The brothers Golosov

Built and unbuilt works

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Image: Il’ia Golosov, competition entry
for the Leningrad Pravda office (1924)

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Note: Translation forthcoming of the lecture notes below! “New paths in architecture,” by Il’ia Golosov.

«Новые пути в архитектуре»

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Лекция, прочитанная И. А. Голосовым в 1922 г. в Московском архитектурном обществе. Приведены лишь отдельные выдержки из этой лекции, касающиеся построения архитектурной формы. ЦГАЛИ СССР, ф. 1979, оп. 1, д. 69. Полный текст ее опубликован в сб. Из истории советской прхитектуры (1917—1925 гг.). Документы и материалы, М., Изд-во Академии наук СССР, 1963, стр. 26—31.

(…] Почему все еще громадное большинство пережевывает жвачку повторения и комбинаций древних форм, имевших смысл в сооружениях древних, но совершенно не подходящих к новым сооружениям, и нам кажется несомненным, что новое вино надо влипать в новые мехи и что современная архитектура должна найти себя на пути правильного отражения идеи сооружения — его души.

Конечно, высказываемая мысль приложима не только к архитектурным сооружениям, но к любым созданиям человека. Возьмем, например, паровоз. В современном мощном красавце-паровозе, олицетворенном воплощении силы и как бы готового к прыжку стального зверя, от первоначальной его формы, похожей вполне на грубые игрушки, нет и следа. И, несомненно, художник имел бы право голоса наряду с техником в усовершенствовании и конструировании паровоза так, чтобы его внешняя форма, без ущерба для целей техники, олицетворяла и ярче выражала его идею, его душу.

И во всяком случае, украшение вещей не в духе их идей, не в духе их назначения является вандализмом.

Сооружения исключительно технического характера, например подъемные краны, доки и пр., нельзя себе представить в дружном сожительстве с чисто украсительными формами. В сооружениях Этого типа нет места бесполезной детали, здесь все сливается с основной идеей вещи и, я думаю, не может быть спора о том, что встречающиеся иногда в подобных сооружениях формы исключительно украсительного характера или вовсе не замечаются, или производят впечатление явной их ненужности и неуместности. Трудно себе представить, чтобы формы паровоза можно было усовершенствовать введением орнаментировки его частей, так же трудно представить автомобиль или аэроплан в стиле какой-либо эпохи. Отсюда ясно, что техника вырабатывает свои, индивидуальные, только ей присущие формы. Само собой разумеется, что здесь не может быть и речи о применении классических форм, ибо здесь живет форма исключительно как таковая, в художественном своем выражении логически совпадающая с целью самого явления, то есть самой вещи.

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Hannes Meyer and the Red Bauhaus-Brigade in the Soviet Union (1930-1937)

A photo gallery & translation

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Image: Poster for an expo of the
Bauhaus Dessau in Moscow (1931)

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An extract of an interview from Pravda, 1930:

Hannes Meyer: After many years of working within the capitalist system I am convinced that working under such conditions is quite senseless.  In view of our Marxist and revolutionary conception of the world we, revolutionary architects, are at the mercy of the insoluble contradictions of a world built on animal individualism and the exploitation of man by man.  I have said, and I say again, to all architects, all engineers, all builders:

Our way is and must be that of the revolutionary proletariat, that of the communist party, the way of those who are building and achieving socialism.

I am leaving for the USSR to work among people who are forging a true revolutionary culture, who are achieving socialism, and who are living in that form of society for which we have been fighting here under the conditions of capitalism.

I beg our Russian comrades to regard us, my group and myself, not as heartless specialists, claiming all kinds of special privileges, but as fellow workers with comradely views ready to make a gift to socialism and the revolution of all our knowledge, all our strength, and all the experience that we have acquired in the art of building.

[From Pravda, Berlin dispatch dated October 10th, 1930]

And here are some exceedingly rare photographs of the second Bauhaus director, Hannes Meyer, along with his team of architects, in the Soviet Union.

Image gallery

Platypus’ “position” on “imperialism”

by Chris Cutrone

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Image: Czechoslovak avant-garde painter
Frantisek Foltyn, Imperialismus (1925)

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Note: Just to be clear about my own relationship to Platypus as an organization, I must again remind readers that I am not currently a member, though I am obviously still sympathetic to its cause. This letter clarifies a number of common misperceptions and baseless accusations that are leveled against it. Even if such accusations were true, however, I find it the height of hypocrisy that anyone, especially university professors, would refuse to participate in Platypus events on the ground that it supposedly “lends ideological support” to reactionary ideologies like Zionism or imperialism. This is all the more true given the fact that most of them hold positions at universities and routinely speak on campuses subsidized by the U.S. military (and all the foreign military forces it aids), in return for the advanced weapons technologies their research and development departments provide.

Submitted as a letter to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) Weekly Worker on May 21, 2013.

We in Platypus have been called out for taking an alleged at least tacit “pro-imperialist” political position. The CPGB’s Mike Macnair and others have characterized our expressed opinion, that we “did not support” the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya), as implying that we also “did not oppose” them. This is untrue.

The Spartacists, for example, take the position of “no political support” for Right-wing military forces against the U.S. and its allies. But what they really wanted in Iraq was not the military and political victory of the insurgency against the occupation, but rather a meteorite to hit the Green Zone. But this was not a political position. For what the Spartacists among others wanted was a military defeat for the U.S. government et al. without this being a concomitant political victory for the Iraqi Right — former Baathists and Sunni and Shia Islamists. Let’s not mince words: such forces are the Right, at least as much as the U.S. government and its allies are. It is not the case that somehow the action of Baathists and Sunni and Shia Islamists increased democratic possibilities in Iraq against the U.S. government and allied occupation.

The actual Iraqi Left — the Iraqi Communist Party and Worker-communist Party of Iraq — chose politically not to mount its own let alone join in the existing military forces occasionally opposing the U.S. government and allied occupation, but rather to oppose the latter as well as the former in other ways, through working class organizing and strike action, to some limited success, for instance in preventing the privatization of the Iraqi oil industry. The international Left largely scorned them, in favor of a fantastical imagined “anti-imperialist” insurgency, which was not that but rather an ethno-religious sectarian-communal civil war among forces targeting each other far more than they targeted the U.S. government and its allies, jockeying for a position within the occupation and its political settlement, not against it. Continue reading

Nikolai Ladovskii’s studio at VKhUTEMAS (1920-1930)

With an original translation
of Ladovskii’s 1921 program

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Image: Photograph of Nikolai Ladovskii
during his professorship at VKhUTEMAS

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Special thanks are due to Monoskop for pointing out to me a number of new images, as well as to TotalArch for providing Selim Khan-Magomedov’s selected Russian text online to translate for this post.

Nikolai Ladovskii and students at VKhUTEMAS, 1922

Nikolai Ladovskii and students at VKhUTEMAS, 1922

“On the program of the working group of architects” (1921)

The task of our working group is to work in the direction of elucidating a theory of architecture. Our productivity will depend on the very rapid articulation of our program, on clarifying the investigative methods to be used and identifying the materials we have at our disposal to supplement the work. The work plan can be broken down into roughly three basic points:

I) aggregation of appropriate theoretical studies and existing theories of architecture of all theoreticians,
II) excavation of relevant material from theoretical studies and investigations extracted from other branches of art, which bear on architecture, and
III) exposition of our own theoretical perspectives to architecture.

The result of these efforts must be the compilation of an illustrated dictionary that establishes precisely the terminology and definitions of architecture as an art, its individual attributes, properties etc, the interrelation of architecture with the other arts. The three elements of the work plan relate, in the case of the first, to the past, to “what has been done”; in that of the second, to the present, and “what we are doing,” and in that of the third, to “what must be done” in the future in the field of theoretical justifications of architecture. A commission, which might be necessary to set up for the program’s elaboration, must build upon the foundations we have suggested.

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On the so-called “rational kernel of racism”

Chris Cutrone

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Image: Photograph of measurements taken
to determine one’s “racial hygiene” (1933)

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The following is Chris Cutrone’s attempt to explain what he actually meant by this controversial formulation. While I find his ex post facto explanation adequate, the original formulation still seems extravagant and misleading. Nowhere does he address the “anthropologically dissimilar” comment either, which is troubling.

Once again, it does not necessarily reflect the views of any other member of the organization, and certainly does not represent the organization’s views as a whole.

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I must speak to my “rational kernel of racism” comment, which is being taken out of context to try to impeach me.

I did not mean of course that somehow it is reasonable or otherwise OK to be racist.

By this statement I was applying Marx’s comment about the “rational kernel” of the Hegelian dialectic, which aimed to take it seriously and demystify it, not debunk or dismiss it.

The same is true in addressing racism as ideology — as the “necessary form of appearance” of social reality.

I was trying to address the issue of supposed “racism” in terms of the Marxist tradition of “ideology-critique,” or the immanently dialectical critique of ideological forms of appearance, or, explained more plainly, the critique from within of ideologies according to their own self-contradictions, in the interest of seeking how they might be changed. Continue reading

Buried treasure: The splendor of the Moscow Metro system

Owen Hatherley
The Calvert Journal
January 29, 2013

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Reposted
from The Calvert Journal, a daily briefing on the culture and creativity of modern Russia.

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Post-Communist underground stations in Moscow, like the recently completed Pyatnitskoye shosse, are still, very visibly, Moscow Metro stations. Regardless of the need or otherwise for nuclear shelters, they’re still buried deep in the ground; ubiquitous still is the expensive, laborious, but highly legible and architecturally breathtaking practice of providing high-ceilinged vaults with the trains leaving from either side. There have been attempts at “normal” metro lines, like the sober stations built under Khrushchev, or the “Light Metro” finished in 2003, but they didn’t catch on. Largely, the model developed in the mid-1930s continues, and not just in Moscow — extensions in Kiev or St Petersburg, or altogether new systems in Kazan or Almaty, carry on this peculiar tradition. Metro stations are still being treated as palaces of the people, over two decades after the “people’s” states collapsed. This could be a question of maintaining quality control, but then quality is not conspicuous in the Russian built environment. So why does this endure?

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The original, 1930s Moscow Metro was the place where even the most skeptical fellow travellers threw away their doubts and surrendered. Bertolt Brecht wrote an awe-filled poem on the subject, “The Moscow Workers Take Possession of the Great Metro on April 27, 1935,” dropping his habitual irony and dialectic to describe the Metro workers perusing the system they’d built on the day of its opening. At the end, the poet gasps, his guard down, “This is the grand picture that once upon a time/ rocked the writers who foresaw it” — that is, that here, at least, a dream of “Communism” had been palpably built. It was not an uncommon reaction, then or now, nostalgia notwithstanding. The first stations, those Brecht was talking about, were not particularly over-ornamented, especially by the standards of what came later, but their extreme opulence and spaciousness was still overwhelming. Stations like Sokolniki or Kropotkinskaya didn’t bludgeon with classical reminisces and mosaics. Yet three things about the underground designs created by architects Alexei Dushkin, Ivan Fomin, Dmitry Chechulin et al were unprecedented in any previous public transport network, whether Charles Holden’s London, Alfred Grenander’s Berlin or Hector Guimard’s Paris. First, the huge size of the halls, their high ceilings and widely-spaced columns; second, the quality of the materials, with various coloured marbles shipped in from all over the USSR; and third, the lighting, emerging from individually-designed, surreal chandeliers, often murkily atmospheric, designed to create mood rather than light.

Continue reading

Narkomtiazhporn: The pornographic proto-Stalinism of the Commissariat of Heavy Industry

Narkomtiazhprom + archiporn
Narkomtiazhprom + archiporn =
Narkomtiazhporn.

The competition for the design of the National Commissariat of Heavy Industry building [Наркомтяжпром] would be the last under Stalin to feature a number of submissions using modernist forms and techniques. Heavy industry is always sexy: scorched, hardened bodies covered in sweat, filth, and grime. Sparks spew all about, illuminating in flashes the piping and steel grating that surrounds. There’s no orgasm quite like the panting, hyperventilating surge toward climax one experiences while suffering from black lung. No sex like pneumoconiosic sex.

Already here, though, one can discern the contours of an emerging Stalinist sublime. This can be seen in the absurd scale onto which neoclassical forms have been projected. The contest for the Palace of the Soviets had been completed, to nearly universal disappointment within the modernist camp. There can be little doubt that the winning design from that whole affair weighed heavily on the minds of the modernists.

Like so many other architectural projects from the time, Narkomtiazhprom would never be built. Some have questioned whether it was really ever meant to be built at all, or if it was rather a ruse intended to unmask newly-unionized architects who were still harboring some loyalty to modernism.

Narkomtiazhporn

Georgii Krutikov, The Flying City (VKhUTEMAS diploma project, 1928)

The conquest of gravity


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В 1928 году молодой архитектор Георгий Крутиков на защите дипломных работ во Вхутеине представил совершенно безумный по тем временам дипломный проект «Город будущего», который сразу же стал сенсацией. Концепция «летающего города» заключалась в следующем: архитектор предлагал оставить землю для труда, отдыха и туризма, а жилые помещения перенести в парящие в облаках города — коммуны.

In 1928, the young architect Georgii Krutikov, in defending his diploma work at VKhUTEIN, presented a thesis project completely insane for the time, a “City of the Future,” which immediately became a sensation. The concept of a “flying city” was as follows: the architect proposed to leave work, leisure, and tourism on the ground, while living areas would be moved to communes floating in the clouds of the city.

Translated by Natalia Melikova, with slight edits by me.

Georgii Krutikov, 1927

Julia Vaingurt

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Possibly one of the most interesting and the most telling projects of such artistic investigations of the time was the Flying City of Georgii Krutikov. A student of architecture at Vkhutemas, Krutikov presented his project “The City of the Future” as his graduation thesis in 1928. It is telling that Krutikov called his project a quest. It was a quest for mobile architecture. Krutikov’s project was as much a child of its age as Tatlin’s machines and Khlebnikov’s city-plants. Just like these artists, Krutikov was fascinated by movement and flexibility. Departing from the rigid forms dominating the architecture of the time, his city would incorporate living, plastic structures capable of changing qualitatively and quantitatively in accordance with changes in the environment itself. The goal of Krutikov’s work was to prove the theoretical possibility and preferability of mobile architecture.

In his project, industrial and commercial spaces are located on the ground, while residential quarters are suspended in the air. The architecture itself is not in motion, but it will mobilize its inhabitants, who will be able to reach their homes only via individual flying capsules. Selim Khan-Magomedov, who first brought Krutikov’s project to a wider audience in 1973, studied Krutikov’s thesis and concluded that its author “was fully aware that the project of housing structures suspended in space has significance only (at least, for the near future) as an essentially investigatory (speculative) idea.” At a time when the state was taking a pragmatic and utilitarian approach to its existence with the adoption of the First Five-Year Plan, Krutikov envisioned a project whose value to immediate tasks at hand was very ill-defined.

Despite the awareness Khan-Magomedov mentions of the complex’s utter unfeasibility, at least for the foreseeable future, Krutikov was determined to prove its physical possibility. The scale of the project humbled inept contemporaries and mocked the scarcity of the material means at their disposal while exposing the riches of the universe and its offerings to humanity. In this theoretically possible and practically impossible project, technology becomes a part of “nature” — since the potential for this undertaking is present in it — and takes on its sublime quality. Even eighty years later this project lends itself primarily to aesthetic appreciation, its sheer magnitude arousing feelings of awe and incredulity. The pleasure that Krutikov’s project offers is the pleasure in the sublime, a disinterested pleasure in perceiving something immense that transcends a moment and a place.

Krutikov’s portfolio

Georgii Krutikov, diploma portfolio for The Flying City (1928)Georgii Krutikov, diploma portfolio for The Flying City (1928)Georgii Krutikov, diploma portfolio for The Flying City (1928)

From Richard Stites’ Revolutionary Dreams (1981):

A far more popular craze of the 1920s that fed into science fiction was aviation. Russian fascination with aeronautics has been immense in our time — a kind of fear of not flying, of remaining earthbound and thus immobile. Flying — as in the archetypical dream — is a kinetic metaphor for liberation. The literary obsession with it in Europe, America, and Russia is well-known. Figures such as Tatlin and Mayakovsky are inconceivable without the airplane image. Vasily Kamensky — like d’Annunzio — was an aviator poet. Alexander Lavinsky in 1923 designed a plan for an “airborne city.” And Georgy Krutikov in 1928 envisaged a “Flying City Apartment Building” moored to dirigibles when at anchor. Taking off into a better world was semantically and psychologically linked to taking flight. The revolutionary terrorist Nikolai Kibalchich, waiting for his execution in 1881, designed a flying machine that was based on rocket principles. The father of Soviet rocket design, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, hatched most of his ideas while living in an obscure little Russian town. N. A. Rynin, professor and popularizer of space literature in the 1920s, began his work on the cosmic age during the dark years of the Civil War.  “I was hungry, ” he recalled, “I was cold, but one good thing about it — nobody came to see me .“

From Jean-Louis Cohen’s The Future of Architecture since 1889 (2012):

[C]ertain thesis projects still explored radical hypotheses for public buildings. Ivan Leonidov designed a Lenin Institute (1927) with a prophetic structure made of cables and futuristic electronic technology; Georgei Krutikov designed a Flying City (1928). After visiting the Vkhutemas in 1928, Le Corbusier described the school in his journal as an “extraordinary demonstration of the modern credo,” adding: “Here a new world is being rebuilt” out of a “mystique which gives rise to a pure technique.”

Below are some more of Krutikov’s drawings. Enjoy!

Georgii Krutikov’s Flying City

Bury me beneath the Black Square

The Suprematist funeral
of Kazimir Malevich

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Image: Malevich’s funeral procession,
his coffin carried by Suetin and others (1935)

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On the death of Kazimir Malevich
……………………………...………(1935)

Daniil Kharms

Ripping the stream of memory,
You look around and your face is pride-stricken.
Your name is — Kazimir.
The sun of your salvation wanes and you look at it.
Beauty has supposedly torn apart your earth’s mountains,
No area can frame your figure.
Give me those eyes of yours! I’ll throw open a window in my head!
Man, why have you stricken your face with pride?
Your life is only a fly and your desire is succulent food.
No glow comes from the sun of your salvation.
Thunder will lay low the helmet of your head.

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Pe — is the inkpot of your words.
Trr — is your desire.
Agalthon — is your skinny memory.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your desk?
Looks as if it’s not here, and your desire is — Trr.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your friend?
She is also gone, and your memory’s inkpot is — Pe.

Eight years have crackled away in those ears of yours.
Fifty minutes have beat away in that heart of yours.
Ten times has the river flowed before you.
The inkpot of your desire Trr and Pe has ended.
“Imagine that!” you say, and your memory is — Agalthon.
There you stand, pushing apart smoke with your hands supposedly.
The pride-stricken expression on that face of yours wanes,
And your memory and your desire Trr disappear.

May 17, 1935
Translated by
Ilya Bernstein Continue reading

Marx and Wertkritik

Elmar Flatschart
Alan Milchman
Jamie Merchant

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Originally published in the Platypus Review. On Saturday, April 6, 2013, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel, “Marx and Wertkritik,” at its Fifth Annual International Convention, held at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. The panel featured Elmar Flatschart of the German theoretical journal EXIT!, Alan Milchman of Internationalist Perspective, and Jamie Merchant of Permanent Crisis. It was moderated by Gregor Baszak, of Platypus. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion. A full recording of the event can be found online. 

Event Description

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Perhaps one of the most influential developments in Marxist thought coming from Germany in the last decades has been the emergence of value critique. Building on Marx’s later economic works, value critics stress the importance of abolishing value (the abstract side of the commodity), pointing out problems in traditional Marxism’s emphasis on the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The German value-critical journal Krisis has famously attacked what they believed was a social democratic fetishization of labor in their 1999 Manifesto Against Labor. Such notions have drawn criticism from more “orthodox” Marxists who miss the role of the political in value critique and the possibility of immanent transformation through engaging the realities of capitalist societies.

Did the later Marx abandon his political convictions that he expressed in the Manifesto? What about his later political writings, such as his “Critique of the Gotha Program,” in which he outlines the different phases of early communism? Is Marxism a scientific project, as claims from value critics seem to indicate? Was Marx trying to develop of a “science of value” in his later works? What can value critique teach us after the defeat of the Left in 20th century? Did traditional Marxism necessarily lead to the defeat of the Left?
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Elmar Flatschart: Value critique, or, following the theorem developed by Roswitha Scholz, a critique of value-diremption [Wertabspaltungskritik], seeks to understand and critique the fundamental mechanisms that govern modern society. This critique is not as interested in the political Marx of class struggle and the workers’ movement, but more in the philosophical aspects of his work that focus on the abstract and fetishized character of modern domination. This approach tries to keep the abstract critical theory of society strictly separate from the contradictory practical attempts to overcome capitalism. Marxism shouldn’t be understood as an identity-giving, wholesome position, which history proved to be erroneous, but should be reduced to a theoretical core that can help us to understand society, via a negative critique, even if it does not necessarily provide us with a way out. The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.

There is no new program or a master plan for emancipation that can be developed out of the abolition of value. Rather, it can be seen as a condition of emancipation from value and the abstract system of oppression it represents. How emancipation will be achieved is a more complex story. We know what will not work: much of what the Old Left proposed as Marxist politics. A lot of that should be abandoned because, essentially, abstract domination cannot be abolished through the imposition of some other kind of direct, personal domination. If we are to critique the abstractions of the economic forms, we similarly have to target the political form itself. While Marx and Engels suggested as much by their formulation of the state eventually “withering away,” I think we need to be a lot more radical. Emancipation ultimately has to mean the abolishment of the political as well. This is contradictory in the present political situation, but we should not try to postpone this task until after the revolution. We should see the constraints and the fetishizations immanent to the political form as something we want to get rid of now. Continue reading