The Rationalist current in Soviet avant-garde architecture

ASNOVA at VKhUTEMAS

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Not all of the early Soviet architectural avant-garde was “Constructivist,” strictly speaking. Though this was the title often generically used to describe to all modernist architecture coming out of Russia, only those pieces produced by the architectural group OSA can really be considered constructivist per se. OSA’s self-proclaimed doctrine was constructivism, founded on the principle of the “functional method” of design, as Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers described it.

Earlier, another avant-garde group — the Association of New Architects, or ASNOVA — had been founded in 1923 by Nikolai Ladovskii, Nikolai Dokuchaev, Vladimir Krinskii, and El Lissitzky (though Lissitzky spent most of his time abroad). This school of architectural thought was deeply informed by the principles of abstract Suprematism in painting, the style invented by Kazimir Malevich some years before. In fact, Lissitzky’s PROUN series led directly into his architectural phase of production.

Project for the “new city”

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As opposed to the Constructivists in the Society of Modern Architects (OSA), founded two years later, the premise of architectural Rationalism, as it came to be called, was formalistic rather than functional. The members of ASNOVA appealed to evidence gleaned from the study of psychotechnics, a science imported from Germany and America, to claim that certain formal shapes and patterns of design had a direct effect on the psychology of those who viewed the structure of a building. Once these formal principles could be discerned, they could be used to produce a psychological effect, lifting viewers and inhabitants out of false consciousness and inspiring them to participate in the construction of a new society. Continue reading