Typology and ideology: Moisei Ginzburg revisited

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In­tro­duc­tion

Ig­or Dukhan
Be­lor­usian State
University, 2013
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Vic­tor Car­pov be­longs to that rare breed of con­tem­por­ary schol­ars who have pre­served the “pure prin­ciples” of such Rus­si­an art the­or­ists as Al­ex­an­der Gab­richevskii, Vassilii Zubov, and Aleksandr Rap­pa­port and linked them with the West­ern meth­od­o­logy of ar­chi­tec­tur­al ty­po­logy, drawn from the work of Joseph Ryk­wert, Gi­ulio Carlo Ar­gan and oth­ers. He is a seni­or fel­low of the In­sti­tute for the The­ory and His­tory of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Urb­an Plan­ning in Mo­scow and one of the lead­ing ar­chi­tec­tur­al thinkers in Rus­sia today.

The pa­per “Ty­po­logy and Ideo­logy: Moi­sei Gin­zburg Re­vis­ited” was pub­lished in 2013 in the magazine Aka­demia: Arkhitek­tura i Stroitel­stvo [Aca­demia: Ar­chi­tec­ture, and Con­struc­tion] and was based on a lec­ture, first presen­ted at the con­fer­ence “Style and Epoch,” which was or­gan­ized by the Aleksei Shchu­sev State Mu­seum of Ar­chi­tec­ture in co­oper­a­tion with the In­sti­tute for the The­ory and His­tory of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Urb­an Plan­ning, and ded­ic­ated to the cen­ten­ary of Moi­sei Gin­zburg’s birth. This pa­per is closely con­nec­ted with Vic­tor Car­pov’s en­tire re­search in­to the evol­u­tion of ar­chi­tec­tur­al ty­po­logy, which cel­eb­rated an im­port­ant step in con­tem­por­ary post-Heide­g­geri­an ar­chi­tec­tur­al the­ory.

Already in his dis­ser­ta­tion of 1992, the au­thor con­sidered the his­tory of ty­po­lo­gic­al think­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture from Vit­ruvi­us to the late twen­ti­eth-cen­tury ar­chi­tects and the­or­ists (Saverio Mur­atori, Gi­ulio Carlo Ar­gan, Aldo Rossi, Joseph Ryk­wert, Rob and Léon Kri­er and oth­ers). Later, an in­terest in ty­po­lo­gic­al (that is, on­to­lo­gic­al and pre-lin­guist­ic) think­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture — which might be called ar­chi­tec­ton­ic think­ing per se — led him to Al­berti and oth­er her­oes of ty­po­lo­gic­al think­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture in es­says in­clud­ing “Tip-an­ti­tip: k arkhitek­turnoi ger­me­nevtike” [Type-An­ti­type: To­wards Ar­chi­tec­tur­al Her­men­eut­ics] of 1991 (re­vised in 2012).

Continue reading

Nikolai Sokolov, proposal for a resort hotel in Matsetsa (1928-1929)

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Spotted over at Togdazine, which translates roughly to Then Magazine. Check it out. It’s a great site.

Nikolai Sokolov (1904-1990) was a student at VKhUTEIN, the State Arts and Technical Institute, from which he graduated in 1930. A member of the Society of Modern Architects, or OSA, Sokolov served as an editor for the group’s journal Modern Architecture. Later he worked with the constructivist architect Moisei Ginzburg as part of Stroikom, the building commission within the state planning agency of the RSFSR, Gosplan.

He designed this hotel spa or resort for his final project in an architecture course taught by Aleksandr Vesnin.

BookScanStation-2013-02-24-08-12-40-PM0011 copy 2

Курсовой проект Николая Соколова «Курортной гостиницы в Мацесте», выполнен на архитектурном факультете ВХУТЕИН в мастерской А. Веснина. IV курс. 1928/29 учебный год.

Николай Соколов — (1904, Одесса — 1990, Москва) член Юго-Лефа. Окончил ВХУТЕИН в 1930 году. Член: ОСА, редколлегии журнала «Современная архитектура». Работал в Стройкоме РСФСР, Госплане РСФСР, Гипрогоре под руководством Моисея Гинзбурга.

Курсовойпроект Николая Соколова «Курортной гостиницы в Мацесте»

“Thus is conquered the whole of nature.” Cover sheet for the project.

«Так берите природу всем…». Вводный лист к проекту.

Генплан

General plan.

Генплан.

Индивидуальный домик. Фасад, планы, развертка «улицы»

Individual housing-unit [domik]. Façade, plans, elevation, “the street.”

Индивидуальный домик. Фасад, планы, развертка «улицы».

Фасад индивидуального домика

Left: Axonometric view of an individual housing-unit, and “street” perspective. Right: Façade of an individual housing-unit.

Слева: Аксонометрия индивидуального домика, перспектива «улицы». Справа: Фасад индивидуального домика.

Перспектива подземной «улицы»

Perspective of the subterranean “street.”

Перспектива подземной «улицы».

Общественный комплекс. Фабрика — кухня. Фасад, перспектива, разрез. Разрезы подземной «улицы»

Communal complex. Factory-kitchen. Façade, perspective, section. Underground “street” sections.

Общественный комплекс. Фабрика-кухня. Фасад, перспектива, разрез. Разрезы подземной «улицы».

Images courtesy the archives of the Shchusev Museum of Architecture.

Moisei Ginzburg’s constructivist masterpiece: Narkomfin during the 1930s

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Recently I happened across a cache of extremely rare photos of Moisei Ginzburg’s constructivist masterpiece, Dom Narkomfin, in Moscow. They are reproduced here along with a brief popular exposition of the building’s history and current status by Athlyn Cathcart-Keays, which I thought quite good (despite an overly personalized narrative). Most of the photos were taken by three different individuals:

  1. Charles Dedoyard, a Frenchman and contributor to the avant-garde journal L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui;
  2. Vladimir Gruntal, a noted constructivist photographer and member of Rodchenko’s October Association; and
  3. Robert Byron, a British travel writer and Byzantine historian known for his deep appreciation of architecture.

It’s difficult for me to say whose photographs of Narkomfin I like best, as each capture very different “moods” of the building. Byron’s are dark, brooding, and ominous, while those of Gruntal and Dedoyard are comparatively sunny, vivacious, and light. Someone who knows more about photography, especially architectural photography, might say more about them. Ginzburg’s revolutionary communal housing structure is as photogenic as ever, though the real complexity of the building tends to get lost in single snapshots (whether taken indoors or from the outside). Hopefully I’ll be writing a longer article on Narkomfin soon. Please contact me if you’d like to publish it.

Lately, apart from work, I’ve been wasting far too much time antagonizing tankies on Twitter — defending friends and Slavoj Žižek along the way — instead of spending it on more productive ventures. They’re young, and I’m bored, but it’s not like my trolling and ceaseless mockery will persuade them of anything. So I apologize to anyone I’ve offended these past several weeks. From now on, I’ll try to redirect my energies to more fruitful ends. Besides a few pieces I’ve already written and have stowed on the backburners, I think I’m going to finally finish that book for Zer0. Enjoy these for now.

Charles Dedoyard
Dedoyard, C. Exterior view of the People's Commissariat for Finance (Narkomfin) Apartment Building, 25 Novinskii Boulevard, Moscow September 1932 Dedoyard, C.  Exterior view of the Narkomfin (People's Commissariat for Finance) Apartment Building, 25 Novinskii Boulevard, Moscow, September 1932b Dedoyard, C.  Exterior view of the Narkomfin (People's Commissariat for Finance) Apartment Building, 25 Novinskii Boulevard, Moscow, September 1932a Dedoyard, C.  Exterior view of the Narkomfin (People's Commissariat for Finance) Apartment Building, 25 Novinskii Boulevard, Moscow, September 1932 Dedoyard, C.  Exterior view of the People's Commissariat for Finance (Narkomfin) Apartment Building, 25 Novinskii Boulevard, Moscow, September 1932

Vladimir Gruntal

Robert Byron

Unknown

Unknown  Interior views of the House-commune of transitional type communal centre, some showing Solomon Lisagor, Rostokino, Moscow, 1928-1930 [www.imagesplitter.net]-1-1 Unknown  Interior views of the House-commune of transitional type communal centre, some showing Solomon Lisagor, Rostokino, Moscow, 1928-1930 [www.imagesplitter.net]-1-0 Unknown  Interior views of the House-commune of transitional type communal centre, some showing Solomon Lisagor, Rostokino, Moscow, 1928-1930 [www.imagesplitter.net]-0-1 Unknown  Interior views of the House-commune of transitional type communal centre, some showing Solomon Lisagor, Rostokino, Moscow, 1928-1930 [www.imagesplitter.net]-0-0

Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building in Moscow: A Soviet blueprint for collective living

Athlyn Cathcart
The Guardian
May 5, 2015

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In the shadow of one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow’s Presnenskii District, an unkempt park gives way to a trio of yellowing buildings in varying states of decay. The crumbling concrete and overgrown wall-garden don’t give much away, but this is the product of the utopian dreams of a young Soviet state — a six-storey blueprint for communal living, known as the Narkomfin building.

Designed by architects Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis in 1928, the building represents an important chapter in Moscow’s development — as both a physical city and an ideological state. Built to house the employees of the Narodnyo Kommissariat Finansov (Commissariat of Finance), Narkomfin was a laboratory for social and architectural experimentation to transform the byt (everyday life) of the ideal socialist citizen. Continue reading

VKhUTEMAS exhibition in Berlin: Rediscovery of a Russian revolutionary art school

Sibylle Fuchs
Verena Nees

April 5, 2015
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“Vkhutemas: A Russian Laboratory of Modernity — Architectural Designs 1920-1930,” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, December 5, 2014 to April 6, 2015.

A remarkable exhibition, featuring the art and architecture of the early Soviet Union’s VKhUTEMAS [acronym in Russian for Higher Art and Technical Studios] school, is currently at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, until April 6. For the first time, some 250 works — drawings, sketches, paintings, photographs and models, mainly in the field of architecture — created by the students and teachers of the Moscow workshops, which existed from 1920 to 1930, are on display.

Exhibition of student’s work on “Evidence and expression of mass and weight” School year 1927-1928 © The Schusev State Museum of Architecture Moscowia802601.us.archive.org-grerussi00schi_0302 copy 2

The exhibition was organized by the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow, based on extensive research into numerous archives, as well as interviews with graduates of the school and the families of former teachers. Researchers were thus able to bring to light long-lost designs, construction plans and models. The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into a neglected school of art that revolutionized modern architecture.

The displayed works of the Vkhutemas students range from designs for residential buildings, theaters, kiosks, swimming pools, sports stadiums, workingmen’s clubs and entire cities to student research projects on theoretical questions such as “mass and weight,” “color and spatial composition,” and “geometric properties of a form.” The sketches of complex urban roofscapes, imaginatively conceived recreation centers in natural settings, seemingly weightless buildings with vibrantly curved features, aesthetic structuring and façades for industrial buildings—all testify to such a wealth of radicalism, experimentation and diversity of ideas that many Bauhaus [German art school, 1919-1933] creations fade in comparison.

All the designs, even the bold and less realistic ones like the floating skyscrapers attached to balloons, also evoke a sense of the seriousness with which architectural commissions assigned by the workers’ state were undertaken after the October Revolution.

M. Korshew- Abstrakte Aufgabe zur Ermittlung von Masse und Gewicht

On December 19, 1920, Lenin announced the Soviet government’s resolve to establish the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops — VKhUTEMAS. The aim was to use the visual arts in the training of technically, politically and scientifically educated architects and designers in all disciplines. In the ten years of its existence, VKhUTEMAS became a laboratory of modern architecture and art, in which diverse artistic ideas and methods, such as classicism, constructivism, psychoanalytic approaches and even futurism came together.

Time and again, the media refers to VKhUTEMAS as the Russian Bauhaus. Many scholars in the West have insisted on seeing the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau as a model for the Russian architectural avant-garde. However, the exhibition throws this conception into question. Although VKhUTEMAS had close ties to Bauhaus and the latter held some concepts and ideas in common with the Soviet workshops, the relationship is rather the reverse. In her contribution to the catalog, Barbara Kreis writes that the works of the students and teachers are “unmatched, and later often served architects as templates and sources of inspiration.”

The sheer scope of the training and the vast number of students and teachers make it clear that the Moscow workshops mark a unique stage in the development of modern architecture. Some 2,000 students enrolled in the first year alone, while Bauhaus trained only about 150 in the same time frame.

Many famed Russian artists and avant-garde architects were at least temporarily VKhUTEMAS teachers. These included Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Vladimir Tatlin, Vladimir Krinsky, Alexander Vesnin and his brothers Viktor and Leonid, Lyubov Popova, Naum Gabo, El Lissitzky, Nikolai Ladovsky, Konstantin Melnikov, Moisei Ginzburg, Alexei Shchusev, Wassily Kandinsky, Aleksandra Ekster, and Gustav Klutsis.

BookScanStation-2013-07-11-06-19-45-PM0001alq VKhUTEMAS faculty and professors

The VKhUTEMAS school’s reputation also spread internationally and reached New York, where the works of its students were exhibited. Alfred H. Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, traveled specifically to visit the VKhUTEMAS in Moscow in 1928. The Soviet pavilion designed by Melnikov and Rodchenko’s Workers Club were accorded great recognition at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris.

The designs and sketches now shown in Berlin form eloquent testimony to the tremendous spirit of optimism that the October Revolution unleashed in architecture and other art forms. A documentary film, made by the German WDR broadcaster in 1984 and shown at the exhibition, features the comments of contemporaries, enthusiastically recalling their years of study in the VKhUTEMAS. Describing the atmosphere, one said he “always climbed stairs two steps at a time and, going down, in leaps and bounds.”

Curator Irina Tschepkunowa also writes in the introduction to the catalog that one can scarcely any longer imagine in today’s “pragmatically oriented” Russia the enthusiasm that broke out after the revolution. “Hunger and destruction during war communism, the ongoing civil war in the country’s border areas and the impoverished everyday life provoked in young people — as strange as this may seem today — not dejection, but an unprecedented creative enthusiasm and willingness to work.”

Establishing the VKhUTEMAS

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Training in the VKhUTEMAS was focused on the mobilization of all talents for the building of a socialist society. Immediately after the revolution, the academies and art schools, reserved for the privileged social elites, were abolished and artistic training procedures reformed with the introduction of free state art workshops. All who wanted to study art could enroll at such schools. This also initially applied to the VKhUTEMAS, where participation in preparatory courses of the RabFak workers’ university was obligatory in 1921 for workers and young people without qualifications. In 1925, an examination assessing artistic talent was also introduced as an entry requirement.

A. Wesnin- Entwurf zur Gestaltung der Außenfassade der WChUTEMAS zum 10. Jahrestag der OktoberrevolutionLissitzky_Proun-Street_celebration_design_2786-08

The VKhUTEMAS were divided into eight faculties that included three art workshops: painting (panel, monumental and decorative painting), sculpture and architecture, as well as five production workshops: graphics, textiles, ceramics, metal and wood working. Lidia Komarova, an architect and a 1929 graduate of the VKhUTEMAS described the overall orientation of the workshops as follows: “The goal was to unite art with production, science with technology, and the new content of socialist life with the needs of the people.”(1) Continue reading

Современная архитектура: Organ of architectural modernism in the Soviet Union, 1926-1930

 
Sovremennaia arkhitektura
[Modern Architecture, or SA] was published every other month by the Society of Modern Architects [OSA] from 1926 to 1930. In all, the magazine ran for thirty issues, counting double-issues as two. A few years ago I uploaded some crude photographs of individual pages from originals stored in Columbia’s Avery Library. Tatlin has since republished the iconic journal, however, so anyone with the money and means to scan them could upload much higher-quality versions. For now, here are some that have been digitized for the Russian website Techne, which I’ve taken the liberty of running through ABBYY FineReader:

Moisei Ginzburg served as SA’s chief editor from its inaugural issue through to the end of 1928. Victor, Aleksandr, and Leonid Vesnin also helped organize it and solicit articles. The journal was intended to function primarily as a theoretical organ for constructivist architecture, providing a forum for debate and a platform for the promotion of avant-garde ideas about building methods and design. It was formatted by Aleksei Gan, author of the 1922 treatise Konstruktivizm, who sought to systematize the constructive principles of Tatlin and Rodchenko. Nevertheless, this continuity in terms of personnel should not blind us to the fact that architectural constructivism was distinct from constructivism in art. By 1926, SA’s various editors and contributors had absorbed the influence of Le Corbusier in France, JJP Oud in Holland, as well as Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school in Germany. Ginzburg and the Vesnins regarded Tatlin’s old proposal for a monument to the Third International as a bit of impracticable symbolism. El Lissitzky explained in 1928 that “[t]he present ‘constructivist’ generation of professional architects looks upon this work [by Tatlin] as formalistic or even ‘symbolic’.”

first OSA conference 1928OSA members

In addition to its own articles, SA also translated texts from prominent European and American modernists such as Bruno Taut, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. Journalistic coverage of international events, like the Stuttgart-Weißenhof exhibition in 1927, also appeared in its pages. Occasionally polemics were written, usually against the older, academic forms of architecture, but also against rival avant-garde tendencies such as VOPRA and ASNOVA. Toward the end of its run, under Roman Khiger’s editorship, there was an editorial dispute over the question of cities, as many wondered whether urban agglomerations would endure the abolition of the town and country divide. Some — like Ginzburg, Barsch, and Pasternak — sided with the sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich, embracing his “disurbanist” vision of ribbon cities and decentralized dwelling spaces. Others — the Vesnins, Krasil’nikov, and Burov — sided with the economist Leonid Sabsovich, advocating his “urbanist” proposals for mid-sized concentric cities of about 50,000 a pop. In 1931, however, the magazine was dissolved into Sovetskaia arkhitektura [Soviet Architecture], and included representatives of other schools of architectural thought besides constructivism.

Below are some of the page scans, which you can enlarge by clicking on them. You can also read an uncharacteristically favorable review by the Dutch modernist and De Stijl founder Theo van Doesburg, where he discusses SA in the context of Russia and the international style.

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The capital vs. the countryside:

             OSA’s propaganda for a modern communist architecture

Theo van Doesburg
Het Bouwbedrijf
February 1929
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Translated by Charlotte I. Loeb and Arthur L. Loeb.
On European Architecture: Complete Essays from
Het Bouwbedrijf. (Bïrkhauser, Berlin: 1990)

 
Without any doubt a small country will succeed faster in the realization of its cultural potential than will such an immensely vast country as Russia. Did they not recently discover a city of around 60,000 inhabitants there, in which the population was still living completely according to the notions of the 18th century? These people are totally ignorant, lived in the most primitive way, lacked the simplest modern lighting fixtures, etc., and were completely unaware of the events in Europe, the war, and the Russian Revolution.

How will the Russian authorities, no matter of which persuasion, ever be able to “electrify,” as Lenin called it, not only the cities, but the countryside as well? Such a country, the size of half a continent, should be measured by a different standard, and doubtlessly it is beyond the Russian mentality to initiate a well-balanced cultural development, comparable to that in other European counties. In the latter, even the most remote province has a cultural nucleus from where the countryside can be culturally controlled. Formerly, religion used to constitute this cultural nucleus, and construction served religion. In Russia, however, culture is concentrated between Moscow and Leningrad. In this zone new architecture has potential for realization. Russia totally lacks the neutralization of the cultural factors across the whole country, which is beneficial to the development of construction. Holland and Germany are in this favorable position, and this is the cause of the prominence which these countries have achieved in the field of architecture.

Partial view of the lateral façade of the Rusakov Club, Moscow, 1929 or later

In Russia, everything is grandiose…in conception, architecture, and the freely creative arts as well, but in the long run everything gets lost in detail, in vapidities, before being finally crushed by the country’s enormous size. Although architecture is primarily the functional control of space, for the new generation in Russia as well, it is secondly the organization of required materials, and finally, in its completion, a life structure. These are the three fundamental tasks to be fulfilled by the new Russian architecture…but they will, alas, never be fulfilled, in the first place because of the immeasurable space, secondly because of the lack of materials, and finally because of the total lack of every notion of method and the chaotic character of the form of life.

If we proceed very objectively and take the time to study the essential causes of the beneficial factors for construction as a primary cultural activity in a small country, more or less reliant on its own forces (such as Holland, for example), we shall see that the factors which I touched upon above not only exist there, but that they are correlated. Holland controls its extent and therefore it experiences a healthy architectural development, in contrast to Russia, which will never control its extent and therefore will never achieve an extensive solution to its architectural problems. Germany controls its extent as well, although on a different scale from that in Holland or France, but because of that it is in a more favorable position to push architecture as a primary cultural activity to a very high level: for it has all the factors at its disposal which are necessary for the realization of the architectural tasks dictated by modern life. Continue reading

The brothers Vesnin

Vesnin brothersss vesnininVesnins' childhood home

It’s rare enough for a family to produce one genius. Two is even more rare. One thinks of the romantic literary critics Karl and August Schlegel, the brothers William and Henry James, and maybe the basketball siblings Reggie and Cheryl Miller. A family with three geniuses is almost unheard of. Sure, there were the Brontë sisters. But only Charlotte lived long enough to really make a name for herself. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, however, there was one family that dominated Russian and Soviet architectural production: the Vesnins.

Leonid, Viktor, and Aleksandr Vesnin — brothers born in 1880, 1882, and 1883, respectively — were each trained in the traditional Beaux-Arts style that was standard within the academy at the time, yet would come to embrace the emerging avant-garde movement in building. More than that, though. They played a pivotal part in defining the movement, as well.

Particularly Aleksandr, whose abilities outshone those of his older brothers, made a name for himself early on as a painter of some talent. Vesnin came under the influence of Kazimir Malevich’s suprematist school of abstract, mystical geometry. Eventually he went on to design a number of monumental street displays for festivals and street parades during the revolution, between 1919 and 1923. Here he collaborated with the great artist Liubov Popova, who along with Aleksandr Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, and Varvara Stepanova were beginning to form the constructivist current in modern art.

At this point, he began to work on stage design in conjunction with Popova. They worked together on a project for Vsevolod Meirkhol’d’s play The Magnanimous Cuckold (1922) and a production of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. Both sets were groundbreaking in terms of their mobility, scale, and artistic composition, fully functional for the proscenium or surrounded by an audience on all sides. Some of the futurists and constructivists of the early 1920s advocated bringing art and live theater into factories themselves, as part of their general program of collapsing art into life.

Beginning in 1924, Aleksandr rejoined his brothers Viktor and Leonid for a competition entry for a proposed Palace of Labor in Moscow. El Lissitzky reflected in 1929 on the context and content of their submission, having had time to assess its significance:

In 1923, Soviet architecture was presented with its first new task. A plan was advanced to build a massive complex in the center of Moscow, a so-called “Palace of Labor,” for the new collective ruler, the worker. It was to serve for large congresses, mass rallies, meetings, theatrical productions, and so on. The task was as colossal as were the times. However, time had yet to produce a crystallization of definite architectural concepts. Thus, most of the proposed designs were amorphous and fragmented conglomerations, drawing their inspiration both from the past and from the mechanistic present, and based to a large degree on literary rather than architectural ideas. The design of the three brothers Vesnin marks the first step away from destruction toward new construction. By elevating a closed plan by means of an exposed reinforced concrete frame, a clear stereometric volume is produced. The whole is still conceived as an isolated, single object, independent of urban design considerations. The compulsion to rely on columnar organization remains pervasive. The complex is crowned by a romantic allusion to radio-tower technology, and the large space designed to accommodate 8,000 persons is still completely conventional. Nevertheless, this design represents the first attempt to create a new form for a social task that in itself was still ill-defined at the time. The ensuing period offered an increasing number of more concrete tasks, their purpose and aim becoming gradually more defined, and what was accomplished improved accordingly.

In 1924, the brothers A.A. and V.A. Vesnin worked out a design for the office building of the newspaper Leningradskaia Pravda. The building lot measured a mere 6 × 6 meters. The design of this building represents a characteristic solution in a period yearning for glass, steel, and concrete. All accessories — which on a typical street are usually tacked onto the building — such as signs, advertising, clocks, loudspeakers, and even the elevators inside, have been incorporated as integral elements of the design and combined into a unified whole. This is the aesthetic of constructivism.

Moving on from this competition, the Vesnins continued to work with one another on further plans. From the Arkos building to the Likachev Palace of Culture, the Palace of Soviets, and People’s Commissariat of Heavy Industry [Narkomtiazhprom], the Vesnins blazed a trail across all the major concourses over the next decade.

Unknown Portrait of Leonid Vesnin, Soviet Union ca. 1928Unknown Portrait of Victor Vesnin, Soviet Union after 1925Aleksandr Vesnin, 1934 Continue reading

Ivan Leonidov’s proposal for the Lenin Institute in Moscow (1927)

AIM: To answer the needs of contemporary life through maximum use of the possibilities of technology.

THEME: The Lenin Institute is the collective knowledge center of the USSR.

LOCATION: Where the new city is developing. Lenin Hills in Moscow.

CONSTlTUENT PARTS: A library with 15 million volumes of books and 5 reading rooms of 500-1000 seat capacity, and an institute of librarianship.

Auditoria varying in capacity from 250-4000 people. A scientific theater, i.e. planetarium. Research institutes for individual academic work.

BookScanStation-2013-07-12-06-34-10-PM0004

MECHANIZATION: Library — Delivery of books to the reader and back into the stacks takes place through vertical and horizontal conveyor systems; upon request from the catalogue hall, the books are automatically delivered to the reading rooms. Continue reading

Color and light in modern architecture

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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.

The dead in living color

Chromatic modernism in
the USSR, 1920-1935

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Modernism is often criticized for its allegedly dull monochromes, the ostentatiously unpainted surfaces of its buildings and the desaturated stillness of their black-and-white photographic representation.

Part of this was intentional, for either promotional or artistic reasons. Thus one gets the rich black-and-white photos of brutalist buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, still colorless despite the availability of new technologies. As such, it’s just as much a part of brutalism’s brooding aesthetic as anything else. (Don’t believe me? Take a look through Fuck Yeah Brutalism’s archives). Or else there’s the deliberate intradisciplinary gesture, as in constructivist tekstura, which insists that the material components should be fully exposed, not concealed beneath “artificial” coloring. Either way, the naked white of plaster or the gray-on-gray of concrete, polished metal through untinted glass.

Another part was, of course, incidental. For a long time color photographs weren’t practical, and so much of early modernism’s more chromatic creations were lost to the general public — or at least, to anyone who couldn’t visit them in person. Continue reading

Dom Narkomfin in Moscow, 1929

Moisei Ginzburg & Ignatii Milinis’
iconic constructivist masterpiece

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Over the last couple years I’ve amassed a frightening number of high-quality photographs and image scans depicting Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’ Dom Narkomfin in Moscow. It is, without question, one of the most iconic pieces of Soviet constructivist architecture that was actually realized.

For this very reason, however, it has already been the subject of countless studies and historical investigations. Some of these have been quite good: Owen Hatherley’s Catherine Cooke’s. Others have been competent, if unmoving: Victor Buchli’s. George Baird’s treatment of Narkomfin in The Space of Appearance left me singularly unimpressed — something I wasn’t counting on, since I generally appreciate his architectural criticism.

Regardless, there’s very little new to say about the building, at least in English or in Russian. While I debated for some time whether or not I should write something “original” on Narkomfin, offering my own “unique” perspective, I’ve finally decided that my energies would be best spent elsewhere. Hence, I am appending just a few short overviews of the structure, detailing its layout and specifications, as well as Owen Hatherley’s longer description of the building from Militant Modernism (2009).

A few months ago, I did something similar with his article “Buried Treasure.” Maybe I’ll translate a short bit on Narkomfin from Sovremennaia arkhitektura soon. Enjoy this for now, however!

Specifications

.
Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis (1929).

A collective house for workers in the
People’s Commissariat of Finance.

Moscow, USSR. Novinskii Boulevard.

The shorter wing of the complex houses a children’s home, dining room, kitchen, and laundry. The complex is placed in the center of a park, away from street noise. Apartments are two stories high. Height of rooms is 2.2 m, that is, for two-story spaces, 4.4 m. Continuous side corridor every second floor. Roof garden. On the ground floor are rooms for rest and recreation.

The individual bourgeois apartment is no longer appropriate for new dwelling relations, which are based on principles other than the unified patriarchal family with its petty individualistic conduct. The economic routines of the worker’s family (nutrition, cleaning, washing) as well as the education of children, their care and control and the fulfillment of the cultural and sport needs of workers and children, can and must be collectivized, that is, produced on a collective basis. Therefore all those rooms that for their functional destination and their character must serve entire collectives and not only single individuals must be reshaped into corresponding highly collectivized premises: the canteen, common resting rooms, reading rooms and libraries, gyms, child care rooms and nurseries, etc.; single individual rooms are the sleeping cabins, restrooms, rooms for individual use and for scientific work.

The windows open like an accordion to transform the living cell into an open terrace surrounded by greenery. The sense of a room is lost: it becomes a platform integrated within nature.

The Building Committee [Stroikom] of
the Economic Soviet RSFSR 1928.

(Architects: Ginzburg, Pasternak, Barshch, Vladimirov).
Project for a collective house, Type F.

This dwelling beehive does not contain any of the functions usually attributed to a full housekeeping flat. In contrast to a hotel, bachelor flats, and pensions, such a dwelling beehive should not be considered in itself a complete dwelling entity. The program of “dwelling” includes all the relevant social, study, etc. spaces, and separate children’s rooms are concentrated outside of this dwelling beehive in their own separate buildings.

  • Collectivization and centralization of all housekeeping and communal functions;
  • Reduction of dwelling to a single cell for each adult person;
  • Liberation of the working woman from household chores and the upbringing of children;
  • Elevation of the housing standard and culture of the working class; Support of popular education and physical culture, as well as community life;
  • Full medical care; Reorganization of the city as a whole; Isolation of an individual’s private life within a single standardized dwelling cell. Continue reading