Architecture is propaganda. Throughout my two years of visiting and living in North Korea the country slowly revealed to me the details of this evolved and refined tool for totalitarian control of the country’s population. The West views the country with incredulity—surely this cannot be a functioning country where people lead “everyday lives?” Surely the country’s populace can’t possibly buy into this regime? But I assure you that they do. People have careers, they go to work on the bus, and those women crying over the death of their leader were doing so through their own initiative, if not out of genuine emotion. How is this possible? This is a carefully constructed regime which has, at its heart, an unprecedented understanding of how architecture and urbanism can influence and control people. Coming second only to the military on the list of party priorities, the design of the built environment has had an incalculable effect on reinforcing the ideologies of the North Korean regime and conveying these to the people.
Soviet Architecture: The Latest Architecture and News
In the autumn of 2014, Piotr Bednarski, a Warsaw-based architectural photographer, visited the municipality of Novi Beograd (New Belgrade), a planned city built in 1948 which constitutes one of Belgrade Serbia’s 17 municipalities. There, he quickly fell in love with the gritty Communist-era architecture of the area. He writes:
In Warsaw, where I'm from, most of the residential buildings from the Communist era [have been] turned into kitschy, colorful blocks… Seeing the dense, raw and, desolate modernist architecture, and rediscovering the atmosphere of my childhood made me fall in love with Novi's neighborhood. I saw people from different social backgrounds living peacefully in one place.
Since that initial trip, Piotr has made multiple return visits to capture the city in a variety of thought-provoking ways, showing long span views of the city, the streetscape, and even the view from inside people’s apartments. He believes that there is much to uncover in Novi Beograd, and that his story with New Belgrade is not yet finished.
Developed early on in the Soviet era, and fully subordinate to Soviet ideology, the Constructivist movement was intended to form the foundations of a brave new world. The introduction of the Five-Year Plans coincided with the time when Constructivism was adopted as the official architectural style in the USSR. These circumstances allowed many architects to implement daring projects across the entire Soviet Union, and the Urals became one of the biggest magnets.
In this article—written by Sasha Zagryazhsky, translated by Philipp Kachalin and with photographs by Fyodor Telkov—you can take a virtual tour of fourteen of Yekaterinburg's most significant Soviet Constructivist buildings.
Konstantin Melnikov (August 3, 1890 – November 28, 1974) played a key role in shaping Soviet Architecture from the mid-twenties to mid-thirties, despite being independent from the Constructivists who dominated architecture at the time. Besides his well-known pavilion for the USSR at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Melnikov was famous in Moscow for his workers’ club building, for his own house, and for his bus garages.
With this recent photoset, photographer Denis Esakov (who is now looking for a publisher to produce a photobook featuring the full set of almost 600 images) has created a unique opportunity to explore – both inside and out – all 12 Melnikov projects that shaped Moscow’s Architecture during the Soviet Era.
Khoja Obi Garm is a Soviet sanatorium nestled high in the mountains of Tajikistan – a place known for its curative, radon-rich waters. When Maryam Omidi, a former journalist, visited in 2015 she was "blown away" by both the architecture and landscape: a enormous concrete, Brutalist block at the peak of a snow-capped mountain. She has since launched a Kickstarter campaign to develop a book of photographs exploring "the best sanatoriums" across the former Soviet Union.
In this article, which originally appeared in the Calvert Journal, Ksenia Litvinenko narrates the story of the K-2 Dacha – a governmental residence in St. Petersburg which sought to shrug off Russian Classicism and Soviet Modernism in favor of the principles of Finnish Modernism. Illustrated by photographs by Egor Rogalev and researched alongside Vladimir Frolov, this article examines a Modernist gem that you probably won't have heard of, or seen, before.
If you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg, take a taxi along the Pesochnaya embankment, far away from the polished attractions of the city centre. Sit back and watch the landscape changing on the other bank of the Malaya Nevka. Among the trees you will see the former dachas of Russian nobles, private residences of local officials and the buildings of the new elite, overlooking the river. This is the best and perhaps the only perspective from which to see the K-2 dacha.
For nearly two millennia, European architecture was closely affiliated with and shaped by Christianity. Prior to the advent of Modernism, there was scarcely a style that was not promoted, or more likely defined, by the designs of churches. Such a hypothesis makes it difficult to imagine Medieval England outside the purview of Gothic Cathedrals, or Renaissance Italy as separate from its Basilicas. But with the Industrial Revolution and the economic and population growth that ensued, infrastructure and housing became the new symbols and necessities of cultural representation, finding their ultimate expression in the ease and simplicity of Modernism. The field of architecture, so long shaped and dominated by the church, had been subsumed by the changing concerns of a commercially driven society. Of course there were still churches being built, but the typology that once defined architecture in its ubiquity became novel and rare. Or so we’ve all been lead to believe.
Surprising as it might be, in the wake of World War II and under Soviet control, Poland built more churches than any other country in Europe. The majority were built in the 1980s, at a time when church construction was neither authorized nor forbidden, and as a result played a pronounced role in Cold War politics. The construction of these churches was a calculated affront to the proletariat-minded Modernism of the Soviets. In their project Architecture of the VII Day, Kuba Snopek, Iza Cichońska and Karolina Popera have sought to comprehensively document these Polish churches and the circumstances of their construction. Unique not only in how they defied the prefabrication and regularity of the Eastern Bloc, the churches were community-led endeavors that relied on local funding and input, long before these practices became buzzwords in 21st century architectural circles.
In a 'long view' piece for The Calvert Journal, Owen Hatherley tackles one of the most pressing cultural questions facing many former Soviet countries: should the Ukrainian capital of Kiev (or Kyiv) erase its Soviet past or learn to live with history? For a city which saw a popular revolution against "a grotesquely wealthy elite" last year, Kiev is developing a flourishing independent cultural scene. In this article Hatherley, who has taken part in the city's 2015 art biennial, expertly narrates the city's Soviet, post-Soviet and contemporary "oligarch-funded" architecture to ask: "if Soviet Ukraine can’t be wished away, what should be conserved, and what should be rejected?"
What are the characteristics of preservation-worthy architecture? In his book "Belyayevo Forever: A Soviet Microrayon on its Way to the UNESCO List," Kuba Snopek finds uniqueness in the seemingly generic Belyayevo microrayon, and argues that in spite of its pattern-book design it is worthy of protection. In this excerpt from the book's first chapter, Snopek examines Belyayevo's predecessor - the Ninth Quarter of Cheryomushki, which was constructed in the 1950s as an experiment that would transform Soviet housing policy - finding it to be a place which challenges our preconceived notions about architectural heritage.
A foreigner’s first contact with Moscow might begin with Google Earth. Its virtual tour through Russia’s capital starts with a view of its radial-concentric plan: loops of circular roads radiating from the Kremlin are cut through with the straight lines of prospects (avenues) and streets leading from the center towards the outskirts. This general scheme is familiar to any European architect: many other cities have circular boulevards, straight avenues and ring roads.
For the latest edition of The Urbanist, Monocle 24's weekly "guide to making better cities," the team travel to Moscow, Portugal and Hong Kong to examine how "architecture has always been the unfortunate sidekick of any dictatorial regime." In the process they ask what these buildings actually stand for, and explore the legacy of the architecture of Fascist, Imperial and Brutalist regimes from around the world today. From the Seven Sisters in Moscow to António de Oliveira Salazar's Ministry of Internal Affairs in Lisbon, this episode asks how colonial, dictatorial and power-obsessed architecture has shaped our cities.
Founded in 2008 and named after the constructivist bus shelter that was its first, temporary home, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art is Russia's first private, non-profit art foundation. Relocating from a semi-industrial neighborhood on the northern edge of Moscow to Gorky Park, the Garage Museum's conversion of a Soviet era canteen and social club into Museum of Contemporary Art by OMA has so far been overshadowed by its more glamorous OMA counterpart which opened last month, the Milanese distillery conversion for Prada. Nevertheless, since opening last Friday the Garage Museum has attracted attention for Rem Koolhaas' shift towards preservation, something that has startled the critics. Find out more about what they thought after the break.
Around the globe, the post-war years were a period of optimism and extreme experimentation. On both sides of the cold war's ideological divide, this optimism found its greatest expression, architecturally speaking, in modernism - but of course, the particular circumstances of each city offered a unique spin on the modernist project. According to the curators of "Superstructure," an exhibition presented at Kiev's Visual Culture Research Center from January 28th to February 28th, the utopian architectural works of Kiev represented "an attempt to transform the city into the environment for materialization of artistic thinking – in contrast to the strict unification of city space by typical construction and residential blocks." Architects such as Edward Bilsky and Florian Yuriyev, often working in collaboration with artists such as Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko attempted to create projects that were a complete synthesis of architecture and art - an approach to design that often didn't sit well with the Ukrainian authorities of the time.
Featuring research by Alex Bykov, Oleksandr Burlaka and Oleksiy Radynski, "Superstructure" examined the projects which were typical of this particular cultural moment in Kiev. After the break, we present this research, and a selection of images from the exhibition.
In August 1932, Stalin, holidaying in Sochi, sent a memo containing his thoughts on the entries for the competition to design the Palace of the Soviets, the never-to-be-built monument to Lenin and center of government. In this memo he selected his preferred design, the colossal wedding cake of a tower topped with a 260-foot (79-meter) high statue of Lenin, designed by Boris Iofan. Just over 80 years later, Sochi again hosted the architectural whims of a powerful Russian leader for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. An oversimplification? Probably. But it’s got nice symmetry to it.
UPDATE: The Jury has selected Jeremy Jacinth and Luliana Teodora Amza as the winners of the £600 scholarship to participate in the GIPpy workshop at the AA Visiting School in Santiago, Chile.
What does Soviet Union architecture have to do with Chilean astronomy? A lot more than many realize. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union manufactured three Grand Passage Instrument telescopes (GIPpy), and their accompanying domes in Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately, they fell into ruin after the Soviet astronomical mission’s departure from Chile following the 1973 military coup d-etat. Now, however, the Architectural Association Visiting School in Santiago, Chile, in partnership with the Pontifical Catholic University, will host a 10-day workshop in January on the GIPpy telescopes. The workshop is organized by the team that was recently awarded the Silver Lion at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale for their work on Soviet prefabricated housing in Chile, and we’ve teamed up with the Architectural Association Visiting School to give away two £600 scholarships to attend the workshop!
For more information on the workshop and to find out how to enter to win a scholarship read on after the break…
During the Soviet Union’s relatively brief and tumultuous history, the quest for national identity was one that consumed Russian culture. The decadence of Czarist society was shunned, and with it, the neoclassical architecture the Czars so loved. Communism brought with it an open frontier for artistic experimentation, particularly where public buildings were involved. It was on this frontier that Russian Constructivism was born, and some of Russia’s greatest buildings were built. This article on EnglishRussia.com compiles a list of some of the “best of the best” in Soviet architecture—and we liked it so much that we’ve compiled our own top ten list! See all of our favorite Soviet projects, after the break!
This article by Ross Wolfe, originally posted on Metropolis Magazine as "Cultural Divide: The 'Paper Architecture' of the USSR" explores the complexity of various Soviet architecture movements through the lens of paper architecture.
In the history of 20th-century Russian architecture, there exists a central struggle. In one corner, the Constructivists, champions of light, airy, and functional buildings that drew their power from the social and aesthetic revolutions of the 1920s; in the other, the Stalinist architects, whose thuggish hybrids and clumsy pastiche became the predominant vernacular throughout the Soviet republics. The latter, as we know, eventually came out on top.
Things are rather more complicated, of course, as an recent exhibition at Berlin's Tchoban Foundation argued. Architecture in Cultural Strife: Russian and Soviet Architecture in Drawings, 1900-1953 brings together a total of 79 unique architectural delineations that chart a historical trajectory running from the twilight years of the Romanov dynasty up to Stalin’s death by the midcentury.
Read on for more about the multiple movements that made up the whole of Soviet architecture.
Over a decade ago on a cycling trip across Europe, photographer Christopher Herwig stumbled upon a curious phenomenon that would become his obsession for years: bus stops. Curiously for a regime usually associated - both architecturally and otherwise - with uniformity and with sameness, the bus stops built by the Soviet Republic display remarkable diversity and creativity. Herwig made it his mission to photograph as many of these remarkable structures as possible, travelling through Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia; Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan; Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Abkhazia.
Now complete, Herwig has launched a Kickstarter to turn this remarkable collection of photographs into a limited edition book, which he describes as "the most mind-blowing collection of creative bus stop design from the Soviet era ever assembled." Check out some of the images after the break.