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Katalog: Soviet Modernism 1955-1991 (englische Ausgabe)
Unknown History

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Dieses Buch erscheint anlässlich der Ausstellung „Sowjetmoderne 1955–1991. Unbekannte Geschichten"
07.11.2012 bis 25.02.2013 im Architekturzentrum Wien

Herausgegeben vom Architekturzentrum Wien
Katharina Ritter, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair, Dietmar Steiner, Alexandra Wachter

© 2012 Architekturzentrum Wien and Park Books, Zurich
Englische Ausgabe: ISBN 978-3-906027-14-2

Das vorliegende Buch verschiebt die von Russland geprägte Perspektive und setzt die Architektur aller anderen ehemaligen Sowjetrepubliken ins Zentrum der Betrachtung. Demnach war es uns bei der Zusammenstellung der Essays ein großes Anliegen, zu jedem Land den Beitrag lokaler ExpertInnen zu präsentieren. Das Ergebnis ist eine heterogene Sammlung von Analysen, Rückblicken und Fallstudien, bei denen die persönliche Erfahrung dieser Zeit mitschwingt und anderen, die das Thema mit Distanz betrachten. Texte der »jungen Generation«, die mitunter unbelasteter an das Erbe herantritt, stehen neben Texten, denen noch der Duktus des sowjetischen Systems anhaftet. Als wichtige Ergänzung zu den Essays über die regionalen Entwicklungen und Besonderheiten geben die Beiträge von Elke Beyer und Philipp Meuser Einblicke in den sowjetischen Städtebaudiskurs sowie den seriellen Massenwohnbau und die damit verbundene zentralistische Organisation von Architektur und Bauwesen.


6 Soviet Modernism. 1955–1991
Dietmar Steiner

9 Unknown Histories
Katharina Ritter, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair, Alexandra Wachter

12 The Soviet Union and Its Nations
Andreas Kappeler
16 The Baltic

On the Baltic

32 Baltic Modernisms
Mart Kalm, Estonia

46 The Architectresses
Maija Rudovska, Iliana Veinberga, Latvia

54 Inventing a Soviet Ritual:
Funeral Homes in Lithuania
Marija Drėmaitė, Vaidas Petrulis, Lithuania

60 Eastern Europe
62 The Lack of Tradition as Tradition
Anatolie Gordeev, Moldova

On Ukraine

80 ‘Scientifically Justified Artistic Consciousness.’ Artists and Architects in Late-Soviet Ukraine. A Case Study
Oleksiy Radynski, Ukraine

On Belarus

96 Architecture of the BSSR: Texture of the Standardised
Dimitrij Zadorin, Belarus

110 Caucasus

On Armenia

116 An Architecture of Paradoxical Shifts
Ruben Arevshatyan, Armenia

On Azerbaijan

140 ‘Baku Modernism’
Rasim Aliyev, Azerbaijan

On Georgia

152 ‘Everybody’s Favourite’
Rusudan Mirzikashvili, Georgia

166 Central Asia

On Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

178 Ghost of a Garden City
Yuliya Sorokina, Kazakhstan

192 A Short-Lived Revival
Gamal Bokonbaev, Kyrgyzstan

On Uzbekistan

214 Building the ‚Living East’
Boris Chukhovich, Uzbekistan

On Tajikistan and Turkmenistan

238 On the Empire’s Periphery
Rustam Mukimov, Tajikistan

246 Homo Liber. Abdullah Akhmedov in Ashgabat
Ruslan Muradov, Turkmenistan
256 ‘The Soviet Union Is an Enormous Construction Site’
Elke Beyer

272 Serial Housing Construction in the Soviet Union. An architectural-historical approach
Philipp Meuser

284 Creative Salto Mortale
Interview with Felix Novikov by Vladimir Belogolovsky
294 Biographies
296 Bibliography
299 Index of Names
302 Map of the USSR
304 Photo Credits
305 Archive
306 Photo Credits

Dietmar Steiner

Whereas Constructivism and Stalinist architecture have been widely recognised in the historiography of Western architecture, Soviet architecture of the second half of the 20th century is practically unknown and limited to the clichés of endless dreary public spaces. The research project ‘Soviet Modernism’ is, for the first time, investigating the architecture of 14 former Soviet republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan,– which emerged during the late 1950s and lasted until the end of the USSR in the year 1991. In doing so we have broken with the idea of a faceless, uniform Soviet architecture, to focus instead on regional characteristics and discovering architecture that has been until now unknown, and which is of the same level as comparable works of the Western world.

The research work was undertaken over many years and concentrated on the former republics of the Soviet Union that are autonomous states today, consciously omitting Russia. One reason for this was that to also study and analyse Russia’s architecture in this period would have gone beyond our capacities. At the same time we also wanted to trace the roots of the ‘local Modernisms’ that were already forming in these former Soviet republics during the time of the Soviet Union. This also reflects the current state of architectural historiography. The history of Modernism in the 20th century was in the meantime being studied in the West taking into account its specific local conditions, its spread as an ‘international style’, and its development as a global history of ideas.

It is generally known that with the end of Stalinism, and the beginning of the Khrushchev era, a modernisation of communist architecture began which then also opened up aesthetically and conceptually under Brezhnev. But let’s take a closer look at this development. When Khrushchev came to power after Stalin’s death in 1953, the ‘Thaw’ period began. With the de-Stalinisation the planned victory over capitalism was also linked with a radical technological modernisation. He declared the elaborate Stalinist architecture, which was also economically unfeasible, over and in 1955 he promised to solve the housing deficit within twenty years. This was to be achieved through the Camus system, the prefab system of large-panel construction style developed France.

Khrushchev banked on the technocracy of the building sector – 90 per cent were to be type designs – while architectural experiments and individual expressions were discouraged. Still, progress assumed a new cultural political dimension. The ‘Sputnik-shock’ of 1957 and Juri Gagarin’s space flight in 1961 proved to the Western world the existence of an unconditional hope for the future and the firm belief of the USSR that it would be able to overtake the USA as the leading world power.

This explains how it was possible that in 1959 that the great ‘American National Exhibition’ took place in Moscow for which architect Andre Geller designed the ‘typical American House’ for Raymond Loewy’s design firm. This lead to the legendary ‘kitchen debate’ which was broadcast on both American and Russian TV where Nixon propagated the American Way of Life with all consumer-oriented trappings and household devices and Khrushchev referred to the then leading space technology and heavy industry. While only an anecdote on the fringes of the Cold War, this is still significant for the Soviet aspirations linked to modernisation in this period.

When Leonid Brezhnev came to power there was an advance from pure technocracy to an opening of architectural culture, marking the beginning of the ‘Golden Age of Stagnation’ (Wiktor Kozlov). Many experts of the Soviet political system saw in this period the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. Regime critic Andrej Amalrik put it in the following way in 1969: ‘It would be more appropriate to see the increasing liberalism as a process of the regime’s decline.’ But this also led to architectural freedom from centralist planning standards which was used above all by the Soviet republics that were becoming economically stronger.

This brings us to the question of the cultural and architectural identities of the Soviet republics. First it must be noted that contrary to the prevailing opinion Russia was always a multi-ethnic state. The hegemony of the Russians is related to the fall of Constantinople and the following predominance of Moscow for the Orthodox Church. Still, already in tsarist Russia there were 100 different peoples co-existing with different forms of life and religions.

When Lenin established the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic after the October Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War in 1922, it also encompassed non-Russian areas of the former tsarist empire. Most of the Soviet republics did not evolve historically but were created by the Soviet Union. Stalin’s constitution of 1936 encompassed 11 Soviet republics: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirgizia. The Baltic States only became independent in 1918 and were forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, which is why they were the first to obtain their autonomy again at the end of the Soviet Union.

In each of the 14 republics, which extend geographically from Scandinavia to Asia, one finds local histories and traditions which can certainly be brought into relation with the diversity of the architecture in the capitalist countries at this time. Even in the centralist political system of the Soviet Union these ‘republics on the periphery’ were able to develop differentiated architecture. This could only take place against the backdrop of sweeping urbanisation, since at the time of the revolution only 18% of the Soviet population lived in cities.

Whereas the Baltic countries obviously oriented themselves on the architecture of the Scandinavian countries, as a part of their continuous and tolerated political resistance against their occupation by the Soviet Union, the Eastern European regions Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova had no problems with the architectural affiliation with Russia. In complete contrast, at the southern border of Russia, in the Caucasian Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia strong regional identities based on rich traditions emerged. The architectures of the Republics of Central Asia on the other hand, can be seen as national constructions that incorporated their Islamic tradition.

According to Western perception communist architecture was technocratic and without any aesthetic aspiration because there were no independent architects and only state planning institutes and studios. The ideology of the Cold War asserted that the world is strictly divided into the capitalist West with a free circulation of information and goods, and the communist East, following its output targets in isolation and cut off from information flow, with no access to knowledge and the developments of capitalist architecture.

This is a big misconception in the history of 20th century architecture. Even in the Cold War years the leading architects of the Soviet Union had detailed knowledge about developments in Western architecture. There were libraries, usually under the control of the KGB, with information about Western developments in architecture. There were Japanese or French architectural journals, a Russian edition of L’architecture d’aujourd’hui. Soviet architects were able to spend time abroad and some even worked in Western studios. There was international cooperation between research institutes and lectures by prominent Western architects.

There was, in any case, a flow of information. One could even formulate the question more provocatively by asking how many architects from Western countries, when excursions and architectural publications were still something rare, were actually informed about the global developments of architecture in their hemisphere. The building tasks of the post-war years were comparable on this side and the other side of the Iron Curtain. While the demand for living space and infrastructure was much greater in the Soviet Union than in the West, both in the West and the East political institutions called for and backed public investments in buildings for education, culture, sports, and politics. Here the tasks in the West and the East resemble one another, even though the construction of churches in the West was a correlate to the construction of communist wedding palaces in the East. Representational buildings with architectural aspirations in the Soviet republics thus allow us to look at the same building tasks in the West in a different light. Everywhere such projects were promoted by committed local politicians. In recent times we have seen a great interest taken by historians and architects in the ‘building functionalism’ of the post-war years. Today we are discovering its conceptual, construction and sculptural qualities. We can see in these accomplishments an age in which the welfare state began to assume responsibility for a homogeneous society, for which modernity embodied a consensual value. States and communities – the public sector – were the most important clients of representative architecture – not the market forces of neo-liberal investors. The theme at the time was: the large form for the large number, an experiment in spatial and constructive dimension. But the term for the style of this post-war Modernism has not yet been found. The term ‘Brutalism’, as the results of recent research and conferences show, is not comprehensive enough, and simultaneously incorporates too many different approaches.

It is, however, remarkable that following fascism and Stalinism the roots of pre-war modernity are being taken up again both in the West and in the East – in part also through the personal continuity of architects’ biographies. Thanks to its geopolitical position the Architecture Centre Vienna has made the discovery and dissemination of Eastern European communist architecture of the 20th century its central task. As the ‘door to the West’ we have intensely engaged in recent years with the architecture of South-East Europe, the architecture of the Balkans. The project ‘Soviet Modernism’ is expanding this radius and developing it into a larger research project, manifesting in the construction of a database of the projects of this time and region, and a research library. The work of the Architecture Centre Vienna has particularly sought to revive communication structures that have become petrified since the fall of the USSR and to connect architects, researchers and experts. Many of the protagonists, city planners, and contemporary witnesses are still alive, and their histories have hardly been written and their works have not yet been contextualised.

Time is short, and in a few of those republics there is an urgent need for action. Many of the buildings that still await historical architectural appraisal are endangered. On the one hand, the poor building technology of the time of their construction means the buildings are aging too quickly, and, on the other hand, resources for preservation are missing. In the booming successive states of the former USSR many of these buildings are in turn renovated and modernised, but disappear during the process under the guise of contemporary developer’s architecture. In addition in the young post-communist republics these buildings of the ‘Soviet empire’ are especially endangered as signs of an epoch overcome and to be forgotten about. It is time to show them the appreciation and the appraisal they deserve. We are convinced that with our study of ‘Soviet Modernism’ we have made an important contribution to this – so that the history of 20th century architecture can be written anew …

© Az W 

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