOVA was the core of their problem, steering them in a direction that deterred Western clients.”[506]  Of course, on a political level, Stam and the other radicals of ABC remained committed to the ideals of communism, and so they were still connected with Lissitzky after rejecting “the impractical ASNOVA approach.”[507]

Turning now to the Soviet architectural scene, it is possible to see how this cleavage between aesthetic and efficacious principles in modernist architectural design emerged out of conditions specific to Russia, both cultural and sociohistoric.  As it will be shown, however, this did not exclude foreign influences.  The absorption of both architectural and extra-architectural influences from the West, and the way in which this information was subsequently filtered into the Soviet Union — all these factors must be taken into account when discussing the avant-garde ideologies of the period.  For not only were the Soviet modernists receptive to architectural ideas originating in Europe and America, but they also paid close attention to non-architectural discourses that were prevalent at the time.  This can be understood as working on several different levels.  Ideas that had been imported from the West at an earlier period, like Marxism (which arrived in Russia with Plekhanov in the 1890s), had by the 1920s been largely domesticated and assimilated to native political conditions.  Russian Social-Democracy developed along specific national lines, partially owing to its illegality and its persecution by the Tsarist government.  Of course, this is not to say that the RSDLP — or its post-1904 Menshevik and Bolshevik components — was not attuned to events taking place within the international socialist movement, especially within German Social-Democracy.  By contrast, theories that were of more recent vintage (or which took longer to arrive in Russia than abroad) still had a quite alien flavor.  The innovations in the scientific management of labor introduced by the Taylorist system, in “psychotechnics” and industrial psychology with the theories of Hugo Münsterberg, and in the assembly-line production techniques perfected by Henry Ford — though these also had an impact on Western modernism, they possessed an even more remarkable freshness in the Soviet context.  Contemporary thinkers like Nikolai Dokuchaev gave plausible reasons for what lay behind this feeling of extraordinary novelty, and subsequent historians such as Paperny have insightfully elaborated on them.[508]  These will be discussed in due course, as we investigate the internal diremption of the Soviet avant-garde.

As in other countries, the Soviet modernists had to first clear the ground of the stifling traditionalism that prevailed in the domestic architectural practices that led up to the early 1920s as well as their institutionalization in the academy.  This had to be accomplished before the avant-garde could begin to articulate its own theoretical positions.  The first act of Soviet architectural modernism was therefore to categorically reject the arbitrary, derivative reliance on past historical “styles” that characterized conventional architecture during their day.  Lissitzky thus described the birth of Soviet modernism as entailing the wholesale “destruction of tradition,” an extreme negation of all that had come before it.[509]  This rejection of the past had its Russian roots in the years immediately before the First World War, in the Cubo-Futurist group’s 1912 fiery “Slap in the Face of Public Taste.”[510]  The sentiments expressed in this declaration were, unsurprisingly, largely the same as the ones first enunciated by Marinetti and the Italian Futurists three years prior.  As such, they conveyed a nihilistic stance toward the past, adopted for the sake of the future.  The artistic practices of Suprematism (founded by Malevich) along with Constructivism (founded by Tatlin) arose out of this intrawar Cubo-Futurist background.

This feeling of an irrevocable break with the past took on new meaning for the Soviet avant-garde in the years following the Revolution.[511]  For now the modernists saw that a profound historical rupture had taken place on the political plane, one that seemed to justify their own feeling of discontinuity with regard to tradition. This feeling soon spread into modernist architectural discourse.  No less an authority than Trotskii, whose political stature in Russia remained strong until 1927, suggested this connection between the negativity of revolution and architectural rebirth.  “Ultimately,” he observed in Literature and Revolution, “the destructiveness of wars and revolutions will give a powerful impetus to architecture.”[512]  Moisei Ginzburg noted in Style and Epoch that

[t]he World War and the Russian Revolution, which assumed the role of a grandiose cataclysm that shook and toppled the foundations not only of our own native land but also of the world at large, were events that, in their sweep and the burst of psychic energy unleashed each step along the way, drew a sharp boundary line between the old and the new…; cleansing the horizons and facilitating the crystallization of a new and more viable culture.[513]

In the October 1927 edition of Modern Architecture, honoring the tenth-anniversary of the Revolution, the journal offered an anonymous reflection on architecture’s uprooting of the past that followed from the Bolshevik’s seizure of power. “The first phase of architectural Constructivism was negative, in line with the initial stage of post-October as a whole,” the article asserted.  “Its cutting edge was set to the struggle against layers of inertia and atavism, and to the destruction of surviving traditions, whose tendrils were greedily grasping at the shoots of innovative thought.”[514]  Lissitzky likewise recalled the effect of the Revolution on the attitude of the new generation of architects.  He noted the seeming possibility of creating a “new world” opened up by the destruction wrought by the Revolution.  “Let us review some aspects of the life process introduced into our world by the Revolution which…is scarcely five years old,” he implored.  “During this period the great challenges posed by the cultural revolution have taken deep root in the consciousness of our new generation of architects.  It has become obvious to the new architect that by virtue of his work he is taking an active part in the building of a new world.”[515]  Teige, an unflagging supporter of the Soviet political project from Czechoslovakia, insisted that “[w]e must try to rid [architecture] of the accumulated accretions of outdated concepts.”  The modern age, he claimed, “calls for an architecture without clichés, without ‘façades’ — an architecture that in the course of the construction of socialism will fulfill the role of reshaping our life in all its relationships.”[516]

While traditionalism in Soviet architecture was by no means abolished by this simple act of renunciation, it nevertheless created the space in which the modernists could begin to work out their own architectural theories.  In fact, the first avant-garde architectural programs in Russia rose out of a series of organizations formed between 1919-1920 in direct opposition to the line represented by the Classicist architect Ivan Zholtovskii, then head of the Architectural Arts Department of Narkompros.  These groups, in a manner not unlike the aim of the Weimar Bauhaus, rejected the separation of architecture from the other spatial arts and strove to reunite them through a new synthesis.  Sinskulptarkh (the Commission for the Synthesis of Sculpture and Architecture) was founded in May 1919 in Moscow, later becoming Zhivskulptarkh (the Commission for the Synthesis of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture) that same December.  Modernist luminaries such as the painter Aleksandr Rodchenko, the sculptor Boris Korolev, and the pioneering architects Ladovskii, Krinskii, and the Golosov brothers (Il’ia and Panteleimon) all belonged to this group.[517] The collaborations produced by these two groups were extremely experimental.  “However, as with every approach to a synthesis,” Lissitzky remembered, referring to these early projects, “the first results were destructive.”[518]

Many participants in Zhivskulptarkh (Ladovskii, Krinskii, Rodchenko, and others) departed in 1920 to join the new Moscow Institute for Artistic Culture, or INKhUK.  At this time INKhUK was headed by Wassily Kandinsky, who had drawn up its charter earlier in the year.  Internal divisions and theoretical disputes abounded at the Institute in practically every field of study.  Architecture was no exception.[519]  With the arrival of Aleksandr Vesnin in 1921, a major rift formed within the Working Group of Architects at INKhUK, of which Ladovskii and Krinskii also were members.  Vesnin, who along with his older brothers Leonid and Viktor had already made a name for himself as a premier architect working in the more traditional styles before the war, was now showing himself capable of startling innovation.  Ladovskii and Krinskii, who had laid claim to the mantle of architectural modernism through their work in Zhivskulptarkh, now found their vision challenged by an architect whose approach was just as radical as their own.  They both fundamentally disagreed with Vesnin over what the principles of the new architecture should be.  This disagreement eventually proved to be the defining split within the Soviet architectural avant-garde.  And as the epicenter of modernist architectural discourse now shifted from INKhUK to VKhUTEMAS (the State Artistic and Technical Studios) in the summer of 1921, their debate was carried over.  Ladovskii, Krinskii, and Vesnin were each granted positions at the new school as soon as it opened.[520]

Together with his new colleagues Nikolai Dokuchaev and Ivan Efimov, Ladovskii succeeded in creating an autonomous architectural faculty at VKhUTEMAS in 1921.[521]  Finally free to develop a curriculum and practice a new pedagogy, Ladovskii and his associates were at the same time still forced to contend with Vesnin’s competing vision of modern architecture.  Here both sides began to spell out their architectural theories in greater detail.  On one side, Ladovskii set forth the Rationalist (or Formalist) theory of architecture along with his supporters Krinskii, Dokuchaev, Efimov, and Lissitzky.  On the other, the Vesnin brothers were joined by the young architect and theoretician Moisei Ginzburg in formulating the rival Constructivist (or Functionalist) theory.  To their ranks were later added a number of promising new students, such as Golosov and Leonidov.  Some prominent modernist architects, like Konstantin Mel’nikov, Nikolai Miliutin, and Aleksei Shchusev subscribed to neither theory exclusively and advanced theories of their own.  Still others shifted their allegiances from one group to another over time.  And though the earliest versions of these theories toward the middle of the 1920s tended to deal with architectural problems at the more molecular level of the individual structure, they are so fundamental to understanding the architects’ later theories of town planning that they cannot be skipped over.

In order to reconstruct these divergent theoretical frameworks adopted by the Soviet architectural avant-garde, it will first be necessary to sketch some of the developments that took place within the sphere of domestic wartime modernist art as well as the science of industrial ergonomics that reached Russia in the immediate postwar years.  We shall therefore momentarily digress into a discussion of these two fields, in order to ground our understanding of the architectural ideologies that subsequently emerged.  Inevitably, this will touch on some of the points covered in the previous section.  The peculiar role that abstract art as well as Taylorism played in the Russian context will be elucidated.  Of course, the goal here will not be to retread the ground we have already mapped out, but rather to highlight those circumstances that were particular to Russia (and later the Soviet Union).  For the architects in OSA and ASNOVA hailed from different artistic tendencies that had established themselves in the post-Futurist modernist scene, and would appeal to different intellectual discourses in support of their respective theories of architecture.

Picking up on Paperny’s identification of the principle of bespredmetnichestvo (either translated as “non-objectivity” or “non-figuration”) in Russian avant-garde art, the most obvious place to begin would be with Malevich, the unquestioned father of Suprematist aesthetics.  As mentioned previously, Malevich emerged out of the Cubo-Futurist poets’ movement around 1915.[522]  He soon thereafter founded the Supremus group in Moscow, a short-lived but influential collection of extremely talented artists — Ivan Puni (Jean Pougny), Ol’ga Rozanova, Gustav Klutsis, Kseniia Boguslavskaia, Nadezhda Udal’tsova, Mikhail Men’kov, Liubov’ Popova, Ivan Kliun, and Nina Genke-Meller.[523]  Even before she joined forces with Suprematism, Rozanova had already proclaimed in 1913 that hers was “[t]he era of the final, absolute liberation of the Great Art of Painting from the alien traits of Literature, Society, and everyday life.”[524]  Art must depart from representational forms in order to speak in its own language.  It was thus at the celebrated Last Futurist Exhibition of Pictures 0.1, held in late 1915, that Men’kov declared: “Color must live and speak for itself.  Hitherto there was no such thing as pure painting; there were just copies of nature and ideas.”[525]  By creating a system of pure color and planar-geometric shapes, by refusing to represent the figures or objects that appear in reality, the painter frees art so as to create pure form.  The artistic product thus remains untainted by the world of the empirical.  With the advent of this new form of non-representational painting, Ivan Kliun enthusiastically eulogized in his 1919 essay on the new “Color Art,” “the corpse of painterly art, the art of daubed nature, has been laid in its coffin, sealed with the Black Square of Suprematism, and its sarcophagus is now exhibited for public view.”[526]  This death was further confirmed by Malevich himself in a piece he wrote on “Non-Objective Creation and Suprematism,” in which he averred that “[t]he artist ought to be able to transform painterly masses and produce a creative system, but not paint little pictures and fragrant roses, for this will all be dead representation reminding one of the living.”[527]  Suprematism thereby completes the painterly logic of visual distortion inaugurated by Romanticism (and subsequently intensified by photography) wherein representational verisimilitude is gradually abandoned, advancing through styles such as Impressionism, Pointillism, Fauvism, and finally Cubism.  The “lifelikeness” of painting, the accuracy of its figural depiction, was now rendered unimportant.  “Images of ‘painterly,’ and not ‘figurative,’ values are the aim of the present painting,” explained Popova, introducing Malevich’s essay, quoted above.[528]

Beyond its application to the field of painting, the creators of Suprematism in art also maintained that their theories had consequences for architecture, as well.  This stands in contrast to the relation between Constructivist artworks and Constructivist architecture, where the innovators in each respective field were separate from one another (with the partial exception, maybe, of Aleksandr Vesnin).  Malevich’s prediction that Suprematism would give rise to new architectural forms was already briefly mentioned in the previous section,[529] but a few words might be added here to elucidate what he meant.  His earliest statements on the matter come from a 1920 compilation of his paintings under the title of Suprematism.  In Malevich’s introduction to the book, he cryptically stated his belief that “at the present time Suprematism is growing, as a new architectural construction in space and time.  Thus, Suprematism is established in a link with earth, but, as a result of its economic constructions, changes the whole architecture of earthly things, in a broad sense, joining them with the space of monolithic masses moving in the planet system.”[530]  In these eerie proclamations, Malevich was perhaps responding to the tract put out a few months earlier by his pupil Lissitzky, on “Suprematism in World Reconstruction.”  Here Lissitzky already proved himself more radical than his master, writing:

when we have absorbed the total wealth of experience of painting when we have left behind the uninhibited curves of cubism when we have grasped the aim and system of suprematism — then we shall give a new face to this globe.  we shall reshape it so thoroughly that the sun will no longer recognize its satellite.  in architecture we are on the way to a completely new concept.  after the archaic horizontals the classical spheres and the gothic verticals of building styles which preceded on our own we are now entering upon a fourth stage as we achieve economy and spatial diagonals.


the dynamic architecture provides us with the new theater of life and because we are capable of grasping the idea of a whole town at any moment.  with any plan the task of architecture — the rhythmic arrangement of space and time — is perfectly and simply fulfilled for the new town will not be as classically laid out as the modern towns of north and south america but clearly and logically like a beehive.  the new element of treatment which we have brought to the fore in our painting will be applied to the whole of this still-to-be-built world and will transform the roughness of concrete the smoothness of metal and the reflection of glass into the outer membrane of the new life.  the new light will give us new color and the memory of the solar spectrum will be preserved only in old manuals on physics.[531]

Even in this early text, in which Lissitzky still explicitly identified with Suprematism in art, one can perceive the young artist’s slow drift toward the Constructivist conception of art.  Indeed, under the influence of Tatlin and Rodchenko, Lissitzky would the following year travel West with the budding avant-garde author Il’ia Ehrenburg as the ambassador of “International Constructivism.”  Meeting with such Western modernists as Theo van Doesburg, Hans Richter, Max Burchartz, and Karel Maes (amongst others), Lissitzky’s fresh ideas swiftly led to the drafting of the “Manifesto of the International Constructivist Creative Union,” published in De Stijl in the summer of 1922.  This document proposed a “[n]ew design of life in keeping with our contemporary consciousness and with universal means of expression.”[532]  Lissitzky was not the only artist to defect from the Suprematist camp, however.  Popova, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Aleksei Gan, and others would all part company with Malevich in the early 1920s by joining forces with Tatlin.

Before moving on to the other major principle underlying Russian artistic modernism, it is worth mentioning that despite the defection of so many of the young painters from Malevich’s circle, his influence remained strong throughout the 1920s.  He commanded a great deal of respect amongst those who had followed him.  Malevich’s successors, even if they felt they had moved “beyond” him, nevertheless regarded his contribution to have been vital to their own work.  Kállai, for example, in appraising Lissitzky’s art, credited Malevich with opening up the way to his protégé’s creation.[533]  The Hungarian art critic Alfréd Kemény noted the way that Malevich’s non-objective compositions seemed to point beyond themselves, in a sort of abstract self-negation of their status as images.[534]  This is something that Lissitzky also noticed in passing from his PROUN series into the realm of architecture.  “In 1919, Malevich ceased to paint,” wrote Kemény.  “In his last paintings, the colors are reduced to nuances of whitish gray.  In them, he has reached the frontier of that undifferentiated state in which design as such ceases to exist.  According to our viewpoint, we can regard this final period of Suprematism either as ‘point zero of art’ or as an experimental attempt to generate non-relative space, the frontier of ‘the Void,’ through a minimum of differentiation.”[535]  This is the way that Rodchenko, among others, interpreted the role Malevich played in art.  By reducing composition to its most basic formal elements — color and shape — they contended that Malevich had brought about the logical completion of art (or the “end of painting,” as Rodchenko called it).[536]  Or as Malevich’s countryman Mieczysław Szczuka (of the Polish Constructivist group Blok) put it in his 1927 article on the “Funeral of Suprematism”: “The contribution of Suprematism was to bring certain new plastic possibilities to art and then to end.”[537]  In a tribute written that same year by the ex-Suprematist (now Constructivist) Aleksei Gan, Malevich’s one-time collaborator,[538] the founder of non-objective art was celebrated for his continued creativity, now having left the two-dimensionality of the easel and crossed over into “the field of volumetric Suprematist compositions, [focusing] on problems of the volumetric and spatial forms of material masses.”[539]  Along with Kandinsky, though the latter’s paintings were considered more “expressionist,” Gan considered Malevich’s great accomplishment to have been his work investigating the psychological dimensions of art and architecture.  In this respect, Gan remarked on the affinities between the work of Malevich and that of Ladovskii and the members of ASNOVA in architecture, despite the fact that Malevich kept his distance from the Rationalists.  “The novelty, purity, and originality of abstract Suprematism fosters a new psychology of perception,” maintained Gan.  “This is where Malevich’s great contribution will lie.”[540]

This brings us to the other principle animating Soviet avant-garde art mentioned by Paperny: namely, the idea of zhiznestroenie (literally “life-building”).  This concept was cultivated primarily by Vladimir Tatlin, and was largely a response to both French Cubism as well as Malevich’s Suprematism.[541]  As Lissitzky would later note, Tatlin’s innovation at first involved a focus on the tactile dimension of art, over and above the purely visual dimension explored by Malevich.[542]  “Having declared our distrust of the eye, we place the eye under the control of the tactile, of touch,” wrote Tatlin, along with Pavel Vinogradov, Tevel Shapiro, and Iosif Meerzon.[543]  Rodchenko, one of the earliest converts to Tatlin’s new way of thinking, now abandoned painting altogether — in favor of photography and utilitarian design.  He shared this conception of the new art as the selection and organization of materials.  In a series of “Slogans” he wrote up for a course at VKhUTEMAS in February of 1921, Rodchenko asserted: “CONSTRUCTION is the contemporary requirement for the ORGANIZATION and utilitarian use of material.”[544]  This notion was codified and formalized for the First Working Group of Constructivists in Russia in their program of 1922 under the heading of “facture” (faktura), one of the core terms in the group’s lexicon.[545]  Hans Richter, the movement’s German liaison, highlighted this aspect of Constructivism in his 1924 piece, “Toward Constructivism,” describing the works it produced as that “art that uses modern construction materials in place of conventional materials and that follows constructional goals.”[546]  Likewise, the Polish wing of Constructivism — the avant-garde group Blok — heavily stressed the “DEPENDENCE of the character of the created object on the material used.”[547]

Aleksei Gan, who wrote the movement’s canonical work in 1922, the eponymously titled Constructivism, attempted to draw a connection between the artists’ preoccupation with materials and the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism (the official ideology of the Bolsheviks, who had recently taken power).  Gan strove to make the ideological link with Communism explicit.[548]  He stressed the obligation of Constructivist art to the creation of the new culture and new society:

To find the Communist expression of material constructions, i.e., to establish a scientific base for the approach to constructing buildings and services that would fulfill the demands of Communist culture in its transient state, in its fluidity, in a word, in all the formations of its historical movement beginning with the period of destruction — this is the primary objective of intellectual-material production in the field of building, i.e., constructivism.[549]

International Constructivism, (1922), 1st row: Lucia Moholy, Alfréd Kemény, László Moholy-Nagy; 2nd row: Lotte Burchartz, El Lissitzky (with pipe and cap), Cornelis van Eesteren, Bernhard Sturtzkopf; 3rd row: Max Burchartz (with child on his shoulders), Harry Scheibe, Theo van Doesburg (with paper hat), Hans Vogel, Peter Röhl; 4th row: Alexa Röhl (in all black), Nelly van Doesburg, Tristan Tzara, Nini Smit, Hans Arp; 5th row: Werner Gräff and Hans Richter (on ground)

Gan was not alone in trying to associate Constructivism in art with Bolshevik ideology.  Moholy-Nagy — who had already taken up Lissitzky’s ideas on Constructivism as early as 1922 — also made this connection, though he gave more emphasis to the impact of modern machinery on both Constructivism and socialism.  “[The machine] is the root of socialism,” recorded Moholy-Nagy, “the final liquidation of feudalism.  It is the machine that woke up the proletariat.  In serving technology the worker discovered a changed world…This is our century — technology, machine, socialism…The new world of the proletariat needs Constructivism.”[550]  The Czech Constructivist Karel Teige was entirely in agreement with this assessment.  He saw Constructivism as a conscious negation of the Arts & Crafts movement that had originated in England.  “OUR CIVILIZATION IS NOT A CIVILIZATION OF ART AND CRAFT (l’époque des arts et des métiers),” roared Teige, “BUT THE CIVILIZATION OF THE MACHINE (le siècle de la machine!).[551]  For Teige, as for Moholy-Nagy and his Russian compatriots, this new technological basis of civilization was a crucial step toward the realization of socialism.[552]

A related aspect to this mechanico-technological dimension of Constructivism was its stated mission to rationalize artistic labor.  The Constructivists aimed to increase artistic efficiency, both in terms of the production process of the artistic object as well as the efficacious qualities of the object thus produced.  “In rationalizing artistic labor,” read the mission statement of the First Working Group of Constructivists, “the Constructivists put into practice — not in verbal, but in concrete terms — the real qualifications of the object: they are raising its quality, establishing its social role, and organizing its forms in an organic relationship with its utilitarian meaning and objective.”[553]  Boris Arvatov, one of the foremost theoretical exponents of Constructivism, credited the group for “ceas[ing] to violate material, and rais[ing] the question [of the artwork] in terms of its purposeful (Constructivist) utilization.”[554]  Teige explained that the “functionality” of the work of art was its most basic requirement in the Constructivist approach to production.[555]  But not only were the objects themselves to possess more utilitarian value.  The way these objects were produced was also to be optimized.  It was in this spirit that the members of Blok called for the “MECHANIZATION of the means of [artistic] labor.”[556]  Gan suggested that this rationalization and mechanization of the creative process was a reflection of the techniques employed in industrial production by the working class.[557]

By mirroring the productive practices of modern industry, and fashioning products for everyday life, the artistic Constructivists acted according to the idea of zhiznestroenie.  Art was to no longer remain aloof from life, separated by an unbridgeable divide.  For the artists of the Constructivist movement, art must enter into the life-processes of the people.  “It is time for ART to merge with life in an organized fashion,” recommended Rodchenko.[558]  Gan seconded this suggestion.[559] Szczuka and Zarnower, the apostles of Constructivism in Poland, explicitly called for “[t]he introduction of art into life on the principles of participation in general development and dependence on the changes arising in other branches of human creation.”[560]  Art was no longer to exist for only the highest classes of society — the royalty, nobility, and the clerics.  Neither was it to exist for its own sake, as in the aesthetics of l’art pour l’art.  Instead, art was to be enlisted into the service of life.  Or, as Teige put it, “The Constructivists do not propose a new art form but a plan for a New World and a program for a new life.”[561]

Portrait of Aleksei Gastev by Tolkachev (1924)

The Constructivists’ goal to rationalize artistic labor and thus enter life can be traced to the early Soviet intellectual fascination with the Taylorist industrial theory of scientific management.  As was covered in the previous section, American Taylorism exerted an influence throughout the European world of modernist art and architecture.  However, the especially central role it played through its reception and dissemination in the Soviet Union warrants further contextual reflection.  For the Soviet architectural avant-garde did not simply absorb the influence of Taylorism through its mediation by the Constructivists in art, but also directly from a number of academic sources as well.  Taylorism was enthusiastically embraced in the USSR by many in the revolutionary intelligentsia and even some leading Bolsheviks, including Trotskii and Lenin himself[562] (despite his 1914 article “Taylor’s System: The Enslavement of Man to the Machine”).  It was mostly popularized by writers like Osip Ermanksii[563] and later advocates of the Scientific Organization of Labor (abbreviated NOT [for Nauchnaia organizatsiia truda]) like the poet and factory worker Aleksei Gastev.  Gastev was the founder and, from 1920 to 1937, the director of TsIT (Central Institute of Labor).  TsIT was dedicated to the improvement of industrial efficiency.  Under Gastev, its official philosophy was that of Taylorism.  He was doubtless the most passionate exegete of Soviet Taylorism.  For Gastev, Taylor was modern industrialism’s greatest theoretician, and Henry Ford its greatest practitioner.  Ford was a heroic figure for many in the Soviet Union during the 1920s for his contribution to assembly-line production and his rationalization of labor practices.  Gastev, however, took this much further, going so far as to align Ford with Karl Marx as compatible (and indeed complementary) thinkers in his 1927 article “Marx and Ford.”[564]  For reasons that will be discussed later, Taylorism and machine-worship was stronger in Russia than in Western Europe.  As the Hungarian academic René Fülöp-Miller keenly observed, “[i]n contrast to the intoxicated enthusiasm with which Russians speak of the application of the mechanizing process to the whole of existence, Europeans describe the invasion of their life by technical elements in a completely skeptical fashion.”[565]

Aleksei Gastev (1926)

N.O.T. (1925)

TsIT presidium: Petrov, Bakhrakh, Gastev (1925)

The Constructivists’ artistic and architectural appropriation of Taylorism in large part came by way of Gastev.  Indeed, Gastev’s significance as an interlocutor can hardly be overstated, since it was his own distinctive interpretation of Taylor that so lent itself to modernist aesthetics.  It was his fanatical promotion of its aspects of automation and mechanization, emerging out of a decidedly Futurist Weltanschauung, that made it a vital contribution to the early Soviet cult of the machine.  He advocated “systematic planning,” the “chronometration [khronometrirovanie] of time” through the introduction of time cards, and an “automated uniformity of labor” through that standardization of the most efficient laboring motions.[566]  Addressing the workers’ relation to industrial machinery, Gastev wrote:

The modern machine…possesses its own laws of pulsation, functioning, and relaxation — laws that do not stand in conformity with the rhythm of the human organism.  The world of the machine, the world of mechanical equipment [oborudovaniia] and urbanized labor [trudnogo urbanizma], produces specially connected collectives, begets certain types of people.  These are people who we must accept, just as we accept the machine, though we must not smash their heads on its gears.  We must bring some kind of equalizing coefficient into the machine’s iron disciplinary pressure, though history insistently demands we pose these not as petty problems of the social protection of the individual personality [lichnosti], but rather the bold engineering [proektirovaniia] of human psychology according to such an historical factor as machinism.[567]

Motion tests, TsIT (1924)

The choreography of labor: TsIT cyclograph testing motive efficiency

The biomechanics of labor: TsIT ergometric testing (1925)

In training workers, reasoned Gastev, “[w]e begin with the most primitive, the most elementary motions and carry out the mechanization of man himself.  This mechanization we understand in the following manner: the less perfect the motion, the greater the element of deceleration and the less kinetic automatization.  The perfect mastery of a given movement implies maximum automatization.”  Furthermore, “[t]his principle of the mechanization or biological automatization [of man] must go very far, all the way to his so-called mental activity.”[568]  Notice also, then, that here psychology is encompassed by biology (or physiology).

Gastev extended this efficacious principle even to language.  He sought to remove excessively ornate and florid language from Soviet speech, encouraging instead economy of word choice.  He thereby hoped to reform the Russian language, in order to maximize its functionality. “To save time,” Fülöp-Miller explained, “efforts were also made to mechanize language and to introduce short and pregnant expressions instead of the ordinary rambling Russian circumlocutions.  Gastev issued a series of appeals and orders for the purpose of stemming the prolix and long-winded methods of writing and speaking used by his comrades, and accustoming them to clear, brief, and easily understood sentences.”[569]  As a practicing poet, Gastev actively adhered to this streamlined language of expression in his own work.  One of his most popular Taylorist poems, “We are Built from Iron,” had particular architectural resonances:

Look! — I stood in their midst: among the shopfloor machines [stankov], hammers, flames, furnaces, and hundreds of [their] comrades. Atop the wrought-iron expanse [prostor]. To the sides were beams and girders. They went up ten lengths. [They] bent to the left and to the right. [They] connected to the rafters and cupolas [kupolakh] as the shoulders of a giant, sustaining the whole iron construction. They were swift, they flourished, and were strong. [But] they still required greater force. I looked at them and straightened. In my veins flowed the blood of a new railway. I grew myself higher. Began to sprout firm hands and immense steel shoulders. I merged with the iron construction. I arose. [My] shoulders stuck out of the rafters, the headers and beams, and the roof. My feet still stood on the ground, but my head soared above the building. Still choking from this superhuman effort, I only cried: “These words I ask of you, my friends, these words!” Iron covered the echo of my words, the whole building looked shaken. And so I went even higher, accompanied by trumpets. And there is no story, no question — but only one cry, my iron shout: “We will win!”[570]

Gastev’s radical Taylorist position was not monolithic within the organization NOT, however.  He was opposed by another prominent figure in the field of ergonomics and industrial psychology, Platon Kerzhentsev.  Kerzhentsev was more critical of Taylorism, but nevertheless defended its utility and acceptability in his 1924 book The Struggle Over Time, once it was fitted to socialism.[571]  He helped form a splinter group, the League of Time, in 1924.[572]  Though the League of Time and TsIT were opposed tendencies within the greater movement NOT, both sides supported some form of Soviet Taylorism.

One tendency within TsIT both broke ranks with both the organization and Taylorism as a whole — the supporters of the “psychotechnician” Isaak Spilrein.  The discipline of psychotechnics was officially founded by the German-American Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg, who in turn was expanding upon the theories of both Taylor in labor and the greater study of psychophysiology in German philosophical discourse.  As an independent field of study, psychophysiology had risen to prominence within the Western academy in the second half of the nineteenth century.  It originated in the theories of the renowned German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, whose works on optics and the aesthetic physiology of perception inspired his equally famous student, Wilhelm Wundt.[573]  Wundt, the father of experimental psychology, himself took up the question of the “psychophysiological parallelism” between the excitations of produced by sensation (aesthesis) and psychological states in his two-volume treatise on the subject, The Principles of Psychophysiology.[574] Münsterberg had been one of Wilhelm Wundt’s final doctoral students.  In 1913, he published a book on Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, which he then followed with his 1914 Fundamentals of Psychotechnics [Grundzüge der Psychotechnik].  In these works he coined the term “psychotechnics” and effectively established it as a discipline.  Psychotechnics for the followers of Münsterberg was a means by which one could control human behavior through psychological techniques.  Or, as Vygotskii would later put it in his 1927 Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology, “psychotechnicsin a word…is the scientific theory which would lead to the seizure and subordination of the mind [psikhovoi], to the artificial control of behavior.”[575]

At his Harvard laboratory, Münsterberg carried out a number of experiments related to the study of aesthetics.  The results of these experiments, as he surmised, would have a considerable impact on artistic and architectural practice.[576]  He wrote:

Among the psychological laboratories at Harvard, mine is the only one that has a number of aesthetic studies planned annually already in gear.  I stress the following, mutually complementary work of my laboratory to give an idea of ​​the variety of problems, which can be examined by the experimental method: the balance of simple shapes (Pierce); symmetry (Puffer); unequal division (Angier); repetition of the spatial forms (Rowland); vertical separation (Davis); simple rhythmic forms (McDougall), rhythm and rhyme (Stetson); impression of the poetic language elements (Givler); psychophysics of melody (Bingham); resolution of dissonances (Moore); unmusical tone intervals (Emerson); the conditions of uniform appearance (Otis); interaction of objects (Keith); combination of feelings (Johnston); rhythmic alternation of feelings (Kellogg); and some others, wherever the aesthetic — but not the sensory — point of view was crucial, psychologically.  More or less isolated work of other laboratories are based on color combinations to basic shapes, and combinations of notes to tunes on associative factors, physiological conditions, to elements of the comic and the like.  But all these together today constitute only a beginning.[577]

So influential were these preliminary studies that the Soviet Rationalist architect Nikolai Ladovskii cited them explicitly in an article he wrote proposing the foundation of “A Psychotechnical Laboratory of Architecture (Posing the Problem).”[578]  After this proposal was ratified and a laboratory installed into the VKhUTEMAS studios, Ladovskii carried out a number of psychotechnical tests with the help of his assistant, Georgii Krutikov.  It is known that the science of psychophysiology was of some interest to Kandinsky, as well (especially in his 1920 “Program for the Institute of Artistic Culture [INKhUK],” about which more later); however, it is doubtful that nonobjectivists such as Malevich were directly influenced by developments in this field.  Nevertheless, Aleksei Gan rightly noted the affinity between the work of the Suprematists and Ladovskii’s assimilation of Münsterbergian psychotechnics: “[W]hat Malevich does…has great psychological importance…This is where Suprematist studies could be very important.  They could be very beneficially introduced into the Basic Course of the VKhUTEMAS, in parallel to those exercises currently conducted [by Ladovskii] under the influence of the psychologist Münsterberg’s Harvard Laboratory.”[579]  Though a Constructivist, Teige was also quite impressed by the results of psychotechnical experimentation.[580]

In the Soviet Union, psychotechnics made up an important part of the study of industrial psychology.  Spilrein was its chief proponent in TsIT, which he joined in 1921.  The brother of one of the first female psychoanalysts (and Jung’s lover), Sabrina Spilrein, Spilrein himself was educated in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt and Wilhelm Stern before returning to Russia.  He became acquainted with Münsterberg’s theory of psychotechnics and began to promote its use at TsIT, under the directorship of Gastev.  After some frustration with the doctrinaire Taylorism he experienced in the Institute, Spilrein started to view Münsterbergian psychotechnics as a preferable alternative to the extreme biological “mechanization” championed by Gastev. As Spilrein’s ergonomic theories drifted further from Taylorism, he sided with Platon Kerzhentsev in opposition to Gastev[581] before leaving TsIT altogether in 1922.  At the Moscow University’s Psychological Institute, Spilrein was joined by Solomon Gellerstein and a young Lev Vygotskii[582] in founding the first Russian psychotechnical facility in the Laboratory of Industrial Psychotechnics in 1923.[583]  This group later started a journal in 1928 calling itself The Psychophysiology of Labor and Psychotechnics,[584] which was published under Spilrein’s editorship until 1932, when it changed its name to Soviet Psychotechnics.[585]

It should be noted with irony that, as was mentioned earlier, Münsterberg was a great admirer of Taylor’s system, and never saw his own discipline of psychotechnics as an alternative — but rather as a supplement — to the theory of scientific management.  Only in the context of the Soviet Union did the two fields come to be opposed to one another.  Both were modes of ergonomics and industrial psychology; the debate between Gastev, Spilrein, and their followers boiled down to the issue of which held primacy.

This debate between Gastev’s orthodox Taylorism on the one hand and Spilrein’s version of Münsterbergian psychotechnics on the other was mirrored in the discourse of the Soviet architectural avant-garde.  In some sense, the divergence of these two positions in ergonomic and architectural theory can be understood as following the logic of the two antinomical bases of Soviet art: bespredmetnichestvo and zhiznestroenie.  Incidentally, however, architecture and painting were not the only aesthetic fields in which this debate was being played out.  In the realm of post-revolutionary theater, as well, a split formed along identical lines.  The theater director Vsevolod Meierkhol’d, already well known for his Symbolist productions before the war, now in 1922 demanded the “Taylorization of theater.”  Here he was explicitly taking a page from the Constructivist artists, who had just a year before organized themselves at INKhUK: “Constructivism requires from the artist that he also become an engineer.  Art must base itself on scientific foundations.”  Meierkhol’d was interested in creating a science of acting so as to increase the efficiency of the actor’s art.  “The method of Taylorizing the work of the actor,” he maintained, “is exactly the same that has characterized every other line of work where one strives to achieve maximum production.”  Toward this end Meierkhol’d proposed his famous theory of biomechanics, which stressed the “economy of time” developed by a mastery of precise physical movements.[586]  The influence of Gastev should again be obvious.

An important subtext of Meierkhol’d’s alignment with Taylorism in this document has up to the present seemingly been missed, however.  After introducing his principle of biomechanics, he immediately proceeded to state that

[p]sychology on a whole range of questions cannot arrive at a definite judgment.   To construct the edifice of theater on positions of psychology is just the same as to build a house on sand: it inevitably will collapse.  Every psychological state stems from familiar physiological processes.  Having found the correct resolution of its physiological state, the actor comes to this position when its “excitability” emerges, infecting the viewer, drawing them into the performance of the actor…and constituting the essence of his performance.  From a whole range of physical positions arise such “points of excitation,” which color any given feeling.[587]

Psychological states, asserted Meierkhol’d, were merely the epiphenomenal corollary of shifting physiological states.  Hence, to try to found a science or “system” of acting on such a derivative phenomenon would be an exercise in futility.  In making this claim, Meierkhol’d was subtly taking aim at the system developed by his prominent rival, Konstantin Stanislavskii, whose theory of acting featured a strong psychological and emotional emphasis.  Meierkhol’d had in late 1921 publicly criticized the Stanislavskian system by co-authoring a piece with Vslerii Bebutov sarcastically entitled “The Solitude of Stanislavskii,” in which they acrimoniously attacked Stanislavskii’s psychological theories: “Once the management demanded a theoretical justification for its enterprises he had no alternative but to concoct his noxious system for a whole army of actors, psychologically ‘experiencing’ the parts of all those characters who do nothing but eat, drink, make love, and wear jackets.”[588]

When Stanislavskii and his group of actors returned from their 1922-1923 tour of the United States, he slowly began to formulate a defense of his system, about which he had never publicized much.  It is little wonder, too, that Stanislavskii ultimately chose to call his dramaturgical approach the “psychotechnics” [psikhotekhnika][589] of acting, after the title had been suggested by the philosopher and psychologist Georgii Chelpanov.[590]  Chelpanov had been the head of the Institute for Experimental Psychology in 1923, when Spilrein joined the organization.  While there he had even written a program for the “Psychology of Labor.”  Though part of the older generation, Chelpanov clearly had connections with the psychotechnical movement.  And here again, an artistic movement seized upon a major intellectual discourse of the day in order to both legitimate its methodology and enhance its results.

Having found a name to characterize his own system, Stanislavskii explained that the application of psychotechnics to theater involved a search for a “kind of form resembling a grammar of dramatic art.” He began articulating this aspect of his system of acting in 1928, the same year that psychotechnics began to ascend into the mainstream with its own journal.  Despite the fact that he did not publish any of his writings mentioning psychotechnics until the following year, it was clearly and remained to be an integral part of his dramatic theory until his death in 1938.  Psychotechnics featured prominently into his later public work, especially his posthumously published two-volume treatise The Self-Cultivation of the Actor.  There Stanislavskii wrote that “[p]sychotechnics must help to organize subconscious content, because only an organized subconscious content [can] take an artistic form.”[591]

As with the methodological contentions between Gastev’s scientific management and Spilrein’s psychotechnics (and as will also be seen with the division between OSA and ASNOVA in architecture), many of the same logical moves are being made.  One group asserts the primacy of body over mind; the other group, in turn, asserts the opposite.  Meierkhol’d’s biomechanics and Stanislavskii’s psychotechnics in essence recapitulate the antinomical positions of the Constructivists’ mechanico-functional principle and the Rationalists’ psychotechnical principle, only in a different artistic medium.  Both of these disputes closely paralleled the debate that was taking place in the field of the scientific organization of labor at roughly the same time.  Even if this does not imply some broader, quasi-metaphysical Zeitgeist pervading every level of Soviet society, it should at least suggest that the points of disagreement between the two major groups of avant-garde architecture in the first half of the 1920s were not frivolously dreamed up.  Beyond sheer differences in style (which surely did exist), the architects were participating in one of the major theoretical disputes of their decade.  This is important to keep in mind when some historians of the Soviet avant-garde dismiss their differences as insignificant, and lament that “by refusing to compromise and jointly defend their common humanistic goals, [the modernists] ultimately paved the way for the Stalinization of architecture.”[592]

The Further Development of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde into the 1930s

Despite Constructivism’s earlier start in the field of art, the Rationalists were the first architectural modernists to officially organize themselves into a group.[593]  In July 1923 they formed the Association of New Architects, or ASNOVA, with “the aim of uniting Rationalist architects and workers of a like mind in the field of architecture and construction.”  It was their purpose, moreover, to “rais[e] architecture as an art to a level matching the present state of both technology and science.”[594]  Ladovskii served as their ASNOVA’s president from 1923 to 1929 and was its chief theorist throughout.  Though it suffered from its lack of a consistent independent publication (the group’s ASNOVA News ran for only one issue), Rationalism exerted considerable influence on Soviet modernist architecture through its courses at VKhUTEMAS and articles published by its proponents in journals like Building Moscow and Soviet Art.

What was the Rationalist theory of architecture, exactly? For the theoreticians of ASNOVA, the guiding principle of the new architecture was a structure’s form, its ability to organize space and the perception of space.  Form was to them a fundamentally aesthetic category, and its site of operation lay in the psychology of those who perceived it.  Dokuchaev explained it this way: “Modern aesthetics, say the ‘Rationalists,’ exist in the economy of the psychophysical [psikho-fizicheskoi] energies of man.”[595]  The task facing the architect, then, was to discover the laws of this psychophysical economy so that he might thereby manipulate them.  “In establishing those features that define the concept of an architect,” Ladovskii thus asserted, “it was essential first and foremost to define the basic feature of the modern architect’s activity that he organizes the perception of space and spatial forms.”[596]

This psychological emphasis constituted the Rationalists’ architectural anthropology.  Human nature was for them a more or less static object.  It was something that would respond to a given stimulus the same way in all times and places, regardless of the historical moment or social context in which it was found.  The problem with all previous approaches to architecture is that they had been ignorant to this psychological dimension of perception.  The “rational” element of the Rationalists’ program consisted precisely in ascertaining the psychic “economy of perception.”  They hoped to catalogue its laws and thereby establish it as a science.  It was to have its basis in an architectural rationality, which Ladovskii counterposed to the Constructivists’ technical rationality in his major 1926 article “Fundamentals for a Theory of Architecture (Under the Banner of Rationalist Aesthetics)”:

Architectural rationality rests on an economic principle just as technical rationality does.  The distinction consists in this, that technical rationality is the economy of labor and materials in the creation of an efficient structure, while architectural rationality is the economy of psychological energy in the perception of the spatial and functional properties of a structure.  The synthesis of these two rationalities in a single structure constitutes Ratio-Architecture.[597]

Rationalist architecture was hence organized under a psycho-technical principle, which subsumes not only architectural rationality but the functional-technological rationality of the Constructivists as well.  To the members of ASNOVA, this principle represented a sort of sublation[598] of their rivals’ position under their own.  The principle of psycho-technicality thus formed the foundation for the Rationalist method.  All architecture must proceed from a knowledge of the effects of spatial forms on the human mind.

Two related intellectual movements comprised the basis for the Rationalists’ doctrine of psychotechnics and the psychophysiological approach to art and architecture in general.  As we have mentioned, the first was the European philosophy and science of psychophysiology, a slight variant of which eventually emerged as the sub-discipline of psychotechnics in the early twentieth century.  Both were imported to Russia in the early 20th century through a variety of channels — once again, psychophysiology through the German theorists Helmholtz and Wundt, and psychotechnics through Münsterberg.  On the other hand, the psychophysiological aesthetic theory elaborated by avant-garde artists both in Russia and abroad (deriving from these very same scientific sources) constituted the second of these movements influencing the architectural Rationalists.  Its precepts were built upon the theories of the first.  Insofar as the aestheticians of the avant-garde adapted these concepts from science to their own preexisting theoretical framework, of course, the artists can be said to have mediated somewhat between their original scientific context and their later appropriation by Soviet modernists in architecture.  This mediation of psychophysiological/psychotechnical research in science by artists and aestheticians, who then influenced the architectural Rationalism in ASNOVA, parallels (in a manner) the mediation of Taylorist principles by Constructivist artists, who then influenced that architectural Constructivism of OSA.

Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, the psychophysiology of perception also became a touchstone for modern aesthetic theory. This was especially so among the members of the artistic avant-garde, in Russia and internationally.  Even aestheticians as conservative as Pavel Florenskii[599] incorporated concepts from the psychophysiology of vision into their writings on aesthetics, if only polemically.  In his 1920 “Program” for INKhUK, Kandinsky also worked with psychophysiological notions.  Asserting that “the purpose of any work of art is to produce some kind of effect on man,” he therefore stressed that “analysis must be undertaken from the viewpoint of how [artistic] media are reflected in the experience of the person perceiving [a] work [of art].”  He granted primacy to the psychological aspect of this analysis, moreover, maintaining emphatically that the “physiological effect should serve simply as a bridge to the elucidation of the psychological effect.”[600]  While at INKhUK, Kandinsky also briefly served as the head of the Physico-Psychological Department [Fiziko-psikhologicheskoe otdelenie] in 1921.[601]  Though Kandinsky was a controversial figure during his time at INKhUK, leaving amidst a series of debates, his psychophysiological emphasis was not abandoned; indeed, the prominent psychologist Anatolii Bakushinskii replaced him in his post in the Physico-Psychological Department.[602]  Elsewhere, at the new Psycho-Physiological Laboratory at the Russian Academy of the Artistic Sciences (RAKhN, after 1925 GAKhN), Pavel Kapterev set up experiments on “artistic creativity under hypnosis.”[603]  In the West, Moholy-Nagy, who was Lissitzky’s main contact, lamented in an article on “Photography in Advertising” that “[r]esearch into the physiological and psychological laws of visual effectiveness is still far behind the times, compared to the study of the physical laws.”[604]  Clearly, it would seem the Rationalists were not alone in looking to psychophysiology and psychotechnics for an aesthetics.

So central to the Rationalists’ program was their psychotechnical principle that it prompted Ladovskii to open his famous “Psychotechnical Laboratory” at VKhUTEMAS in 1926.[605]  Münsterberg had stressed the importance of conducting psychotechnical experiments.  In an article commemorating its creation, Ladovskii wrote: “[T]he architect must mark, if only elementarily, the laws of perception and the means of influencing them, so that in his mastery he may utilize all that modern science can furnish.”  For this reason, argued Ladovskii, “among the sciences that contribute to the development of architecture, the still young science of psychotechnics [psikhotekhnika] must occupy a serious place.”[606]  The Psychotechnical Laboratory was meant not only as a facility in which the effects of different spatial forms on the human unconscious could be tested, but also as a place where architects themselves could enhance their sensitivities to these effects.  Lissitzky, writing from Germany, thus praised his Russian colleague’s efforts: “Through the initiative of Ladovskii, a psychotechnical laboratory [has been] established, charged with the developing of proper methods for testing the students’ psychotechnical aptitude for architecture.”[607]  Indeed, Ladovskii believed that training in psychotechnics could only go so far in improving a student’s artistic or architectural sensibilities, which he regarded as intuitive and ultimately unteachable.  He concurred with the founder of this science, writing that he could “do no better than to quote the words of Münsterberg: ‘Psychotechnics cannot create artists…but it can give them all a solid starting point from which they can achieve the aims to which they aspire by the most scientifically correct means, and by the same token avoid certain dangers.’”[608]

Georgii Krutikov, Ladovskii’s pupil and lab assistant, compiled a report in 1928 on the progress of the psychotechnical research facility at VKhUTEMAS (by then renamed VKhUTEIN) through its first two years.  “Psychotechnics, having established methods for the professional selection of workers for physical and mental work, is conquering ever new fields of application,” he reported.  “In the USSR, psychotechnics has spread into quite a number of fields, amongst them the academic life of certain Higher Education establishments (VUZi), having established a scientific method for selection and for the assessment of progress.”[609]  This last aspect of Krutikov’s report was what Ladovskii had hoped would be one of its most crucial results: the ascertainment of precise psychological reactions to sensory phenomena, which would supposedly allow architects to make more “scientific” design decisions.  Once a stable body of knowledge had been accumulated in this field, Ladovskii’s aim was to eliminate “chance and accident” from the individual’s choice of architectural form.[610]  Ladovskii rejected out of hand the notion that a science of this sort was impossible.  He wrote:

Can it be presumed that the architect, in building a form, does not know how the viewer will perceive it? Such a presupposition would imply a complete lack of principle, and the impossibility of any sort of mastery whatsoever in the field of geometric expression.  It is necessary to ascertain that the location of the architectural-geometric aspect of the material form consists in its elaboration, wherein the viewer actually sees its geometric characteristics, insofar as they are provisionally necessary.[611]

Many of the experiments that he and Krutikov conducted had to do with synaesthetic responses and associations, trying to discover what concepts or images were linked to a given form.  As Paperny has pointed out, however, this was in some sense a continuation of a formal project initiated some years earlier by Ladovskii’s rival at INKhUK, Kandinsky: “In fact, many ideas about bespredmetnichestvo are based on quasi-scientific analogies between forms and colors, on the one hand, and sensations, on the other.”  Paperny then cites the example of a questionnaire that Kandinsky put out during his tenure at INKhUK.[612]  Comparing this against Krutikov’s testimony regarding the lab, it is easy to see that the goals (and the means used to achieve them) were roughly the same.  “The fundamental task of the VKhUTEIN Architectural Laboratory,” Krutikov argued, “is to create a scientifically-founded and experimentally-verified basis for architectural questions that could supplement the existing methods, which depend on the intuition of the individual.”[613]

The tools employed in the psychotechnical laboratory varied.  Most of them pertained to optics.  A brief inventory of these tools and their functions will give some sense of the kind of metrics the Rationalists in ASNOVA were interested in.  To name a few: 1. the Liglazometr (a device used to measuring one’s visual capacity to approximate distance in  a linear fashion); 2. the Ploglazometr (a device used for measuring one’s visual capacity in relation to planar dimensions); 3. the Oglazometr (a device used for measuring one’s visual capacity in relation to volumetric quantities); and the Uglazometr (a device used to measure the accuracy of the eye in estimating angles, as well as the horizontality and verticality of lines).[614]  The findings from the studies conducted using these instruments were then integrated into the Rationalists’ pedagogy in their courses at VKhUTEMAS.  According to Krutikov, the evidence gathered through psychotechnical research would pertain most closely to “a) the study of the effect of elements of architecture (form, color, volume, space, etc.) on the psyche; b) the influence of the mutual interactions of various elements of architecture (for example — form and color, color and space, etc.); c) a multi-faceted working-out and experimental verification of spatial disciplines.”[615]

This entire conceptual apparatus framed ASNOVA’s teaching method in the studios they ran at VKhUTEMAS, especially in Ladovskii’s introductory course on the formal problems of architecture.  Ladovskii referred to his own pedagogical approach as the “psychoanalytic” [psikhoanaliticheskii] method of teaching, even though it was (at least apparently) unrelated to Freud’s theory of the unconscious.  The introductory course was known for posing abstract questions of design and asking its students to imagine unlikely situations, almost put into the form of riddles.  Ladovskii’s lectures were famous not only within the Soviet Union but abroad, as well.  They were known for their radical ingenuity in providing solutions to formal problems, but also for their speculative and utopian character.  Adolf Behne thus remarked on this pedagogical approach in 1926: “Working from the outside…almost without a plan, produces ingenious constructive works that ultimately remain always studio objects, as seen, for instance, in Ladovskii’s class at VKhUTEMAS in Moscow.”[616]  Besides Behne, Doesburg also took notice of the way that ASNOVA’s method of teaching departed from immediate questions of function and feasibility in order to achieve aesthetic effects.[617]  The other members of ASNOVA, Krinskii and Dokuchaev, also left their imprint on VKhUTEMAS’ architectural training program.  Their focus, along with Ladovskii’s, concerned the more “ideological” aspects of architecture.  ASNOVA’s heavy emphasis on formal problems was criticized harshly, however, by the architect Iakov Kornfel’d in OSA’s journal Modern Architecture, where he discussed their pedagogical style:

At the present time the teaching of the first two years [at VKhUTEMAS] is conducted by architects who are members of ASNOVA.  Their teaching method is based on studying form from the point of view of its independent existence and perception.  The result of this is to isolate form from the functional aims of the object being designed and from its constructive and technical essence.  In reality the study of the “foundational disciplines” of space, volume, color, mass, weight, scale, etc., leads to complete abstraction and is perceived by the students as canons of a new metaphysical understanding of space quite removed from real life.[618]

This emphasis on architectural form and space as architecture’s most basic material for ASNOVA was in place prior to its scientific justification by psychotechnics.  The legacy of abstraction was passed on from Suprematism in art.  Already by 1921, Krinskii wrote in these terms: “Our understanding of form depends upon its particular qualities…Line, plane, and geometrical surface — such as a sphere, a cylinder, or a cone — are eternal.  They represent the laws of our thought in perception.  The means of discovering one’s direction in the world consist of an order of perception that we establish.”[619]  By utilizing these forms, the Rationalists believed that they could reshape social consciousness.  “[I]n order to achieve a true work of architecture,” Lissitzky insisted, “the whole must be conceived and must come alive as a spatial idea, as well as be a creative effort exerting a definite influence on the human spirit.”[620]

The Constructivists, for their part, viewed the Rationalists’ psychotechnical principle with suspicion.  Roman Khiger, Ginzburg’s successor as the editor to the Constructivist journal Modern Architecture, correctly identified this aspect of the Rationalist theory of architecture as stemming from the writings of Münsterberg.[621]  For Khiger, however, the Rationalists’ talk of “psychological energies” amounted to little more than mystification.  He therefore denounced their principle of psychotechnics as representing a “mystical-idealist current” in modern architectural discourse.  He furthermore accused their science of “subjectivism,” divorced from objective, material reality.  Khiger then launched into a bitter tirade against the Rationalists:

The ideologues of “ratio-architecture” have been supremely confident in this idea that — by subordinating construction to the side of the structure of their “spatial logic” to the “economy” of their nonexistent psychological energy, by educing the “quality” of form, and striving for the expression of both “infinity” and “finitude” in architecture — that by these they are confident that they conduct the most scientific work.  They refer to psychotechnics, the method which they hope will assist “the scientific organization of the position of architecture” on the basis of the same old “Rationalist aesthetics.”[622]

But Khiger’s harsh invective against the Rationalists was perhaps misdirected.  For the Constructivists were also concerned with the psychophysical relations of men and women to architecture.  The heart of the two groups’ differences lay deeper than this.  At one level, it lay in a disagreement over the historical status of human nature (i.e., whether it was subject to change over time).  But it also involved the different priority each group assigned to the psychological and physiological properties of human nature, respectively.  This may be seen in a way as a recapitulation of the old mind-body problem.  In fact, as with the major controversy that had been brewing at TsIT just a year before, the debate between the Rationalists and the Constructivists on this score closely mirrored the one that was waged between the psychotechnicians and the Taylorists.  Though the origin of the differences between OSA and ASNOVA predated the dispute that was taking place within the sphere of ergonomic science, the architects’ adoption of these rival strains of thinking added fuel to the fire of their debates.  The Constructivists came down on the side of the physical, the Rationalists on the side of the psychological.

This theoretical point of contention arose out of the general atmosphere of dissent that pervaded the Soviet avant-garde in the first few years after the Revolution.  Following the disputes at INKhUK and VKhUTEMAS, Aleksandr Vesnin and his brothers banded together with Moisei Ginzburg and a number of other young architects in 1925 in order to form the Society of Modern Architects (OSA).  This would serve as the Constructivists’ central organizational apparatus until 1932.  From 1926-1930, OSA published Modern Architecture (SA) on a bi-monthly basis.  SA eventually became the main outlet for the Constructivist theoretical platform and the popularization of its views.  It also provided a forum in which non-Constructivist architects and international modernists could contribute articles.  Different issues featured specials on the work of the Bauhaus school in Germany[623] and correspondences between prominent Constructivist architects like Ginzburg and his friend Le Corbusier.[624]

OSA’s theory of architecture was distinguished by several of its features.  According to Khiger, its most central tenet was its “functional principle.”  He explained that “[the] creative method of the inventor, called by the Constructivists the ‘method of functional creation,’ appears as the framework and ideological core of Constructivism.”[625]  The idea of a “functional method” had been introduced by Ginzburg in 1926, in his introductory essay to the first volume of Modern Architecture.  There he explained:

[The architect] dismembers [his task] 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[…]

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 single part of the architect’s thinking which would be arbitrary.  Everything would find its explanation and functional justification in its suitability for a purpose.[626]

For the members of OSA, the most important aspect of a building was thus the function it was meant to serve.  A structure’s form was to follow from its function, as the old adage of Louis Sullivan went.  Efficiency and economy were to be emphasized both in the products of their construction and in the building process itself.  All other considerations were secondary.  “[The Functional method] merely establishes the laws of [architectural] presentation,” Ginzburg clarified in a subsequent article.  “It forces the architect to look for it in those elements that are functionally justified, by removing him from the realm of unrelated aesthetic additions and derivation, to the organization of the purely architectural task itself.”[627]

Moreover, this functional principle was related to what has often been called the Constructivists’ “machine aesthetic.”  To the members of OSA, the image of modernity (and hence also of modern architecture) was to be found in the machine.[628]  The machine represented the ideal of efficiency — stripped of all superfluous ornamentation, every part it included was necessary to the operation of the whole.  As early as 1922, Aleksandr Vesnin wrote of the machine as follows: “Similar to how every part of a machine in its corresponding form and content possesses materialized strength, indispensible and operational to a given system, so also its form and content cannot be arbitrarily modified without harming the operation of the whole system.”  It thus provided for Vesnin a model after which the Constructivists could pattern an architecture: “And in objects constructed by the artist, every element possesses materialized strength and cannot be arbitrarily discarded, modified, or violated without damaging the efficient operation of a given system, that is, object.”[629]  Not only did this functional principle of the machine pertain to the overall form of the new architecture; it also meant that an appropriate material must be found to express this form.[630]  “A number of other qualities likewise emanate from the machine’s orderly organization,” wrote Ginzburg in Style and Epoch, echoing Vesnin.  For one, he explained that once the architect has agreed to follow the example of the machine, his “inventiveness should not cease until a material has been found that corresponds to the necessary element, until that element contains its most concise expression.”[631]  This helps to explain the Constructivists’ interest in employing modern building materials such as steel, ferroconcrete, and glass.

The Constructivists’ preoccupation with modern machinery had its main roots in two contemporaneous Western sources, which they then appropriated and modified.  The first of these sources came from Le Corbusier.  The writings, ideas, and realized structures of Le Corbusier’s invention inspired nearly every school of Soviet avant-garde architecture, but he came to be most associated with the Constructivists, through his close friendship and correspondence with Moisei Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers.  Like Le Corbusier, the Constructivists felt that the advanced mechanical systems of modern automobiles, airplanes, and ocean liners expressed an efficiency and dynamism that could be emulated in modern architecture.  Of course, Le Corbusier himself may well have taken a page from Oud and the Italian Futurists in this regard.[632]  He felt that architecture simply had to acknowledge the character of the age in which it lived, in order to fulfill its social mission.  “Architects make styles or talk structure to excessive length,” complained Le Corbusier.  “Our exterior world has been formidably transformed in its appearance and its use owing to the machine.  We have a new vision and a new social life, but we have not adapted the house accordingly.”[633]  The Constructivists from OSA took Le Corbusier’s architectural mechanolatry to levels undreamed of by their creator, however.  As Paperny put it: “Le Corbusier could say that the house is a machine for living in, but after seeing the gloomy result with which his Russian sympathizers tried to embody his vision, he was compelled to remind [the Constructivists] that architecture, all the same, ‘begins where the machine ends.’”[634]

Bound up with their common valorization of the machine was their preference for the functional constructions of modern engineering to the decadent ornamentalism of late nineteenth-century architecture.  “Engineers make architecture,” observed Le Corbusier, “since they use calculations that issue from the laws of nature, and their works make us feel HARMONY.”[635]  The architects of his day, conversely, constructed according to the arbitrary laws of convention, mindlessly aping past styles.  Corbusier’s diagnosis was that modern architecture should abandon its slavish veneration of the past and instead take its cue from modern engineering.[636]  This was a bold claim.  From approximately the middle of the eighteenth century forward, architecture and engineering had existed in a largely antagonistic relation to one another.  Following Corbusier’s judgment, Aleksandr Vesnin recorded in an unpublished “Credo” from 1922 that “[t]he modern engineer has produced ingenious objects: the bridge, the engine, the airplane, the crane…The modern artist must now produce objects equal to these in strength, intensity, and potential.”[637]  Ginzburg, independently of Vesnin, also repeated Corbusier’s argument in Style and Epoch.  There he asserted that “the method for seeking new forms and the role of the modern machine aesthetic as a primary source of that method are indicated to a certain extent by an examination of modern engineering structures.”[638]  Unlike either Corbusier or Vesnin, however, Ginzburg traced the bifurcation of architecture and engineering to its historical origin.  “The machine and the engineering construction associated with it were regarded as the antithesis of the work of art, particularly of architecture, just as the epithet ‘constructor’ was used in opposition to the term ‘architect,’” Ginzburg remarked.  There was an unbridgeable gulf between engineering and architecture; in joint undertakings, the architect and engineer were hostile and always remained incomprehensible to one another.”[639]  The Soviet Constructivists took it upon themselves to bridge this gulf.

Alongside this architectural influence, however, OSA’s interest in the machine also derived from a decidedly non-architectural source introduced in the last subsection: the early Soviet intellectual fascination with the theory of “scientific management” advocated by Taylor.[640]  Figures like Ermanskii and Gastev took the basic principles of Taylorism and radicalized them drastically (particularly Gastev).  As Mauro F. Guillén discovered, the ties between Constructivist architecture and the Taylorist zealotry of Gastev were not at all indirect.  “Reportedly, a working group of constructivist architects operated at the Institute [TsIT, the brainchild of Gastev] for some time during the 1920s.  [Rationalist] architect Vladimir Krinskii joined [Kerzhentsev’s] League of Time.  Such architects as Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers also endorsed or used scientific management in their projects.”[641]  Gastev’s own fantastic vision was itself quite amenable to the whole project of the Soviet avant-garde.  He dreamed of a new urban reality, a world-city, united by advanced and coordinated machinery.  Stites attests to this fact: “In 1919, Gastev reached the limit of his Utopian vision: he described a mechanized, standardized world, in a literal sense, with production ruled by self-regulating and self-correcting machines, joined throughout the world in a machine city — a single unbroken mechanized civilization stretching around the globe.”[642]

One final layer of mediation remained between American Taylorism and its reception by the Constructivist architects.  This was, as we already mentioned,[643] the Constructivist artists who had preceded them.  Though Constructivism in art and architecture can by no means be thought of as an identical doctrine working itself out indifferently in two separate media, the members of OSA did inherit much of the theoretical legacy of their artistic forebears.  In terms of its overall theoretical orientation, Constructivism in art bore many similarities to the architectural movement that later adopted this title.  For one, there was their emphasis on the use of ultramodern materials for construction.[644]  Another similarity consisted in their relentless insistence that there should be no more separation between life and art.  For Constructivism in every medium, this is what gave it its great social commission — its responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society.  Perhaps most importantly, however, the Constructivists in art had, building on the Futurists before them, helped lay the groundwork for the enthusiasm for technology and the machine expressed by Constructivism in architecture.

Turning, then, to the Constructivists’ architectural anthropology, a few characteristics thus present themselves.  First, human nature is primarily determined by material forces, which act on it physically.  This accounts for the Constructivists’ consistent privileging of physiological factors over psychological ones, which were the prime focus for the Rationalists. The perception of a fragile or precarious structure, writes Ginzburg, “causes us to feel anxious and uncertain about the fitness of the architectural organism, and thereby produces a purely physiological feeling of discomfort.”[645]  Moreover, these material factors operate on human physiology in a mechanical manner, following either a straightforward linear causality or the equilibrium of action and reaction.  In a certain way, it can be seen to engender a kind of automatism — by creating the most functional structures possible, the material efficiency they embodied would automatically imprint itself on the minds of those who interact with them.  The functional character of a built environment would thus be reflected in the personalities that arise out of it.  So not only would building according to the functional principle be an economic use of resources, but it would also be imperative for influencing human behavior.  In this respect, the members of OSA were not too far from embodying Stalin’s “engineers of human souls.”

Another important dimension of OSA’s anthropological theory was its insistence on the mutability of human nature.  That is to say, human nature itself was shaped by the material conditions under which it existed.  Depending on the conditions that prevailed during a specific historical period or social formation, a person’s reaction to a given aesthetic stimulus would be fundamentally different.  So while the Constructivists’ notion of the way in which an environment affects human consciousness was somewhat crudely mechanistic (in that a person’s development would be determined by a mere aggregation of the material factors influencing his life — a view almost akin to 18th-century French materialism), their view of human nature was nonetheless much more diachronic than the Rationalists’.  Each age, they contended, produces men and women who are peculiarly attuned to its own sights and sounds.  As such, different ages demand different aesthetics.  “Constructivism,” Ginzburg explained, “[is] one of the facets of a modern aesthetic, born of a clamorous life, steeped in the odors of the street, its maddening tempo, its practicality and everyday concerns.”[646]  And so for the Constructivists, the new building style had to match the revolutionary, proletarian character of the age in which they were living.  It had to “comprehend the pathos of proletarian utilitarianism.”[647]  Khiger thus reasoned: “for all the progressive elements of Soviet reality, the emotional expressiveness of the forms of things (or, put in archaic language, the degree of their ‘beauty’) coincides with the degree of their functional expressiveness.”[648]

The Rationalists accused the Constructivists of essentially abandoning aesthetics in favor of pure utility, of replacing architecture as such with simple engineering.  So wrote Dokuchaev, maintaining that “[t]he declarations of [the] architect-‘Constructivists’ have entirely been for the categorical negation of aesthetics.  Art is the sum of engineering, utility, and economy…The psychophysiology of perception does not interest [the Constructivists].”[649]  Of course, it is clear from the early statements of Aleksandr Vesnin and Ginzburg that this charge about psychophysiology was unjust.  “The modern artist must create objects that are equal to [the objects created by engineers] in power, intensity, and potential in the context of their psychophysiological impact as an organizing element in man’s consciousness,” asserted Vesnin, in his “Credo.”[650]  Toward the middle of Style and Epoch, Ginzburg acknowledged the important insights provided by the discipline of psychophysiology.  In this regard, he almost approximated the position held by figures like Ladovskii and Kandinsky: “Modern psychophysiology has established that various elements of form (line, surface, volume), both in themselves and particularly in various juxtapositions, engender emotions of satisfaction or dissatisfaction within us, as do certain colors and sounds.”[651]

Teige, as an outspoken admirer of the Russian Constructivists in OSA, thus defended their architectural method on precisely this score:

[T]he…Formalists [Rationalists], in contrast [to the Constructivists], seem to be content to merely ask which emotion they may be able to evoke in people with their designs.  The Constructivists do not deny the potential force of psychological and emotional influences on architectural form, but they do not regard form as such as the primary and exclusive task of architectural design.  Instead, they are convinced that architectural form can be developed only through a comprehensive synthetic realization that addresses both practical and cultural needs, oriented toward future development and the satisfaction of these needs on all levels of architectural creation; by such means, they believe they will be able to have at the same time a positive emotional effect on the quality of life of the people.  Beauty and emotional potency are the [natural] epiphenomena of any competently and efficiently organized building design, just as the soul is mirrored in the physiognomy of highly organized natural living matter.  It is the way we view life and practice that is fundamental and most important in the way we view functionalism and Constructivism.[652]

The junior ASNOVA members Shalavin and Lamtsov, in their “Open Letter” to OSA’s journal Modern Architecture, rightly acknowledged the Constructivists’ sensitivity to the psychophysical dimension of architecture, but claimed that this was not the crux of the problem.  “[T]hough at one level [Constructivism] does not officially deny the influence of architectural elements on the ‘psychophysical apparatus’ of man, it swiftly devolves down the path ‘toward the standpoint of subjective idealism,’” they wrote.  The error that the Constructivists committed, maintained Shalavin and Lamtsov, consisted primarily in the fact that they failed to place the question of architecture’s “ideological impact” at the forefront of its concerns.[653]  Ironically — if unsurprisingly — this anticipated Khiger’s later criticisms of ASNOVA on the grounds of “mystical idealism.”[654]

With respect to the allegation that the Constructivists reduced all architecture to “engineering, utility, and economy,” however, the claim is somewhat harder to dismiss.  As was discussed, the members of OSA were deeply inspired by the feats of modern engineering.  But Ginzburg, following Le Corbusier, only held up the functional works of the modern engineer as a corrective to the confused and overly decorative works of the traditional architect.  Ginzburg also made it clear that he did not endorse the extremist anti-aestheticism staked out by Aleksei Gan’s 1922 treatise Constructivism, which (as we described before) declared “uncompromising war on art” and insisted “[d]eath to art!”[655]  Though Gan, one of the leading Constructivist artists, would later help format the layout for OSA’s Modern Architecture and occasionally contribute articles, Ginzburg dismissed his “menacing slogan” from 1922 as nothing more than youthful “bravado.”[656]  Even Gan distanced himself from his earlier position.  “[Constructivism’s] artistic, creative phase was preceded by a brief period of stormy conflicts,” recorded Gan.  “It declared an uncompromising war on art, insisted on the disinheritance of the artistic culture of the past, and unlike any of the other schools it fought resolutely and consistently against aestheticism.”[657]  But in architecture it moved beyond this.  Thus, Varvara Stepanova’s early characterization of artistic Constructivism as a “movement against aesthetics”[658] did not hold for the architects of OSA.

The architectural Constructivists therefore did not understand themselves to be forsaking aesthetics.  Nevertheless, their emphasis on functionality did tend to frame their aesthetics around what the Rationalists considered the impoverished category of bare utility.  ASNOVA’s scathing remark that “housing should be more than a machine for satisfying natural needs” therefore carried some bite.[659]

Related to this charge was Dokuchaev’s assertion that the Constructivists in OSA had unduly fetishized the machine as a sort of virtue unto itself.  His suggestion, that this overvaluation of machine technology owed to the relative backwardness of the Soviet economy, is actually fairly convincing.  Paperny, along with the art historian V. Rakitin, roughly agreed with Dokuchaev’s diagnosis.[660]  “If in the West, where industry and labor in general are more mechanized and automatized than with us [in Russia], a romanticism of technology can develop among the Constructivist artists,” contended Dokuchaev, “then among us — in these years of economic collapse, industrial stagnation, and simple hunger — this romanticism of technology must inevitably acquire a literally mystic strength and significance.”[661]  Lissitzky expressed similar sentiments in his own writings.  Though he was a central figure in the dissemination of artistic Constructivism abroad, he early on expressed his boredom with the cult of the machine.  In a 1924 article entitled “NASCI,” he wrote: “enough of MACHINE MACHINE MACHINE.”[662]  Just five years later, Lissitzky described the architectural project of OSA as a natural outgrowth of the conditions following destructiveness of the Revolution and Civil War.  He viewed their approach as having only a transitional value, ultimately too limited to properly express the spirit of their age:

In the struggle for building commissions the thrust of [the Constructivists’] ideology is in the direction of basic utilitarian considerations and the satisfaction of basic needs.  The slogans are: “constructivism,” “functionalism,” “engineer” equals “architect.”  At any rate, whether one said “machine” or “architecture,” it was assumed that a solution could be derived from the same algebraic formula, the formula in which the only “unknown” was simply some to be found by one and the same method [Lissitzky is here speaking of “the functional method”].

Lissitzky explained how, in his view, architectural Constructivism was superseded by the Rationalists:

The “utilitarians” [Constructivists] are once more challenged by the “formalists” [Rationalists].  The latter assert that architecture is not synonymous with engineering.  To solve the utilitarian, the useful, and the expedient, and to construct a volume that functions well for a particular purpose, represents only one part of the problem.  In addition, materials must be organized correctly, and the problem of construction must be solved.  However, in order to achieve a true work of architecture the whole must be conceived and must come alive as a spatial idea, as well as be a creative effort exerting a definite influence on the human spirit.[663]

In light of the preceding discussion, it might be worthwhile to briefly examine the ways in which these differences in theoretical approach then manifested themselves in building practice.  Did these rival anthropological theories and the architectural methodologies based on them actually produce different results? What were the design implications of these opposing tendencies? Other scholars have already attempted such comparisons,[664] so there is no point in treating this at great length.  Still, a few illustrations will surely help to highlight some of the main differences in emphasis between OSA and ASNOVA.

However, rather than looking at the structures Soviet modernists built, as others have done, I instead propose to focus on their designs as they were mapped out on paper.  For here the architects’ utopian visions might perhaps be glimpsed in a purer, more ideal state.  Unencumbered by the physical limitations he would encounter in trying to erect a building under real conditions, on paper the architect can virtually play the demiurge.  The architectural blueprint almost represents the Kantian a priori — the pure interchange of concepts with the imagination, untainted by the blooming, buzzing chaos of empirical reality.  Kant himself would have surely agreed that it is impossible to arrive at the pure architectonic a posteriori.[666]

Beginning with two of ASNOVA’s sketches for buildings, one is immediately struck by the sheer vertical lift of the two structures (see the following page), particularly in the Monument to Christopher Columbus proposed by Ladovskii.  Here, the effect is achieved not only by the narrowness of its length and width combined with its incredible height, but also by the dramatic angle at which Ladovskii projects the building’s descent down to its foundation in the earth.  Rudnev’s City of the Future produces a fantastic visual effect, as well.  He accomplishes this, however, not by the sudden drop-off one experiences in looking at Ladovskii’s piece, but rather by the robustness of the upper section compared with its angling inward towards its base.  This produces an uncanny sensation, a sense of suspended gravity.  In both of these cases, the rationale behind the buildings’ structures is intended to create a dramatic effect upon viewing it.  This reflected ASNOVA’s psychotechnical selection of forms, designed to provoke certain psychological reactions.

The Vesnins’ unbuilt proposal for the headquarters of the British trading company Arcos is a fairly typical example of Constructivist design, building upon their pioneering work on the Palace of Labor in 1922-1923.  Built fairly low to the ground, relying on an entirely rectilinear presentation, with a generous amount of glass, the Vesnins’ proposal conveys simplicity of form and structural sturdiness.  The minimalism of designs like this and Muchin’s proposal for Gupispolkom offers a fairly typical example of Constructivist buildings as would have been produced by the Vesnin brothers or Il’ia Golosov in the mid-1920s.  The cables on the left mast in Muchin’s structure are a clear reference to the Vesnins’ project for the Palace of Labor a few years before.  Muchin’s building stays, for the most part, low to the ground, retaining a spare and sturdy quality.  One does not feel the sense of awe that is felt upon viewing the blueprints of Ladovskii or Rudnev shown above.  But this is not the point. It conveys a simplicity and economy in its proportions.  Like the Vesnins’ “Arcos” project, it incorporates modern building materials (glass, and presumably ferroconcrete if it was able to support that much glass).  It is (quite literally) straightforward, not even being presented from the dramatic angle used in the Vesnins’ design or the examples from ASNOVA.

The choices motivating the various differences of OSA’s and ASNOVA’s structures should be fairly clear from the preceding.  ASNOVA tended to propose more vertical structures, using advanced technologies and construction materials to create buildings that seemed to defy, or at least stretch, the laws of physics.  This is even more obvious in Lissitzky’s Wolkenbügel (sometimes called “cloud-props” or “sky-hooks” in English) project for vertical skyscrapers, seen on the next page.  The forms of these designs from ASNOVA are intended to create a strange, defamiliarizing sensation.  By contrast, the proposals shown from OSA are much closer to the ground, relying on much simpler geometric themes.  They are no doubt just as radically modern as the Rationalist designs, but their modernism consists in the unadorned austerity rather than in the ultra-futuristic features belonging to their ASNOVA counterparts.

OSA’s designs also were clearly meant to exhibit a practicality and affordability that would make them appealing for commission by state building projects.  The structures they depicted display a concreteness that ASNOVA’s lack.  The Rationalist proposals possess a distinctly abstract quality.  This should not, however, be taken to imply that the Constructivists were any less utopian than the Rationalists.  As we will soon demonstrate, the concrete proposals laid out by the Constructivists for town planning, replete with statistics, budgetary figures, and other details were often far more unrealistic than the more conceptual urban systems presented by the Rationalists.

Also, while it is true that a number of the buildings actually realized by both groups greatly resemble one another, this can easily be explained by the fact that the resources and technologies available in the Soviet Union during the 1920s were extremely limited.  The structural similarities between the buildings that were actually realized by OSA and ASNOVA during the 1920s have led some to believe that the two groups had simply exaggerated their differences in order for one or the other to obtain the exclusive right for new building commissions.  But had the means been available, the differences between the buildings created by these rival organizations might well have been more drastic.  For example, the ASNOVA projects that were more vertically oriented, their various proposals for skyscrapers, could not possibly be built at the time.  Moreover, even though many of the buildings that were actually made do possess structural similarities, this alone would not have been enough to settle the disputes between the Rationalists and Constructivists.  The results were not all that mattered — it was also the method by which one arrived at those results.  Or, to quote Hegel, whose ideas on the matter very much paralleled those of the Soviet architectural avant-garde, “the real issue is not exhausted by stating [the final result] as an aim, but by carrying it out, nor is [this] result the actual whole, but rather the result together with the process through which it came about.”[667]

Walter Gropius’ proposal for the Chicago Tribune Building (1922)

The Vesnin brothers’ unrealized proposal for the Palace of Labor (1923)

The final accusation Dokuchaev leveled at the Constructivists was a rather invidious association of Constructivist architecture with the architecture of the West.  As Paperny has noted, this constituted an unusually xenophobic display for the Soviet avant-garde.  Generally speaking, the modernists in Russia subscribed to the same spirit of “horizontal” internationalism as their peers in the West.  Within the ranks of the Soviet avant-garde, however, the main architectural tendencies exhibited this in an uneven fashion.  “OSA was considerably more horizontal than ASNOVA,” Paperny correctly observes.[668]  In his two-part article on “Modern Russian Architecture and Western Parallels,” Dokuchaev of ASNOVA pointed out the many structural resemblances between the Vesnins’ famous 1923 proposal for the Palace of Labor and Walter Gropius’ equally renowned submission to the contest for the Chicago Tribune building, published that same year.[669]  He therefore concluded that “the ideology of ‘functionalism’” was a foreign (and bourgeois) style that had been uncritically imported into the proletarian Soviet Union.

Ginzburg and his colleagues in OSA felt this to be an unfair criticism, and sought to rebut it in several articles published in Modern Architecture.  “There is a rather curious comparison between the Vesnins’ Palace and Walter Gropius’ project of a building for the Chicago Tribune,” Ginzburg mentioned offhand, “which was also completed in 1923, and which — in the laconic simplicity of the same framework of horizontal and vertical lines — in fact has close parallels with the palace.”[670]  While acknowledging the formal similarities between the two structures, Ginzburg rightfully pointed out that the modernist architecture of the West had itself been greatly influenced by the style of Constructivist art originating in Russia:

During this period [the early 1920s] the work of Soviet architects proceeded in almost complete isolation from Western Europe and America, and the similarity between certain of our concepts and those of our comrades abroad can be explained as the natural outcome of the very same preconditions in construction.  Starting from 1924-25 a series of Western European magazines began to come through to us, acquainting us with the achievements of foreign architects, and at the same time exercising considerable influence on our everyday work.  It should, however, be pointed out that the achievements of our Western comrades have in the same way been subject to the influence, on the one hand, of the vital principles of Constructivism, exported to the West by Lissitzky and Ehrenburg, and on the other, to the influence of Suprematist compositions of space bore an extraordinary resemblance to the three dimensional architectural compositions of the Dutchmen Doesburg and van Eesteren.[671]

While Ginzburg readily acknowledged the superficial resemblance of the formal traits of Soviet and Western modernist architecture, he repeatedly emphasized their substantive difference.  “While giving our Western comrades’ achievements their due, Constructivist architects wish to obtain from them not such and such formal elements but those vital principles and working methods which actually are of great assistance to our work,” he wrote.  “In some instances [this means] reinforcing it, while in others enabling a clear understanding of those divergences and disagreements which result from the completely different social and economic conditions of our existence.”[672]

OSA’s response to Dokuchaev’s charge that the Constructivists were merely copying Western avant-garde architecture was not limited to these passing remarks, however.  At the organization’s first (and last, incidentally) international conference of 1928, this issue again came up.  “As to questions of the new architecture in the West,” admitted OSA’s ideological section, “we note elements of kinship between our work and the area of activity of the most progressive architects of the West in which the highest achievements of world science and technology have taken effect.”  At the same time, following the line of argument adopted by Ginzburg, OSA’s architects stressed their “complete divergence with regard to the purposive approach to our architecture, a divergence which manifests most vividly the whole difference between the bourgeois social structure of the capitalist West and the new social relationships in a proletarian country engaged in the building of socialism.”[673]  For all this qualification and disclamation, ASNOVA’s allegations that OSA had lifted its architectural style from foreign sources did not disappear.  Shalavin and Lamtsov, mentioned above, resurrected this accusation in 1928.  This time, Roman Khiger (one of Ginzburg’s disciples) returned fire in a far less respectful tone:

[Shalavin and Lamtsov] apparently consider that the borders of the Soviet Union must be surrounded with a Chinese wall; they vigilantly protect them from the invasion of any foreign culture.  Everything that “reaches out to us from abroad” is, you see, “not motivated by the conditions of Soviet society,” and consequently, in their opinion, is “ideologically alien” to us.  What a strange mixture of Sovietism with a jingoistic, Mother-Russian, hurrah-patriotism this is, even for our authors.[674]

Regardless of this apparent need to protect its borders from foreign influences, the Soviet Union nevertheless opened them up to foreign architects, especially after 1929 and 1930, toward the beginning of their push toward new construction under the Five-Year Plan.  Beyond that, Soviet delegates even extended an open invitation to foreign architects to come join them in their quest to build a new society.  As was already mentioned in the introduction to this paper, foreign architects flocked to the Soviet Union eager to take part.  Many (though not all) were leftists, and by that time most of their interests had drifted toward city planning.  The USSR seemed to offer a blank canvas on which they could realize their architectural visions.

Lebbeus Woods’ “Imaginary Architecture Abstract”

Lebbeus Woods’ “Injection Parasite”

Gropius’ “total architecture”

Totality and Total Architecture

By “totality” is understood a unified, homogeneous whole — one which is more or less global in concept.  A totality is unified because it is a single whole to which all of its constituent parts belong.  Phrased differently, it is the universal together with all of its particular instantiations.  Not every whole is a totality.  For example, one can imagine a whole which encompasses fundamentally disparate, heterogeneous elements.  A totality, by contrast, is internally homogeneous, in the sense that all of the parts that belong to its whole are unified according to either a common principle or common set of principles which then governs them absolutely.  As such, these parts would all share a substantial similarity.  Finally, a totality is global or international in its concept in the sense that, even if it is limited empirically at a given historical moment, it nevertheless strives to expand itself outward, to draw that which is not itself into its fold.  It is, at least logically, not localizable.

Still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”

Still from Terence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011)


Despite all its metaphysical trappings, the concept of “totality” (and its enshrinement as a category of thought by figures like Kant and Fichte) is historically linked to the rise of capitalist society and the widespread rationalization that came with it.  This new form of society, unlike those that came before it, presented itself as “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.”[675]  In Kant’s table of categories, this concept of totality belonged to the sphere of quantitative judgments.  “[A]llness (totality) is nothing other than plurality considered as a unity,” explained Kant.[676]  Fichte, who initially saw his own work as merely an extension of Kant’s, characterized totality in much the same way.  He simply substituted the notion of plurality with “the relative” and unity with “the absolute.”[677]  For both thinkers, however, the category was a cautionary one.  In general, it indicated the transgressive application of a pure concept of the understanding beyond the limitations of actual experience, the attempt to dialectically extend its use into the “absolute totality” of all possible experience (which is never given).[678]  Against both of these previous thinkers, however, Hegel upheld the legitimacy of the concept of totality and its rational application with reference to reality:

The particular has one and the same universality as the other particulars to which it is related.  The diversity of these particulars, because of their identity with the universal, is as such at the same time universal; it is totality. — The particular, therefore, does not only contain the universal but exhibits it also through its determinateness; accordingly the universal constitutes a sphere that the particular must exhaust.  This totality, inasmuch as the determinateness of the particular is taken as mere diversity, appears as completeness.[679]

Jobst Amman's "Allegory of Trade" (16th-century woodcut), showing a crude detail division of labor

Jobst Amman’s “Allegory of Trade” (16th-century woodcut), showing a crude detail division of labor

Eighteenth-century textile manufacturing

According to Lukács, Marx took up this thread of Hegel’s thought in a polemical fashion, again “turning it on its head,” so to speak.  In so doing, Lukács argued, Marx discovered the rational core that could be salvaged from the Hegelian system of idealism.[680]  Marx understood this novel concept of “totality” as originating not from an ingenious invention that spontaneously took place in the heaven of ideas, but as an ideological reflection of the new material processes that constituted social reality.  That is to say, the category of totality described by philosophers like Kant, Fichte, and Hegel comprehended in thought the new social formation that was emerging all around them.[681]  For this was precisely how Marx conceptualized bourgeois society toward the end of Capital, Volume 3:

[T]he capitalist process of production is a historically specific form of the social production process in general.  This…is both a production process of the material conditions of existence for human life, and a process, proceeding in specific economic and historical relations of production, that produces and reproduces these relations of production themselves, and with them the bearers of this process, their material conditions of existence, and their mutual relationships, i.e. the specific economic form of their society.  For the totality of these relationships which the bearers of this production have towards nature and one another, the relationships in which they produce, is precisely society, viewed according to its economic structure.[682]

Metallurgy in Coalbrookdale by Night, (1801) by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger

Metallurgy in Coalbrookdale by Night, (1801) by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger

The Great Chartist Meeting of 1848, Kensington Square

Marx reproached the vulgar economists specifically for their failure to conceive society as such a historic and material totality.[683]  The exact implications of this totalizing aspect of capitalism have been the subject of much interpretation within the history of Western Marxism.[684]  In Lukács’ account, “[t]he category of totality [indicates] the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts.”[685]  Unlike the way it was later conceptualized by Adorno,[686] the constituent parts that make up the whole of the social totality were not all identical to one another.[687]  Importantly, for Lukács totality was the ultimate category of analysis for describing capitalist society.  To use his terms, “totality permeates the spatiotemporal character of phenomena.”[688]  With reference to the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism established earlier, totality might be seen as its overarching principle.

The integral magnitude of the capitalist totality

Postone, while accepting Adorno’s assertion that the totality of social relations remains alienated under capitalism, likewise rejected the idea that this totality could ever successfully purged of its contradictory or nonidentical elements.[689]  However it is formulated, however, the totalizing character of capitalist society — its Weberian tendency to integrate and rationalize everything it encompasses — reappeared in the architectural ideology of the modernists.  As Tafuri noted, this mirrored attempts in modern sociology to consciously administrate and reorder social behavior.[690]  The avant-garde thus unconsciously affirmed the social totality:

Salvation lies no longer in “revolt” but in surrender without discretion.  Only a humanity that has absorbed and made its own the ideology of work, that does not persist in considering production and organization something other than itself or simply instruments, that recognizes itself to be part of a comprehensive plan and as such fully accepts that it must function as the cogwheels of a global machine: only this humanity can atone for its “original sin.”  And this sin is not in having created a system of means without knowing how to control the “revolt of the objects” against their inventor, as Löwith and the young Lukács understood Marxist alienation.  This sin consists instead in man’s “diabolical” insistence on remaining man, in taking his place as an “imperfect machine” in a social universe in which the only consistent behavior is that of pure silence.[691]

Aleksandra Ekster’s “Scéne plastique et gymnastique” (1926)

This sentiment, which Tafuri attributes to modernist architecture, clearly carries Taylorist overtones.  It almost seems to have been presaged by the sociologist Georg Simmel in a passage from The Philosophy of Money.  This is perhaps not a coincidence.  Simmel was, after all, a major influence on the young Lukács.  The congruence of Tafuri’s description of the modernists’ position with the following lines from Simmel is uncanny, however:

The organization of the factory and the construction of machinery demonstrates daily to the industrial worker that efficient movements and effects can be accomplished with absolute accuracy and that personal and other internal disturbances must be avoided at all costs.  This attainment of ends by a transparent and controllable mechanism paves the way for a social ideal that seeks to organize the social totality with the supreme rationalism of the machine and the exclusion of all private impulses.[692]

William Craig – City Dialectics of Totality and Infinity (urbanistic project at Columbia University)

Total Architecture

We shall accept — at least provisionally — Tafuri’s claim, and proceed to delineate the concept of a “total architecture.”  A “total architecture” here means a system of spatial organization arranged so as to constitute a totality.[693]  Space within it is organized both formally (into different shapes) and materially (through the use of various constructive materials).  It is thus uniformly constructed out of certain standardized parts and materials.  A total architecture is by necessity an artificial system; such arrangements do not arise in nature.  “Nature presents itself to us as a chaos,” recorded Le Corbusier.  “The vault of the heavens, the shapes of lakes and seas, the outlines of hills.  The actual scene which lies before our eyes, with its kaleidoscopic fragments and its vague distances, is a confusion.”[694]

Lebbeus Woods’ “Fractures”

Totality and Total Architecture

Construction within the totality is determined by its overarching principles.  So while a totalizing architectural scheme would prefer to build in purely abstract space, a sort of Newtonian grid, it can remain systematic even when it is forced to deal with the messiness of empirical reality.  For example, a totally functional, utilitarian architecture may call for an inland building to be rooted at every point in an earthen foundation to ensure stability, while it might demand for a coastal structure that it be built on stilts to anticipate the rising tide.  Though two physically discrete structures would be produced, they would all the same proceed from a single organizing principle — that of utility.

One of Iakov Chernikhov’s sketches from “Fundamentals of Modern Architecture” (1927)

Mechanical City

Mechanical City

Here the totalizing impulse in modernist architecture is realigned with “the ideology of the plan,” mentioned earlier in connection with the spatial homogeneity of modernist architecture imparted to it by capitalism’s spatiotemporal dialectic.[695]  “A plan demands the most active imagination.  It also demands the most severe discipline,” wrote Le Corbusier.  “The plan is what determines everything; it is the decisive moment.”  In this formulation, the plan assumes the position of the organizing principle (or set of principles) that “determines everything,” from the smallest pieces to the greater whole.  Or as Le Corbusier continued to explain: “The plan carries within it a determined primary rhythm…with consequences extending from the simplest to the most complex on the same law.  Unity of law is the law of a good plan: a simple law that is infinitely modulable.”[696]  Thus, with the modulability of the law, it can be applied to diverse situations while maintaining a unified logic.  Again, this serves to confirm the example of the functional principle mentioned above.

One of Iakov Charnikhov’s “Architectural Fantasies” (1930)

One of Iakov Chernikhov’s “Architectural Fantasies” (1929)

Just as a total architecture retains its integral character in spite of modifications that respond to geographical and climatic circumstances, so also does it endure modification over time.  The crucial question here becomes the way that change occurs.  For a total architectural system can possess either a rigid or fluid nature, depending on its principles.  In order to maintain its integrity, however, a fluid architectural totality must include laws that guide its development and dictate the manner in which it incorporates new elements.  Innovation would take place within the totality, but only along preordained lines.  Change within such a system thus resembles a sort of controlled plasticity, instead of a haphazard accumulation of structures from different historical epochs.  The last thing the modernists wanted was another Moscow — “the Moscow blob,” as the architect Vladimir Semenov called it in 1930, “a historically generated conglomeration of factories, buildings, streets, and green spaces.”[697]

An orthogonal Roman City, Le Corbusier’s ideal for the “dictatorship of the right-angle”

Fractal City

Viewed from above, a realized total architecture at any stage of its expansion would hence almost appear as some kind of gigantic fractal — that is, a geometric shape whose integral parts reflect the pattern of the whole.  Upon magnification, one would discover this pattern repeated at an ever smaller scale, down to its tiniest details.  Each part would thereby constitute a microcosm, in the strict sense, of the total architectural system.

Poster for L’Internationale (1925)

Gropius’ Internationale Architektur (1926)

Total architecture is, finally, global in concept.  From the first it aspires to be world architecture, regardless of whether its practitioners are fully cognizant of this fact.  It is not an architecture for only this or that culture specifically; total architecture excludes no traditional configuration from its laws.  On the contrary, these laws require complete generalization.  “[T]he world of constructive forms knows no native country,” wrote Hannes Meyer in 1928, shortly after succeeding Gropius as the director of Bauhaus.  “It is the expression of an international attitude in architecture.  Internationality is the privilege of the period.”[698]  Within any individual country, a totalizing architecture can therefore never be content with its embodiment in a single building, or any number of buildings in isolation from one another.  Nor can it accept even a whole neighborhood built according to its principles.  It seeks realization at the level of the city, the region, the nation — and will not rest until it wraps the globe.

The Turn toward Urbanism

“The new style must change the whole aspect of life,” wrote Ginzburg in 1923.  “[It] must not only seek out solutions to the spatial problem in interior architecture, but also extend them to the exterior as well, treating volumetric architectural masses as a means to the spatial solution of the city as a whole.”[699]  Earlier that same year, Le Corbusier had predicted that “[w]hen we have understood the indispensable grandeur of view that must be brought to city planning, we will head into a period as no era has yet known.”[700]  At the time, however, neither architect was primarily concerned with questions of town planning.  Their attention was instead devoted to the problem of designing individual structures.  Aside from a few preliminary discussions on town planning, which mostly focused on the garden-city theories of the British planners Ebenezer Howard, Baillie Scott, and Raymond Unwin,[701] the modernists did not elaborate a vision of town planning until the second half of the 1920s.  No new town planning theories of note — save perhaps the sketches for La Città Nuova by Sant’Elia from 1913-1915, Tony Garnier’s 1918 treatise on Une cité industrielle (though it dates from earlier), and J.J.P. Oud’s 1918 theory of the “monumental townscape” — were developed in either continental Europe or the Soviet Union during this time.[702]

Beginning in second half of the 1920s, however, there was a sudden shift throughout European modernism and, after 1928, the Soviet architectural avant-garde as well.  Le Corbusier published his major work on town planning, Urbanisme, in 1925.  “The great task incumbent on us is that of making a proper environment for our existence, and clearing away from our cities the dead bones that putrefy them,” wrote Corbusier, with characteristic eloquence.  “We must construct cities for today.”[703]  Three years later, in 1928, CIAM (Corbusier’s pet project) asserted that “[t]own planning is the organization of the functions of collective life; it extends over both the urban agglomerations and the countryside.  Town planning is the organization of life in all regions.”[704]  Walter Gropius, one of Corbusier’s fellow signatories to La Sarraz Declaration, recounted that same year his own transition from problems of single-structure architecture to broader issues of planning.  According to Gropius, the issue of town planning followed naturally from “[his] idea of the architect as a coordinator — whose business it is to unify the various formal, technical, social, and economic problems that arise in connection with the building.”  From here, it simply followed from the logic of this idea that he would be “inevitably led on, step by step, from study of the function of the house to that of the street; from the street to the town; and finally to the still vaster implications of regional and national planning.”[705]

Ernst May had already arrived at this position by 1925, when he designed and began overseeing the construction of his extremely successful Social-Democratic settlement, Neues Frankfurt, which he would manage until 1929.  Similarly, Cornelis van Eesteren observed in 1927 that “[architects] did not begin by considering the form of the city, but first tried to discover the origins of its chaos.  Just as the position of a room in a house is not accidental, so must the position and arrangement of the various urban neighborhoods, parks, sports grounds, factories, dwellings, etc., be studied and given consideration.”[706]  Just as it had been with Gropius, Eesteren approached the problem of the city’s overall arrangement by abstracting from the harmonious layout of rooms and hallways within a single building.  Following this urbanistic trend in architectural thought, Ludwig Hilberseimer published his infamously bleak and terrifying manual on city planning, Großstadtarchitektur, in 1928.[707]

As noted previously, architectural modernism saw itself as being at once a reflection of contemporary social realities and a project for the transformation of these very same realities.[708]  With the turn toward urbanism, this dual aspect was reduplicated on a larger scale in modernist theories of town planning.  Hilberseimer stated as much when he later wrote that “city planning is not merely the expression of changing social patterns; it is also a positive force in the development of those patterns.  It is a social and an economic task.”  Adhering to this belief, he thus pledged his fidelity to the original social mission of modernist architecture.  Though his radicalism and sense of social obligation generally waned after his immigration to the United States, Hilberseimer nevertheless made it clear that he was still thinking on a global scale: “[Urbanism] may thus function creatively to build the structure of the future in which the economic philosophy is based not on arbitrariness but on the necessities of life for men, a structure in which people, nations, and regions may find complete development within worldwide federation.”[709]  The lingering socialism of his sentiments here shows that his ideological loyalties endured the disillusionment he experienced following his tenure in the USSR — stripped, however, of any real political content.

Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union new fault-lines were emerging between the different groups of architectural modernists.  These splits occurred not only among the ranks of the Constructivists in OSA, but also within the competing Rationalist group, ASNOVA.  As the country geared up in the second half of 1928 for its groundbreaking experiment in “command economy” — represented by Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan — the internal fragmentation of the Soviet avant-garde was only further exacerbated.  Besides extensive industrialization, the USSR’s pioneering attempt to realize a centrally organized, rational system of production called for ambitious building projects for new towns and cities across the nation.  With so much apparently at stake, disagreements arose in places they had never existed before.  S. Frederick Starr captures the contentious atmosphere that pervaded this period of Soviet architectural discourse excellently:

In 1928-1930, it indeed seemed like a new world was at hand.  Visionary planners excitedly awaited its advent, and in their projects and theoretical writings attempted to describe its wondrous aspects.  But as they did so, it became clear that there existed among them sharp differences of view on just what the new social setting would be like.  From a few minor disagreements in 1928, these polemics rapidly broadened into full-blown debates at the Communist academy in 1929, then rapidly descended to name-calling, which reached something of a nadir when one official in the planning field [Nikolai Miliutin] referred to certain of his colleagues as Trotskyites, Fascists, and “Cubo-Futurist bastards.”[710]  When a Moscow architect reported in the French press that Soviet city planners had divided into warring camps, he was by no means exaggerating.[711]

As early as November 1928, Soviet avant-garde architects like the wunderkind Nikolai Krasil’nikov (a rising star within the ranks of OSA) began proposing radical urbanistic schemes.  The internationalist sentiment of his final diploma project for VKhUTEMAS, “Problems of Modern Architecture,” is explicit.  Despite the Stalinist dictum of socialism within the confines of a single country, the hope — and indeed the expectation — of a looming worldwide revolution, nevertheless endures.  For Krasil’nikov, this prospect of imminent social upheaval placed new demands on modernist architecture: “The socialist revolution that is impending in a whole series of countries requires the creation of new economic and industrial planning organs to consolidate its revolutionary conquests.”[712]  Like Corbusier, Krasil’nikov still was thinking in terms of an urban pattern of population distribution.  Moreover, he generally agreed with Le Corbusier that the greatest problem facing modern cities was their chaos and disorganization.  Krasil’nikov, however, linked this disorganization directly to the capitalist social formation.[713]  “The towns that were centers of bourgeois culture are gradually losing their relevance for the new forms of life,” he concluded.  “Either they must be turned into ancient monuments, or they must fully or partially replan themselves to take account of the economic, geographical, and other conditions in which they now find themselves.  There exists a whole number of conditions which will require that there will be even more building of new towns in the future than the replanning of existing ones.”[714]  The idea of possibly preserving the cities of the bourgeois epoch for posterity’s sake, as historical relics of a bygone era, had some precedent within Soviet revolutionary thought.  In the years following the end of the Civil War, the popular anticlerical movement of the (self-identifying) “militant godless” [bezbozhniki] had begun converting old Orthodox churches, monasteries, and Jewish synagogues into “museums of atheism” — quite independently of any direction from the Bolshevik leadership.[715]

Besides Krasil’nikov’s relatively early proposal for new city building, comprehensive plans for regional construction did not appear until 1929.  The first — and arguably most extravagant — of these forays into town planning was advanced by the economist and statistician Leonid Sabsovich,[716] a high-ranking official in the State Planning Agency (or Gosplan).  He formulated his controversial theory of the “socialist city” in the summer of 1929, publishing an exhaustive account of his vision for the future of the country, entitled The USSR in 10 Years.  In this stunningly utopian work, Sabsovich sought to address the longstanding antithesis between town and country, a central theme within the work of Marx (but also Ebenezer Howard).  Following its publication, he held a series of popular lectures and radio talks over the course of the remainder of the year,[717] which received favorable reactions by government officials like Lunacharskii and the leading economist of the Five-Year Plan, Strumilin.  Sabsovich further managed to convince the Vesnin brothers of OSA of its correctness.  Together they represented the Urbanist movement in Soviet town planning.  Though its contents will be held off until the following subsection, it suffices for now to say that Sabsovich’s USSR in Ten Years constituted a vision of epic proportions.  Richard Stites does not exaggerate when he writes: “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 [1930] to project fifteen instead of ten years into the future and reduced some of his exorbitant figures.”[718]

A brief while later in 1929, the relatively unknown sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich showed up at Moisei Ginzburg’s office at Stroikom (the Building Commission).  Shortly thereafter, Ginzburg suddenly declared his conversion to Disurbanism, calling for the immediate abolition of all presently existing cities and for their replacement by radically decentralized strips of settlement.  Without hesitation, Ginzburg disavowed much of his earlier work in favor of Okhitovich’s vision.  Paperny relates the legend as follows:

The transition of Stroikom…, the group led by Moisei Ginzburg, from Urbanism to Disurbanism occurred in the space of an hour and a half, according to some reminiscences.  In 1929 a man in a derby hat and plaid jacket — who, according to Ginzburg’s associates, looked like a cross between a cowboy and a dandy — showed up at the Stroikom studio while Ginzburg was away.  He walked around the renderings of house-communes and then disappeared.  It was sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich, then 33 years old.  The next day he came again, and after he and Ginzburg spent an hour and a half locked in Ginzburg’s office, they walked out and Ginzburg merrily announced: “We will be Disurbanists.”[719]

Ginzburg’s abrupt shift marked a huge split within OSA as an organization as well as the editorial board of its publication, Modern Architecture.[720]  Up to that point, the Vesnins and Ginzburg had agreed on almost every major theoretical issue.  Moreover, the zeal with which the highly esteemed Ginzburg and certain of his colleagues (Mikhail Barshch and Aleksandr Pasternak,[721] among others) took up Okhitovich’s new Disurbanist creed was — along with its unabashed utopianism — later the source of much criticism from their opponents.[722]  Some historians of early Soviet modernism, even the great Anatole Kopp, have found themselves at an utter loss when trying to account for this transition.[723]  Bruno Taut, who had himself authored a text in 1918 on The Disintegration of the City [Die Auflösung der Städte], embraced the new Disurbanist tendency in Soviet planning.  Le Corbusier and the Vesnins, all longtime friends of Ginzburg, opposed his defection to the side of Disurbanism.  Though these tensions would only last until roughly 1931, they nonetheless illustrate the seriousness of the debate.

Despite such divisions, there were certain commonalities between the Urbanists and Disurbanists.

As mentioned, the Constructivists were not the only avant-garde group to suffer such divisions.  Toward the end of 1928 Ladovskii, the universally recognized leader and main theorist of ASNOVA, left the group to form his own group of Architect-Urbanists (ARU).  Unlike his previous organization, ARU’s exclusive focus was town planning.[724]  However, its principal tenets reflected the psychotechnical approach that Ladovskii had cultivated in ASNOVA, only now on an expanded scale.  This was in marked contrast to architects like Ginzburg, who abandoned much of his earlier work (like his designs for communal housing) once he arrived at a conflicting theory of urban planning.  ARU declared in the fourth point of their founding manifesto that

Architecture, understood as a single spatial continuum, must resolve not merely the task of designing individual structures, but to connect all groups of structures into a single spatial system within which the individual structures represent no more than parts of a more general architectural entity.  Such an interpretation of town planning provides the only reliable starting point for dealing with architectural tasks as systems designed to produce a psychological and ideological impact on the social unity of a city.  These considerations make it necessary, when defining a particular architectural task for the design of an individual structure, first to resolve the more general task of architecturally systematizing the urban entity.[725]

Ernst May’s Brigade of foreign architects in the Soviet Union, proposal for an industrial-dwelling combine (1932)

Solomon Nikritin’s “Farewell to the Dead” (1926)


I found myself back in the sepulchral city, resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.  They trespassed upon my thoughts.  They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew.  Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend.  I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.

— Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness (1903)[726]

In the summer of 1965, the sociologist and critical theorist Theodor Adorno was invited by the architect Adolf Arndt to give at talk to the Deutscher Werkbund on the subject of “Functionalism Today.”[727]  This was, of course, the same organization that had originally been founded by Hermann Muthesius in 1907 in Munich.  With the rise of fascism in Germany, the group had disbanded in 1934.  It reassembled a few years after the war, in 1950.  Adorno, though uneasy about his own lack of training when it came to the field of architecture, was nevertheless by then an established musicologist and aesthetician.[728]  At the time, architectural modernism was stylistically ascendant.  Seemingly everywhere its forms had been adopted.  It had achieved magnificent structural feats — the United Nations building by Le Corbusier, Oskar Niemeyer, and Wallace Harrison; Mies van der Rohe’s celebrated Seagram Building; Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative postwar design for the Guggenheim Museum — and these just in New York City.  The groundbreaking ceremony for Minoru Yamasaki’s renowned World Trade Center buildings was still more than a year away.

But beneath modernism’s apparent victory in the realm of “style” or “form” at this particular moment (the 1960s) there lay a deeper — if unrecognized — defeat.  For this had been one of the things that the avant-garde had most resisted and rebelled against: the idea of being reduced to a mere style or formula, a fixed canon of approved architectural solutions.  Muthesius’ great indictment of the traditionalist architecture of the nineteenth century had, after all, been disparagingly titled The Battle of the Styles.[729]  What had happened, then, that had so opened the door for modernism’s superficial application and appropriation? What had allowed it to become so trivialized?

If any single event can be said to have directly triggered the crisis of the international avant-garde, it was the ultimate demise of the modernist project in the Soviet Union after a long series of failures.  Indeed, this was the point at which the architectural avant-garde finally abdicated its self-declared pledge to help reshape society, and thereby transform the world.  Modernism survived its disenchantment with the USSR, but at the price of its social mission.  Without continued hope for the prospect of global human emancipation, the architectural avant-garde lost its great world-historic mandate.  It instead resigned itself to the dumb reality of the present, retaining some of its external features (though all the while emptying itself of its internal spirit).  Divested of its social content, modernist architecture was now modern in form only.  All that remained of the original avant-garde Weltanschauung was its shiny metallic veneer — its steel exoskeleton, its membranous glass façades and ostentatiously exposed struts.  These components, once integral parts of the architectural ideology of modernism, were now just elements of its packaging.

Reflecting on this tacitly regressive state of affairs, Adorno observed that “the limits of functionalism to date have been the limits of the bourgeoisie in its practical sense.”[730]  Here the generic term “functionalism” stood in for modernist architecture in general, as Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock had after 1934 successfully managed to elevate functionalism to the status of “the international style” — flattening some of the more contentious strains within avant-garde architectural discourse.  This was the style that had made such great strides in terms of its public acceptance, but whose practice was now beginning to feel increasingly predictable and rote.[731]  Adorno captured the lingering disquietude that secretly underlay modern architecture’s sense of mauvaise foi during this period as follows:

Functional architecture represents the rational character as opposed to the suppressed instincts of empirical subjects, who, in the present society, still seek their fortunes in all conceivable nooks and crannies.  It calls upon a human potential which is grasped in principle by our advanced consciousness, but which is suffocated in most men, who have been kept spiritually impotent.  Architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of men than they actually are.  It views them in the way they could be according to the status of their own productive energies as embodied in technology.  Architecture contradicts the needs of the here and now as soon as it proceeds to serve those needs — without simultaneously representing any absolute or lasting ideology.  Architecture still remains…a cry into emptiness…This fact is conditioned by a social antagonism over which the greatest architecture has no power: the same society which developed human productive energies to unimaginable proportions has chained them to conditions of production imposed upon them: thus the people who in reality constitute the productive energies become deformed according to the measure of their working conditions.[732]

Adorno hereby acknowledged the emancipatory impulse that had originally informed the project of modern architecture, while at the same time recognizing the impossibility of its realization under the constraints of bourgeois society.  “An activity which envisions as its subject a liberated, emancipated humanity, possible only in a transformed society,” he maintained, “appears in the present state as an adaptation to a technology which has degenerated into an end in itself, into a self-purpose.”[733]  Unable to bring the world it had envisioned into being, the formal side of avant-garde architecture that was left over now collapsed in on itself.  It thus underwent a process of self-abnegation.  “The future of Sachlichkeit could be a liberating one only if it shed its barbarous traits,” Adorno stated.  “It can no longer inflict on men — whom it supposedly upheld as its only measure — the sadistic blows of sharp edges, bare calculated rooms, stairways, and the like.”  Entrapped within the society of exchange, modernism fell prey to its own internal contradictions.  It became what it insisted it was not.  “Virtually every consumer ha[s] probably felt all too painfully the impracticability of the mercilessly practical.  Hence our bitter suspicion is formulated: the absolute rejection of style becomes style.”[734]

Adorno saw no way to resolve this impasse within the context of modern bourgeois society.  “The whole situation is somehow false; nothing in it can smooth over the contradiction,” he averred.  The utopian dimension of modern architecture had been put in an impossible position: “On the one hand, an imagined utopia, free from the binding purposes of the existing order, would become powerless, a detached ornament, since it must take its elements and structure from that very order.  On the other, any attempt to ban the utopian factor…immediately falls victim to the spell of the prevailing order.”[735]  And it was precisely the latter of these two possibilities that came to pass after the avant-garde’s failure to realize its utopias within the revolutionary framework of Soviet society.  As a result, the modernists’ utopian ambitions were indefinitely deferred.  Suppressing these ambitions, they were left “spellbound” by the reified relations of the present.  The structures that the modernists were actually able to produce, then, could only testify to the promise they had been unable to keep:

The concern of functionalism is a subordination to usefulness…The merely useful, however, is interwoven with relationships of guilt, the means to the devastation of the world, a hopelessness which denies all but deceptive consolations to mankind…[I]n present society all usefulness is displaced, bewitched.  Society deceives us when it says that it allows things to appear as if they are there by mankind’s will.  In fact, they are produced for profit’s sake; they satisfy human needs only incidentally.  They call forth new needs and maintain them according to the profit motive.  Since what is useful and beneficial to man, cleansed of human domination and exploitation, would be correct, nothing is more aesthetically unbearable than the present shape of things, subjugated and internally deformed into their opposite…[E]xchange defiles useful work…[I]n the useful, that which is now the case is closed off to its possibilities.  The obscure secret of art is the fetishistic [i.e., commodity] character of goods and wares.  Functionalism would like to break out of this entanglement: and yet, it can only rattle its chains in vain as long as it remains trapped in an entangled society.[736]

The destruction of Minoru Yamasaki's modernist Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis (1972)

The destruction of Minoru Yamasaki’s modernist Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis (1972)

Unbeknownst to either the avant-garde or Adorno, however, was the fact that — just as he was uttering these words — modernism’s hegemony within the realm of architecture had already reached its apex, and was slowly beginning to decline.  By the early 1970s, the modernists’ unquestioned stylistic supremacy had been overturned.  But the fate of the international avant-garde in the fields of both architecture and urban planning had been decided long before this time.  For with its gradual deterioration over the course of the decade following Adorno’s address, modernist architecture was merely acting out the consequences of a death that had occurred some forty years earlier.

This death, in turn, had taken place amidst what Tafuri variously referred to as “the crisis of the international avant-garde” or “the crisis of utopia,”[737] which arose toward the middle of the 1930s.  Tafuri’s equation of the crisis of “utopia” with the crisis of “the international avant-garde” is telling.  Curiously, however, he chose to situate his account of this event around the rejection of Le Corbusier’s Obus proposal for the city of Algiers in 1930.  Tafuri posed the following question: “Why did Le Corbusier’s plan for Algiers, as well as his later plans for European and African cities and even his lesser proposals, remain a dead letter?”[738]

But the reason behind Tafuri’s specific choice of Le Corbusier’s failure at Algiers as an illustration of this broader historical point is unclear.  For the claim that he was driving at was greater in scope than any of Le Corbusier’s particular projects, or indeed those belonging to any other modernist.  As is evident from Tafuri’s next passage, he sought to extend this conclusion to include the architectural avant-garde as a whole: “[T]he failure of Algiers — and Le Corbusier’s ‘failure’ in general — cannot be correctly understood if not related to the phenomenon of the international crisis of modern architecture.  In other words, if not related to the ideological crisis of the ‘New World.’”  Tafuri indicated in the footnote appended to this paragraph that the “New World” mentioned here referred to the utopian conceptions of figures like Lissitzky and Meyer.[739]  It would appear that Tafuri himself considered Le Corbusier’s failure at Algiers to be merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon — namely, the crisis of the international avant-garde, or (what was for him the same) the crisis of utopia.[740]

What were the main factors behind this crisis? While Tafuri’s conclusion overlaps with the one arrived at in this essay in certain important respects, his position diverges from our own in other crucial ways.  In Tafuri, the proximate cause for the crisis of the avant-garde was the “international reorganization of capital” that took place following the great economic collapse of 1929.  He dismissed the purely political explanation in favor of a more generally socioeconomic account.  Though this line of argumentation is not altogether misguided, and follows the traditional Marxist “base-superstructure” relation, Tafuri neglected to point out the way in which the continuing cycle of crisis that led up to 1929 itself attested to a political failing.  Both the political reasons he rejected (the rise of fascism in the West and Stalinism in the East) and the socioeconomic reasons he accepted (the worldwide depression of the 1930s and the subsequent Fordist regime of capitalism that emerged) can be seen as the results of a prior political defeat.  For had the revolution of 1917 only been successful in spreading to Europe, it is not impossible to speculate that each of these outcomes might have been avoided.[741]

Framed in this way, it becomes easier to see how the account provided in this essay fits into the broader historical narrative.  This helps clarify the significance that the death of the avant-garde’s utopian impulse held for its future architectural project as a whole.  It also serves to situate the plight of modernist architecture in the Soviet Union within the sequence of great revolutionary social and political upheavals that took place in Europe and Beginning from the broadest theoretical foundations, it was demonstrated how — from both a formal and material perspective — the discourse and practices of modernist architecture (as well as its antipode, traditionalism) were shaped by a dynamic peculiar to modern society.  This we conceptualized as the “spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism.”  The strange and unprecedented ways in which the logic of capital restructured society’s relationship to aesthetic categories of space and time were explained in detail.  Within this context, it was indicated precisely how these constituent features of space-time under capitalism were then made manifest in both modernist and traditionalist architecture.  Grounded as they are in real processes taking place within the fabric of society, these ideological discourses and methodological practices belonging to modernism and traditionalism should not be thought of as free-floating ideas.  Rather, these ideas should be understood as intimately connected to the material reality out of which they emerged.  The methodological approach underpinning this essay should thus not be mistaken for some sort of attempt at an intellectual history.

Following this general account of the social forces at work from the late eighteenth into the early twentieth centuries, we proceeded to assess the correlation between avant-garde architecture and other prominent artistic, economic, and social discourses that existed at the time.  The interaction of all these different elements with one another can be roughly divided into three parts.  These can be enumerated thus: 1. abstract art (or, the volumetrics of modern architecture); 2. industrialization (or, the ergonomics of modern architecture); and 3. the housing shortage, the urban proletariat, and the liberation of woman (or, the sociohistoric mission of modern architecture).  The multiple layers of mediation between these various practices at the ideological level[742] can be witnessed as interrupting and complicating the straightforward passage from base to superstructure.  Moreover, the orientation of modernist architecture vis-à-vis its traditionalist and eclectic rivals was described as providing a “negative” yardstick against which the avant-garde could polemically measure its own existence.

The first section (“The Dialectic of Modernism and Traditionalism: The Development of the International Avant-Garde in Architecture”)[743] aimed to investigate the historical phenomenon of the architectural avant-garde.  Reflecting again upon its constitution, the avant-garde can be understood in its formal aspect as combining the aesthetics of abstract art and industrialism, while in its material aspect it was predicated on the utopian impulse arising from its vision of a rationalized, emancipated society.  Importantly, these aspects were not seen as conceptually separable; for the modernists they formed an integral unity.  Modernism’s utopian sensibility was therefore by no means an accidental — but rather an essential — component of its architecture.  This intuition is further confirmed by the analysis of the classical avant-garde in architecture by the prominent postmodern critics Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, who maintained that “[m]odern architecture is surely most cogently to be interpreted as a gospel — as, quite literally, a message of good news; and hence its impact.  For, when all the smoke clears away, its impact may be seen as having very little to do with either its technological innovations or its formal vocabulary.”[744]

In the second section, the essay explored some of the contradictions that lay dormant beneath the surface of modern architecture.  This was accomplished by examining the Soviet avant-garde in particular, which was more prone to divisiveness.  Here, the two formal elements that made up the aesthetic basis for modern architecture — industrialism and abstract art — came into open conflict with one another.  The former was represented by the Constructivists in OSA, the latter by the Rationalists in ASNOVA.  The relation between these competing factions within the architectural avant-garde and simultaneous intellectual discourses of the day (Taylorist scientific management and Münsterbergian psychotechnics) was also expounded upon.  Another parallel was also drawn comparing the Soviet avant-garde in architecture to the Soviet avant-garde in theater.

The focus then shifted back to the international scene, detailing the “urbanistic turn” taken by the architectural avant-garde in Europe, America, and the Soviet Union.  With reference to the dramatic sequence of events taking place in the West — the economic crisis of world capitalism, the legitimation crisis of parliamentary democracy, and the epistemological crisis of the European sciences — the essay showed how the avant-garde began to look to the revolutionary Soviet state in the East as a possible alternative to the crumbling edifice of Western civilization.  After the USSR extended its invitation to the leading representatives of European modernism, offering them the chance to participate in the ambitious building projects of the Five-Year Plan, many felt as if they might now be able to actively realize their visions of utopia.[745]  This was, in short, what Le Corbusier had called the “mystique” of the USSR.  As Zygmunt Bauman pointed out in his milestone work, Socialism: The Active Utopia, architecture is perhaps the utopian art par excellence.[746]  Now that the modernists thought they had been promised access to the commanding heights of Soviet industry, they felt as if they could finally “impose man-measured regularity and consistency on inhospitable nature.”[747]  The Soviet Union, therefore, represented the “crossroads” of the avant-garde.  The entire fate of international modernism hung in the balance.

It should now be obvious why the modernists’ defeat in the Soviet Union had such devastating and irreversible effects.  The international avant-garde had pinned its hopes on modern architecture’s success in the USSR with such abandon that they could not but be shocked at the outcome.  But architectural modernism did not end in the Soviet Union all at once.  As we suggested before, the catastrophe of modernism rather played itself out in stages.  First, there was the dissolution of all independent architectural journals in January 1931.  This was followed by the criminalization of any autonomous architectural organization outside of the Union of Soviet Architects in April 1932.  A little over a year later, Boris Iofan’s neoclassical proposal for the Palace of the Soviets was announced as the winner of the competition.  Just a few months afterward, Lazar Kaganovich, Stalin’s right-hand man charged with overseeing the reconstruction of Moscow, rejected the more ambitious avant-garde proposals for the city’s rebuilding.  Finally, the expulsion of all foreign architects from the Soviet Union in 1937 brought an end to the avant-garde’s attempt to realize utopia.


[1] Maiakovskii, Vladimir.  “Otkrytoe pis’mo rabochim.”  From Gazeta futuristov.  March 15th, 1918.

[2] Chernia, I.  “Goroda sotsializma.”  From Revoliutsia i kultura, № 1.  January 1930.  Pg. 16.

[3] Gropius’ participation in the Soviet project was much more limited than the others mentioned here.  He submitted an entry in 1932 for the Palace of the Soviets competition, and would later go on a three-day lecture tour in Leningrad in 1933, but otherwise he was less interested in prospects of building in the USSR than his compatriots.  Jaeggi, Annemarie.  “Relations between the Bauhaus and the Russian Avant-garde as Documented in the Collection of the Bauhaus Archive Berlin.”  From Heritage at Risk, Special Edition: The Soviet Heritage and European Modernism.  (Hendrik Verlag.  Berlin, Germany: 2006).  Pg. 155.

[4] Borngräber, Christian.  “Foreign Architects in the USSR.”  Architectural Association Quarterly.  (Volume 11, № 1.  London, England: 1979).  Pgs. 51-53.

[5] See his submission to Sovetskaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 2, № 2/3.  Moscow: May 1932).

[6] A well-known architect, and also a friend and associate of the Marxist social theorist Theodor Adorno.

[7] Teige, Karel.  The Minimum Dwelling.  Translated by Eric Dluhosch.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2004).  Pg. 214.  Originally published in 1932 in Czech as Nejmenší byt by Václav Petr, Prague.

[8] Leśnikowski, Wojciech.  “Functionalism in Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, and Polish Architecture from the European Perspective.”  From East European Modernism: Architecture in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, & Poland between the Wars.  (Thames and Hudson, Ltd.  London, England: 1996).  Pg. 25.

[9] Names recalled by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in an interview with Christian Borngräber in 1978. Borngräber, “Foreign Architects in the USSR.”  Pg. 61.

[10] “You [Oberbürgermeister Fritz Hesse] referred me to the investigation of Bauhaus affairs which the Anhalt Government was demanding as a result of the false report from the town authorities — and called for my immediate resignation.  The reason: it was alleged I was bringing politics into the Bauhaus.  A Marxist (you said) could never be the Director of the Bauhaus.  Immediate cause of dismissal: a voluntary contribution as a private person to the International Workers’ Aid Fund for helping the distressed families of the miners on strike in the Mansfeld coalfield.  It was no use reiterating that I had never belonged to any political party.”  Meyer, Hannes. “My Dismissal from the Bauhaus: An Open Letter to Oberbürgermeister Hesse, Dessau.”  From Buildings, Projects, and Writings.  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  (Arthur Niggli Ltd.  New York, NY: 1965).  Pgs. 103-105.  Originally published in German in 1930.

[11] Mordvinov, Arkadii.  “Baukhauz k vystavke v Moskve.”  From Sovetskaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 1, № 1/2.  Moscow: March 1931).  Pg. 10.

[12] “An den internationalen Kongress für neues Bauen.  Generalsekretariat.”  Das Neue Stadt.  (Volume 8. № 6/7.  Berlin, Germany: 1932).  Pg. 146.

[13] Leśnikowski, Wojciech.  “Functionalism in Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, and Polish Architecture from the European Perspective.”  From East European Modernism: Architecture in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, & Poland between the Wars.  (Thames and Hudson, Ltd.  London, England: 1996).  Pg. 20.

[14] Ibid., pg. 21.

[15] Ibid., pg. 21.

[16] Bonta, János.  “Functionalism in Hungarian Architecture.” From East European Modernism: Architecture in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, & Poland between the Wars.  (Thames and Hudson, Ltd.  London, England: 1996).  Pg. 171.

[17] Jaeggi, “Relations between the Bauhaus and the Russian Avant-garde as Documented in the Collection of the Bauhaus Archive Berlin.”  Pg. 156.

[18] Leśnikowski, “Functionalism in Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, and Polish Architecture from the European Perspective.”  Pg. 31.

[19] Ibid., pg. 32.

[20] Borngräber, “Foreign Architects in the USSR.”  Pg. 51.

[21] See Lamb’s submission for the Palace of the Soviets, pg. 77, as well as Goodman’s submission (Project № 169), pg. 80.  Sovetskaia arkhitektura. (Volume 2, № 2/3.  Moscow: May 1932).

[22] Wright, Frank Lloyd.  “First Answers to Questions by Pravda.”  From Collected Writings, Volume II: 1931-1939.  (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pgs. 141-142.  Published originally in 1933.

[23] There is a common misunderstanding regarding the status of Tatlin’s famous Monument to the Third International.  Tatlin’s tower is quite frequently even cited as the originary example of Constructivist architecture.  While his Monument was quite influential, it is important to remember that Tatlin was an architect neither by training nor profession.  This is a point that Lissitzky stressed repeatedly: “Tatlin created his tower…[though] he had no schooling in engineering, no knowledge of technical mechanics or of iron constructions.”  Lissitzky, El. “Architecture in the USSR.”  El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts. Translated by Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers. (Thames & Hudson Press. London: 1980).  Pg. 372.  Originally published in German in Die Kunstblatt, № 2.  February 1925. And again: “[Tatlin] accomplished [the Monument] without having any special knowledge of construction.”  Lissitzky, El.  The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union.  From Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution, translated by Eric Dluhosch. (MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1984).  Pg. 29.  Originally published in 1930 as Rußland, Die Rekonstruktion der Architektur in der Sowjetunion. Tatlin never developed a theory of architecture.  Nor did he even advance any other major architectural proposals throughout the rest of his career.  Indeed, the Monument is something of an anomaly with respect to his corpus as a whole.

[24] “In 1921 a group of young professors (Ladovskii, Dokuchaev, Efimov) succeeded in constituting an autonomous department in the faculty of architecture at the academy (VKhUTEMAS) in Moscow.”  Lissitzky, “Architecture in the USSR.”  Pg. 372.

[25] Schmitt, Carl.  The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.  Translated by Ellen Kennedy.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2000).  Originally published in 1928.

[26] Husserl, Edmund.  The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.  Translated by David Carr.  (Northwestern University Press.  Chicago, IL: 1980).  Originally published in 1932.

[27] In the sense of a unified, homogeneous whole.

[28] This is intended not only as a reference to the eponymous book by the two Americans, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, but to the countless articles and texts by figures such as Le Corbusier, Gropius, Hilberseimer, and Ginzburg from 1923 on, which make statements like the following: “[T]he architect, the artist, without mastering the sovereign possibilities of technology, remains clouded in academic aestheticism, becomes tired and convention-bound; the design of accommodations and of cities escapes him.  This formalistic development, mirrored in the ‘isms’ that have rapidly succeeded one another in the past few decades, seems to have reached its end.  A new essential sense-of-building is unfolding simultaneously in all the cultured countries.  Our realization grows of a living form-will [Gestaltungswille], taking root in the totality of society [in der Gesamheit der Gesellschaft] and its life, investing all realms of man’s formative activity with a unified goal — beginning and ending in building.”  Gropius, Walter.  Internationale Architektur.  (Bauhausbücher, № 1.  Munich, Germany: 1925).  Pg. 6. “If one takes a cursory glance at everything that is now taking place in the architectural life of all countries, the first impression will be this: the world is split into two halves.  In one of them, eclecticism still reigns — having lost any point of departure, having exhausted itself through and through — perfectly symbolizing the deteriorating culture of old Europe.  In the other [half] young, healthy shoots push themselves through — landmarks, the beginnings of a new life start to emerge, from which it is not difficult to extend the single, unified thread of an international front of modern architecture.  Despite all the differences and peculiarities of different countries and peoples, this front really exists.  The results of the revolutionary pursuits of the modern architectural avant-gardes of all nations intersect with one another closely in their main lines of development.  They are forging a new international language of architecture, intelligible and familiar, despite the boundary posts and barriers.”  Ginzburg, Moisei.  “Mezhdunarodnoi front sovremennoi arkhitektury.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 1, № 2.  Moscow, Russia: March 1926).  Pg. 41. “Manifestations of this movement, with certain nuances conditioned by national characteristics, can be found in America as well as in almost every European country: in Germany and Holland, in Austria and Czechoslovakia, in Italy, France, and Russia…There can be no better evidence for the living relevance of the ideas that support this movement.  A movement so elemental and so widespread internationally, which has arisen spontaneously in various places with similar goals, may hardly be considered a transitory and thus frivolous artistic fashion.”  Behrendt, Walter Curt.  The Victory of the New Building Style.  Translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave.  (Getty Research Institute.  Los Angeles, CA: 2000).  Pg. 100.  Originally published in 1928. “The new architecture…is based not on problems of style, but on problems of construction…So the surprising agreement in the external appearance of this new international architecture is also evident.  It is not a fashionable matter of form, as is often assumed, but the elementary expression of a new conviction of construction.  Although often differentiated by local and national particularities and by the person of the designer, in general the product is made subject to the same conditions.  Therefore the uniformity of their appearance, their spiritual connectedness across all borders.”  Hilberseimer, Ludwig.  Internationale Neue Baukunst.  (Julius Hoffmann.  Stuttgart, Germany: 1929).  Pg. 1. “The principles of the [international] style that appeared already plainly by 1922 in the projects and the executed buildings of the leaders, still control today an ever increasing group of architects throughout the world.”  Hitchcock, Henry-Russell and Johnson, Philip.  The International Style: Architecture since 1922.  (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  New York, NY: 1995).  Pg. 49.  Originally published in 1932.

[29] Le Corbusier.  The City of To-morrow and its Planning.  Translated by Frederick Etchells.  (Dover Publications, Inc.  Mineola, NY: 1987).  Pg. 244.  Originally published as Urbanisme in 1925.

[30] Hudson, Hugh.  Blueprints and Blood.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 1995).  Pgs. 82-83.

[31] Catherine Cooke, one of the great Anglophone authorities on Soviet architecture (tragically killed in a car crash in 2004), pointed this out in her initial review of Hudson’s book.  Hudson marks the date of the final deathblow to the avant-garde, somewhat melodramatically, as occurring in 1937, which he considers to have been symbolized by the murder of the former-Left Oppositionist and architectural disurbanist Mikhail Okhitovich, which he uncovered as having taken place during the purges.  Cooke, though “grateful” for this “archival nugget,” warned that outside of specialists, “others may be mystified as to the significance of the man [Okhitovich] or the weight of the issues he raised, for there is no context here of the eighteen-month public, professional and political debate of which his ideas were a part.”  This oversight is no coincidence, however.  For if Hudson had examined Okhitovich’s ideas on city planning he would have been forced to discuss the broader international discourse surrounding Soviet urbanism.  As it happens, the 1937 selected by Hudson as the last gasp of the avant-garde in Russia is correct; but because it was when all foreign architects were expelled.  Cooke, Catherine.  “Review of Blueprints and Blood: The Stalinization of Soviet Architecture, 1917-1937 by Hugh D. Hudson.”  Russian Review.  (Vol. 54, № 1: Jan., 1995).  Pg. 135.

[32] Giliarovskii, Vladimir.  “Problema sotsialisticheskogo goroda i nervno-psikhologicheskoe zhdorov’e.”  Planovoe khoziaistvo.  (Volume 6, № 3.  Moscow, Soviet Union: March 1930).  Pgs. 111-116.

[33] Stites, Richard.  Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution.  (Oxford University Press.  New York, NY: 1991). Since Stites already touched on utopian vision in Soviet town planning during the 1920s in chapter nine of this book (pgs. 190-208), it may be wondered why it demands another treatment.  First, while Stites’ book offers an excellent framework of analysis for this period (one which I am partially adopting), there are many glaring factual errors in his account.  One is quite understandable; he provides Mikhail Okhitovich’s date of birth and death as “1896-1937,” which is true, but then adds that he “died of natural causes.”  Pg. 194.  Hudson, whose best insights are purely factual, revealed after his visits to the archives in 1992-94 that Okhitovich was actually a victim of the purges.  Stites’ other mistakes make less sense.  For example, on page 197, he describes Moisei Ginzburg the “main spokesman” for “the principle of ‘rationalism’ in architecture.”  Ginzburg was one of the foremost leaders of the Constructivists in OSA, whose theories opposed those of the Rationalists in ASNOVA, led by Ladovskii.  On the following page, he lists urban proposals which he attributes to Ladovskii and Varentsov as belonging to OSA, when the former had  actually been the president and the latter the secretary of ASNOVA. Beyond this, however, the reason this subject warrants another study is that even though Stites provides an admirable assessment of the utopian dimension of early Soviet town planning, he leaves out much of the complexity and richness of this topic.  First of all, he only looks at the Urbanist and Disurbanist parties in the debate, with one offhand reference to Miliutin’s alternative idea of a “linear city.”  He does not once mention ARU, the urban planning group Ladovskii founded in 1929 after parting ways with ASNOVA.  Nor does he consider some of the international teams of architects who participated in the utopian project of the early Soviet Union.  Finally, because his interests are different from my own, he does not look into the relationship between utopian modernism and its totalizing tendencies as evidenced by the Soviet case.  This is doubly important, since I intend to retroactively ground the obstinacy of the debates by it.

[34] The problem of the Existenzminimum was pursued by members of CIAM such as Walter Gropius and Karel Teige throughout its early years. See Teige, The Minimum Dwelling, and Gropius, Walter. “Sociological Premises for the Minimum Dwelling of Urban Industrial Populations.”  Translated by Roger Banham.  The Scope of Total Architecture.  (MacMillan Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 1980).  Originally published in 1929.

[35] Engels, Friedrich.  The Housing Question.  Translated by C.P. Dutt.  Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 47: Friedrich Engels, 1873-1876.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1995).

[36] Loos, Adolph.  Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays.  Translated by Michael Mitchell.  (Ariadne Press.  New York, NY: 1997).

[37] Le Corbusier, in a letter to Lunacharskii in July 1932, wrote that the Soviet Union was the “only one possessing the institutions that permit the realization of modernist programs.”  Le Corbusier.  “Letter to Anatolii Lunacharskii, May 13th, 1932.”  Translated by Michael Wolfe and Michael Vogel.  Taken from S. Frederick Starr’s publication of the original French letter in his article “Le Corbusier and the USSR: New Documentation.”  Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique.  (Vol. 21, № 2: April-June, 1980).  Pg. 218.

[38] This point was mentioned by a number of thinkers as relevant to the Soviet Union’s advantage over its counterparts in the West, where private property still reigned: “Only a new organization of society can facilitate the creation of new architectural forms — forms essential by today’s standards.  A standardized type of apartment and the implementation of collective housing can take place only in a socialist society, a society unencumbered by private property or by the social and economic unit of the bourgeois family.”  Teige, Karel.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Translated by Irena Murray and David Britt.  Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia and other writings.  (Getty Research Institute.  Los Angeles, CA: 2000).  Pg. 108.  Originally published as Moderní architektura v Československu in Prague, 1929.

“The nonexistence of private land ownership with its accompanying conflict of private interests creates the conditions for unimpeded city and regional planning for densely populated areas, based solely on community welfare and the modification of these plans as the need arises and at any given moment of time.  In the same way, state control of the economy in general, and the concentration of all large construction enterprises under central control in particular, allow a planned effort directed at the industrialization of construction, standardization, and the systematic establishment of building standards.”  Ginzburg, Moisei.  “Contemporary Architecture in Russia.”  Translated by Eric Dluhosch.  Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution.  Pg. 156.  Originally published in Die Baugilde in October 1928.

“The German city planner would be surprised to no end if he could watch his Russian colleague at work.  What! No twenty regulations, laws, and restrictions obstructing rational planning in a spiderweb of private property lines? Really free land? And no twenty-four hour municipal authorities who must be consulted each time the planner wishes to establish a building line? No jurisdictions, and no hangovers, and what has been planned can really be built? …Only by freeing the best creative energies of the city planner from the shackles of private property restrictions can their full flowering in their entire social, technical, and artistic dimension be assured.  In our country, city planning is what the word says: mere city planning.  In Russia city planning is in fact city building.”  Wagner, Martin.  “Russia Builds Cities.”  Translated by Eric Dluhosch.  Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution.  Pg. 208.  Originally published in Tagebuch, July 25th, 1931 (Berlin, vol. XXX).

“The key to the solution of [the housing] problem lies in the question of private property in particular, and of the production and social situation in general.  Within the framework of the prevailing system, all questions of social policy, whether they concern workers’ rights or housing demands, are only by-products of the class struggle; any occasional successes result only in a partial alleviation of the evils of greed and usury.  Because they never touch the root cause of the problem or change anything in the basic constitution of the system, they remain a palliative and a superficial treatment of symptoms, never leading to a real cure. Since the housing question, as an inseparable part of the housing crisis, is inextricably linked to the current economic system, it cannot be eliminated unless this system is eliminated and a new one established.”  Teige, The Minimum Dwelling.  Pg. 60.

[39] In a journal entry dated July 14th, 1927, Erich Mendelsohn recorded that “[t]he endless space of Russia makes dream and aspiration — idea and action — impenetrable in the negative sense, infinite in the positive.”  Mendelsohn, Erich.  Erich Mendelsohn: Journals and Notebooks.  (Triangle Architectural Publishing.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 90.

[40] Mies had joined the German Society of Friends of the New Russia, a mostly communist organization, in 1923.  During the 1930s, however, he cooperated with the National Socialists.  Mallgrave, Harry Francis.  Modern Architectural Theory: A Historical Survey, 1673-1968.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 2005).  Pg. 273.

[41] The great Italian architectural historian and Marxist Manfredo Tafuri in particular has analyzed the way in which “architectural ideology became the ideology of the plan,” which was then “put into crisis and supplanted when, after the crisis of 1929, with the…launching in Russia of the First Five-Year Plan.” Tafuri, Manfredo.  Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development.  Translated by Barbara Luigia La Penta.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1976).  Pgs. 48-49.

[42] This common notion, filed under the general rubric of reorganizatsiia byta and other similar slogans, was perhaps best examined by the Hungarian philosopher René Fülöp-Miller in 1927.  Fülöp-Miller, René.  The Mind and Face of Bolshevism.  (Chiswick Press.  London, England: 1927).  See especially chapter ten, on “The Revolutionizing of Everyday Life.”  Pgs. 185-222.

[43] “Under Stalin the dream of the avant-garde was in fact fulfilled and the life of society was organized in monolithic artistic forms, though of course not those that the avant-garde had favored.”  Groys, Boris.  The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond.  Translated by Charles Rougle.  (Princeton University Press.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 9. Despite the correctness of his interpretation, Groys’ celebration of Stalinist aesthetic “radicalism” often borders on the perverse: “In actual fact…the Stalinist ideologists were far more radical than the cultural revolutionaries [avant-gardists], who had received a very bourgeois upbringing and who were in fact Westernizers aspiring to make Russia a kind of better America.  The radicalism of Stalinism is most apparent in the fact that it was prepared to exploit the previous forms of life and culture, whereas even the avant-garde detractors of the past knew and respected the heritage to such a degree that they would rather destroy than utilize or profane it.”  Ibid., pg. 42. “Viewed from the perspective of the avant-garde’s theoretical self-interpretation…Stalinist culture both radicalizes and formally overcomes the avant-garde; it is, so to speak, a laying bare of the avant-garde device [Shklovskii] and not merely a negation of it.”  Pg. 44. “Le Corbusier and other members of the CIAM wrote a letter to Stalin lobbying him to intervene in order to ‘stop this sensational challenge to the public from being executed.’  Stalin, as it turned out, was the last person they should have asked.  As architectural historian Dmitrii Khmel’nitskii recently discovered, the whole design belonged to Stalin himself.  None of the official authors, says Khmel’nitskii, — Iofan, Shchuko or Gel’freikh — was capable of such ‘clear spatial idea, vigor, strength, dynamism, and at the same time such powerful barbarism, such neophyte courage in dealing with form, function and surface.’ If we are to believe Khmel’nitskii, then Stalin appears to have been a greater modernist than Le Corbusier, Wright, Ginzburg or Vesnin.  His barbarian creation did not imitate any known style of the past, his Palace was to surpass the Empire State Building by a few feet, he did not collaborate, he worked incognito (just like Roark on the housing project), he disregarded community life and was not interested in people.  Moreover, his structure was supposed to be age-resistant: ‘Centuries will not leave their mark on it,’ wrote the official historian of the Palace Nikolai Atarov.  ‘We will build it so that it will stand without aging, forever.’”  Paperny, Vladimir.  “Modernism and Destruction in Architecture.”  Art Margins.  (2006).

[44] Le Corbusier.  Toward an Architecture.  Translated by John Goodman.  (The Getty Research Library.  Los Angeles, CA: 2006).  Pg. 95.  Originally published as Vers un architecture in 1923. Compare with Ginzburg’s similarly-phrased denouncement of traditionalist buildings as “the anemic fruits of faux-classical eclecticism [nurtured] in¼academic greenhouses.”  Ginzburg, “The International Front of Modern Architecture.”  Pg. 42.

[45] “Modernism in architecture is supposed to be based on the worldview and techniques that stem from an engineering model, one that includes scientific management as a key component.  Accordingly, modernism emerged to the extent that engineering influenced the education, training, and professionalization of architects.”  Guillén, Mauro F.  The Taylorized Beauty of the Mechanical: Scientific Management and the Rise of Modernist Architecture.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 2008).  Pgs. 33-35.

[46] For a more detailed exposition of this dynamic underlying modern society, please see the longer paper I devoted to the subject.  Wolfe, Ross.  “The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism.”  2011.

[47] Thompson, E.P.  “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.”  Past & Present 38.  (1967).  Pg. 58.

[48] Mumford, Lewis.  Technics and Civilization.  (University of Chicago Press.  Chicago, IL: 2010).  Pg. 15.

[49] Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.”  Pgs. 63-65.

[50] Mumford, Technics and Civilization.  Pg. 17.

[51] Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.”  Pg. 69.

[52] Marx, Karl.  Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1982).  Pg. 129.

[53] Ibid., pg. 150.

[54] “Before the rise and development of modern, capitalist society in Western Europe, dominant conceptions of time were of various forms of concrete time: time was not an autonomous category, independent of events, hence, it could be determined qualitatively, as good or bad, sacred or profane.”  Postone, Moishe.  Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pg. 201.

[55] Ibid., pg. 202.

[56] Ibid., pg. 212.

[57] Ibid., pg. 214.

[58] Taylor, Frederick Winslow.  The Principles of Scientific Management.  From The Early Sociology of Management and Organizations, Volume 1: Scientific Management.  (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.  New York, NY: 2005).  Pg. 129.  My emphases.  Originally published in 1912.

[59] “Through motion study and fatigue study and the accompanying time study, we have come to know the capabilities of the worker, the demands of the work, the fatigue that the worker suffers at the work, and the amount and nature of the rest required to overcome the fatigue.”  Gilbreth, Frank and Gilbreth, Lillian.  Applied Motion Study: A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial Preparedness.  (Sturgis & Walton Company.  New York, NY: 1917).  Pgs. 14-15.

[60] Ashton, T.S.  The Industrial Revolution.  (Oxford University Press.  New York, NY: 1998).  Pg. 80.

[61] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich.  Manifesto of the Communist Party.  Translated by Terrell Carver.  Later Political Writings.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pg. 4.

[62] “It was only [the] idea of perfectibility [made possible by the concept of progress] which paved the way for utopia.”  Bauman, Zygmunt.  Socialism: The Active Utopia.  (George Allen & Unwin Limited.  London, England: 1976).  Pgs. 18-19.

[63] Vico believed that history could trace the path of “every nation” successively prefigured in the “human mind”: “Our Science…comes to describe…an ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of every nation in its rise, progress, maturity, decline and fall…[T]he first indubitable principle…posited is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind.”  Vico, Giambattista.  The New Science.  Translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch.  (Cornell University Press.  Ithaca, NY: 1948).  Pg. 93.  §349.  Originally published in 1744.

[64] For Hegel, history was the objective constitution of the “structured shapes” of “consciousness” or Spirit: “[C]onsciousness…has for [its] middle term the system of structured shapes assumed by consciousness as a self-systematizing whole of the life of Spirit ¾ the system that we are considering here, and which has its objective existence as world-history.”  Hegel, G.W.F.  The Phenomenology of Spirit.  Translated by A.V. Miller.  (Oxford University Press.  New York, NY: 1977).  Pg. 178.  §295.  Originally published in 1807. Hegel would later refine this notion: “[The mind of a nation] is in time…But as a restricted mind its independence is something secondary; it passes into universal world-history…— the judgment of the world.”  Hegel, G.W.F.  The Philosophy of Mind: Part Three of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences.  Translated by William Wallace and A.V. Miller.  (Oxford University Press.  New York, NY: 1971).  Pg. 277. §548.  Originally published in 1830.

[65] “The circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement.  The movement of capital is therefore limitless.”   Marx, Capital, Volume 1 Pg. 253.

[66] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pgs. 75-77.

[67] Marx, Capital, Volume 1.  Pg. 255.

[68] Ibid., pg. 342.

[69] “[Labor is] a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value.”  Ibid., pg. 270.

[70] “The prolongation of the working day beyond the point at which the worker would have produced an exact equivalent for the value of his labor-power, and the appropriation of that surplus labor by capital — this is the process which constitutes the production of absolute surplus-value.  It forms the general foundation for the capitalist system.”  Ibid., pg. 645.

[71] Ibid., pg. 431.

[72] “The technical and social conditions of the [labor] process and consequently the mode of production itself must be revolutionized before the productivity of labor can be increased.”  Ibid., pg. 432. “[T]he production of relative surplus-value completely revolutionizes the technical processes of labor and the groupings into which society is divided.”  Ibid., pg. 645.

[73] Ibid., pgs. 389-416.

[74] Chapters 13, 14, and 15 respectively.  Ibid., pgs. 439-640.

[75] “With the development of relative surplus value…the directional motion that characterizes capital as self-valorizing value becomes tied to ongoing changes in productivity.  An immanent dynamic of capitalism emerges, a ceaseless expansion grounded in a determinate relationship between the growth of productivity and the growth of the value form of the surplus.”  Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 283.

[76] “The peculiarity of the dynamic — and this is crucial — is its treadmill effect.  Increased productivity increases the amount of value produced per unit of time — until this productivity becomes generalized; at that point the magnitude of value yielded in that time period, because of its abstract and general temporal determination, falls back to its previous level.  This results in a new determination of the social labor hour and a new base level of productivity.  What emerges, than, is a dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.”  Ibid., pg. 289.

[77] Ibid., pg. 293.

[78] “From the eighteenth century on, it was possible to formulate the postulate of acceleration, or for those left behind, the postulate of drawing level or overtaking.  The fundamental experience of progress, embodied in a single concept around 1800, is rooted in the knowledge of noncontemporaneities which exist at a chronologically uniform time.”  Koselleck, Reinhart.  “Neuzeit.”  Translated by Keith Tribe.  Futures Past: The Semantics of Historical Time.  (Columbia University Press.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 238. “Hegel used the concept of modernity first of all in historical contexts, as an epochal concept: The ‘new age’ is the ‘modern age.’  This corresponded to contemporary usage in English and French: ‘modern times’ or temps moderns denoted around 1800 and the three centuries preceding.  The discovery of the ‘new world,’ the Renaissance, and the Reformation — these three monumental events around the year 1500 constituted the epochal threshold between modern times and the middle ages…[T]he secular concept of modernity expresses the conviction that the future has already begun: It is the epoch that lives for the future, that opens itself up to the novelty of the future.  In this way, the caesura defined by the new beginning has been shifted into the past, precisely to the start of modern times.  Only in the course of the eighteenth century did the epochal threshold around 1500 become conceptualized as the beginning.”  Habermas, Jürgen.  The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures.  Translated by Frederick Lawrence.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1990).  Pg. 5.

[79] Koselleck, “Neuzeit.”  Pg. 235.

[80] Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures.  Pg. 8.

[81] Descartes, René.  Principles of Philosophy.  Translated by John Cottingham.  From The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume 3.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1985).  Pg. 228.

[82] “We have seen how money is transformed into capital; how surplus-­value is made through capital, and how more capital is made from surplus-value.  But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalist production; capitalist production presupposes the availability of considerable masses of capital and labour-power in the hands of commodity producers.  The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn around in a never-ending circle, which we can only get out of by assuming a primitive accumulation (the ‘previous accumulation’ of Adam Smith) which precedes capitalist accumulation; an accumulation which is not the result of the capitalist mode of production but its point of departure.”  Marx, Capital, Volume 1.  Pgs. 873.  The conditions by which primitive accumulation arose are described between pgs. 877-895.

[83] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 148.

[84] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party.  Pg. 5.  My emphasis.

[85] Ibid., pgs. 4-5.

[86] “In its universe there is a formal equality for all men.”  Lukács, Georg.  “What is Orthodox Marxism?”  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1972).  Pg. 19.

[87] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 72.

[88] Adorno, Theodor.  Introduction to Sociology.  Translated by Edmund Jephcott.  (Stanford University Press.  Stanford, CA: 2000).  Pg. 30.

[89] Marx, Karl.  Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy.  Translated by Martin Nicolaus.  (Random House, Inc.  New York, NY: 1973).  Pg. 524.  My emphasis.

[90] Harvey, David.  “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: a Reconstruction of the Marxian theory.”  From Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography.  (Edinburgh University Press.  Edinburgh, England: 2001).  Pg. 244.

[91] Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2.  Translated by David Fernbach.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 329.

[92] Harvey, “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: a Reconstruction of the Marxian theory.”  Pg. 251.

[93] Lefebvre, Henri.  The Production of Space.  Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith.  (Blackwell Publishing.  Cambridge, MA: 1991).  Pg. 50.  Lefebvre’s notion of abstract space was slightly more bound up with Fordist bureaucratic structures than my own, but in general is largely identical.

[94] Ibid., pg. 52.

[95] Ibid., pg. 307.

[96] Ibid., pg. 352.

[97] Ibid., pg. 351.

[98] “The principles of the spirits of nations [Volksgeister] are in general of a limited nature because of that particularity in which they have their objective actuality and self-consciousness as existent individuals, and their deeds and destinies in their mutual relations are the manifest [erscheinende] dialectic of the finitude of these spirits. It is through this dialectic that the universal spirit, the spirit of the world, produces itself in its freedom from all limits, and it is this spirit which exercises its right — which is the highest right of all — over finite spirits in world history as the world’s court of judgement [Weltgericht].”  Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich.  The Philosophy of Right.  Translated by H.B. Nisbet.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1991).  Pg. 371, §340.

[99] Lefebvre, The Production of Space.  Pg. 65.

[100] “It was the rise of the mercantile city, which was grafted onto the political city but promoted its own ascendancy, that was primarily responsible.  This was soon followed by the appearance of industrial capital and, consequently, the industrial city…We know that industry initially developed near the sources of energy (coal and water), raw materials (metals, textiles), and manpower reserves.  Industry gradually made its way into the city in search of capital and capitalists, markets, and an abundant supply of low-cost labor.  It could locate itself anywhere, therefore, but sooner or later made its way into existing cities or created new cities, although it was prepared to move elsewhere if there was an economic advantage in doing so. Just as the political city resisted the conquest — half-pacific, half-violent — of the merchants, exchange, and money, similarly the political and mercantile city defended itself from being taken over by a nascent industry, industrial capital, and capital itself.”  Lefebvre, Henri.  The Urban Revolution.  Pg. 13.

[101] As mentioned toward the end of the subsection, the historical instances this study will examine as its objects cannot be thought to embody all of the categories associated with their type i above n its purity.

Ultimately, the signifiers “modernism” and “traditionalism” constitute contrasting ideal types, in the Weberian sense: “This conceptual pattern brings together certain relationships and events of historical life into a complex, which is conceived as an internally consistent system.  Substantively, this construct in itself is like a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality.  Its relationship to the empirical data consists solely in the fact that where…relationships of the type referred to by the abstract construct are discovered or suspected to exist in reality to some extent, we can make the characteristic features of this relationship pragmatically clear and understandable by reference to an ideal-type.  This procedure can be indispensable for heuristic as well as expository purposes.”  Weber, Max.  “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy.”  Translated by Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch.  The Methodology of the Social Sciences.  (The Free Press.  New York, NY: 1949).  Pg. 90.

[102] Let it not be thought, therefore, that this investigation of rival architectural ideologies emerging under capitalism is nothing more than a “history of ideas.”  By exposing the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism, which is materially produced by the economic forces of this social formation, we have grounded these superstructural forms of thought we are examining in a definite socioeconomic base.  As Marx famously wrote: “In the social production of their lives men enter into relations that are specific, necessary, and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a specific stage of development of their material productive forces.  The totality of these relations of production forms the economic structure of society, the real basis from which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond specific forms of social consciousness.  The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life-process generally.  It is not the consciousness of men that specifies their being, but on the contrary their social being that specifies their consciousness…With the alteration of the economic foundation the whole colossal superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.  In examining such transformations one must always distinguish between the transformation in the economic conditions of production, to be established with the accuracy of physical science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic[, architectural,] or philosophical, in short ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”  Pgs. 159-160. By this same accord, however, let us not fall into the trap of crudely deducing every ideological aspect of architecture directly from some class or economic foundation.  This is a mistake that is all-too-often made by vulgar Marxism.  The relationship between base and superstructure is hardly a one-way street, and ideas that rise objectively into the heavens of thought often retroactively act on their material bases.  Different superstructural elements (political, religious, artistic) often attain a sort of phantom independence, as well, and interact with one another without having to be rerouted back through economic channels.

[103] Giedion, Sigfried.  Space, Time, and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition.  (Harvard University Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1982).  Pg. 21.  Lectures first delivered between 1938-1939.

[104] Alberti, Leon Battista.  On the Art of Building in Ten Books.  Translated by Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1991).

[105] In Book II, Vitruvius declared that aspiring architects should be trained in history, but only so that they might have a firmer knowledge of ornamentation and its symbolic justification.  Pollio, Vitruvius.  Ten Books on Architecture.  Translated by Ingrid D. Rowland.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1999).  Originally published 46 BCE.

[106] Lyotard, Jean-François.  “Re-writing Modernity.”  SubStance.  (Vol. 16, № 3, Issue 54: 1987).  Pg. 4.

[107] Lyotard, François.  The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.  Translated by Brian Massumi and Geoff Bennington.  (Manchester University Press.  Manchester, England: 1984).  Pg. 37.

[108] Jameson, Fredric.  “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.”  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  (Verso Books.  New York, NY: 1998).  Pg. 18.

[109] Jameson himself transparently admits to the problematic concept of historical periodization while explicitly making use of it.  Jameson, Fredric.  Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.  (Duke University Press.  Durham, NC: 1991).  Pgs. 2-3.

[110] “‘Invented tradition’ is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seeks to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.  In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past [my emphasis].”  Hobsbawm continues with recourse to an explicitly architectural example: “A striking example is the deliberate choice of a Gothic style for the nineteenth-century rebuilding of the British parliament, and the equally deliberate decision after World War II to rebuild the parliamentary chamber on exactly the same plan as before.”  Hobsbawm, Eric.  “Inventing Traditions.”  The Invention of Tradition.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1983).  Pgs. 1-2.

[111] Ibid., 2.  My emphasis.

[112] Compare Hobsbawm’s mention of “the constant change and innovation of the modern world” with our discussion of the convulsive societal changes taking place during the late eighteenth through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on page 28, which established the historical consciousness of modernity.

[113] “‘Custom’ cannot afford to be invariant, because even in ‘traditional’ societies life is not so.”  Ibid., pg. 2.

[114] “Inventing traditions, it is assumed here, is essentially a process of formalization and ritualization, characterized by reference to the past, if only by imposing repetitions.”  Ibid., pg. 4.

[115] “Such changes have been particularly significant in the past 200 years, and it is therefore reasonable to expect these instant formalizations [‘inventions’] of new traditions to cluster during this period.  This implies, against both nineteenth-century liberalism and more recent ‘modernization’ theory that such formalizations are not confined to so-called ‘traditional’ societies, but also have their place, in one form or another, in ‘modern’ ones.”  Ibid., pg. 5.  I would take this one step further and point out that most invented traditions in “traditional” societies were imposed from without by modern societies during the colonial age.

[116] “Authority will be called traditional if legitimacy is claimed for it and believed in by virtue of the sanctity of age-old rules and powers.”  Weber, Max.  Economy and Society, Volume 1.  Translated by Ephraim Fischoff, Hans Gerth, A.M. Henderson, Ferdinand Kolegar, C. Wright Mills, Talcott Parsons, Max Rheinstein, Guenther Roth, Edward Shils, and Claus Wittich.  (University of California Press.  Los Angeles, CA: 1978).  Pg. 226.

[117] Hobsbawm, “Inventing Traditions.”  Pg. 9.

[118] “[The rendering of drapery] is the great principle by which we must be directed in the nobler branches of our art.  Upon this principle the Roman, the Florentine, the Bolognese schools, have formed their practice; and by this they have deservedly obtained the highest praise.  These are the three great schools of the world in the epic style.  The best of the French school, Poussin, Le Sueur, and Le Brun, have formed themselves upon these models, and consequently may be said, though Frenchmen, to be a colony from the Roman school.  Next to these, but in a very different style of excellence, we may rank the Venetian, together with the Flemish and the Dutch schools, all professing to depart from the great purposes of painting, and catching at applause by inferior qualities.”  Reynolds, Joshua.  Seven Discourses on Art.  (The Echo Library.  Middlesex, England: 2007).  Pg. 31.

[119] “…at the instant when the rudeness of the intermediate space had finally been conquered, when the light had been expanded to its fullest, and yet had not lost its radiant unity, principality, and the visible first causing of the whole.”  Ruskin, John.  The Seven Lamps of Architecture.  (Dover Publications, Inc.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 59. Another example of this tendency comes in Ruskin’s discussion of variations within the Gothic: “The capital [of San Michele of Lucca] is of the noblest period of the Venetian Gothic; and it is interesting to see the play of leafage so luxuriant, absolutely subordinated to the breadth of two masses of light and shade.  What is done by the Venetian architect, with a power as irresistible as that of the waves of his surrounding sea, is done by the masters of the Cis-Alpine Gothic, more timidly, and with a manner somewhat cramped and cold, but not less expressing their assent to the same great law.”  Ibid., pg. 89.

[120] “The concept of the nation is a late arrival; it was alien to the Middle Ages.”  Adorno, Theodor.  History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965.  Translated by Rolf Tiedemann.  (Polity Press.  Malden, MA: 2006).  Pg. 103.  Indeed, the notion of a concrete “people” — linked to one another through geography, language, or common traditions and enclosed within defined borders — was nowhere to be found in Europe during the age of feudalism.  See also our own discussion of the subject on pages 41-42.

[121] Freeman, Edward A.  A History of Architecture.  (Joseph Masters Publishers.  London, England: 1849).  Pgs. 11-12.

[122] Ibid., pgs. 17-18.

[123] Ibid., pgs. 23-29.

[124] Tuthill’s progression: “Egyptian — Hindoo — Persian — Jewish — Chinese — Aboriginal or American — Cyclopean and Etruscan — Grecian — Roman — Middle Ages — the Romanesque or Lombardic, the Saxon and Norman — Gothic — Greco-Roman Revival — the Present.”  Tuthill, Louise C.  The History of Architecture from Earliest Times, Its Present Condition in Europe and the United States.  (Lindsay and Blakiston.  Philadelphia, PA: 1848).

[125] Fergusson’s schema: “ANCIENT — Egyptian — Assyrian — Grecian — Etruscan and Roman — CHRISTIAN — French — Belgian and Dutch — German — Scandinavian — English — Spanish and Portuguese — Italian — Byzantine — PAGAN — Persian — Indian — Hindu — Indian Saracenic — Naga — Chinese — Mexican and Peruvian — EASTERN — Buddhist — Jaina — Himalayan — Dravidian — Chalukyan  — Indo-Aryan — Indian Saracenic — Chinese.”  Fergusson, James.  A History of Architecture in All Countries from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Volumes 1, 2, & 3.  (John Murray Publishers.  London, England: 1865, 1867, & 1876).

[126] Mitchell’s sequence: “Greek — Roman — Byzantine and Saracenic — Romanesque — Mediæval — Elizabethan — Renaissance.” Mitchell, Thomas.  A Rudimentary Manual of Architecture, Being a History of the Principal Styles of European Architecture: Ancient, Mediæval, and Renaissance, with Their Chief Variations Described and Illustrated.  (Longmans, Green, and Co.  London, England: 1870).

[127] D’Anver’s history: “Indian — Egyptian — Assyrian — Medo-Persian — Asia Minor — Early American — Greek — Etruscan — Roman — Early Christian — Byzantine — Romanesque — Moorish — Gothic — Renaissance — Nineteenth-Century.”  D’Anver, N.  Elementary History of Architecture of All Countries.  (Simpson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.  London, England: 1883).

[128] Tuckerman’s series: “Celtic or Druidical — Egyptian — Asiatic — Greek — Etruscan and Roman — Early Christian — Byzantine — Mahometan — Romanesque — Gothic — Renaissance.”  Tuckerman, Arthur Lyman.  A Short History of Architecture.  (Charles Scribner’s & Sons.  New York, NY: 1887).

[129] Clement’s periodicity: “ANCIENT OR HEATHEN — Egyptian — Assyrian — Babylonian — Persian — Judean — Greek — Etruscan — Roman — CHRISTIAN — Early Christian — Gothic — Byzantine —Saracenic — MODERN — Italian — Spanish — French — English — German — American.”  Clement, Clara Erskine.  An Outline History of Architecture for Beginners and Students.  (White, Stokes, & Allen.  New York, NY: 1886).

[130] Hamlin’s derivation of styles: “Primitive and Prehistoric — Egyptian — Chaldæn and Assyrian — Persian, Lycian, and Jewish — Greek — Roman — Early Christian — Byzantine — Sassanian and Mohammedan — Early Mediæval — Gothic — Renaissance — Neoclassicism — Recent European — American — Oriental.”  Hamlin, Alfred Dwight Foster.  A Text-Book on the History of Architecture.  (Longmans, Green, and Co.  London, England: 1896).

[131] Edgell’s and Kimball’s genealogy of styles runs: “Prehistoric — Preclassical — Greek — Roman — Early Christian — Byzantine — Romanesque — Gothic — Renaissance — Post-Renaissance —Modern — American — Eastern.”  Edgell, George Harold and Kimball, Fiske.  A History of Architecture.  (Harper & Brothers.  New York, NY: 1918).

[132] “De l’antiquité — Du moyen age — De la Renaissance — Des les temps modernes.”  Reynaud, Léonce. Traité d’architecture.  (Librairie pour l’architecture.  Paris, France: 1850).

[133] “Le plein cintre — Style byzantine — Style roman — L’art outre-passé/Style arabs — L’ogive/Style gothique.” Blanc, Charles.  Grammaire des arts du dessin: Architecture, sculpture, peinture.  (Jules Renouard.  Paris, France: 1867).

[134] “Primitive — Greek — Roman — Western Christian — Byzantine — Renaissance — Nineteenth Century.”  Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel.  Lectures on Architecture, Volume 1.  Translated by Benjamin Bucknall.  (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington.  London, England: 1877).

[135] “ANTIQUITÉ — Art égyptien — Orient — La Grèce — L’art étrusque et l’art romain — MOYEN AGE — L’art byzantine — L’art musulman et les arts de l’Asie — L’art roman — Art gothique ou ogival — LA RENAISSANCE — Da Giotto à Vinci — La grande époque — TEMPS MODERNES — Dix-septième siècle — Dix-huitième siècle — Dix-neuvème siècle.”  Peyre, Roger.  Histoire générale des beaux-arts.  (Librairie Charles Delagrave.  Paris, France: 1894).

[136] “Indische — Babylonische — Ägyptischen — Griechen — Etruskische — Cyclopische — Römische — Altchristliche — Byzantinische — Muhammedanische — Karolingische — Mittelalter italienischen — Gothische — Spanische — Englische.”  Schnaase, Carl.  Geschichte der bildenden Künste, Banden 1-7.  (Verlag von Julius Buddens.  Düsseldorf, Prussia: 1843).

[137] Lübke, Wilhelm.  Geschichte der Architektur.  (E.A. Seemann’s Verlagsexpedition.  Köln, Prussia: 1858).

[138] “Egyptian — Chaldean — Assyrian — Indian — Doric — Ionic — Corinthian — Hellenic — Roman — Byzantine — Oriental — Merovingian — Romanesque — Gothic — Renaissance — Modern.”  Semper, Gottfried.  Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or, Practical Aesthetics.  Translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave, Michael Robinson, and Amir Baghdadchi.  (Getty Research Institute.  Los Angeles, CA: 2004).  Originally published in 1860.

[139] Riegl, Aloïs.  Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament. Translated by Evelyn Kain. (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 1992).  Originally published in 1897.

[140] Jones, Owen.  The Grammar of Ornament: Illustrated by Examples from Various Styles of Ornament.  (Studio Editions.  London, England: 1986).  Originally published in 1856. The importance of Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament and its place within the academic order was underscored by Le Corbusier years later, in his 1925 book The Decorative Arts of Today: “We had been told: Go and explore in the calm of the library the great compendium by Owen Jones, the History [sic, the Grammarof Ornament.  This, without question, was a serious business.  The pure ornaments which man had created entirely out of his head followed one another in sequence.  Yes, but what we found there was overwhelmingly man as part of nature, and if nature was omnipresent, man was an integral part of it, with his faculties of man.  From imitation to creation.  This book was beautiful and true, for in it everything was summed up that had been made, that in a profound sense had been achieved: the decoration of the Renaissance Man, of the Gothic, the Romanesque, the Roman, the Chinese, the Indian, the Greek, the Assyrian, the Egyptian, etc.  With this book we felt that the problem was posed: Man creates what moves him.”  Le Corbusier, The Decorative Arts of Today.  Pg. 133.

[141] Cf. George Eliot’s piece for the Fortnightly Review, and the anonymous reviews for Athenaeum and Fine Arts Quarterly.  Eliot, George.  “Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament.”  Fortnightly Review.  № 1.  (May 1865).  Pgs. 124-125. “Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament.”  Fine Arts Quarterly Review.  № 1.  (June 1866).  Pg. 236. “The Grammar of Ornament.”  Athenaeum.  (May 1865).  Pg. 647. All these reviews were written after a cheaper, more portable reprint of Jones’ original volume had been issued in 1865.

[142] Racinet, Albert Charles Auguste.  Handbook of Ornaments in Color: Volumes 1-3.  Translated by J.A. Underwood.  (Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.  New York, NY: 1978).  Originally published in 1869.

[143] Dolmetsch, Heinrich.  The Treasury of Ornament: Pattern in the Decorative Arts.  Translated by Richard Phené Spiers.  (Portland House.  New York, NY: 1989).  Originally published in 1883.

[144] Speltz, Alexander.  The Styles of Ornament: Exhibited in Designs, and Arranged in Historical Order, with Descriptive Text.  Translated by David O’Conor.  Originally published in 1906.

[145] Wornum, Ralph N.  Analysis of Ornament.  (Chapman and Hall.  London, England: 1855).

[146] Hamlin, A.D.F.  A History of Ornament.  (The Century Co.  New York, NY: 1916).

[147] Tuckerman, A Short History of Architecture.  Pg. 166.

[148] Viollet-le-Duc, Lectures on Architecture.  Pgs. 446-447.

[149] While Wright would express his admiration for the works of the Renaissance masters, he believed that architecture was in terminal decline at this point because the invention of the printing press had rendered the building façade anachronistic.  Wright, Frank Lloyd.  “The Art and Craft of the Machine.”  The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Writings on Architecture.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 2008).  Pgs. 24-25.  Originally published in 1901.

[150] Muthesius, Hermann.  Style-Architecture and Building-Art: Transformations of Architecture in the Nineteenth Century and Its Present Condition.  Translated by Stanford Anderson.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art and Humanities.  Los Angeles, CA: 1994).  Pg. 51.

[151] Lethaby, W.R.  From a 1915 speech to the Architectural Association in London.  Quoted in Banham, Reyner.  Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1980).  Pg. 44.

[152] “The work on the antiquities of Athens by the English architects Stuart and Revett, which appeared in 1762, forms the milestone of this new discovery.”  Muthesius, Style-Architecture and Building-Art.  Pg. 53.

[153] Ibid., pgs. 54-68.

[154] Ibid., pg. 69.

[155] Ibid., pg. 77.

[156] Benevolo, Leonardo.  The History of Modern Architecture, Volume 1.  Translated by H.J. Landry.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1992).  Pg. 122.  Originally published in 1960.

[157] This “opened the way for the dissolution of the entire cultural heritage of the Académie.”  Ibid., pg. 123.

[158] Marx, Karl.  The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.  Translated by Terrell Carver.  Later Political Writings.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pg. 32.

[159] Susan Buck-Morss noted that “[t]he ‘time’ of the cultural avant-garde [in revolutionary Russia was] not the same as that of the vanguard party.”  Buck-Morss, Susan.  Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 49.

[160] “Nazi propaganda was to speak of the Frankfurt settlements as constructed socialism.  We must see them as realized social democracy.”  Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia.  Pg. 115.

[161] “Dada’s ferocious decomposition of the linguistic material and its opposition to prefiguration: what were these, after all, if not the sublimation of automatism and commercialization of ‘values’ now spread through all levels of existence by the advance of capitalism? De Stijl and the Bauhaus introduced the ideology of the plan into a design method that was always closely related to the city as a productive structure.  Dada, by means of the absurd, demonstrated — without naming it — the necessity of a plan.”  Ibid., pg. 93.

[162] “At a time when the other arts somehow managed to move forward, systematically transforming their revolutionary innovators into ‘classics,’ architecture persisted, with unparalleled stubbornness, in refusing to tear its sights away from the ancient world or from the epoch of the Italian Renaissance.  Academies of art were concerned with nothing more, it seems, than weeding out young people’s enthusiasm for the new and leveling their aptitude for creative work without, however, teaching them to see in the creations of the past the system of legitimate development that always flows inevitably out of the vital structure of the epoch and thus derives its true meaning only in that context.  Consequently, such ‘academic’ training yielded two results: the pupil lost touch with modernity and, at the same time, remained alienated from the true spirit of the great creations of the past.”  Ginzburg, Moisei.  Style and Epoch.  Translated by Anatole Senkevitch.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1982).  Pg. 38.  Originally published in 1923.

[163] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 101.  Compare to Hermann Muthesius’ prior statement: “The world lies under the spell of the phantom ‘style-architecture.’  It is hardly possible for people today to grasp that the true values in the building-art are totally independent of the question of style, indeed that a proper approach to a work of architecture has absolutely nothing to do with ‘style.’”  Muthesius, Style-Architecture and Building Art.

[164] Behne, Adolf.  The Modern Functional Dwelling. Translated by Michael Robinson.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art.  Los Angeles, CA: 1996).  Pg. 137.  Originally published in 1926.

[165] Even Theo van Doesburg, founder of the De Stijl movement in Holland, felt it necessary upon reflection to distinguish between the antiquated and outmoded sense of “style” and the modern sense of a “new style” dissolving the old: “[I]n a paradoxical way: the De Stijl idea as the idea of a new style, as an addition to the multitude of existing evolutionary possibilities, is meaningless and anachronistic.  The De Stijl idea as the dissolution of all styles within one elementary plasticism is significant, spiritually alive, and in advance of its time.”  Doesburg, Theo van.  De Stijl, Jubilee Number.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Originally published in De Stijl, pgs. 2-9, 1927.  Pg. 219.

[166] “[I]n the struggle for the new style that we have so respectfully considered, the architecture has solid ground under its feet now that it has entered on the path that all original creations follow.  If it continues along this path…then the blessing of art…will be bestowed of its own accord on the works of the new style, of the machine style, of — if one wishes to call it thus — the technical style.”  Behrendt, The Victory of the New Building Style.  Pg. 142.

[167] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 156.

[168] “A new style does not emerge all at once.  It begins in various facets of human life, which frequently are totally unrelated to one another…[T]he new elements manage, on the strength of their vitality and purely organic legitimacy, gradually to entice more and more facets of the old world until, finally, nothing can stem the tide.  The new style becomes a fact, and those refusing to accept that fact condemn themselves to a complete and grievous isolation: no homage to past cultures can alter the situation; the world, steeped in its bold sense of legitimacy, recognizes only itself.  This provides the key to its creative power and to the triumph of its march of conquest.”  Ginzburg, Style and Epoch.  Pg. 76.

[169] Hausmann, Raoul; Arp, Hans; Puni, Ivan; and Moholy-Nagy, László.  “A Call for Elementarist Art.”  Translated by Stephen Bann.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).  Pg. 51.  Originally published in De Stijl 1922 (Vol. IV, № 10).

[170] “Styles do not grow up overnight and cannot be invented to order.  They can only be the fruit of periods of serious striving, when inner forces are made explicit…Nor can style be anticipated; it can only grow up as the all-embracing expression of the spirit of the age.”  Muthesius, Hermann.  “The Meaning of the Arts and Crafts.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pg. 39.  Lectures originally delivered in 1907.

[171] Meyer, Hannes.  “The New World.”  Translated by D.Q. Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings,  (Teufen AR/Schweiz.  Arthur Niggli Ltd.: 1965).  Pg. 93.  Originally published in 1930.

[172] Muthesius, Style-Architecture and Building-Art.  Pg. 81.

[173] Kállai, Ernő.  “Ten Years of Bauhaus.” Translated from the German by Wolfgang Jabs and Basil Gilbert.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 637.  Originally published in 1930.

[174] Gropius, Walter.  The New Architecture and the Bauhaus.  Translated by P. Morton Shand.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1965).  Pg. 92.  Originally published in 1932.

[175] Meyer, Hannes.  “bauhaus and society.” Translated by D.Q.  Stephenson.  Buildings, Projects, and Writings.  (Teufen AR/Schweiz.  Arthur Niggli Ltd.: 1965).  All lower-case in the original.  Originally published in 1929.

[176] Author uncredited.  “Stroitel’naia promyshlennost’ kritikuet SA.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 1, № 4.  Moscow, Soviet Union: 1926).  Pg. 105.

[177] Loos, “Ornament and Crime.”

[178] “If the work being created is to be a true reflection of our time, the simple, the practical, the — one might almost say — military approach must be fully and completely expressed, and for this reason alone everything extravagant must be avoided.”  Wagner, Otto.  Modern Architecture: A Guidebook for His Students to this Field of Art.  Translated by Wolfgang Hermann.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.  Los Angeles, CA: 1988).  Pg. 85.  Originally published 1896.

[179] Muthesius, Style-Architecture and Building-Art.  Pg. 88.

[180] Grosz, Karl.  “Ornament.” Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pg. 47.  Originally published for 1911.

[181] “In Europe during the [1890s] a demand for morality in architecture arose in many different countries.  As [Henry] van de Velde puts it, people say the reigning architecture as a ‘lie,’ all posturing and no truth, and that a greater purity of expression was needed.”  Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 25.

[182] Oud, J.J.P.  “Orientation.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 140.  Originally published in De Stijl 1919, Vol. III, № 5, p. 46.

[183] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Towards a Plastic Architecture.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 187.  Originally published in De Stijl 1924, Vol. VI, № 6/7, pgs. 78-83.

[184] Le Corbusier.  The Decorative Arts of Today.  Translated by James I. Dunnett.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1987).  Pg. 96.  Originally published as L’Art décoratif d’aujourd’hui in 1925.

Le Corbusier’s critique of ornamentation is deeply indebted to Loos’ “Ornament and Crime.”  Compare the following lines from Loos: “The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his paddles, in short everything he can get his hands on.  He is not a criminal.  The modern man who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate.”  Loos, “Ornament and Crime.”

Now with the example of Le Corbusier: “[T]he Papuan who inscribes on his paddle the figure of an albatross and a surging wave [is] making an act of devotion toward nature…We are at the dawn of the machine age.  A new consciousness disposes us to look for a different satisfaction from that afforded by the bud carved on the capitals in churches.”  Le Corbusier, The Decorative Arts of Today.  Pgs. 120, 126.

Both these examples can be read as a sort of response to the theory of Gottfried Semper, who argued materialistically that the ornamentation of objects evolved from the ornamentation of the body through tattoo and piercing: “[I]t would not be too great a paradox to ascribe the origin of certain traditional surface ornaments to the art of tattooing.”  Semper, Gottfried.  Concerning the Formal Principles of Ornament and Its Significance as Artistic Symbol.  Translated by David Britt.  From The Theory of Decorative Art: An Anthology of European & American Writings, 1750-1940. (Yale University Press.  New Haven, MA: 2000).  Pg. 93.

[185] Khiger, Roman.  “O sotsiologii iskusstva.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 4, № 3.  Moscow, Soviet Union: 1929).  Pg. 116.

[186] Behrendt, The Victory of the New Building Style.  Pg. 126.

[187] Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus.  Pg. 43.

[188] Teige, Karel.  “Constructivism and the Liquidation of ‘Art.’”  Translated by Alexandra Büchler.   Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 583.  Originally published as ‘Konstruktivism a likvidace urnenf,’ Disk, No. 2, 1925.

[189] Gan, Aleksei.  Konstruktivizm.  (Moscow, Soviet Union: 1922).  Pg. 1.

[190] Ginzburg would not long thereafter scale back Gan’s assault on art, writing that “we shall likewise attempt to evaluate modern ‘constructivism’ as an artistic phenomenon.  Perhaps now we shall be better able to comprehend both the menacing slogan advanced by the Russian Constructivists and its bravado, which are quite natural psychologically and quite familiar to the art historian: there has never, it seems, been a young movement which feeling its power, did not wish in its own time and place to press for the  abolition of everything that did not conform to its precepts.”  Ginzburg, Style and Epoch.  Pgs. 100-101.

[191] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 94.

[192] Lissitzky, El.  “The Catastrophe of Architecture.”  El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts.  Translated by Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers.  (Thames & Hudson Press. London: 1980).  Pg. 370.  Originally published in ISO, № 1, Moscow, March 1921.

[193] “The role of France is well established in the painting and literature of the nineteenth century.  This is not at all as clear with architecture.  The academic incrustations bear the blame.  They dazzled all formally educated souls.  When the new architecture will have advanced far enough to allow a broader survey, it may become evident: all the academic incrustations were unable to smother the constructional soul of French architecture!”  Giedion, Sigfried.  Building in France, Building in Ferroconcrete.  Translated from by J. Duncan Berry.  (The Getty Center for the History of Art.  Los Angeles, CA: 1995).  Pg. 100.

[194] Behrendt, The Victory of the New Building Style.  Pg. 141.

[195] Dokuchaev, Nikolai.  “Sovremennaia russkaia arkhitektura i zapadnye paralleli [Part 1].”  Sovetskoe iskusstvo.  (Vol. III, № 1.  Moscow, Soviet Union: January 1927).  Pg. 10.

[196] Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 62.

[197] The extent to which modernist architecture positively reflected the abstract dimension of this dialectic (as will be shown in the next subsection), did not wholly escape political leftists within the avant-garde.  In the same way as Marxists traditionally view capitalism as a dynamic system preparing the productive and social means for a postcapitalist society, so also could the technologies and abstract sense of space and time engendered by capitalism be understood as means for a postcapitalist architecture.  Of course, the avant-garde’s positive grounding in capitalism was not entirely transparent to them, at least in the terms that we have developed here.

[198] Founding Manifesto of the Left Front.  Translated by Alexandra Büchler.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pgs. 678-679.  Originally published as “Leva fronta,” in ReD, Vol. III, № 2 (1929).

[199] Kemény, Alfréd.  “Abstract Design from Suprematism to the Present.”  Translated by David Britt.  From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 480.  Originally published in 1924.

[200] Giedion, Building in France, Building in Ferro-Concrete.  Pg. 199.

[201] Szczuka, Mieczysław. “Art and Reality.”  Translated by Klara Kemp-Welch.  From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pg. 668.  Originally published in 1927.

[202] Author(s) uncredited (probably Moisei Ginzburg).  “Anketa.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 1, № 5/6.  Moscow, Soviet Union: 1926).  Pg. 111.

[203] Eesteren, Cornelis van. “Ten Years of ‘Stijl’: Art, Technique, and Town Planning.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 228.

[204] Le Corbusier.  The City of To-morrow and Its Planning.  Pg. 25. Le Corbusier later specifies that “the Great City is a recent event and dates back barely fifty years.”  Ibid., pg. 84.

[205] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 118.

[206] “Salvation [from modern capitalist alienation] lies no longer in ‘revolt,’ but in surrender without discretion.  Only a humanity that has absorbed and made its own the ideology of work, that does not persist in considering production and organization something other than itself or simply instruments, that recognizes itself to be part of a comprehensive plan and as such fully accepts that it must function as the cog-wheels of a global machine: only this humanity can atone for its ‘original sin’…This sin consists in man’s ‘diabolical’ insistence on remaining man, in taking his place as an ‘imperfect machine’ in a social universe in which the only consistent behavior is that of pure silence…This was exactly the ideology that informed the Futurist manifestos, Dadaist mechanicalism, De Stijl elementarism, and international Constructivism.  But what is really striking in this ideology of unconditional consensus is its ingenuous radicalism.  Among all those literary, artistic, or cinematographic manifestos in favor of the mechanization of the universe, there is not one that does not fail to amaze.”  Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia.  Pgs. 74-76.

[207] Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus.  Pg. 110.

[208] Le Corbusier.  The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of our Machine-Age Civilization.  Translated by Pamela Knight, Eleanor Levieux, and Derek Coltman.  (The Orion Press.  New York, NY: 1964).  Pgs. 153-154.  Originally published in 1933, out of documents compiled 1930-1933.

[209] Ibid., pg. 8.  My emphases.

[210] Gropius, Walter.  “The Scope of Total Architecture.”  The Scope of Total Architecture.  (MacMillan Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 1980).  Originally published in 1945.

[211] Krasil’nikov, Nikolai.  “Problemy sovremennoi arkhitektury.”  Sovremennaia arkhitektura.  (Volume 3, № 6.  Moscow, Soviet Union: 1928).  Pg. 172.

[212] He continues: “Conflicts between the forces and relations (proportions of ownership) of production, the imbalance between production and consumption, reactions to the crisis of capitalism — all these factors paralyze technological progress and the welfare of humanity. Anarchy reigns in capitalist production, anarchy fostered by the chase after increased gain, without any corresponding increase of real productivity values.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pgs. 295-296.

[213] Ginzburg, “Contemporary Architecture in Russia.”  Pgs. 158-159.

[214] Bukharin, Nikolai and Preobrazhenskii, Evgenii.  The ABCs of Communism.  Translated by Eden Paul and Cedar Paul.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1969).  Pg. 266. §95.  Originally published in 1918.

[215] Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia.  Pg. 69.

[216] “Like the scientific managers, the modernist architects initially sought to improve building practices but soon realized that method, standardization, and planning enabled them to formulate a new approach to architecture. The overarching idea in scientific management was that of order, one that subsequently captivated the modernist architects because it enabled them to move away from the prevailing eclecticism and to present themselves as organizers, as technocrats who could ameliorate social conflict and improve standards of living.”  Guillén, The Taylorized Beauty of the Mechanical.  Pg. 4.

[217] See footnote 34 of the present paper.

[218] Refer back to the schematic chart on pg. 44.

[219] In his exposition of the unprecedented modernist sense of “space-time,” Giedion acknowledged the importance of socioeconomic factors in determining architectural ideology, but urged historians not to dismiss the significance of “emotional” factors: “Social, economic, and functional influences play a vital part in all human activities, from the sciences to the arts.  But there are other factors which also have to be taken into account — our feelings and emotions.  These factors are often dismissed as trivial, but actually their effect upon men’s actions is immense.”  Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 430.  Without writing off these emotional influences wholesale, we must nevertheless regard them as epiphenomenal to the more fundamental sociohistorical forces which made them possible.

[220] “Aesthetic” also carries spatiotemporal connotations, as in the Kantian “Transcendental Aesthetic”: “In the transcendental aesthetic we will…first isolate sensibility by separating off everything that the understanding thinks through its concepts, so that nothing but empirical intuition remains.  Second, we will then detach from the latter everything that belongs to sensation, so that nothing remains except pure intuition and the mere form of appearances, which is the only thing that sensibility can make available a priori.  In this investigation it will be found that there are two pure forms of sensible intuition as principles of a priori cognition, namely space and time.”  Kant, Immanuel.  The Critique of Pure Reason.  Translated by Paul Guyer and Alan W. Wood.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1998).  Pg. 174.

[221] “The presentation of objects from several points of view introduces a principle which is intimately bound up with modern life — simultaneity.  It is a temporal coincidence that Einstein should have begun his famous work, Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper, in 1905 with a careful definition of simultaneity.”  Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 436.

[222] Bergson, Henri.  Duration and Simultaneity: With Reference to Einstein’s Theory.  Translated by Herbert Dingle.  (Bobs-Merrill Press.  New York, NY: 1965).  Originally published in 1906.

[223] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 433.

[224] Notably, there was a prominent architectural strain of Cubism that appeared in the Czechoslovakian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the Great War.  As Teige recorded: “The foremost representatives of cubism in Czech architecture were Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofman, Josef Chochol, and Jiří Kroha.  These architects transposed the principles of cubism from painting into architecture.”  Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 140.  Teige further explained: “The aesthetic of cubist architecture is derived from cubist painting.  The treatment of space and matter that we can read in cubist paintings is here applied to building.”  Ibid., pg. 145.

[225] “The Paris [Cubist] painter of the late 1900s reasoned more or less as follows: ‘I see and represent an object, for example a box or a table.  I see it from one point of view.  But if I hold the box in my hands and turn it, or if I walk around the table, my point of view changes, and to represent the object from each new viewpoint I must draw a new perspective of it.  The reality of the object, therefore, is not exhausted by its representation in the three dimensions of one perspective.  To capture it completely, I must draw an infinite number of perspectives from the infinite points of view possible.’ This successive displacement in time of the angle of vision adds a new dimension to the three dimensions of tradition. Thus time was baptized the ‘fourth dimension.’”  Zevi, Bruno.  Architecture as Space: How to Look at Architecture.  Translated by Milton Gendel.  (Horizon Press.  New York, NY: 1957).  Pg. 26.  Originally published in 1948.

[226] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 437.

[227] Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia.  Pg. 141.

[228] “Architecture itself was ‘contaminated’ by the decorative arts.  It can certainly be claimed that the groundwork for this event was prepared by a multitude of factors; still, without the cubist experiment it would not have been brought to birth.  Certainly the architects Perret and the builder of the abattoirs from Lyon were the inspired forgers of revolutions, but the one who formulated in genial fashion the time’s sentiment, its needs, was Le Corbusier-Saugnier: ‘The home is an machine for living.’  The shout of hatred rising against aestheticism was the unification signal that caused architectonic Europe to gather around it.  Today, because of the little resistance encountered by it in France, we have many modern accomplishments in Holland, Belgium, and Russia.”  Janco, Marcel.  “Reflections of Cubism.”  Translated by Julian Semilian.  From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Pgs. 705-706.

[229] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pg. 439.

[230] Doesburg added that this movement from abstract art to architecture was not limited to Holland: “Not only in Holland but also in Russia (after 1917) this new movement ‘from the aesthetic to its material realization’ proceeded from the consequential development of painting (in Holland Neo-Plasticism, in Russia Suprematism [Malevich] and [Lissitzky’s] Proun)…Now at last architects are gaining confidence in the use of their expressive medium.”  Doesburg, Theo van.  “From the New Aesthetic to Its Material Realization.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 181.  Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. VI, № 1, pgs. 10-14).

[231] Mondrian, Piet.  “The Realization of Neo-Plasticism in the Distant Future and in Architecture Today: Architecture, Conceived as Our Total [Non-Natural] Environment.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 169.  Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. V, № 3, pgs. 41-47; №5, pgs. 65-71).

[232] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Towards a Plastic Architecture.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 187.  Originally published in De Stijl, 1924 (Vol. VI, № 6/7, pgs. 78-83).

[233] “Color planes form an organic part of the new architecture as an element of the direct expression of its time and space relationships.  Without color these relationships are no living reality; they are not visible.”  Ibid., pg. 188.

[234] Mondrian, Piet.  “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.”  Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.  The New Art — The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian.  Pg. 197.  Originally published in L’Architecture vivante, Autumn 1925.

[235] Doesburg, Theo van.  On European Architecture: Complete Articles from Het Bouwbedrijf, 1924-1931.  Translated by Charlotte I. Loeb and Arthur L. Loeb.  (Birkhäuser Verlag.  Boston, MA: 1990).

[236] Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, Amédée.  “Purism.”  Translated by Robert L. Herbert.  Modern Artists on Art.  (Dover Books.  Mineola, NY: 2000).  Pg. 62.  Originally published in L’Esprit Nouveau in 1920.

[237] Ibid., pg. 59.

[238] “The means of executing a work of art is a transmittable and universal language.”  Ibid., pg. 54.

[239] Ibid., pg. 54. Even further: “The choice of surface for…geometric determinations has been a preoccupation of every age.”  Ibid., pg. 61.

[240] Ibid., pg. 61.

[241] Volume: “In the expression of volume, color is a perilous agent; often it destroys or disorganizes volume because the intrinsic properties of color are very different, some being radiant and pushing forward, others receding, still others being massive and staying in the real plane of the canvas, etc.”  Ibid., pg. 62. Surface: “[S]urface has important geometric properties; it permits various regulating lines which determine geometric locations of the highest plastic value.”  Ibid., pg. 60. Regulating lines: “[I]n all ages and times, great works of architecture as well as of painting of have been composed by imperious regulating lines of this nature.”  Ibid., pg. 61. These three Purist concepts are brought up again in Toward an Architecture.  From the chapter “Three Reminders to Architects: 1. Volume”: “Architecture is the masterful, correct, and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light.”  Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, pg. 102. From the chapter “Three Reminders to Architects: 2. Surface”: “[I]t is the architect’s task to bring the surfaces that envelop these volumes to life.”  Ibid., pg. 109. From the chapter “Regulating Lines”: “The regulating line is a satisfaction of a spiritual order that leads to a search for ingenious relationships and for harmonious relationships.”  Ibid., pg. 137.

[242] Ozenfant, Amédée.  Foundations of Modern Art.  Translated by John Rodker.  (Dover Publications, Inc.  New York, NY: 1952).  Pg. 140.  My emphasis.  Originally published in 1928.

[243] Malevich, Kazimir.  From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting.  Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin.  Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 1.  Pg. 40.  Originally published in 1916 as Ot kubizma i futurizma do suprematizma: Novyi zhivopisnyi realizm.

[244] Malevich, Kazimir.  The Non-Objective World.  Translated by Howard Dearstyne.  (Paul Theobald and Company.  Chicago, IL: 1959).  Pg. 78.  Originally published in 1926.

[245] “Suprematism has two methods of revealing the elements of perception: the ‘spatial’ method and the ‘easel’ method: space and canvas are the places where they appear.”  Malevich, Kazimir.  “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.”  Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin.  Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 2.  Pg. 11.  Originally published in Nova generatsiia 1928, № 2.  Pgs. 116-124.

[246] “The architectonics — ‘Alpha’ of horizontal building and ‘Gota’ of vertical — reveal those features, which, it seems to me, ought to be in the new architecture.”  Ibid., pg. 17.

[247] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture.  Pgs. 439-440.

[248] Malevich, “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.”  Pg. 16.

[249] “[L]et us compare the Suprematist construction of…texture with the texture or structure of architecture by the Dutch architect Theo van Doesburg or Le Corbusier, Korn, etc…[T]his architecture is similar in structure to the structure of Suprematism, i.e. the new type of Suprematist art according to one Suprematist formula.”  Malevich, Kazimir. “The Constructive Painting of Russian Artist and Constructivism.” Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin.  Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 2.  Pg. 81.  Originally published in Nova generatsiia 1929, № 8, pgs. 47-54; № 9, pgs. 53-61.

[250] “The architect [Aleksandr] Vesnin sought a pure function, which resulted in a box divided up by a network of glass, whilst in Korn and Doesburg we see a multitude of different forms linked together by the harmony of contrasts;…[I]n the new, Constructivist building…signs [of art] are absent, as a result of which the artistic form in the majority of cases is missing.”  Ibid., pgs. 82-83.

[251] “[A]rchitecture is basically a pure art form (architectonic)…And therefore no ‘matter-of-factness’ (Sachlichkeit) can offer us what art does.  The most sachlich engines, telegraph, and radio apparatuses do not help us to reach the Promised Land.”  Malevich, Kazimir.  “Suprematist Architecture.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles.  (The Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).  Pgs. 109-110.  Originally published in Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst 1927, Vol. XI, pg. 412.

[252] “Characteristic examples [of Suprematist principles] can be found in the new architectural work of such artist-architects as Theo van Doesburg, Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld, Walter Gropius, Arthur Korn et al.”  Malevich, “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.”  Pg. 16.

[253] Ibid., pg. 16.

[254] See the quotation of Doesburg’s “Towards a Plastic Architecture” on pg. 81.

[255] “In the first decade of [the twentieth] century, the physical sciences were profoundly shaken by an inner change, the most revolutionary perhaps since Aristotle and the Pythagoreans.  It concerned, above all, the notion of time…[There] came another and new way of regarding time.”  Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture, pg. 443.

[256] In each of these works, “movement is dissected mathematically.”  Ibid., pg. 445.

[257] Marinetti, F.T.  “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.”  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 51.  Originally published in 1909.

[258] Maiakovskii, Vladimir.  “Otchet.”  Trudovaia gazeta.  November 14th, 1914.

[259] Boccioni, Umberto.  “Futurist Sculpture.”  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 116.  Originally published April 11th, 1912.

[260] “Urbanism with its dynamism, its beauty of speed, its intrinsic Americanism, trampled our integral soul.”  Shershenevich, Vadim.  “Preface to Automobile Gait.”  Translated by Anna Lawton.  Words in Revolution: Russian Futurist Manifestos, 1912-1928.  Pg. 149.  Originally published in 1916).

[261] “We must take the object which we wish to create and begin with its central core in order to uncover the new laws and new forms which link it invisibly but mathematically to external plastic infinity and to internal plastic infinity.”  Ibid., pg. 114.

[262] Marinetti, F.T.  “Geometric and Mechanical Splendor and the Numerical Sensibility.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 175.  Originally published March 18th, 1914.

[263] Severini, Gino.  “Plastic Analogies of Dynamism: Futurist Manifesto.”  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 165.  Originally published in October 1913. Boccioni reiterated this point: “With dynamism, then, art rises toward a higher ideal level; it creates a style and expresses our age of speed and simultaneity.”  Boccioni, Umberto.  “Absolute Motion + Relative Motion = Dynamism.”  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 192.

[264] Even Malevich was enchanted by these frenetic phenomena: “The new life of iron and the machine, the glitter of electric lights, the whirring of propellers, have awoken the soul.”  Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism.  Pg. 29.

[265] Zevi, Architecture as Space.  Pg. 27.

[266] “And I must repeat, all together, and without any distinction between Constructivism and the art of protest.  Cubism, Futurism, Dada, all the historical avant-garde movements arose and succeeded each other according to the typical law of industrial production, the essence of which is the continual technical revolution.”  Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia.  Pgs. 84-86.

[267] Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism.  Pg. 19. Compare with Malevich’s own statement: “At the present time man’s path lies through space, and Suprematism is a color semaphore in its infinite abyss.”  Malevich, Kazimir.  “Non-Objective Creation and Suprematism.”  Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin.  Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 1.  Pg. 121.

[268] Gabo, Naum and Pevsner, Antoine.  “The Realistic Manifesto.”  Translated by Stephen Bann.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).  Pg. 4.

[269] Loos, “Ornament and Crime.”

[270] Bloch, Ernst.  “Nonsynchronism and Our Obligation to Its Dialectics.”  Translated by Mark Ritter.  New German Critique, № 11 (Spring 1977).  Pg. 22.  Originally published in 1932.

[271] See the “concrete anachronisms” described on pgs. 42-43.

[272] See the “spasmodic transformations” described on pg. 28.

[273] Ginzburg, Style and Epoch.  Pg. 76.

[274] “Museums: cemeteries! Identical, really, in the horrible promiscuity of so many bodies scarcely known to one another.  Museums: public dormitories in which someone is put to sleep forever alongside others he hated or didn’t know! Museums: absurd slaughterhouses for painters and sculptors who go on thrashing each other with blows of line and color along the disputed walls!”  Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.”  Pg. 52.

[275] Apollinaire, Guillaume.  “Futurist Anti-Tradition.”  Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman.  Futurism: An Anthology.  (Yale University Press.  New Haven, CT: 2009).  Pg. 154.  Originally published on June 29th, 1913.

[276] Khlebnikov, Velimir; Maiakovskii, Vladimir; Burliuk, David; Kruchenykh, Aleksei; Kamenskii, Vasilii; and Livshits, Benedikt.  “Poshchechina obshestvennomu vkusu.”  Originally published December 12th, 1912.

[277] Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism.  Pg. 27.

[278] Lissitzky, “The Catastrophe of Architecture.”  Pg. 371.

[279] With the avant-garde novelist Il’ia Ehrenburg, Lissitzky authored an important piece on the export of Russian modernism to the West.  Lissitzky, El and Ehrenburg, Il’ia.  “The Blockade of Russia is Coming to an End.”  Translated by Stephen Bann.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).  Originally published in Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, March-April 1922 (Vol. I, № 1/2). He also issued the editorial statement of his journal Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet at the International Congress in 1922: “I come here as a representative of the magazine Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, which stands for a new way of thinking and unites the leaders of the new art in nearly all countries.”  Lissitzky, El.  “Statement by the Editors of Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet.”  Translated by Nicholas Bullock.  The Tradition of Constructivism.  (Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).  Pg. 63.  Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. V, № 4). Lissitzky was also a signatory of Theo van Doesburg’s foundation of an International Constructivist group.  Doesburg, Theo van; Lissitzky, El; Richter, Hans; Maes, Karel; and Burchartz, Max.  “International Constructivist Creative Union.”  Translated by Steven Lindberg.  Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).  Originally published as “Manifest der K.I. (Konstructivistische Internationale schöpferische Arbeitsgemeinschaft),” De Stijl<