Andrei Burov

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Burov was a member of the Society of Modern Architects (OSA) and an avowed disciple of Le Corbusier living in Moscow. He designed a number of workers’ clubs during the 1920s, none of which were ever realized.

What he did become known for, albeit somewhat obliquely, was a brilliant bit of Corbusian architecture which appeared in the Eisenstein film The General Line (1927, though released in 1930 after some delays). Some stills from the film are reproduced below, along with some text by the architect and historian Vladimir Paperny.

Recently Owen Hatherley wrote up a piece for Calvert Journal called “Block Party,” in which he touched briefly on Burov’s later work.

From the late Thirties, some architects tried to devise ways of industrializing the creation of individualist, anti-modernist apartment blocks. The earliest is probably a 1938 block on Leningradsky Prospekt by Andrei Burov, who was once such a disciple of Le Corbusier that he even copied his fashion choices (those little round spectacles). Here, the ceramic ornaments of leaves and suchlike are made from prefabricated panels, as are the balustrades and cornices.

By this point, of course, Burov had remade himself as a model Stalinist in architecture. Paperny recalls:

In 1938 the interiors of the Slate Historical Museum were redesigned. This is the very same Historical Museum that Le Corbusier dreamed of demolishing. It had been constructed by V. Sherwood and A. Semenov…The renovations were done by the architect Andrei Burov, “a tall blond man, speaking fluent French” — that was how he was seen in 1935 in Athens, where he had stopped off upon returning from an architectural congress in Rome — a decade after his construction of the model constructivist dairy farm for Eisenstein’s film Generalnaia linia (The General Line) [a.k.a. Staroe i novoe (The Old and the New)]. Here in the Historical Museum design he made a 180° turn from the design philosophy of his former friend Le Corbusier. The interiors created by Burov, in the words of one scholar of art, “express profound principles, inherent in ancient Russian architecture, particularly in the “classical” models of the architecture of Kiev, Vladimir, and Moscow, and whim are undoubtedly related to the traditions of antique, primarily Greek, art.” In Burov’s design, continues the scholar, Russian art ceases to be “an exotic, provincial curiosity” and becomes “the original force with which the folk genius creates, on the basis of antique tradition, a new architecture, unsevered from and connected to, but in no way ceding to, the architecture of the Byzantine era, the proto-Renaissance or the Renaissance.”

There’s a broader thesis at work in these lines, which will become clearer in the following passages. In his excellent thesis, Culture Two: Architecture in the Age of Stalin, Paperny describes two main cultural forces at work in Russian history. Culture One corresponds to a destructive, youthful tendency and lines up with the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s. Culture Two, by contrast, covers a more monumental, venerable tendency and lines up with Stalinist architecture. You can read my review of Paperny’s book for more details.

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When Andrei Burov, in 1927, was set designer for Sergei Eisenstein’s film Generalnaia linia (The General Line) [a.k.a. Staroe i novoe (The Old and the New)], his basic idea was that he “works in film not as a decorator but as an architect.” He considered that he should construct a real building, one that would continue to function after the shooting. (It was only because of technicalities that he did not succeed in this.) Film critics of the 1920s rated very highly the idea of such a collaboration of the architect with film, since even feature (non-documentary) films had to show “life as it should be.” Burov shared this position: “film must…show that which is and that which should be” — a position quite similar to the idea of zhiznestroenie.

Approximately a decade after this film, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a resolution “On the Improvement of the Organization of the Production of Motion Pictures,” which put forth demands directly opposed to those set by Burov for himself. The resolution proclaims these goals: “To decrease the volume of sets through extensive use of painted backdrops and also to shorten the period of construction of the sets, having in all cases provided for the systematic assimilation and use of portable, demountable decorations.”

Le Corbusier with Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Burov (1928)Le Corbusier, Sergei Eisenstein, and Andrei Burov in Moscow (1928)Справа налево- 2-й - А.К.Буров (стоит в гетрах, подогнув ногу), 3-й - С.М.Эйзенштейн, 5-й - Э.К.Тиссэ, вверху - Г.В.Александров. 1

In Burov’s case, it is as though the curtain and footlights (or the border of the picture frame) are a transparent and penetrable plane. The architect builds an object that, moving through this plane, does not mange; for instance, Alekandr Vesnin’s sets for a stage adaptation of G. K. Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday, whim, having been used for the production, remained the same — a constructivist installation that could also have been used as the setting for a mass action in honor of the Third Congress of the Comintern. The stage and picture frame in Culture One are transparent; they can be penetrated by life. Life, passing through the plane of the footlights, also does not change. In the extreme case, the footlights’ transparency is sum that they are not seen.

Aleksandr Vesnin, Model for GK Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday, 1924Aleksandr Vesnin, Model for GK Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday, 1924a

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