Soviet Constructivist Architecture
…and its influences
The Russian architectural profession was relatively intact after the revolution in October 1917, at least compared to the other arts in this unstable time. Foreign architects worked freely in the larger cities and the demand for private building was relatively high. This period was short lived as civil war wreaked havoc with the economy and infrastructure of the country. A major turning point for the profession, and the Russian people as a whole, was Act passed by the Bolsheviks, repealing the right for private ownership of urban real-estate. This ‘socialisation of Soviet soil’ set the framework for the ill prepared architects of the time, with a new regard for projects not as just isolated buildings, but as elements of a greater whole. Post-revolutionary Russian architecture endeavoured to change, to revolutionise in fact, the conception of space; creating environments that complimented their new social values, while utilising the latest in construction techniques.
The Constructivists were the prominent group that emerged around this period, starting in the early 1920s, up until the late 1930s. Their inspiration came from paintings and sculptures by the likes of Naum Gabo and Anton Pevsner. Attempting to bring cubism into three dimensions, while fusing their designs with a sense of kinetic energy, the constructivists enjoyed critical success abroad. There were numerous exhibitions in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and the US, and they were considerably well received by the intelligentsia all over the world. Links were made with artists and architects from the other prominent European movements at the time, such as Bauhaus, and De Stijl, who were fascinated by the social experiment unfolding in the Soviet Union. They saw Russian avant-garde, specifically constructivism as fitting sign to a new, unshackled society. Over the next few years after the revolution, a new, focused ideology behind constructivist architects group (also known as the Association of Contemporary Architects, O.S.A) emerged. Below is an extract from their first conference. …effects on the user (ideological, emotional, etc). We solve these problems not by adding superfluous decoration, but: 1.
By employing a system pf construction of a new social type, by thoroughly analysing every social function, and by carefully integrating every part of the architectural organism 2.
By insisting on the quality of every part and element of the structure in relation to its social and technical function 3.
By utilising all the characteristics of the various elements of architecture: surfaces, volumes, spatial relationships, scale, texture, colour, etc., treating these not as self-contained abstract values but as variables that always require a fresh solution appropriate to the particular objective and its actual possibilities of realisation. The extract above, along with the rest of the O.S.A conference records illustrates their constant feeling that they must define their position. Manifestos, Declarations of principle, and doctrinal pronouncements played an important part in the development of architecture at the time, and it is not surprising in a period of such upheaval across both their nation and abroad. The fundamental aim of the group was to build a new framework that reflected the aspirations of the socialist society, but at the same time exert a form of counterinfluence to help develop that same society, a ‘tool of social transformation’.
A major pitfall for the Constructivists was technical ability of the (for the want of a better phrase) ‘Russia construction industry’ to fulfil their designs. They, the O.S.A, conceded early on that the backwardness of building techniques in the country was a problem when attempting to fulfil their ambitions and, that technology was key to building a new socialist future.
One of the proposed monuments to be erected to commemorate the Bolshevik Revolution...
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