“The Nuclear Necessity - With exponential urbanisation and peak fossil fuel energies, can our cities of the future become sustainably powered by renewable resources without the support of nuclear power, and if that is not the case, how can nuclear energies be integrated in our urban fabric so as to enable a renewable, sustainably powered city.”—Current research question - subsequent to change regularly
Comparison and analysis of the Post-First World War modern period of Architecture in Germany and the U.S.S.R.
By Edward Patton
The fallout of the First World War created a multiplicity of changes across the world, with massive cultural shifts, and giving birth to the modern movement of art and architecture in Europe. With traditional artistic conventions being broken and a need to separate themselves from the past, Europe’s new republics set to reinvent and distance themselves from their previous ideologies.
These new republics, the U.S.S.R born from the October Revolution and the German Republic from the revolution of 1918-1919 (The Novemberrevolution*), became fertile ground for the advent of modernism, and with infrequent communication, they both developed what could be argued as parallel architectural languages.
This essay compares and analyses the rise and fall of the modern periods in the U.S.S.R and Germany between the first and second world wars.
As part of this comparison, I will firstly outline the individual history and characteristics of the movements, their rise from their respective revolutions and their inception in their architectural schools. From this I aim to describe their artistic revolutions and the subsequent impact on their architecture, and how their architecture also stems from technological development. To finish I aim to show the parallels between each movement’s development, and to analyse the divergent nature of their ongoing legacies in our contemporary architectural language.
Bauhaus and the Soviet Modern Period**
The Bauhaus School of design opened in 1919 and was shut down 1933 after pressure from the Nazi regime. Founded by Walter Gropius, it became renowned and some would argue infamous for its approach to design and architecture.
The Bauhaus style was set out to reconcile craft traditions with industrial technology, but in a manner which would create less distinction between form and function. Not concerned with only architectural design, the school focused on graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography. Although Walter Gropius was an architect, It was not until 1927 that the school began its architectural output.
The Soviet Modern Period ran between 1917 and 1935. Breaking away from the Formalist traditions of the past, Modernism in the U.S.S.R was able to develop in what it felt was an original and organic way. Having infrequent contact outside of its boarders, the architects of the newly formed U.S.S.R designed an architecture which they felt was progressive in its relationship between ideology and design.
At first centred around the avant-garde architecture school the Vkhutemas, the movement grew into professional organisations such as the O.S.A*** and A.S.N.O.V.A**** before its fall at the hands of Realism and Aesthetic Stalinism.
Arguably unappreciated at the time, it was through the work or architects such as Le Corbusier, Hannes Meyer and Andre Lurcat who all visited the U.S.S.R, that its influence began to spread through the worldwide architectural community, especially in America.
The October Revolution and the Novemberrevolution
- “…new age with new needs calls for a new architecture.”(KOPP, 1970, P19)
Modernism in architecture had begun to develop at the turn of the 20th century but it was not until the respective Post-First World War revolutions in Russia and Germany that it was able to evolve into what would become the Soviet Modern Movement and the Bauhaus style.
The October Revolution of Russia began in 1917 and saw the Bolshevik regime overthrow the Russian Empire with Vladimir Lenin gaining control of the country.
The artistic conventions of the past were free to be broken, and with the abolishment of land ownership in the new socialist republic it was seen that architects could be unrestricted in their scope to create a new architecture in a new urban environment, all as a part of the new governments ideology.
The Novemberrevolution in 1918 had direct links to the October Revolution of Russia of 1917. In Germany, revolutionaries saw the Soviet revolt as an example to be followed, however the German government had also leant from this and with the establishment of the Weimar republic in 1919, the revolution was ended.
The creation of the Weimar Republic brought with it the abolishment of censorship and created a surge in avant-garde experimentation. The Bauhaus itself was apolitical, but with the new liberal government it meant that the school was able to get funding, and it would always be linked with the liberal post-revolutionary government.
The inceptions of both movements are directly linked through their revolutions, however these were not just political revolutions but artistic ones.
Anatole Kopp writes that in the new Soviet Union:
“…wind that swept through the studios of painters and sculptors, though the sets of the fledgling motion picture industry, through the cliques and coteries of the writers and poets, and through the old academies where generations of architectural students had copied and recopied the dusty models of an “eternal” architecture.”(KOPP, 1970, P1)
With art seen as a visual representation of the respective ideologies, it enabled the schools of art and architecture to widen their curriculum. This directly led to the Soviet Modern Period in Russia from the Vkhutemas and the Bauhaus School/ Neues Bauen movement in Germany.
In both styles there was a considerable backlash against the traditionalism which had preceded Modernism. In pre-revolution Russia, the role of the architect has been reduced to pastiche and ornamentation on engineer driven constructions.
In comparison in Germany, Walter Gropius argued that that:
“Architecture during the last few generations has become weakly sentimental, aesthetic and decorative. Its chief concern has been ornamentation, with the formalistic use of motifs, ornaments and mouldings on the exterior of the building-as if upon a dead and superficial mass-not as part of a living organism.”(GROPIUS, 1938, P27)
This parallels with Anatole Kopp’s account of the October Revolutions effect on the move against Traditionalism in architecture:
“Up to the eve of the October revolution the architects remained “slaves to the rich, the slaves of the regime,” though they were generally unaware of it and tended to regret the splendours of the Italian renaissance or the Russian Empire rather than the impossibility of creating anything that was not a servile copy of the past.”(KOPP, 1970, P27)
Part of this backlash against ornamentation and traditional form was the availability of new technologies. The ability to use reinforced concrete, steel and an increased amount of glazing drove the modern style in the late 19th century. As these materials became available in the both Germany and Russia its architects, especially its architectural students, saw the possibility of new forms from these new materials.
Bauhaus School and Vkhutemas
Architectural education was of foremost importance to both movements.
For the Bauhaus, a style was created within its teaching environment that was able to evolve and outgrow its scholastic beginnings. As for the Soviet Modern Movement many of it its members began their architectural education at the Vkhutemas, which was opened In 1920 after the Bauhaus. The Vkhutemas did not promote a specific style but it instead put the impetus of developing a style on its students. It was professional organisations such as the O.S.A. and A.S.N.O.V.A which drove the modern style in the U.S.S.R.
The two schools have been closely compared both in their educational style, organisation, and curriculum. Each school was a state sponsored centre based a craft driven approach to art and architecture, with the principle that these skills could be used to drive modern technology in both industry and construction.
Anatole Kopp argues that the Vkhutemas, being lead by such architects as Ladovsky and Dokuchayev, had a continuing effect on architectural education both in America and the Bauhaus School and that:
“…the Bauhaus was just a school of applied arts adapted to the industrial era…” (KOPP, 1970, P77)
He continues that the advent of Hannes Meyer taking over the Bauhaus School from Walter Gropius only introduced elements to the education that has already been on the Vkhutemas curriculum for years. However it would be the Bauhaus which would have the greater impact on western architecture, and the Vkhutemas would fall into relative obscurity behind the iron curtain.
Bauhaus to the Communal House
Walter Gropius describes architecture as:
“A collective art, its welfare depends on the whole community. As an extreme instance, the monument is only significant when it springs from the will of the whole nation. This will does not exist today.”(GROPIUS, 1938, P27)
The Bauhaus sought to develop knowledge of craft skills which could be used to influence future industrial systems and in their combination, create a new architecture. The Bauhaus however had a continuously tumultuous time with the shifting ideologies of the German Republic, having had full support from the post-revolution liberal government but being attack in its later years from the conservative political right.
In the U.S.S.R its new architecture was a integral part of the Republics ideology. This ideology argued for collectivisation and was a visual representation of the will of the whole nation. This in-turn led to tangible outputs of the ideology, from the Supercollectivised life in its workers clubs to the communal house. Architecture was seen to bring together of the collective will of the Republic, and to this extent modern architecture in the U.S.S.R was inseparable from this ideology.
Critical Reception and their respective downfalls
As with any change, it encounters opposition. Both movements received criticism from the conservatives and traditionalists of the time with the arguments against both the Soviet Modern Movement and the Bauhaus being very similar. Walter Gropius recounts:
“First to protest against the Bauhaus were, of course, the adherents of the old art academies and of the bourgeoisie who the academies supplies with art-an art carrying the traditions of eclectic architecture… …an art accepting almost any historical “style” or eclectic stylish mélange. (GROPIUS, 1938, P.9,10)
As well as direct opposition to the school, there were Political and ideological attacks against the Bauhaus for its stylistic links to the U.S.S.R, even before an open communication had opened with the Vkhutemas.
“As early as 1919 there was talk of “art-Bolshevism which must be wiped out” and even then there were appeals to the “national German spirits” of artists who were to rescue “mature art”. (GROPIUS, 1938, P9)
Opposition of so-called “art-Bolshevism” has been aimed at many advocates of modernism, often for political smearing rather than actual academic criticism. The term relates directly back to the modern movement in the U.S.S.R being integrated with rise of the Bolsheviks in Revolutionary Russia. Ideologically, Modernism in Russia was argued to be one in the same with the new socialism, and that its art and architecture could not exist outside of its ideology. However the Bauhaus has always been quick to distance itself from the political machinations of Germany, with its ideologies being based more around form and function.
Both modern styles rose and fell with the respective national political identities. In their post-revolution periods both countries where in a state of flux. In socialist Russia and the liberal Germany, past conventions were broken and funding was available where it had not been before. This however was a double-edged knife for both styles. They were seen as being directly linked to the political ideologies of their time, and where this was true for the Soviet Modern Movement it’s was not for the Bauhaus. So as the political identities of the countries changed, with Stalin rising in power in Russia and the Nazi’s beginning to be more prominent in Germany, the critics of the movements became more vocal. Censorship started to be enforced once again by the changing governments, and of its first targets were the arts seen as avant-garde.
It was the movement’s links to the west, especially America, which were able to further the legacies of other the Soviet Modern Movement and the Bauhaus.
Anatole Kopp: Town and Revolution: Soviet Architecture and City Planning, 1917 - 1935 - (1970)
Reviewed by Edward Patton
Town and Revolution: Soviet Architecture and City Planning, 1917 - 1935 published in 1970, documents the post revolutionary period of architecture and urbanism in the then newly formed Soviet Union.
Anatole Kopp was born in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) but studied in France and America before returning to Europe and eventually the U.S.S.R. A member of the communist party for the majority of his life, Kopp argued that the modern period of architecture in the USSR between 1917-1935 had an equal effect on the European architectural style as the Bauhaus School Movement in Germany.
The text is split into 11 chapters, each with separate sub headings, and chronologically ordered to document the progression of modernism in the U.S.S.R between 1917 - 1935. The main part of the text is arranged to describe the conditions and rise of the modern period, the major players and constructions, the movements position in the European architectural landscape, the new architectures relationship to the U.S.S.R’s political doctrine, its relationship to cities and urban development, and finally the movements downfall at the hands of Realism. Kopp ends with a conclusion about the impact and legacy of the Soviet modern period.
Rise of the Modern Period
Kopp begins by describing the rise of the Soviet modern period after the October Revolution and with that the new Bolshevik regime. He is primarily concerned with how the change in ideology effected the architecture of the former empire, and how its architects were able to creatively deal with this change.
Kopp continues that these changes produced an artistic revolution as well as a political one. The artistic conventions of the West were free to be broken, and with the abolishment of land ownership it was seen that architects could be unrestricted in their scope to create a new architecture in a new urban environment, all as a part of the new republics ideology.
An Architecture for the New Times
Kopp continues by giving a chronological account of the persons involved in the movement and how their work, from competition entries to fully realised projects, shaped not only the architecture of the time but the newly formed U.S.S.R.
Firstly, Kopp is quick to acknowledge the role of students and young architects in the shift in architectural styles. It was the break from the traditions of the past which enabled a change in form, and it was students who lead the vanguard in this new formal expression.
The chronology of the modern period shows a link between ideology and function, with Kopp first describing the design of the Monument to the Third International, better known as Tatlin’s tower, as a visual metaphor for constructivist ideology.
Next kopp introduces the Vesnin brothers and their Palace of Labour, which as a competition entry, Kopp argues is on an equal footing in its ideology as Tatlin’s tower.
As the modern movement began to gain steam, the newly recognised U.S.S.R was ready to reach out with its new ideology in the form of its first competition entry, this being at The Exposition of the Decorative Arts - Paris 1925. Konstantin Melnikov’s Soviet Pavilion opened the European architectural community to the idea of modern architecture in the U.S.S.R. The pavilion set the Republic apart as a leader in architectural design and construction technologies.
Kopp follows by describing what he considers to be the most important group in the rise of the modern movement, the O.S.A (Obschchestvo Sovremennykh Architektorov)(Association of Contemporary Architects).
Forming out of Vkhutemas Architectural School, Kopp argues that its members were responsible for the most successful and forward thinking designs in the modern period. Kopp takes pains to describe that the O.S.A was not in and itself a constructivist group, that they has a different ideology and manifesto which separated them from their contemporaries such as A.S.N.O.V.A and the constructivists.
Kopp returns to Melnikov, explaining that his continued contribution to the movement was his workers clubs, called New Social Condensers.
These Social Condensers were aligned with the new republics ideology to bring communal education, exercise and socialisation together in its communities.
After the inception of these workers clubs, Kopp argues that the continuation of this ideology as a design process led to what was called the supercollectivisation of life.
As social condensers, supercollectivisation was manifested as the design of the communal house, and as a part of that, the Stoikom unit.This architectural ideology sprang from the need for new housing, the exponential growth in industry and growing a workforce, depleted by the first world war and its aftermath. These designs were all about creating a ‘new way of life’, initiating the growth of the individual so to facilitate industrial and community growth. These were needed to enable the economic growth of the Republic.
Town and Revolution
Kopp next begins to describe that after the success of many of the modern movements work, the style became part of the new governments visual language. To this end, it was the need to industrialise that drove the country and the modern style past architectural work and into urbanism.
Kopp explains that the U.S.S.R did not have a history of planned urban development, especially not on the scale needed to build the economy of a future world power. This enabled both risks to be taken and mistakes to be made.
A new urbanism was being created and with that arguments on how it could represent the new governments ideology. Kopp describes the two opposing powers in this argument, the Urbanist’s and the Deurbanist’s. The Urbanists argued for condensed collectivised living, where large communities lived together, centred around their industry. The Deurbanists argued for the distribution of facilities and services. For the housing to be small separated units and for connections to be made through a new network of highways. This was in preparation of wide scale use of the motor car in the U.S.S.R, a lesson which was seen to be learnt from America.
Socialist Content, National Form
Leonidov is seen as the most forward thinking architect of the Soviet modern movement by Kopp. He creates a direct link between the witch hunt surrounding Leonidov by V.O.P.R.A (All-Russian Association of Proletarian Architects) and the modern periods end at the hands of Realism.
Leonidov was attacked by V.O.P.R.A and the Realists due to being seen as a progressive, visionary, research minded architect in the modern style. Ideologies had shifted in the U.S.S.R, it was seen as important to break away from its ‘Bolshevik’ roots. As Leonidov was attacked, the modern movement was already in its decline, which opened the door for the revival of the traditionalists, an architecture which the modern movement had fought so hard against. It would be decades later before the influence of the Soviet modern period was felt again.
CONCLUSION_From the Twenties to the Year 2000
To conclude Kopp evaluates the influence of the Soviet modern period, arguing that its lasting impression was indeed not felt at the time, but that instead it was its revival in Europe and America in the 1960’s where its significance was most felt. The overarching impression Kopp gives is the sense of architectures ability to evolve and invent, especially through the toughest socio-economical periods, and it is this case study on the Soviet modern period that goes a long way to showing this.
The rise of modern architecture in the USSR, its symbiosis between ideology and design, and its subsequent downfall, all combine to be a fascinating document, one which I still feel is under recognised and sparsely appreciated in the current contemporary architectural language. The modern Soviet period will never get the recognition of a movement like the Bauhaus, but its influence is there, and this becomes more apparent with many contemporary architects love affair with ‘Modernism’.