Some have noted the formal similarities between the original conception of Grigorii Barkhin’s Izvestiia newspaper building in Moscow and Walter Gropius’ proposed Chicago Tribune tower in Chicago. Barkhin himself attested to the latter’s influence on his own project. The initial plan for the building would have featured a base covering about a quarter of a city block, supporting a tall high-rise section that jutted suddenly skyward from it.
Owen Hatherley parsed their relationship several years back on his Kino Fist blog:
The Soviet skyscraper designs of the 1920s were strippings and rationalisations of the USA’s huge, atavistic fantasy-palaces. Aware of the mystificatory absurdity of a Woolworth Building, the extension of the Gothic up into the sky, the USSR’s early architects took their cue from the factories behind the facade. In one particularly memorable instance, this centred on the 1922 competition for the Chicago Tribune skyscraper. Bauhaus director Walter Gropius proposed a tower based on the printworks at the back, extending their modules into a futurist vision of cool, precise technology. It was ridiculed, of course, in favour of flying buttresses and Gothicky ornament. So in another act of plunder, the Soviet architects Grigori and Mikhail Barkhin proposed to build a slightly modified version of Gropius’ Chicago in Moscow for the Izvestia newspaper — and got it built, albeit drastically reduced.
We’ll return to this reduction later.
A more proximate source of inspiration for Barkhin’s design (drafted 1926) was likely the Vesnin brothers’ Palace of Industry competition entry from 1923, which came a year after Gropius’ 1922 piece. One immediately notices the even greater similarities between them.
Here again there was some influence of Gropius’ project on the Vesnins’. (Both ultimately went unrealized). Indeed, there would later be some controversy when the rationalist architect Nikolai Dokuchaev accused his constructivist colleagues at VKhUTEMAS, the Vesnins, of copying the tower by Gropius. Dokuchaev further insinuated that there was some ideological contamination as a result, with some of the capitalist ideology of the Chicago Tribune proposal seeping into the structurally similar Palace of Labor. Moisei Ginzburg, by then chief theoretician of the OSA group, eventually intervened by pointing out the completely different functional contexts of the two buildings, while admitting their superficial resemblance.
To be sure, the actual productive role of Barkhin’s Izvestia building was close to Gropius’ Chicago Tribune tower than was the Vesnins’ Palace of Labor, given that the first two were explicitly intended as publishing centers. Gropius’ tower would have likely served more as an office building for the writing staff than an actual printing plant, however. At least, that’s the role that Raymond Hood’s winning entry ended up playing. Barkhin’s building performed both tasks. Regardless, some overlap may be admitted.
Concerning the reduction mentioned earlier: due to material supply shortages, Barkhin and his younger brother, Mikhail, were forced to scrap the uppermost elevation. Instead, the base would be preserved as a continuous block, with rectilinear glazed façades as well as a series of distinctive circular windows over the right side of the entrance. The building still stands today, overlooking Pushkin Square in Moscow, though it now houses a Kentucky Fried Chicken store and King Sushi restaurant. Many of the photos included below are from the perspective of the park.
Enjoy! Click any of the images to enlarge, and scroll through the gallery.