Architecture in cultural strife: Russian and Soviet architecture in drawings, 1900-1953

Originally published over at Metropolis magazine’s online edition. A longer, slightly more comprehensive version of the review appears below.

The exhibition “Architecture in Cultural Strife: Russian and Soviet Architecture in Drawings, 1900-1953” opened two weeks ago at the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin, Germany. Bringing together a total of 79 unique architectural delineations from this period, the show spans the twilight years of the Romanov dynasty up to Stalin’s death in 1953.

Pavel Siuzor, Dom Zinger (1902-1904) K.N. Rouchefort and V.A. Linskii, 1906-1907

One is immediately struck by the periodization, bookended as it is by the death of a major political figure on one side and the turn of the century on the other. In terms of historical events, the latter of these seems fairly arbitrary. Stylistically, however, the date makes a bit more sense. Around 1900, Russian architects began to emulate non-academic design movements originating abroad. What Jugendstil had been to Germany, Art Nouveau to France, Sezessionstil to Austria — so stil’ modern [стиль модерн] was to Russia. Modernist architecture (sovremennaia arkhitektura [современная архитектура], not to be confused with stil’ modern) was still a couple decades away, but Pavel Siuzor and Gavriil Baranovskii introduced the style to Petrograd with some success.

Not much happened in the fifteen years from 1905 to 1920, at least as far as architecture is concerned. Of course this was largely due to the turbulence of the time. Two wars, a string of social and military crises, and multiple political revolutions interrupted ordinary construction cycles, preventing anything like normality from taking shape. Meanwhile, the widespread destruction of the country’s built infrastructure wrought by years of bloody civil war created a demand for new projects to replace what had been lost.

Nikolai Ladovskii Communal House Experimental project for Zhivskulptarkh Moscow, USSR 1920 Pencil, colored pencil, and colored ink on tracing paper 40 x 21 cmIl'ia Golosov, Lenin House 1924

After conditions finally stabilized in 1922, an experimental phase set in. Inspired by revolutionary tendencies in the visual arts — by abstract painting and sculptural constructs — an architectural avant-garde began to take shape. Highly innovative research was conducted at schools like INKhUK and VKhUTEMAS/VKhUTEIN in Moscow, as well as the Academy of Arts and RABFAK in Leningrad. Students of architecture were encouraged to explore the possibilities of new materials and forms. The emerging Soviet avant-garde was hardly monolithic, however, despite certain popular depictions that represent the modernists as one homogenous bloc. While such simplifications are often expedient, even necessary, some nuance is inevitably lost along the way.

Continue reading

Der Palast der Sowjets: Entries by German architects to the Palace of the Soviets competition

Hans Poelzig [Ганс Полциг]

Walter Gropius [Вальтер Гропиус]

Hannes Meyer [Ганнес Майер]

Erich Mendelsohn [Ерих Мендельсон]

“The Soviet Union and modern architecture” (1932)

Hans Schmidt

Translated from the German by Eric Dluhosch.
El Lissitzky, Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution.
(MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1970).

• • •

The outcome of the competition for the Palace of the Soviets has filled all radical architects in the West with indignation and disbelief. We have no intention of using this occasion to mollify their outrage; on the contrary, it is incombent upon us to inform the reader in the same breath that the decision was neither accidental nor an isolated occurrence. In fact, a limited competition among ten Soviet architects has been held and since and has yielded similar results. At the same time, however, we do consider it our duty to give our Western colleagues a more objective picture of the architectural situation in the Soviet Union and to put into perspective those matters that have been misunderstood and distorted by overexposure and sensation-seeking publicity. In our case, the attempt to be objective reflects the desire to look at modern architecture not simply as a completed phenomenon, but as a process intimately connected to all the social, political, and technical manifestations of a whole culture.

Let us first attempt briefly to trace developments as faras the West is concerned. The present situation of modern architecture in the West has come about as the result of a long struggle, with many interacting and mutually interdependent movements often appearing to be countermanding each other, as for example the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the Dutch Rationalist Movement (Berlage), the Art Nouveau Movement, the Fin de Siècle Movement, etc. The bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century, which after the French Revolution had at first decided to take over the styles bequeathed by feudalism, later attempted by movements such as those mentioned to evolve their own cultural forms in architecture as well as in other fields of artistic endeavor. It is significant to note that all these early attempts had one thing in common: they all tried to find their outlets within the context of high capitalism. As a result of this we had a revival of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the negation of the metropolis, the embracing of social ideas, i.e., garden cities for the workers, etc. Under the influence of technical developments in the last phase of capitalism, and as a result of rationalization and standardization, the real program of modern architecture eventually came into existence, demanding absolute unity between art form and technical form, both firmly rooted in developed capitalist technology. Even here, social ideas crept in, such as the notion that prosperity for all could be solved simply be harnessing capitalism to modern technology. The realization that this was not necessarily the case had as its consequence the eventual decision by the left wing of modern architecture to embrace the idea of Socialism. Continue reading

Le Corbusier’s project for the Palace of the Soviets (1928-1931)

The Radiant City: Elements for a doctrine
of urbanism for the machine age 

Le Corbusier

The Main Auditorium: an audience of 15,000. Open-air platform: 50,000 people. And perfectly regulated acoustics. Small auditorium: 6,500 people. Huge crowds can move about at their case of the esplanade. Cars are on a lower level; the parking lot is beneath the auditoriums.

General ground-level plan: The natural declivities of the ground are left untouched. Automobiles are assigned a circuit on either side, in the open or underground. The circuit leads to the various entrances: an automatic classification of all visitors. Pedestrians never come into contact with cars. (There can be 25,000 people inside the Palace, and 50,000 more on the open-air platform).

Le Corbusier’s sketches of the Palais des Soviets

1932: Project for the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow

1928-1931 Moscow classified traffic system

The ground is devoted to movement: pedestrians, cars.

Everything above the ground (the buildings) is devoted to stability.

No similarity between the two. The ground beneath the buildings must be freed, for regular streams of cars and lakes of pedestrians. The streams flow directly to certain entrances; the pedestrians are widely scattered. This makes for a new economy of layout.

The streams of cars can flow in sunken beds or along elevated highways. Starting 5 meters above the ground, buildings take on definite shape. Distribution of traffic has been achieved below, on the ground.

Here, the dynamic functions: distribution of sorts of traffic.

(Pilotis on the ground level).

Here, the static function is expressed by offices, club, and auditorium. 1928. Palace of Light Industry (first called the Tsentrosoiuz) in Moscow. Now built.

Le Corbusier at a conference in Moscow, 1928

Here, the dynamic functions: distribution of sorts of traffic.

(Pilotis on the ground level).

Here, the static function is expressed by offices, club, and auditorium. 1928. Palace of Light Industry (first called the Tsentrosoiuz) in Moscow. Now built.

Tsentrosoiuz: Plans, models, site visits

Master plan for the urbanization of the city of Moscow

In 1931, Moscow officials sent me a questionnaire, admirably thought out, about the city’s reorganization. If only all cities would send out such questionnaires! Their lot would be improved.

The theoretical drawings of the “Radiant City” were made in order to answer this questionnaire. They form a theory of urbanization for modern times.

My “Answer to Moscow” caused an unexpected reaction: its technical aspects were hailed in flattering terms. But the cornerstone of my work was freedom of the individual, and this was held against me. Doctrinal vehemence prevented any worthwhile discussion. Capitalist? bourgeois? proletarian? My only answer is a term expressing my line of conduct and my ingrained revolutionary attitude: human. My professional duty, as architect and city planner, is to achieve what is human.

Charitable colleagues — Frenchmen, too, and far from being “Reds” — proclaimed to all who would listen or read, “that I wanted to destroy Moscow.” Whereas they themselves, if only they were called upon, would, etc.…

The plate which appears opposite (last in the “Radiant City” series), is not a program for Moscow’s destruction but on the contrary, for its construction. It shows zoning and axes of movement along which the city could gradualIy achieve a position of supple ease, expansion without difficulty, and so forth. This plate shows a specimen of urban biology.

So far, only the International Congress for Modem Architecture, the C.I.A.M. has required its members to seek the lines of vital communication which can bring a city into efficient contact with its surrounding region. (A task which will fall to the 5th Congress).

Corbu’s iconic model of the Palais des Soviets

Palace of the Soviets in Moscow

The administration building, on the left, is independent of the ground. Not only is the ground freed but, moreover, the expanse of open space beneath the building forms a highly architectural frame for the landscape seen in the background.

On the right, impressive ramps lead the way to the open-air platform for 50,000 people.

By contrast, 15,000 can reach the main auditorium from ground level by means of a continuous inclined plane, becoming concave until it reaches the seats. No stairways, not even a single step can be tolerated in a public building — and certainly not “monumental” stairways!

Corbusier in the USSR
Space, Time, and Architecture (1941)

Sigfried Giedion

Le Corbusier’s Geneva plan remained a project, but the principles embodied in it were partially realized in the Tsentrosoiuz at Moscow (1928-34). The erection of the Tsentrosoiuz — now the Ministry of Light Industry — was retarded partly by the requirements of the Five-Year Plan and partly by the emergence of an architectural reaction. It was one of the last modern structures erected in Russia.

Le Corbusier with Sigfried Giedion and Gabriel Guervekian at La Sarraz for CIAM 1 (1928)

Le Corbusier with Sigfried Giedion and Gabriel Guervekian
at La Sarraz for the founding of CIAM (1928)

Le Corbusier’s design for the Palace of the Soviets (1931) fell within the period of Stalinist reaction. With the ceiling of the great hall suspended on wire cables from a parabolic curve, it was Le Corbusier’s boldest accomplishment up to that time. In 1931 the realization of this project or any of the other contemporary schemes, such as those by Gropius and  Breuer and by the sculptor [Naum] Gabo, was no longer conceivable in the U.S.S.R.

Russian translation of Le Corbusier's 1925 classic, Urbanisme [Планировка города]

Russian translation of Le Corbusier’s 1925
classic, Urbanisme [Планировка города]

Nikolai Suetin's crypto-Suprematist model for the 1937 Soviet Pavilion, featuring Iofan's Palace of the Soviets

Nikolai Suetin’s crypto-Suprematist model for the Paris 1937 Soviet Pavilion, featuring Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets

IMAGE: Suetin’s model

From the first chapter of Douglas Murphy‘s Architecture of Failure (if you haven’t checked this book out by now, you really should):

Industrial exhibitions of one kind or another had been held for at least half a century before 1851.  However, as the Great Exhibition would be the first that was international in any sense, and as it would also be an event on a scale that dwarfed any previous exhibition, then it is not unreasonable to think of it in terms of a ‘first of its kind.’  Moreover, it set in motion a massive cultural movement; the Great Exhibition is often said to be the birth of modern capitalist culture, both in terms of the promotion of ideologies of free trade and competitive display but also in the new ways in which objects were consumed, and how they were seen. Benjamin refers to how the exhibitions were ‘training schools in which the masses, barred from consuming, learned empathy with exchange value,’ while more recently Peter Sloterdijk would write that with the Great Exhibition, ‘a new aesthetic of immersion began its triumphal procession through modernity.’  The financial success of the Great Exhibition was swiftly emulated: both New York and Paris would hold their own exhibitions within the next five years, and there would be a great many others held throughout the century all over the world.  As time went on, the event would slowly metamorphose into what is now known as the ‘Expo’, a strange shadow counterpart to the events of so long ago, but one that still occurs, albeit fitfully, and with a strange, undead quality to it.  By the time the first half-century of exhibitions was over the crystalline behemoths of the early exhibitions had been replaced by the ‘pavilion’ format, whereby countries, firms and even movements would construct miniature ideological edifices to their own projected self-identities. The 1900 Paris exhibition was the first to truly embrace this format, and in future years one could encounter such seminal works of architecture such as Melnikov’s Soviet Pavilion and Le Corbusier’s Pavilion Esprit Nouveau (Paris 1925), Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (Barcelona 1929), Le Corbusier & Iannis Xenakis’ Phillips Pavilion (Brussels 1958), or witness the desperately tragic face-off between Albert Speer and Boris Iofan (Paris 1937). Continue reading

A Hitherto Untranslated Letter from Le Corbusier to Anatolii Lunacharskii

Le Corbusier sitting in front of the site for the Tsentrosoiuz Building in Moscow (March 1931)

The following letter, from the famed French architect Le Corbusier to the Soviet Commissar of Enlightenment Anatolii Lunacharskii, has up to this point never available in English translation:

13 mai 1932

Monsieur Lounatcharsky


Cher Monsieur,

Vous ne m’en voudrez pas de revenir sur l’entretien que nous avons eu à Genève samedi dernier concernant le Palais des Soviets.

Le Palais des S[oviets] est (dit le programme) le couronnement du Plan quinquennal. Qu’est le Plan quinquennal? La tentative la plus héroïque et véritablement majestueuse dans sa décision d’équiper la société moderne pour lui permettre de vivre harmonieusement. Au bout du Plan quinquennal, une idée. Quelle idée: rendre l’homme heureux. Comment atteindre, au milieu des résidus innombrables d’un premier cycle de civilisation machiniste, un état de pureté capable seul d’ouvrir une ère de bonheur? En n’hésitant pas à se tourner résolument vers l’avenir, en décidant d’être d’aujourd’hui, d’agir et de penser «aujourd’hui».

Ainsi a fait l’URSS. Du moins le croyons-nous, nous qui regardons de loin votre effort. Nous le regardons avec un tel intérêt, avec une telle soif de voir se réaliser quelque part sur la terre, cette aspiration universelle vers un état d’harmonie, qu’une fois en est née, partant, une mystique. Cette mystique: l’URSS. Poètes, artistes, sociologues, les jeunes gens et surtout ceux qui sont restés jeunes parmi ceux qui ont connu la vie, — tous ont admis que quelque part — en URSS — le destin avait permis que la chose fût. L’URSS se fera connaître un jour matériellement — par l’effet du Plan quinquennal. Mais, dès aujourd’hui, l’URSS a allumé sur le monde entier une lueur d’aurore. Des coeurs vrais sont tournés vers nous. Ça, c’est une victoire, — bien plus forte que celle qui suivra sur le plan matériel.

«L’architecte exprime la qualité d’esprit d’une époque.» Donc le Palais des Soviets révélera, dans la splendeur des proportions, la finalité des buts poursuivis chez vous depuis 18. On verra de quoi il s’agit. Le monde verra. Plus que cela, l’humanité trouvera sous les auspices de l’architecture un verbe exact, infrelatable, hors de toute cabale, de toute surenchère, de tout camouflage: le Palais, centre des institutions de l’URSS.

Vous avez fait connaître par le monde que ce palais serait l’expression de la masse anonyme qui vit l’époque présente.

Décision: comme la Société des Nations, le Palais des Soviets sera construit en Renaissance italienne…

La Renaissance italienne — comme les Romains et les Grecs — construisait en pierre. Si grands que fussent les rêves, la pierre fixait les limites de sa mise en oeuvre et de son obéissance aux lois de la pesanteur.

A la Renaissance, il y avait des princes lettrés qui dominaient les masses. Un gouffre séparait la fortune et le peuple. Un gouffre séparait le palais, logis des princes, de la maison du Peuple.

L’URSS, union des républiques soviétiques prolétariennes, dressera un palais qui sera hautain et hors le peuple.

Ne nous illusionnons pas dans la rhétorique: je sais parfaitement que le peuple — et le moujik aussi — trouve admirable les palais de rois et qu’il est de son goût d’avoir des frontons de temple sur le bois de son lit.

Mais la tête pensante des Républiques soviétiques doit-elle conduire ou flatter et cultiver des goûts prouvant la faiblesse humaine?

Nous attendons de l’URSS ce geste qui domine, élève et conduit, parce qu’il exprime le jugement le plus haut et le plus pur. Sinon? Sinon il n’y a plus d’URSS et de doctrine et de mystique et de tout…Il est EFFARANT de devoir être conduit à poser de telles questions.

En un mot pour conclure: il est effarant, angoissant, dramatique, pathétique que la décision actuelle de Moscou puisse commencer son oeuvre de désagrégation de l’opinion, de désenchantement, d’amère ironie. Et que le Plan quinquennal se couronne de ceci: «petitesse des hommes».

Cher Monsieur, dans mes propos, nulle amertume de candidat évincé. Non. Mais j’aime trop l’architecture et trop la Vérité pour désespérer déjà. Je voudrais aller parler à Moscou, expliquer, exprimer. Je voudrais aller dire ceci: l’effort innombrable, l’immense labeur anonyme ou signé de ces cent années de sciences, a créé sur le monde la grande collaboration. Il n’est un appoint technique: béton armé, fer, verre, chauffage, ventilation, acoustique, statique, dynamisme, il n’est un outil: machines de toutes natures — qui ne prouvent la grande collaboration.

L’architecture — en l’occurrence l’architecte — a pour mission de mettre en ordre cette armée de collaboration et par la vertu de la puissance créatrice de composition, par la puissance d’une intention élevée, elle peut exprimer le visage unique et magnifique de cette humanité créative. Ce visage serait-il un masque? Jamais, non jamais.

Me permettez-vous de parler objectivement? J’aimerais aller à Moscou.

Le 29 de ce mois, s’ouvre à Barcelone la session du Comité inter[nation]al pour la préparation du Congrès international d’Architecture qui se tiendra à Moscou en septembre.

Mon voyage d’Alger peut être remis (je viens de l’apprendre) à mai.

Je suis attendu à Rome pour deux conférences présidées par Mussolini et pour une entrevue avec lui. But: les Italiens me demandent d’aller arracher le Duce à l’erreur dans laquelle il s’enfonce en ordonnant de construire l’Italie en style Romain (Vous voyez combien le mal est partout.)

S’il vous était possible de préparer mon voyage à Moscou? Je vais même être indiscret: ne m’avez-vous pas dit que vous retourniez sous peu à Moscou? Alors ceci: s’il m’était possible de vous accompagner dans ce voyage, je pourrais vous entretenir de tout ce qui bouillonne en moi, relativement aux villes et aux maisons.

A Moscou, je pourrais, en dehors du Palais parler en public de la Ville Radieuse et expliquer où le progrès et une vue large nous ont conduits et exposer à votre pays qui est le seul ayant les institutions permettant la réalisation des programmes contemporains, le détail technique de la question:

la réforme architecturale

la journée solaire de 24 heures et son programme

les nouvelles techniques de la respiration exacte à l’intérieur des bâtiments (avec les résultats des récents essais du laboratoire de St-Gobain) (Problème décisif capital pour l’URSS)

les problèmes de l’économie du sol dans l’économie domestique

l’insonorisation des logis


Là sont des vérités, des réalités, des choses à longue trajectoire qui sont dans l’esprit du Plan quinquennal — beaucoup plus que certaines méthodes restrictives, sans imagination et malthusiennes, auxquelles on a fait grand accueil en URSS.

Et si l’on veut, je pourrais parler de proportion, de beauté, de ces choses qui sont les impératifs de ma vie, car il n’y a pas de bonheur possible, sans l’esprit de qualité.

A Buenos Aires en 1929, j’ai fait dix conférences (un cycle) en quinze jours. Je veux bien le faire à Moscou.

Cher Monsieur, voici vingt ans que je vis comprimé. Paris m’a été jusqu’ici indispensable car Paris est le champ clos de la qualité. La vie sévère que j’y mène a porté des fruits. Ignorant en tout, je le sais, je connais toutefois beaucoup de choses de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme.

J’ai à Moscou des amis de coeur, des collègues dans lesquels j’ai grand espoir. J’ai à Moscou des ennemis, mais, je crois, beaucoup d’amis.

Je vous dirai encore ceci: à Moscou j’ai toujours défendu M. Joltowsky qui est un vrai architecte, sensible et plein de talent. C’est cet arrêt inattendu sur une forme historique de l’architecture qui a créé nos divergences. Mais je parlerais avec lui d’architecture, infiniment mieux qu’avec la plupart de mes collègues occidentaux qui se dénomment «architectes modernes».

Je termine : entièrement désintéressé, passionné d’architecture, à l’âge de maturité où un homme doit donner, j’offre ma collaboration en toute loyauté et sans espoirs de gains.


Tout cela était long à dire. Voulez-vous me pardonner d’avoir retenu si longtemps votre attention.

V[otre] bien dévoué

— Le Corbusier

Here, for the first time, is a full English translation of the letter, provided courtesy of my father, Michael Wolfe, and his friend, Michael Vogel:

May 13th, 1932

Mr. Lunacharskii


Dear sir,

You will excuse me for returning to the discussion we had in Geneva last Saturday concerning the Palace of the Soviets.

The Palace of the S[oviets] (hereafter referred to as the “program”) is the crowning achievement of the five-year Plan.  What is the five-year Plan? The most historic and undeniably majestic attempt in its decision to equip modern society in order to enable it to live harmoniously.  At the end of the five-year Plan, an idea.  What idea? To make mankind happy.  How is it possible, amid the innumerable residues of the initial cycle of machinistic civilization, to achieve that state of purity which alone is capable of ushering in an era of happiness? By not hesitating to turn resolutely toward the future, by deciding to be contemporary, to act and think “today.”

This is what the USSR has done.  At least this is what we believe, we who observe your effort from afar.  We observe it with such an interest, with such a thirst to see achieved, somewhere on Earth, this universal aspiration for a state of harmony, from which is consequently born a mystique.  This mystique — the USSR.  Poets, artists, sociologists, young people, and above all, those who have remained young among those who have experienced life — all have admitted that somewhere — in the USSR — destiny has allowed the thing to be.  One day, the USSR will make a name for itself materially — through the effect of the five-year Plan.  Yet the USSR has already illuminated the entire world with a glimmer of dawn, of a rising aurora.  The hearts that are true have turned toward us.  That in itself is a victory, one that is far greater than the one that will follow in material terms.

“The architect expresses the spiritual quality of an era.”  Thus, in the splendor of its proportions, the Palace of the Soviets will reveal the finality of the goals pursued in your country since 1918.  We will see what this is all about.  The world shall see.  But even further, humanity will find under the auspices of architecture a precise, uncorruptible verb, devoid of cabalistic machination [cabale], of exaggeration, of camouflage: the Palace, center of the institutions of the USSR.

You have made known throughout the world that this palace is to be the expression of the anonymous mass that is witnessing current events today.  Decision: like the headquarters of the League of Nations, the Palace of the Soviets will be built in the Italian Renaissance style…

The Italian Renaissance — like the Romans and the Greeks — built with stone.  However grandiose the dreams, stone set the limits for its realization, in compliance with the laws of gravity.

During the Renaissance, there were literate princes who dominated the masses.  There was a chasm separating the wealth from the people.  A gulf separated the palace, the dwelling-place of princes, from the house of the people.

The USSR, a union of proletarian soviet republics, shall erect a palace that will be haughty and separate from the people.

Let us not be blinded by rhetoric: I know perfectly well that the people — as well as the muzhik — admire regal palaces, and that it is their taste to have the headboards of their beds engraved with temple façades.

Should the leadership of the Soviet Republics, vehiculate or flatter and cultivate tastes that attest to human frailty?

From the USSR, we expect the type of sweeping gesture that dominates, elevates, and conveys, for such a gesture is a reflection of the highest and purest discernment.  If not? Well then there is no longer such a thing as the USSR, or its doctrine, or its mystique, or anything else…the mere notion of such a thing is INCONCEIVABLE.

In other words — inconceivable, tormenting, dramatic, and indeed saddening [pathetique] that with the actual decision Moscow is now making, it may commence its work of disaggregating opinion, disenchantment, bitter irony.  And for the five-year Plan to be thus crowned: only by “the pettiness of men.”

Dear sir, my opinions do not reflect the bitterness of a defeated candidate.  No.  But I love architecture and the Truth too much to already have lost all hope.  I would like to go to Moscow to talk, to explain things, and to express all this.  I would like to go to say this: The immeasureable effort, the immense labor of so many persons — some known, some nameless — in the sciences these past hundred years has created all over the world the great collaboration.  There is no method of construction — using reinforced concrete, iron, glass, heating systems, ventilation systems, acoustics, or statics and dynamic elements; there’s no tool or any sort of machine that doesn’t reflect the existence of this great collaboration.

Architecture — and in this case the architect — must strive to discipline this army of collaborators, and by virtue of the creative power assemble all these elements.  By the power of its lofty aims, it can express the unique and magnificent face of all mankind’s creativity.  Is this face a mask? Never.  No, never.

How can I put it to you any more directly? I would like to go to Moscow.

On the 29th of this month, in Barcelona, there begins a meeting of the of international committee responsible for planning the upcoming International Congress of Modern Architects [CIAM] that will be held in Moscow in September.

My trip from Algiers can be put off (as I’ve come to learn) until May.

I am expected in Rome for two conferences presided over by Mussolini, and for a meeting with him.  Its aim: the Italians are asking me to save il Duce from the blunder into which he has driven himself by ordering the building of Italy in the Roman style.  (You see how much the evil is everywhere).

Is it still possible for you to set up my trip to Moscow? I’m even going to be indiscreet: didn’t you just tell me that you would be returning to Moscow soon? Consider this: if I could accompany you on this trip I would explain to you everything that is broiling inside me, as concerns towns and houses.

In Moscow, I could — outside the Palace — publicly speak of the Radiant City, and explain where progress and the grand view have led us and shown to your country, which is the only one possessing the institutions that permit the realization of modernist programs.  The technical detail of the questions concerning:

architectural reform

the 24-hour solar day and its program

the new techniques of exact respiration inside buildings (with the recent laboratory experiments at St.-Gobain) (the most pressing problem facing the USSR)

 the problems which agriculture poses for the domestic economy

the soundproofing of homes


Here are the truths, realities, the long-range items that are informed by the spirit of the five-year Plan — much more than certain restrictive methods, Malthusian and lacking imagination, which have been so warmly embraced in the USSR.

And if anyone wants, I could speak of proportion, of beauty, those things that are the driving forces of my life, because happiness is not possible without a sense of quality.

In Buenos Aires in 1929, I presented at ten conferences (one after the other) in fifteen days.  I really want to do the same in Moscow.

Dear sir, I’ve lived a confined life these last twenty years.  Until now, I have not been able do without Paris, because Paris is the only place that holds this quality.  The austere life I’ve lived has borne its fruits.  Though I can admit ignorance to everything else, I have always known a great deal about architecture and urbanism.

I have some close friends in Moscow, colleagues for whom I have great hope.  I have enemies in Moscow, but I believe also many friends.

I will tell you this again: in Moscow I have always stood up for M. Zholtovskii, who is a true architect, sensitive and quite talented.  It is this unexpected stopover in an historical form of architecture that has caused us to part ways.  But I would much rather talk with him about architecture than with the majority of my Western colleagues who call themselves “modern architects.”

Let me finish: entirely disinterested and passionate about architecture, at an age in adult life when a man must give, I offer you my assistance with completely loyalty and no hope of gain.  There you have it.

It took a long time to say all this.  Please pardon me for taking so much of your time and attention.

Yours truly,

Le Corbusier

The Architecture for the Palace of the Soviets/Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939) – Free PDF Download

The Archetype of Stalinist Architecture - The Palace of the Soviets

Continuing our theme of the decline of architecture, literature, and the visual arts under Stalin, it is perhaps appropriate to post here a document that was printed in order to educate the public on the proposed architectural design of  the building.  The Architecture of the Palace of the Soviets (Архитектура Дворца Советов) was intended to accomplish this task.  In it, numerous architects, some of them having formerly belonged to the now-vanquished Soviet avant-garde, sing the praises of this bizarre, wedding-cake blend of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical stylization (the columns and lavishly-decorated façades).  Some, like Vladimir Paperny, have suggested that Stalin himself might have had a hand in its design, personally stepping in to oversee the realization of Iofan, Fomin, and Shchuko’s abominable vision.  Considering the sheer monstrosity of the final structure, it is not too unlikely that this might have been the case.  Either way, below you can download a free .pdf file copy of the 1939 text, which sadly includes a declaration from the once-great architectural modernist Nikolai Miliutin written in in support of the final proposal:

Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939)

And the following is a Stalinist propaganda film made a year before this text, in 1938, called New Moscow (Новая Москва), which features both the interior and exterior of the proposed building: