CONSTRUCTIVIST ARCHITECTURE

   Constructivist art and architecture, found in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, grew out of the geometric, dynamic, and kinetic styles of both Cubism and Futurist architecture. Russian Constructivism, as it is also called, was then overlaid with Communist ideals to form a new, modernist aesthetic that symbolized the "New Economic Policy" of Vladimir Lenin after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Technology and engineering were both central to this style, yet such ideas as the need for "pure" art versus industrial production remain unresolved, and many architects refused to consider themselves Constructivists. The movement was formed by the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, whose influential 1920 treatise The Realist Manifesto argued that Cubism and Futurism were not abstract and intuitive enough, and thus they sought to integrate the spiritual abstraction of artists such as the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky into their movement. After the brothers emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1922, Constructivism began to move toward more functional and less theoretical concerns, and Constructivist architecture became more prominent within the movement.
   One of the first Constructivist structures was designed in 1919 for the headquarters of the First Comintern in St. Petersburg by the Futurist artist Vladimir Tatlin. Also called "Tatlin's Tower," plans for this never-built monument reveal a dramatic spiraling steel high-rise enclosed with a glass curtain wall that recalls a more dynamic version of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Lack of financing prevented the completion of many of these early works, and thus the origins of Constructivist architecture can be best understood through theoretical models such as the "Dynamic City," or the Prounen-Raum, designed by El Lissitzky in 1919. These theoretical plans, deeply inspired by painters such as the Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich, sought to bring together the utopian and the everyday into workable solutions based on the new communal living arrangements encouraged by Lenin. In addition, both the automobile and industry were central to this modernist movement, and therefore new roads, more parking garages, and more efficient factories and government buildings formed the core of architectural commissions across Europe during the 1920s. Thus, Constructivist architecture shares many similarities in its spare style and universal design with the contemporary International style.
   Ilya Golosov and Konstantin Melnikov were the primary architects of the new building type called the "workers' club," as well as the new communal urban apartment building. These structures provided a social outlet for workers that encouraged political and physical activity and sought to discourage them from either going to the pubs after work or returning home to their individual families. Golosov's Zuev Workers' Club, built in Moscow in 1926-1928, reveals this new style. The structure is formed as a white cube, but it has a three-story glazed cylinder that breaks away from the square corner of the building to create a dramatic and expressive affirmation of these new aesthetic and technological advances. The circle and square are both juxtaposed and balanced to create a visual harmony of static and dynamic forms. The interior consists of club rooms, a large foyer, and an auditorium, all connected by a stairwell set into the corner cylinder.
   In addition to these workers' clubs, in the 1920s many Russian architects were dedicated to the construction of much-needed urban housing. The Narkomfin Building, constructed in Moscow by Moisei Ginzburg in 1928-1932, is one of the few remaining Constructivist apartment buildings, since most of them have been torn down to make way for the extensive construction projects of the 21st century. The Narkomfin Building is an excellent example of how apartments were designed for communal living. The exterior reveals a wide, five-story building made from brick covered in stucco to resemble concrete, with a strongly horizontal direction asserted by balconies at each level. No external decoration detracts from the purely functional aspects of the building, which does not rely on historical referencing for its importance. Built for the workers of the Commissariat of Finance, the apartments are narrow and vertical in plan, with communal living areas and kitchens on each floor. The narrow halls and stairwells as well as the narrow, stepped plan of each apartment maximized space while preventing the sectioning off of apartments into separate family dwellings. However, the building does not conform to basic safety codes; it will probably be torn down rather than restored.
   Moisei Ginzburg was a theoretical architect and founder of the OSA Group (Organization of Contemporary Architects) in Moscow. His publication of Style and Epoch in 1924 reveals many similar ideas to Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture, which was initially published in a series of articles from 1920 to 1923. Both architects argued for a dynamic and dramatic change in architecture to account for the growing urban population, new transportation possibilities, and the need for a cleaner city with a closer connection to nature. Thus, the communal aspects of the Narkomfin Building as well as the addition of a rooftop terrace were inspirational in the design of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation apartment building constructed in Marseilles in 1947-1952. These buildings had a profound impact on modern urban public housing projects constructed through the 20th century.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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