Thursday, July 19, 2007

Communist Condo

A world revolution in architecture began in Russia in 1917: young Russian architects felt when they were suddenly given the chance to make history. Poet Vladimir Mayakovsky declared, “The streets shall be our brushes, the squares our pallets!”

Invented in Russia, by 27-year-old architect Vladimir Tatlin, constructivism exploded into life after the revolution thanks to two things: the sweeping away of the old order, and the invention of reinforced concrete. Concrete was not new, of course, but the Soviets were the first to encourage architects to use it to express themselves. Soaring towers and memorials were the result, though most were never built.

No kitchen here in the apartments

In this new style, social engineering was as important as structural engineering, with the architects told to build a brave new world of buildings for a new, equal, society.

The Narkomfin was the high-water mark of Russia’s constructivist movement. The architect, Moisei Ginzburg, built Narkomfin to solve the most pressing problem of urban planning—how to avoid the isolation that comes with living in a city. His solution was radical. He wanted to replicate the community of a village in the city. So he designed a six-storey apartment block, then added on an annex containing all things the inhabitants would need for daily living.

Wide corridors to socialize with neighbours and to discuss about Marx

There was a library and a shop, a communal kitchen and dining room, even a rooftop solarium for Moscow’s brief, hot, summer. And there were meeting rooms to allow the people to discuss the onward march of socialism. The corridors to the flats were big, wide and open, to encourage people to see them as the village street, and stop and talk with their neighbours. The result was “a six-story blueprint for communal living as ingenious as it is humane.”

Source: Could these be from the original drawings; downloaded from

Source: World Monuments Fund

But by 1930, when the building was just finishing, the movement was dying. Stalin’s iron rule left no room for free thinking. Under Stalin, came instead the heavy, oppressive shapes of neo-classicism. Narkomfin is today a sad sight: decades without maintenance have put Narkomfin on the World Monuments Fund’s 100 ‘Most Endangered Sites.’

Condensed from Chris Stephen’s article in Axess Magazine

Hint: fast forward to 60 seconds!

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Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

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