The works of Henri Lefebvre

Henri Lefebvre’s work spans a variety of disciplines and fields, ranging from philosophy and sociology to architecture and urbanism. Obviously, this relates to a number of the themes discussed on this blog. A past entry featured Alfred Schmidt’s laudatory essay dedicated to Lefebvre, which I urge everyone to read. Roland Barthes, in his Mythologies, defended his contemporary against “criticism blind and dumb” in the press: “You don’t explain philosophers, but they explain you. You have no desire to understand that play by the Marxist Lefebvre, but you can be sure that the Marxist Lefebvre understands your incomprehension perfectly, and above all that he understands (for I myself suspect you to be more subtle than stupid) the delightfully ‘harmless’ confession you make of it.”

Lefebvre blazed a path, moreover, in the theoretical inquiry into “everyday life,” taking up a thread from the early Soviet discourse on the transformation of “everyday life” [быт] and Marx’s musings on “practical everyday life” [praktischen Werkeltagslebens]. Trotsky had authored a book on the subject in the 1920s, under the title Problems of Everyday Life, and the three-volume Critique of Everyday Life by Lefebvre, released over the course of four decades (1946, 1961, and 1981), can be seen as an elaboration of its themes. Eventually, inspired by this series, the Situationist upstar Raoul Vaneigem would publish The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), while the Catholic theorist Michel de Certeau released two volumes of The Practice of Everyday Life (1976, 1980).

Russell Jacoby passingly remarked in his excellent Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism (1981) that “Lefebvre’s career in France recapitulates the general development of Western Marxism.” He continued: “Lefebvre left the French Communist party only after 1956, but his earlier activities and writings betrayed a commitment to unorthodox Marxism. He belonged to a group called ‘Philosophies,’ which briefly (1925-1926) formed an alliance with the surrealists. With Norbert Guterman he translated Hegel, Lenin’s Hegel notebooks, and early Marx. He also wrote with Guterman a book that represented a high point of French Western Marxism in this earlier period, La Conscience mystifiée. Published in 1936, the title itself hints of History and Class Consciousness… rewritten in the context of the struggle against fascism.” 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

Stuttgart-Weißenhof, 1927: Modern architecture comes into its own

The significance of the Werkbund exhibition on “Die Wohnung” at Stuttgart-Weißenhof in 1927 is universally attested. Organized by Mies van der Rohe two years prior, it aimed to unite the various strands of modern architecture that had been developed earlier in the decade. Despite its commitment to internationalism, its international character was nevertheless somewhat limited by sheer geographical proximity and the haste with which it was thrown together. As Reyner Banham pointed out, it was a largely Berlin affair:

[I]n spite of these international overtones, Weißenhof was primarily a manifestation of Ring architecture, and apart from…four non-German designers…the remaining eleven were mostly Berliners by professional domicile, birth, or attachment — Mies himself, Gropius, Hilberseimer, the Tauts, Scharoun, Döcker, Behrens, etc. The style to which the foreign designs conformed was the style of Berlin by sheer pressure of numbers. No other city at the time could have mustered, as Berlin could by this date, over a dozen convinced modernists of recognizable talent.

Van Doesburg noted at the time that Corbusier, whose distinctive style was already well known, was strongly influenced by the Neues Bauen architects at the Weißenhof estate. Functionalism was out in full force, and van Doesburg had no illusions about its origin: “Principally this trend came from Russia, and therefore it concurs with the communist philosophy of life.” His intuition wasn’t too far off, and indeed the Nazis would denounce the settlement ten years later for its “Bolshevik depravity.” Wolfram von Eckardt, the architectural historian, recalls that the fascists installed pitched roofs onto the flat terraces in order to render them more palatable. Bombs dropped by Allied planes during World War II destroyed several of the buildings. Restoration since has only been partial.

Schulze strikes a slightly different note in his Critical Biography of Mies. In his view, the functionalism on display at the Stuttgart exhibition was more apparent than it was ever actual, largely an aesthetic effect. “To the extent that functionality was one of the New Architecture’s objectives at Stuttgart,” avers Schulze, “it is hard to defend the rapid deterioration of most of the houses — stunningly, within as little as a year or two. In short, Weißenhof was never a triumph of Sachlichkeit and functionalism, but of the image of modernism.”

Below you can read a selection of articles in translation about the exhibit at the time.

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Stuttgart-Weißenhof, 1927: The famous Werkbund exhibition on “the dwelling”

Theo van Doesburg
Het Bouwbedrijf
November 1927

I

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Some remarks about the prehistory. The demonstrative architectural exhibition, being held in Stuttgart from July 23 on, means the realization of an idea which has existed for years in the minds of the younger generation grouped around the periodical G (Gestaltung). This notion can be worded thus: since all exhibitions, whether of art objects or of architecture or technology, only show separate portions of an entity, Einzelstücke, and because on the other hand in our modern time the Gesamtarbeit, the unity of a collective stylistic purpose, is the only thing that counts, it must be clear to everyone that the exhibition of separate works of art, architectural models and designs lacking an inner coherence is pointless and passé. On the contrary, the requirement should be the following: demonstration of an entity in which all parts (meaning: color, furniture, utensils etc.) are organically combined. With the regular manner of exhibiting: the placing and hanging of loose objects next to, or on top of, each other, this was of course impossible, because that would be too much of a strain on the imaginative powers of the masses. They wanted to place the visitor within, instead of opposite, the new environment and make him “experience” it, instead of “looking at” it. This new requirement to demonstrate instead of exhibit was put into words for the first time in 1922, at the international artists’ congress in Dusseldorf, by the constructivists: “Stop holding exhibitions. Instead: space for demonstrations of collective work.” And under point 4: “Stop separating art from life. Art becomes life.”[1]

In fact, as everybody will remember, the aim to achieve a Gesamtarbeit formed the basis of the modern art movement in Holland, which around 1916 propagated its ideas in the modest periodical De Stijl and took up the defense for a collective rendering as opposed to an individualistic one. Then, in the midst of the war, no trace of this zeal was to be discerned in other countries, and this is understandable when we realize that this new tendency postulated an international orientation.

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The periodical G, in which the functionalists started publishing their views on architecture in 1923, was primarily based on the ideas of the Dutch and Russian artists, the former of which were becoming more and more the aorta of the new direction in Europe. It is because of the initiative of the architect Mies van der Rohe, by far the strongest personality of the group of German constructivists, the core of the circle around G (only five issues of this periodical were ever published), that the common ideal of a demonstrative architecture exhibition was almost completely realized. Not only is the Siedlung Weißenhof Mies van der Rohe’s work with respect to grouping etc., but the stands of construction materials and ingredients in the Gewerbehalle [Trade Hall] and the Plan- und Modellausstellung [exhibit of plans and models] — all of which are of great importance for the entire planning of the exhibition — can be considered his mental property as well. Neither should we forget the Versuchsgelände [testing area], located next to the Weißenhofsiedlung, where the visitor can get acquainted with the construction and building method and the materials used here. Various kinds of solutions for roof covering of flat roofs, sound proof walls etc. are displayed here. Certainly nobody will be surprised that the realization of this wide-ranging demonstration required enormous energy, all the more because unexpected difficulties, prejudices and even political complications had to be overcome; not to speak even of the financial difficulties, resulting from the tight budget with which the organizers had to work. We have to credit the architect Mies van der Rohe, vice president of the Werkbund for having tackled the majority of these problems, assisted by the 15 collaborating architects as well as by his faithful supporters Werner Gräff, Willi Baumeister, Hilberseimer, Döcker etc.; the latter undertook the supervision of the execution of the work.

It is not premature to state that — leaving the quality of the architectural products themselves aside for the moment — this undertaking of a demonstrative exhibition is the product of a modern necessity, not only putting the traditional way of exhibiting in the shadow, but surpassing it, and rendering it obsolete for future use. Those who have visited the exhibition held in Paris in 1925 and compare it to this exhibition, will have to acknowledge that the former sinks into insignificance compared to the construction manifest in Stuttgart. The latter contrasts sharply with the exhibition in Paris, with respect to organization as well as to the exterior aspect.

Robert Bothner, Stuttgart- Blick vom Turm des Höhenrestaurants auf die Weißenhofsiedlung 1931

II

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Impressions of the exhibition. — When we, after visiting the Weißenhofsiedlung, come to the glass display in the Gewerbehalle, we find ourselves, without preparation, in the best and purest presentation of this exhibition in the field of interior architecture (if these words are not a misnomer!). This glass hall, also executed after a design of Mies van der Rohe, owes its creation to the unequivocal task of displaying fragile material (semi-transparent and opaque glass of different colors) in such a way that it would be shown to full advantage. This was realized best by raising glass plates of enormous dimensions straight in the free space as walls, unprotected from top of bottom, without base board, profile or ornament. These glass plates are mounted in narrow, flat frames of nickel-coated steel. The problem was a sober one, but the solution reached the highest point that blessed, inspired visual artists can attain, and that only in very special moments: conquering the material with all of its faults, such as weightiness, resistance and transience, with the maximum of the energy force of the material itself.

Every material has its own energy force, and the challenge is to enhance this energy force to its maximum by proper application. The opposite is: violation of the material by wrong application, whereby a relatively large percentage of the energy force is lost. Weighing one material against another in respect to their energy and character, and proportioning them well, most certainly belongs to the essence of the new architecture. Only in this way can modern architecture bring to realization what it has to offer in involuntary beauty.

Only when iron concrete was, for the first time, applied in the right way (I believe this was done by Wright), were the character of the tension and the energy of the iron concrete shown off to such an advantage that architecture attained a new beauty, involuntarily, without a preconceived aesthetic intention. The same is true for plate glass, seamless floors, and other unjointed surfaces of materials, which by their purity, simplicity and their Gespanntheit [surface tension] are in keeping with the modern mentality.

It is my utter conviction, formed in practice, that only the ultimate surface is decisive in architecture. “How so? and what about the construction, the mechanism?”

The answer to this question is: “The ultimate surface is in itself the result of the construction. The latter expresses itself in the ultimate surface. Bad construction leads to a bad surface. Good construction produces a sound surface with tension.” Indeed, the finishing touch of architecture is in the finish of the surface, interior as well as exterior. The development of the ultimate surface is essential, from the first stone to the last stroke of paint. Every architect having a visual sense for construction knows this, and with this glass display Mies van der Rohe proved to be on top of this new problem.

Continue reading

German builders in the USSR, 1930-1937

Adventures of the avant-garde

Manfredo Tafuri
The Sphere and the
Labyrinth
(1979)
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The attention with which figures such as [Siegfried] Kracauer, [Martin] Wagner, and [Bruno] Taut follow the realization of the Soviet First Five-Year Plan and May’s work in the USSR must, however, be considered in another light with respect to the observations made so far.[1] In the Tagebuch of 25 July 1931, Wagner writes:

The irony of destiny: the same day in which more than a thousand city planners, after having witnessed for five days an autopsy of the cadaver of the European urban organism, agreed, in their final meeting, on their inability to do something, the municipal assessor of city planning, Ernst May, gave his report on Russian city planning before a circle of enthusiastic young architects and interested builders…The young instinctively feel that a new vitality is springing forth from Russia, that there new possibilities are maturing and will bear fruit, that there the creative joy of city planning, freed from all the obstacles of property and of private profit, can fully expand.[2]

And Wagner concludes his hymn to realized socialism with an indicative expression, which puts in the forefront the “ethical” value of global planning: in the Soviet city, “there must be contained the greatest and noblest moments of a socialist Zeitgeist…as the Cathedral of the people.” The mythical “cathedral of socialism” makes its last appearance here. Wagner, like May, Hannes Meyer, Mart Stam, and Hans Schmidt, sees in the USSR of the Five-Year Plans the only possible checkpoint for the hypotheses of city planning put forward in Germany from 1924 on. In the experiment of global planning, the intellectuals of the Weimar Republic believe that they can recognize the “exact” arrangement of technical-operative work, denied them by a capitalist system in regression. But behind this widespread hymn to the oneness of the decision-making.

The dissolution of the “social pacts” on which the “contract democracy” of the Weimar Republic was based becomes evident in the course of the Brüning’s government by presidential degree and in particular after the breaking up of the Parliament of July 1930. In the face of this collapse of the compromises that had held together fragilely the heap of contradictions in which the Weimar culture had found its own spaces, the USSR of the First Five-Year Plan can be considered in a new light: no longer a place of collective catharsis, but rather the place where the State seems to assume the role assigned by [Rudolf] Hilferding and by the Congress of Kiel to the connection “political form/social organization of capital.” This role, note well, is still claimed in 1932 by the ADGB and the Afa-Bund, in the pamphlet Umbau der Wirtschaft, the last significant document of Weimar syndicalism.[3]

Das neue Frankfurt - Neue Stadte im Russland (July 1931)_Page_01 Continue reading

A century since futurism: Antonio Sant’Elia and Mario Chiattone

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One hundred years have passed since Antonio Sant’Elia and Mario Chiattone pioneered futurism in architecture. Marinetti exerted his trademark influence over the two, putting words to the towering industrial structures they envisioned. Though they bear the mark of their age, in many ways the vision they present is more futuristic than even the sleekest digital architecture of today. Sant’Elia’s manifesto of futurist architecture appears below, along with some drawings by him and Chiattone.

Because of the Italian futurists’ notorious association with fascist politics from the early 1920s on, it is important to point out that Sant’Elia died in combat well before he could have joined such a movement. Like the other futurists, Sant’Elia was drawn to the sublime spectacle of mechanized warfare. His voluntary, indeed enthusiastic, enlistment in the Italian army eventually resulted in his death. Yet it would be premature to assume that he would have been sympathetic to Mussolini. Not all of the futurists were, of course.

An earlier version of this manifesto was published in a catalogue which accompanied the exhibition of a Milanese group called Nuove Tendenze  [New Tendencies], held in late May 1914. It was untitled, but has since become known as the “Messaggio[“Message”]. Though its ideas were Sant’Elia’s, it was drafted by Ugo Nebbia and perhaps others. In July 1914 Sant’Elia, who had long been in contact with Boccioni, met with Marinetti and decided to adhere to Futurism. Marinetti transformed the “Messaggio” into the manifesto “Futurist Architecture,” issued as an independent leaflet in late July 1914. It was republished in Lacerba 2, № 15 (August 1, 1914).
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Mario Chiattone, Cathedral of Futurism 1914

Futurist architecture

Antonio Sant’Elia
Lacerba 2, № 15
August 1, 1914

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Architecture has not existed since the year 700. A foolish motley of the most heterogenous elements of style, used only to mask the skeleton of the modern
house, goes under the name of modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron is profaned by the superimposition of carnivalesque decorative encrustations that are justified neither by structural necessity nor by our tastes, encrustations that take their origins from Egyptian, Byzantine, or Indian antiquities, or from that stupefying efflorescence of idiocy and impotence that has taken the name of neo-classicism.

Such architectural panderings are warmly received in Italy, and the rapacious ineptitude of foreign architects is passed off as inventive genius, as the newest architecture. Young Italian architects (those who attain their originality by the clandestine perusal of trade journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our cities, where a happy salad of little ogival columns, sixteenth-century capitals, Gothic arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo volutes, quattrocento putti, and swollen caryatids take the place of a style, presumptuously assuming monumental airs. The kaleidoscopic appearance and reappearance of new forms, the proliferation of machines, the daily expansion of novel needs imposed by the speed of communications, the agglomeration of people, the demands of hygiene, and a hundred other phenomena of modern life, are no cause for perplexity to these self-avowed renovators of architecture.

They obstinately persevere, armed with rules laid down by Vitruvius, Vignola, and Sansovino along with some little publication of German architecture that has come to hand, in restamping the centuries-old image of foolishness over our cities, cities that should instead be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves. Thus, in their hands, this expressive and synthetic art has become a stylistic exercise, a rummaging through a hotchpotch of old formulas meant to disguise the usual passéist sleight-of-hand in brick and stone as a modern building. As if we, accumulators and generators of movement, with all our mechanical extensions of ourselves, with all the noise and speed of our lives, could ever live in the same houses and streets constructed to meet the needs of men who lived four, five, or six centuries ago.

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This is the highest imbecility of modern architecture, which is perpetuated through the mercantile complicity of the academy, that forced residence for intelligence where the young are constrained to an onanistic recopying of classical models, instead of having their minds opened to research into the limits and into the solution of that demanding new problem: the Futurist house and city. The house and city that should be spiritually and materially ours, where our restless activities might unfold without seeming a grotesque anachronism.

The problem of Futurist architecture is not a problem of rearranging its lines. It is not a question of finding new moldings, new architraves for windows and doors; nor of replacing columns pilasters, and corbels with caryatids, hornets, and frogs; not a question of leaving a façade bare brick or facing it with plaster or stone; it has nothing to do with defining formalistic differences between new buildings and old ones; but with raising the Futurist house on a healthy plan, gleaning every benefit of science and technology, nobly settling every demand of our habits and minds, rejecting all that is grotesque, heavy, and antithetical to our being (tradition, style, aesthetics, proportion), establishing new forms, new lines, new harmonies for profiles and volumes, an architecture that finds its raison d’être solely in the special conditions of modern living and its corresponding aesthetic values in our sensibility. Such an architecture cannot be subject to any law of historical continuity. It must be as new as our state of mind is new.

The art of building has been able to evolve through time and pass from one style to another while maintaining the general character of architecture unchanged, because in history there have been numerous changes of taste brought on by shifts of religious conviction or the succession of political regimes, but few occasioned by profound changes in our conditions of life, changes that discard or overhaul the old conditions, as have the discovery of natural laws, the perfection of technical methods, the rational and scientific use of materials.

Mario Chiattone futurist architecture Mario Chiattone 1

In modern life the process of consequential stylistic development comes to a halt. Architecture becomes dissevered from tradition. One begins again, by necessity, from the ground up.

Calculations of the resistance of materials, the use of reinforced concrete and iron, exclude “architecture” as understood in the classical and traditional sense.

Modern structural materials and our scientific concepts absolutely do not lend themselves to the disciplines of the historical styles, and are the chief cause of the grotesque aspect of modish constructions where we see the lightness and proud slenderness of girders, and the slightness of reinforced concrete, bent to the heavy curve of the arch, aping the stolidity of marble. Continue reading

Samara: Constructivism into Stalinism

Architecture at the margins of
the Soviet Union (1927-1936)

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via golem

golem adds a remark made by one E. Radniskii, who apparently wrote:

Гигантомания — это частая болезнь диктаторов. Но они не зря путают великое и большое. Кое-какой резон в этой гигантомании есть: огромные размеры устрашают толпу. Рождают бессознательное представление о мощи государства. Что же касается искусства тоталитаризма, всех этих бездушных подражаний античности, любви к тупому реализму, то вкус диктаторов, вышедших из народа, объединял их со вкусом простых людей. Но по прошествии времени происходит порой таинственное преображение – вчерашний маразм начинает казаться любопытной эстетикой.

A bit overstated, in my opinion. Rough translation of the first bits: “Gigantomania — this is a common ailment of dictators. However, don’t confuse ‘big’ with ‘great.’ The kind of reasoning that lies behind this gigantomania is: enormous size will frighten the crowd.”

I think this collapses constructivism and post-constructivism (early Stalinism), without making much distinction between their formal features. Of course, it’s not total discontinuity between avant-garde and kitsch. Boris Groys has a point here. Nevertheless, it’s a little odd that the author of this post titles it “Samaran constructivism,” and then describes the style as dictatorial or Stalinist.

Either way, some fantastic photos. You can see some of the transitional hybrid style Selim Khan-Magomedov referred to as post-constructivist here.

27. управление милиции ныне сгоревшее7. Дом промышленности6. Дом Красной Армии Continue reading

The city as a regulated industry: Cornelis van Eesteren and urban planning

Umberto Barbieri
Urbanista revista
№ 8, June 1989
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to be completely elementarily experienced again, and only by elementary means can beauty be attained again. In the first place it is a question of proportion, not of form. (…)

The drawings only indicate an idea of the form, the embryo of the form.

Cor. v. Eesteren, “Moderne Stedebouwbeginselen
in de Practijk,” De Stijl, vol. VI. № 10/11 (1925)

Cornelis van Eesteren won the 1921 Prix de Rome award for architecture with his design for an Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts in Amsterdam. This design, made while he was still a student, has a classical layout, characterized by symmetry, monumentality, and decorative elements. His prize was a bursary to travel to Germany and Scandinavia in order to study the use of brick in architecture.

Van Eesteren’s stay in Berlin, one of the stops on his European trip, provided his first confrontation not only with the reality of the big city, but also with the culture of the avant-garde.

He met Hans Richter and Adolph Behne, who advised him to continue his studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. That is where he met Theo van Doesburg for the first time, marking the start of a “relationship” that was to last until 1925. Van Eesteren’s interim report to the Prix de Rome commission for the purpose of extending his bursary demonstrated his interest in the subject of urban construction: his reflections on Berlin, for instance, revealed his specific observation of that city, focussed on the way traffic functioned and on city zoning.

In 1923 a number of parameters could already be observed in van Eesteren’s work pertaining to ideas about urban planning such as the differentiation of residential and working districts, a redefinition of the historical center, the links between the various functions and the regulation of the use of land. A start to putting this approach to the urban phenomenon into actual practice was made in 1929, the year van Eesteren was given a job at the recently-established Department of Urban Development in Amsterdam. In the meantime he had experimented on various scales and in various situations with constructing and deconstructing architectonic material.

His collaboration with van Doesburg was of crucial importance for this examination.

As stated above, the Weimar encounter of May 4th 1922 between van Eesteren and the founder of De Stijl marked the  start of an intense association in theoretical and design matters. Together they developed the famous Stijl models (the Rosenberg house, a private residence and an artist’s house) which were exhibited in 1923 at the Stijl show in Rosenberg’s Paris gallery. They composed manifestos for the occasion, heralding the second, constructive period of De Stijl. The first declaration proclaimed the end of destruction and the beginning of the great age of construction. It was folio wed by the manifesto Towards a Plastic Architecture, published in 1924, in which van Doesburg announced the new architecture to be elementary, i.e. developed from elements of construction in the widest sense. These elements such as: function, mass, plane, time, space, light, color, material, etc., are also plastic elements. Continue reading

Khidekel and the cosmist legacy of suprematism in architecture

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The following is a brief extract from an interview Elena Dobriakova conducted with Regina Khidekel, the daughter-in-law of the great suprematist painter and speculative architect Lazar Khidekel. It touches on the subject of Russian cosmism, a philosophical current which has become a renewed topic of interest thanks to George Young’s new book on The Russian Cosmists, as well as some of the materials published on e-flux by Benedict Singleton and Anton Vidokle.

Following this extract there is a short article by Regina Khidekel on suprematism in architecture. See also a post by Martin Gittins as well as Enrique Ramirez’s work on cosmism and flight in modern architecture, “Rocket Talk.” The interview translation is my own, but feel free to reproduce it. Click on any of the images below to see them in higher resolution.
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Khidekel and cities of the future

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Elena Dobriakova:
 How has suprematism withstood such a serious test of time, in your opinion?

Regina Khidekel: When the founder of suprematism Kazimir Malevich arrived at this Black Square, he soon understood that suprematism — or, that is to say, geometric abstraction — is the terminal stage of abstract art, that this art that is connected with the cosmos, with cosmic vision. The plain fact of the matter, technically speaking, is that Malevich grasped the property of this new space when, according to the story, it escaped beyond the horizon. In this fashion, the laws of linear perspective for were repealed, and before the artist opened an immeasurable expanse, which then became the space of the suprematist painting and, as Lazar Khidekel phrased it, the infinite plane of the canvas. That’s why in the early stages of suprematism the forms fly into the unknown of cosmic space. This is to speak only of the formal aspect. After this came the further development of suprematism, which Malevich saw as the creation of modern architecture. The students of Malevich sought to introduce this art to the limits of life during the early 1920s — and above all Khidekel, who was to Malevich the most active, energetic, and congenial. Chashnik called Khidekel a revolutionary suprematist as early as 1921, meaning a “real, genuine suprematist.” And Khidekel introduced suprematism into architecture, not as a utilitarian, elementary style, but as revolutionary-innovative vision.

For Malevich’s students, including Lazar Khidekel, these forms have been converted into space stations. Structures and volumes were perceived by them as the cosmic dwellings of future earthlings. This is another story: that of Russian cosmism and its mystical philosophy of the “common cause,” capable of uniting mankind in the task of overcoming death and resurrecting our forefathers, for whom these space colonies were designed. By the way, this was the motive behind Tsiolkovskii’s scientific research.

Елена Добрякова: Каким образом супрематизм, по вашему мнению, выдержал столь серьезную проверку временем?

Регина Хидекель: Когда основоположнику супрематизма Казимиру Малевичу пришел этот черный квадрат, он очень скоро понял, что супрематизм, или, иначе, геометрическая абстракция, и есть последняя стадия абстрактного искусства, что это искусство связано с космосом, с космическим видением. Дело в том, что чисто технически Малевич осознал свойство этого нового пространства, когда, по его словам, вышел за линию горизонта. Таким образом, законы итальянской перспективы были отменены, и перед художником открылся безмерный космос, который стал пространством супрематической живописи и, как сформулировал для себя Лазарь Хидекель, бесконечной плоскостью полотна. Вот почему на первой стадии супрематизма формы летают в безвесии в космическом пространстве. Это если говорить о формальной стороне. Затем последовало развитие супрематизма, которое Малевич видел в создании современной архитектуры. Студенты Малевича, и в первую очередь Лазарь Хидекель как самый активный, деятельный, конгениальный Малевичу, в начале 1920-х годов стремился ввести это искусство в пределы жизни. Чашник еще в 1921 году называет Хидекеля революционным супрематистом, что означает «подлинный, настоящий супрематист». И Хидекель ввел супрематизм в архитектуру, не утилитарной составляющей стиля, а революционно-новаторским видением.

Ученики Малевича, в том числе и Лазарь Хидекель, стали эти формы превращать в космические станции. Структуры и объемы воспринимаются ими как космические жилища будущих землян. Это отдельная тема — русский космизм и его мистическая философия общего дела, способная объединить человечество для решения задач преодоления смерти и воскрешения наших предков, для которых и проектировались эти космические колонии. Кстати, это было побудительным мотивом и для научных разработок Циолковского.

Lazar Khidekel:
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The trajectory of suprematism;
between sky and earth

Regina Khidekel

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The cosmic “gene” of Suprematism, the philosophy of Russian Cosmism in Malevich’s interpretation and his cosmological concepts, fell on fertile ground. The adolescent, who, by his own account, “walked the streets late at night, staring at the sky, the moon, and the clouds waiting for the coming of the Messiah, who…appeared floating in the clouds of the dark sky,”[1] soon encountered the art of his first teacher, Marc Chagall, where the flight over the city and the life on the roofs perfectly accorded with the Vitebsk reality.

From the Chagallian metaphorical ascent over side streets familiar from childhood, he was already within arm’s length of the systematized flights into the endless limits of Suprematist space. Malevich’s destruction of Renaissance perspective and the horizon line led to the revelation of another space — that of the boundless cosmos, which became the space onto which Lazar Khidekel would project his Suprematist compositions. Continue reading

Train stations, bread factories, and the “New City”

Student projects at VKhUTEMAS
and VKhUTEIN from the studios
of Vesnin & Ladovskii, 19251929

.Train stations

Continue reading

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina, "Corbu's Corpus" Le Corbusier at the MoMA

Corbu’s corpus

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina
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First published by the University of Bristol’s Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, and is reproduced here with permission.
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Exhibit review
Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes

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Jean-Louis Cohen with Barry Bergdoll.
15 June-23 September 2013.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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The Museum of Modern Art’s Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes, recently opened to the public, marks the institution’s first exhibit devoted to the archmodernist in over fifty years. As such, it’s already managed to generate a great deal of buzz amongst members of New York’s architectural community. Corbu enthusiasts from up and down the East Coast have thus flocked to the show, turning out in droves. But its impact extends well beyond just the fanboys and devotees, whose attendance might be taken for granted. Many from the general public with only a passing interest in architecture have also made pilgrimages, hoping to catch a glimpse of what once seemed imaginable. Name recognition alone cannot account for this success, however. Part of it has to do with the timing of the exhibition.

In terms of overall curation, the sheer volume of works amassed at the MoMA show is enough to make it worth a visit. Each phase of Le Corbusier’s legendary career is laid out in incredible detail, with multiple models, sketches, and photographs accompanying individual displays. Breadth finds itself matched by depth, as the architect’s corpus is examined across a variety of media. While the exhibit unfolds chronologically — beginning with his youthful pastoral depictions of the Jura mountainsides up through his post-Cubist collaborations with Ozenfant, then on to his first buildings and forays into urbanism — the astonishing scope of Corbusier’s travels and commissions is conveyed throughout. This was very much the way Jeanneret operated, keeping several fires going at once. At the height of his creative output, while he was writing La Ville Radieuse (1930-33), the book’s subtitle grants a sense of just how far his projects ranged: Algiers, Antwerp, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Geneva, Moscow, Montevideo, Nemours, Paris, Piacé, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. An atlas of modern landscapes chronicles Corbusier’s journeys through space over time, in a chronotopic manner of which his friend Giedion, the “official historian” of modernism, would no doubt have approved.

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier's Villa Cook, 6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier’s Villa Cook,
6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Of course, the curatorial intelligence exhibited by the show’s selection and presentation of pieces should not surprise anyone familiar with the process by which it came together. Assembly was carried out under Jean-Louis Cohen’s encyclopedic gaze, with contributions also coming from numerous other scholars and academics. Cohen, whose brilliance has for too long gone now unrecognized in the Anglophone world, has finally begun to enjoy some success of late with the release of his sweeping historical overview, The future of architecture since 1889 (2012), and supervision of MoMA’s blockbuster Corbusier expo. His fingerprints can be seen all over the show. Its contents are not merely exhaustive — they are definitive. For a figure on the order of magnitude of a Le Corbusier, this is an impressive feat. Continue reading