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

The conquest of gravity


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

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