The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Monday 6 January 2014


Discussed by Aissa Sabbagh Gomez

First published in 1967, Kopp’s ‘Town and Revolution’ presented the first comprehensive account of the birth, development and impact of Soviet Modern Architecture from the October Revolution in 1917 to the mid 1930’s when the introduction of Stalin’ s Socialist Realism brought Modernism to a halt. In this study, Kopp presents us with extensive socio-political links to Soviet Constructivist Architecture in an attempt to “explain its roots not from sculpture and painting but form early revolutionary ideals” (Kopp, 1967), as it was often conceived at the time.   THE NECESSARY CONDITIONS: October Revolution 1917 In 1917 Russia found itself on the brink of bankruptcy. The strains of the war efforts had brought an already weak Russian Empire to near collapse. Within a year gross industrial production had decreased by over 36% whilst the cost of living increased significantly. Major food shortages, disorder in industry and transport severely affected social, economic and political relations nationwide. Civil unrest escalated into the October Revolution, forcing the abdication of the Czar and culminating on the establishment of the world's first self-proclaimed socialist state The October Revolution sought to destroy all established moral, social and political traditions related to the previous regime and to replace them with a new collective way of life. They sought to reinvent society in accordance with Marxist principles, including communal ownership of resources, universal education, income and gender equality to end global imperialism and unify town and country: “In the flames of the revolution a new moral code was forged, Marxist science was consolidated and a revolutionary art was born” However the Socialist Regime found the country vastly ill equipped to realise their ambitions.  Critical lack of resources, skilled labour, technological development, housing and a non-existent infrastructure drove the early revolutionaries to take simple but radical emergency measures: • Worker’s families were accommodated in town houses and apartment formerly occupied by bourgeoisie (one family per room) • Rents were fixed in the basis of income. • Domestic items and appliances were requisitioned and redistributed. Early revolutionaries saw city planning as key instrument for economic reconstruction and social transformation. Without delay, in 1918, the Soviet Regime issued a decree proclaiming the socialisation of all private soil in order to facilitate the construction of a ‘new way life’. A relatively new doctrine, City Planning was conceived as part of a larger overall plan.  City and National Planning Agencies were created and masterplans for the whole country were made mandatory. Preparation of masterplans was to be based on statically data and special research and open to public criticism. In Kopp’s words, these are the ‘objective conditions’ for city planning to flourish. SOVIET MODERN ARCHITECTURE: In search of the form of new way of life Before the October Revolution, Russian architecture was primarily concerned with aesthetics and classical orders. Western traditional architectural languages were adapted and amalgamated to suit trends and bourgeoisie client’s preferences. “Architecture consists not in so much in ornamenting buildings but as in building ornaments” C. Blai Post war, architects were divided by opposing doctrines to define the form of Socialist identity: • Classical Tradition or Eclecticism: believed that true culture was that of the West. • National Culture: sought for socialist ideals and national culture to be the only source of inspiration. Unlike other visual arts, architecture was relatively slow to disassociate itself form pre-war forms of expression. It was the search for a new ‘framework’ and the aspiration for a new life, the attempt to ‘reconstruct the pattern of existence’ that would reflect and enrich socialist communities that drove explosion of innovation characteristic of the years of 1925-35   Vkhutemas was established by Government decree in 1920. The Soviet equivalent to the Bauhaus, its purpose was to prepare students to apply creative skills towards the improvement of society. It employed many of the most talented artists and designers in the country, becoming a hub for innovative work and ideas with worldwide recognition.   Two architectural associations ascended to the forefront: Asnova, following formalist doctrine and the functionalist OSA. Both engaged in polemics over terminology and the claim to 'constructivism'. Asnova: In general the group concentrated on a sculptural rather than functional approach (Every building unique). Key Architects: K. Melnikov, El Lissitzky & N. Ladovsky. OSA Group: considered the first functionalist group, they prioritise social- political problems and scientific methods. Key architects: M. Ginzburg, Vesnin Brothers, Ivan Leonidov, M. Okhitovich. OSA encouraged techniques and research unknown to the USSR, including: • Prefabrication • Industrialisation • Standardisation • Public consultations   Palace of Labour: 1923 Vesnin Brothers’ competition entry (3rd prize) First building to be designed in the Soviet Union thoroughly contemporary in its conception. Ideas of Giganticism were being explored even at these early stages.   NEW SOCIAL ORDER: Social Condensers The priorities of the five year plan focussed on increasing production. In spite of the significant preoccupation to create the appropriate Socialist environment, in reality, human and social consideration carried little weight. Emergency housing measures led to unpalatable living conditions. Yuri Larin’s vision of a Soviet city had two simple aspects: work and home. He expected all inhabitants to be producers and a new built environment that promoted collectivism was key to enable his vision. OSA was the first to coin the ‘social condenser’ term: refer to specific Soviet building typologies which instrumental for socialist transformation. “New factories, new clubs, new palaces of labour should be conductors or condensers of socialist culture”. The Factory: The factory was the principal Social Condenser. This type of development was indulged with unconstraint spatial and budget considerations.  ‘The’ central element across Soviet urban landscape, factories were envisioned as absolute places of labour.   The Workers Club: A new building typology, the club was central to the socialist ideals of collective improvement of social and cultural aspects. It aimed to become a ‘social power plant for the transformation of man’.   Communal Housing (Dom Kommuna): If the club filled the need for collective improvement, the house aimed to provide individual rest. As with the club, there was not precedent to this social condenser. The idea of the Communal House, as born in the early years of the Soviet Rule, focused on: • Economy of layouts to meet housing demands • Creation of new living environment to encourage collectivism • All domestic shared activities to become communal • To free women from domestic slavery (Labour shortages, economic reasons) • To transform national way of life:  there to be no place for self-centredness and petty bourgeois. Making each individual a responsible of society. First communal house had a hotel type layout. Strategic space planning was to bestow most domestic activities to shared areas in order to reduce the GIA per occupant and accelerate collectivism across the population. Gradually, it would absorb the library, kindergarten, nursery, school, the club, recreational centres, etc. The dissolution of the family unit would be achieved.  

  Ginzburg, Narkomfin Moscow 1932. This Housing block marked transition into communal living. The Super collectivisation of life: Communal Housing Blocks steadily grew in size and number of units which ultimately led to Supercollectivism. GRAPH OF LIFE 1. Lights out.  10:00 P.M. 2. Eight hours of sleep.  Reveille.  6:00 A.M. 3. Calisthenics — 5 min.  6:05 A.M. 4. Toilet — 10 min.  6:15 A.M. 5. Shower (optional — 5 min.) 6:20 A.M. 6. Dress — 5 min.  6:25 A.M. 7. To the dining room — 3 min.  6:28 A.M. 8. Breakfast — 15 min.  6:43 A.M. 9. To the cloakrooms — 2 min.  6:45 A.M. 10. Put on outdoor clothing — 5 min.  6:50 A.M. 11. To the mine — 10 min.  7:00 A.M. 12. Work in the mine — 8 hours.  3:00 P.M. 13. To the commune — 10 min.  3:10 P.M. 14. Take off outdoor clothing — 7 min.  3:17 P.M. 15. Wash — 8 min.  3:25 P.M. 16. Dinner — 30 min.  3:55 P.M. 17. To the rest room for free hour — 3 min.  3:58 P.M. 18. Free time.  Those who wish may nap.  In this case they retire to 4:58 P.M. 19. the bedrooms. 20. Toilet and change — 10 min.  5:08 P.M. 21. To the dining room — 2 min.  5:10 P.M. 22. Tea — 15 min.  5:25 P.M. 23. To the club.  Recreation.  Cultural development.  Gymnastics.  9:25 P.M. 24. Perhaps a bath or swim.  Here it is life itself that will determine how time is spent, that will draw up the plan.  Alloted time: four hours. 25. To dining room, supper, eat, and to bedrooms — 25 min.  9:50 P.M. 26. Prepare to retire (a shower may be taken) — 10 min.  10:00 P.M.     Kuzmin offered a “graph of life” — not as an enforceable regulation (“man is not an automaton”) but as a guide for joining architectural design with the daily life in a communal situation. Melnikov proposed a garden city in which individual orchestras would drown collective snoring and induced collective sleep. URBAN PLANNING In spite the early nationalisation of land, urban solutions characteristic of socialist planning did not appear until the late 20’s. To coincide with a global concern for the de-centralisation of cities, two major schools of thought emerged in the Soviet Union: Urbaninsts:  Led by L. Sabsovich, advocated for self-contained super communes located in the countryside to supress the disparity between city and country. The main characteristics were: • A city was to be composed of immense communal housing blocks. • Housing blocks would cluster around factories. • A city has no centre, no periphery • Max occupancy 50,000 – 40,000 inhabitants Shirov’s sketch of a Garden City: Panorama of Soviet Suburbs De-Urbanists: Led by M. Okhitovich, de-urbanists went further. They rejected the idea of the city altogether and sought to scatter family units across the countryside. Using the power network as a planning grid, factories could be dispersed throughout the land. The dilution of industry would enable the dilution of housing leading to the disappearance of street clusters, squares, etc.. De-urbanists focussed on mobility and collectivism, proposing lightweight pre-fab housing with separate communal centres (To include kitchens, canteens, nurseries, workers clubs, etc) Ginzburg’s prefabricated housing units. De-urbanists also proposed four steps for the ‘socialist reconstruction of Moscow’: 1. Gradual decentralisation of industry to coincide with power grid development 2. Systematic evacuation of Moscow 3. Progressive re-settlement of population 4. Prohibition of new construction   URBANISTS v DE-URBANISTS o Centralisation o De-centralisation o Permanence o Mobility o Large community clusters o Dilution of housing o Centred around industry o Based on power grid o Radial plan o Linear plan CONCLUSION: The end and legacy of Constructivism The rise of Stalin to power in 1924, saw implementation of Socialist Realism as the only endorsed approach. Damming reports by VOPRA, culminated on the sudden death of Soviet Modernism. Constructivists were accused of neglecting specific attributes of the soviet regime, of having blind faith in the omnipotence of technology ignoring architecture artistic aspects. In a relatively short period of history, constructivist instigated significant innovation on architecture and urban planning worldwide. Key figures to International Modernism, such as Groupius and Le Corbusier, maintained prolific exchange of ideas with OSA, Asnova and Vkhutemas throughout this period. The revolutionary society provided an utopian context free of the academism that, at the time, hindered the implementation of modernism in the West. The result was an undeniable cross-influence between the two sides. In some instances, Soviet innovation preceded that of the West.  


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