The Rationalist current in Soviet avant-garde architecture


Not all of the early Soviet architectural avant-garde was “Constructivist,” strictly speaking. Though this was the title often generically used to describe to all modernist architecture coming out of Russia, only those pieces produced by the architectural group OSA can really be considered constructivist per se. OSA’s self-proclaimed doctrine was constructivism, founded on the principle of the “functional method” of design, as Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers described it.

Earlier, another avant-garde group — the Association of New Architects, or ASNOVA — had been founded in 1923 by Nikolai Ladovskii, Nikolai Dokuchaev, Vladimir Krinskii, and El Lissitzky (though Lissitzky spent most of his time abroad). This school of architectural thought was deeply informed by the principles of abstract Suprematism in painting, the style invented by Kazimir Malevich some years before. In fact, Lissitzky’s PROUN series led directly into his architectural phase of production.

Project for the “new city”

As opposed to the Constructivists in the Society of Modern Architects (OSA), founded two years later, the premise of architectural Rationalism, as it came to be called, was formalistic rather than functional. The members of ASNOVA appealed to evidence gleaned from the study of psychotechnics, a science imported from Germany and America, to claim that certain formal shapes and patterns of design had a direct effect on the psychology of those who viewed the structure of a building. Once these formal principles could be discerned, they could be used to produce a psychological effect, lifting viewers and inhabitants out of false consciousness and inspiring them to participate in the construction of a new society. Continue reading

Space architecture: Training the Soviet avant-garde (1921-1930)

The “space” course for
architects at Vkhutemas

Spatial modeling

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Soviet avant-garde architectural journal Izvestiia ASNOVA [Известия АСНОВА] (1926)

Me reading one of the original printings of Izvestiia ASNOVA, formatted and designed by El Lissitzky in 1926

My comrade Brian Hioe reading one of the original copies of Izvestiia ASNOVA

Download the full-text, PDF version of Izvestiia ASNOVA/Известия АСНОВА (1926)

I recently happened across a copy of the Soviet architectural avant-garde group ASNOVA’s sole publication, Izvestiia ASNOVA (Известия АСНОВА), from 1926. Unlike their rivals, the architectural Constructivists in OSA, the Rationalists of ASNOVA were never able to maintain a steady periodical of their own. Still, it’s a beautifully designed text; none other than El Lissitzky worked on its layout. It has some interesting theoretical pieces by Nikolai Ladovskii on architectural pedagogy and the insights of Münsterburgian psychotechnics into the effects of various formal combinations on the mind. Also, it includes the article in which El Lissitzky unveils his famous Wolkenbügel proposal, describing some of the specifics of the project. Continue reading

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

Modernist architecture archive

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


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

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

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