Moisei Ginzburg, competition entry for the Palace of the Soviets (1931)

In previous posts, I’ve tried to give some sense of the magnitude of the international competition for the Palace of the Soviets project in Moscow. So far I’ve dealt with some of the entries by German architects such as Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, Erich Mendelsohn, and Hans Poelzig, as well as the Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s famous entry. This would turn out to be one of the last major Soviet competitions in which modernist proposals featured prominently. (Another competition, for the Commissariat of Heavy Industry [Наркомтяжпром], took place in Moscow around 1933-1934, but only submissions from Soviet architects were considered).

Moisei Ginzburg was the chief theoretician and, besides the Vesnin brothers, probably the most accomplished practitioner of architectural constructivism in the Soviet Union. His project for the Palace of the Soviets, jointly carried out with A. Gassenpfliug and S. Lisagor under the supervision of A.F. Loleita, a specialist in matters of construction, and S.Ia. Lifshits, an acoustic technician. It was without a doubt one of his most futuristic proposals to date, almost resembling a landed spaceship faced toward the Kremlin.

One might perhaps compare it with his earlier submission to the 1922-1923 Palace of Labor competition, in terms of its scale and purpose, as the architectural historian Selim Khan-Magomedov has done. But formally, Ginzburg’s vision for the Palace of the Soviets was much more advanced. The multi-tiered central building was designed with stepped storeys parabolically curved upward toward a skylight crowning the dome. His scheme for its main thoroughfares and points of access would have accommodated huge crowds of visitors and personnel, with a series of platforms, ramps, and stairs expediting circulation into and out of the Palace.

Courtyards and terraces were to surround the different structures in the ensemble, with covered walkways connecting them to one another. Not only with respect to its internal composition was the Palace of the Soviets meant to be broadly accessible, either, as the building was easily open to approach from without. The variety of volumes included in Ginzburg’s plan may have clashed stylistically with the preexisting urban fabric of Moscow, but it would have been spatially integrated rather elegantly.

A few paragraphs pertaining to Ginzburg’s Palace of the Soviets appear below in the original Russian, extracted  from Khan-Magomedov’s book on Moisei Ginzburg. See also his excellent Narkomfin building.

Поиски новых типов общественных зданий в первом периоде творчества Гинзбурга завершаются конкурсным проектом Дворца Советов (1932 г.), который выполнялся им совместно с А. Гассенпфлюгом и С. Лисагором при консультации А.Ф. Лолейта (конструкция) и С.Я. Лифшица (акустика). По масштабу и роли в ансамбле центра Москвы Дворец Советов сравним с Дворцом труда (конкурс 1922-1923 гг.). Близка даже в какой-то мере и программа этих зданий (большой и малый залы и т. д.). Сравнивая выполненные Гинзбургом проекты Дворца труда и Дворца Советов, разделенные всего девятью годами видно, какой большой и сложный творческий путь прошел их автор. Объемно-пространственная композиция Дворца Советов необычна по трактовке для предыдущего творчества Гинзбурга. Как правило, в более ранних проектах он использовал два композиционных приема: членение здания на отдельные корпуса, соединенные крытыми переходами (павильонный тип), или создание сложной композиции из соединенных между собой различных по форме и величине объемов. Continue reading

Color and light in modern architecture

In 1929, the Soviet avant-garde journal Modern Architecture (Современная архитектура, or СА) published a special issue devoted to color and light in design. Below is an embedded link to the full issue on Scribd, as well as some lower-quality scans of individual pages. More later. Enjoy these for now.

Moisei Ginzburg, Gosstrakh apartment complex in Moscow (1926)

Photos and floor plans of Ginzburg’s famous housing mass (zhil’massiv) in Moscow.


The Rationalist current in Soviet avant-garde architecture


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”

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

Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism


An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.