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.

Nikolai Dokuchaev was, next to Ladovskii, the main theoretical exponent of Rationalism in architecture. With Lissitzky in Germany, working on periodicals like GABC, and Merz, and the majority of Krinskii’s time devoted to teaching and designing new projects, it fell to Dokuchaev and Ladovskii to explicate ASNOVA’s programmatic stance. In the a series of articles published in the early Soviet periodical Советское искусство (Soviet Art), Dokuchaev compared the Constructivist architecture of the OSA group with parallels he saw in the capitalist West. He criticized the Constructivists’ “functional method,” equating it with the spare style of Functionalism that was prominent in Germany at the time. Later, in an article published in the journal Строительство Москвы (Building Moscow), Dokuchaev laid out a proposal for the Socialist city of Magnitogorsk, the first of many experimental cities that were planned to be built.

The House of Unions and the Comintern

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Though the Constructivists would eventually overtake the Rationalists in terms of their sway over architectural discourse in the USSR, one site of ASNOVA’s enduring influence remained in the schools. Krinskii, Ladovskii, and Dokuchaev trained a number of extremely talented young architects. Catherine Cooke recalls:

When the VKhUTEMAS school was created in Moscow in late 1920, the members of Inkhuk took over the crucial basic or foundation course, akin to the Bauhaus Vorkurs, which was the common preparation for students of all artistic and design disciplines. The collection of schoolwork by the student Ivan Lamtsov, completed under the direct tutelage of Ladovskii in 1921-1922, shows the full range of set exercises, from those devoted purely to the formal expression of such sensations as weight and mass to first extensions of this work in the direction of making “buildings.” Lidia Komarova’s responses to the same exercises a year later make an interesting comparison; where Lamtsov remained with Ladovskii and Krinskii in Rationalism, Komarova would end up with Vesnin and Ginzburg in Constructivism.

Some examples of student work according to Rationalist principles are included in this post.

Ladovskii, Dokuchaev, Komarova

V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), housing-commune floor plan Studio of Nikolai Ladovskii in the architecture faculty, with a group of students with models and course projects, 1929, l-r P Fedurov, M Lavaev, N Ladovskii, P Reviakin, L Grinshpun, V Kalmykov Graduates students and their assistants from the lower courses in the studio of Nikolai Ladovskii and Nikolai Dokuchaev (1928), left-right L Grinshpun, T Varentsov, I Muraeva, sitting O Golubeva, I Kirkessali, and Iu Mushinskii Nikolai Ladovskii and his son, 1932 Lidiia Komarova komarova_1 P Goldenberg, Plan for the construction of Izmailovskii station in Moscow, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii 1928, axonometric view P Goldenberg, Plan for the construction of Izmailovskii station in Moscow, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii 1928, floor layout Lidiia Komarova, Student assignment VKhUTEMAS, on the demonstration of mass and weight, early 1920s, India ink on paper 71 x 53 cm Lidiia Komarova, Student assignment at VKhUTEMAS, Trackwalker's house, plan, section, and elevation, 1923, pencil on paper, 45 x 49 V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), housing-commune model V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), housing-commune axonometric view V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), housing-commune floor plan V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), fragment of the construction of the city, linear, axonometric view V. Lavrov, Diploma project on the theme of the New City, studio of Nikolai Ladovskii (1928), general plan of the city, linear Lidiia Komarova, Diploma project on the theme of the Comintern building, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev 1929, axonometric view Lidiia Komarova, Diploma project on the theme of the Comintern building, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev 1929, general plan overview Lidiia Komarova, Diploma project on the theme of the Comintern building, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev 1929, perspective view Lidiia Komarova, Diploma project on the theme of the Comintern building, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev 1929, perspective view2 G. Glushchenko, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, perspective view G. Glushchenko, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, profile view G. Glushchenko, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, model2 G. Glushchenko, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, model G. Glushchenko, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, cutaway G. Kochar, Diploma project on the theme of the House of Unions, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev (1929), perspective view G. Kochar, Diploma project on the theme of the House of Unions, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev (1929), profile view G. Kochar, Diploma project on the theme of the House of Unions, studio of Nikolai Dokuchaev (1929), model P. Smolenskaia, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, perspective view P. Smolenskaia, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, cutaway view P. Smolenskaia, Diploma project on the theme %22House of the Unions%22 (for 10,000 people), 1928 studio of Nikolai Ladovskii, profile and floor-plan

2 thoughts on “The Rationalist current in Soviet avant-garde architecture

  1. Pingback: The Rationalist current in Soviet avant-garde architecture | Research Material

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