Image: Nikolai Trotskii,
Stachek region (1933)
Just a couple remarks in prefacing these breathtaking photos, nearly all of which have never appeared online. Even those that have aren’t available on anywhere near the scale or resolution as they are here. In the past I’ve often posted pictures — sketches, blueprints, proposals, models, etc. — of Soviet modernist structures that were never built, whether they simply could not have been built at the time (given the material, technological, and industrial limitations of the Soviet Union in the 1920s or 1930s) or were abandoned or rejected. But the focus of this post is on those buildings that were actually built; more specifically, their exterior aspect. These period photographs should attest to the built legacy of the early architectural avant-garde in the Soviet Union, even if the window during which such pieces of architecture could have been realized was extremely brief.
For a more thorough write-up covering the history and design of many of the buildings pictured here, please consult Owen Hatherley’s excellent October 2007 article “Delirious Moscow” (a play on the title of Koolhaas’ belated 1994 manifesto, Delirious New York) from Archinect. Regarding the social and historical significance of this architecture and its residual appeal in the still-capitalist aftermath, Agata Pyzik draws an important distinction reminding us of the qualitatively different function Soviet modernism served in contrast to postwar modernism and postmodernism, as these proposals and projects were informed by and intended for a revolutionary political context:
Unsurprisingly, constructivists always had and still have now quite a lot of admirers in the West, who, inspired by them, launched a plethora of styles, from abstraction to pop-art and postmodernism. But when today we read the architectural manifestos of ManTownHuman or Patrik Schumacher, calling for a “new ambition architecture once had,” let’s remember that Russian architects were responding to a revolutionary social demand, rather than realising their Ayn Randesque fantasies.
Lest we forget.