Constructivism (architecture)

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Vladimir Schuchow , 1919-22. Radio tower, Moscow. View of the construction from the inside.

The Constructivism more broadly describes various architectural trends in the Soviet Union from about 1917 to the mid-1930s. The term is also used as International Constructivism for architecturally related currents outside the Soviet Union.

While the term constructivism is often blurred for all of modern architecture in the Soviet Union between 1917 and the early 1930s, in the narrower sense it describes only part of Soviet avant-garde architecture. The Soviet architects were split into several groups that were mutually hostile to one another. The most important were the constructivist groups ( OSA ) and the rationalists ( ASNOWA ), as well as the classicists . In the early 1930s, the classicists were able to assert themselves in the form of socialist classicism . In urban planning , Soviet modernism was divided into urbanists and desurbanists , with both constructivists and rationalists representing both currents.

The basis for this article is the term in the narrower sense, it separates constructivism from rationalism. In contrast to rationalism, which emphasized form and its perception by the viewer, the constructivists had a radically functional and technicalist concept of architecture. The differences are particularly evident in the theoretical program and in drafts, often utopian in nature; in the buildings that have been implemented, both trends are quite similar.


The emergence of a new architecture

W. Tatlin . 1919-20. Monument to the III. International (draft model)

Some artists such as Vladimir Tatlin , Alexander Rodchenko , Naum Gabo and Antoine Pewsner turned to researching various materials and their textures in the 1910s. Well-known works of these experiments are Tatlin's wall reliefs and Pewsner's cork reliefs. These artists started with two-dimensional works, which later gave way to three-dimensional sculptures. In contrast to Kasimir Malewitsch and El Lissitzky , they were less concerned with the possibilities of simple shapes than with the possibilities of different materials. These material-related experiments became increasingly spatial. These spatial works include Tatlin's angular reliefs, Rodchenko's spatial constructions, and later the wire sculptures by the Stenberg brothers and Karl Iogansons . The material increasingly gave way to constructive exploration of space. The climax of this phase is Tatlin's monument for the III. International from 1919-20. The entire construction had an inclination of 3.6 °, the angle of the earth's axis. With its emerging shape, it was meant to embody the power and dynamism of the revolution . There should be three glass bodies inside. In the lowest area a cube that rotates once a year, above a pyramid that rotates once a month, and a cylinder that rotates once a day. The glass bodies should be used as administrative rooms. On the criticism of Naum Gabo “Either build functional houses and bridges or create pure art or both [separately]. Don't confuse one with the other. ", Some constructivists (organized in the" First Working Group of Constructivists ") like Alexei Gan , Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova and Vladimir Tatlin turned to industrial design. Tatlin himself was not a member of the Constructivists and should not simply be counted among them, but he was part of their narrow circle and one of their thought leaders.

Project kiosk (design of a kiosk)
Alexander Rodchenko , 1919

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During this period before 1920 Rodchenko created some architectural studies, some of them at the Schiwskulptarch (commission for the elaboration of questions of the synthesis of sculpture and architecture), various abstract sculptures and some designs for a kiosk. In contrast to Malewitsch's contemporary architects, he was not so much concerned with the geometric order of forms in infinite space, but with the penetration of interior and exterior space. However, Rodchenko, like Tatlin and Malevich, did not proceed from the concrete building task, but from the compositional design and from this to more or less concrete buildings.

All of the works discussed so far were created in the period up to 1920.

From constructivist art to architecture

In 1920 the Moscow "Institute for Artistic Culture" (INChUK) was founded. Its direction was under Wassily Kandinsky . At the first conference in May 1920, a separate working group, “Group of Objective Analysis” , was set up under the direction of Alexander Rodchenko . In contrast to Kandinsky and his followers, who called for a new way of painting through the interaction of the arts, Rodchenko and his followers wanted the emergence of a new art to which painting should only make a contribution. Kandinsky left the INChUK in 1921. As early as 1921, the INChUK split into two further working groups, the “Working Group of Architects” (later rationalists; Nikolai Ladowski , A. Efimov, Vladimir Krinsky, A. Petrow, Nikolai Dokuchayev), which placed particular emphasis on composition, and "First working group of the constructivists" ( Alexei Gan , Karl Ioganson , Konstantin Medunetzki, Alexander Rodchenko, the Stenberg brothers , Varvara Stepanova ), who saw the design in the construction. For Ladowski, this participation in INChUK followed directly on from his work in the Schiwskulptarch. In April of the same month the “Working Group of Objectivists” was founded, to which Alexander Wesnin belonged from May 1921. Wesnin was later one of the main exponents of constructivism.

As of autumn 1921, the various working groups were effectively dissolved due to the influence of the outside productivists (partly from the artistic association LEF). The focus was now more on plenary sessions. During this phase, many sets were created by later constructivists. In 1924, with students from the architecture faculty of the art college “Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops” (WChUTEMAS), the “group of students from the architecture faculty of WChUTEMAS” was founded at INChUK. Alexander Wesnin was one of the members. The group emerged from a synthesis of the early, second constructivists, objectivists and productivists.

Starting in the “Working Group of Architects”, the group of rationalists was formed in the mid-1920s. The “OSA” later emerged from the “group of students from the architecture faculty of WChUTEMAS”.

The constructivists at WChUTEMAS and the OSA

The different currents of INChUK emerged in the higher artistic-technical workshop, WChUTEMAS, founded in 1920. The WChUTEMAS was divided into three main centers, the academic workshop under the direction of Alexei Shchusew; the United Left Workshops, OBMAS, headed by Ladowski; and from November 1922 the department “Experimental Architecture” or “Symbolic Romanticism” under the direction of Konstantin Melnikow and Ilja Golosow , which was dissolved in the mid-1920s.

In 1924, the above-mentioned “Group of Students of the Architecture Faculty of WChUTEMAS” was founded from a few students. This developed mainly around the workshop of Alexander Wesnin. Ilya Golosov also joined the constructivists. For the architects, it was not primarily about the functionally unbound composition, but about teaching on the basis of concrete construction tasks.

From 1924/25 onwards there were two large groups that would shape Soviet architecture over the next few years: the Constructivists under Alexander Wesnin and Moissei Ginsburg and the Rationalists under Nikolai Ladowski. After the rationalists had founded their group, the ASNOWA , in 1924, the OSA , the group of constructivists , was formed in 1925 .

One of the first drafts of this functionally oriented constructivism is the design of the "Leningradskaya Pravda" building from 1924 by the Wesnin brothers.

Leningradskaya Pravda
Alexander Wesnin, Wiktor Wesnin , 1924

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Alexander Wesnin (e.g. the building he designed for Pravda with Viktor Wesnin), Moissei Ginsburg (e.g. the Narkomfin Commune House ), Iwan Leonidow , Michail Perschtsch and Gregori Barchin can be regarded as important representatives of constructivist architecture . Moissei Ginsburg also wrote an important theoretical work of Constructivism "Style and Epoch" (1924) and was editor of the OSA magazine, "SA" (Sovremenaja architektura, German  contemporary architecture ) until 1928 , his successor was Roman Chiger. He understood constructivism (or, in his opinion, good architecture) primarily as a creative design method and saw the organization of life processes as the architect's primary task. Architecture arises logically from the self-image of an era. He drew a comparison with ancient Egyptian art, the profile of which is by no means an expression of a lack of perspective, but rather an expression of a common (formal) language that is derived from the fundamental factors of an epoch, including the technical possibility. This is the essential difference to rationalism and the strongest contrast between the two currents. Ginsburg clearly demanded “that the architect comprehend the laws of statics and mechanics in order to accomplish his objectives empirically, whether in an intuitive or strictly scientific manner. Doing so represents that fundamental constructive sensibility which must, without fail, be basic to the architect and which established a definite method in his work. […] This organizational method also conditions those rhythmic aspects by which architecture is distinguished. “The rhythmic composition is an expression of the architectural organization. Architecture is the organization of the human environment.

Moissei Ginsburg, Ignatii Milinis. 1928-30. Narkomfin Commune House, Moscow.

This architectural conception is essentially representative of the entire constructivist group. This can be shown in two projects in particular. The former is one of the first significant designs by the Constructivists, an office building in Leningradskaya Pravda by the Wesnin brothers in 1924. The building was never built, but clearly shows Ginsburg's understanding of the organization of life processes. The building is clearly functionally structured, has two glass elevators, and has two very large boards for messages (although the technical implementation remains unclear), which are placed at an angle for pedestrians to read. The technical equipment is enormous for the time. The building has a huge loudspeaker on the roof, a clock (with numbers, no pointers), as well as the boards mentioned, the lifts mentioned and a roof antenna. This strong technical orientation is common and typical of constructivism. Likewise, the inability to implement this technical equipment in early Soviet Russia.

The Narkomfin community center in Moisei Ginsburg is just as important. Particularly noteworthy is the creation process, which fully corresponds to Ginsburg's theoretical understanding. Based on Russian standard plans for apartments, an architecture competition was called in 1926 for a small standardized apartment. However, it was not just this competition, in which various architects took part, but the results were published in 1928 by a team (Strojkom) under the direction of Ginsburg (with A. Pasternak, W. Vladimirov, M. Barschtsch and G. Sum-Schik ) and designed the "Type F" apartment. This apartment was used by Ginsburg in the Narkomfin community center, as well as in other residential buildings, including by other architects. The efficiency of the various apartment designs was systematically calculated and improved.

Even Ivan Leonidov should be mentioned, but can not stand as examples of the group. His designs are of such independence and outstanding architectural quality that they can be seen as the top performance of modern architecture. His Lenin Institute, designed in 1927 as his diploma thesis with Alexander Wesnin at the WChUTEMAS , deserves special mention . The clever structure of the building and the compositional arrangement of the elements can compete with Le Corbusier's designs.

The engineer Vladimir Schuchow , especially his work from the 1920s, is often assigned to constructivism. As an engineer, however, he cannot simply be assigned to an artistic-architectural trend.

Konstantin Melnikow , one of the most important modern architects in the Soviet Union, was never a member of the OSA, and was only a brief member of the ASNOWA. His work can therefore not be directly assigned to either of the two currents, but more likely to rationalism.

Foreign architects in the Soviet Union

In addition to the Soviet architects, many Western European architects were active in the Soviet Union in the 1920s to 1930s. Special mention should be made here of Erich Mendelsohn with the textile factory “Red Banner” , as well as the architects Ernst May (1930–1933 in the Soviet Union) and Hannes Meyer (1930–1936 in the Soviet Union). Both architects created various urban development projects in the Soviet Union. Hannes Meyer and his colleagues in the Soviet Union are often referred to as the “red Bauhaus brigade”.

The end of modern architecture in the Soviet Union

Towards the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1930s, more and more formerly avant-garde architects turned to classicism (as post-constructivism), many even before its official resolution in 1932. The motives for this are controversial in architectural historiography. The main point of contention remains whether the avant-garde perished from its own development or from political repression. At least some architects and artists were affected by the latter. In 1930 Ivan Leonidow was expelled from the WChUTEMAS for sabotage. Mikhail Ochitowitsch was shot for criticizing Stalin in 1937, Alexei Gan was shot on September 8, 1942 under Section 58, also for criticizing Stalin.

International constructivism

Constructivist ideas spread throughout Western Europe in the late 1920s. The architects Mart Stam , Walter Gropius , Erich Mendelsohn and Le Corbusier are particularly relevant here ; Hannes Meyer's architectural conception shows clear parallels to Constructivism. The most important group of international constructivism was the ABC group, which published the magazine “ABC - Contributions to Building”. In the process, the strong contrasts between constructivism and rationalism partially dissolved. Lissitzky , a member of ASNOWA, was also a member of ABC.

Later reception


The early end of constructivism in the Soviet Union and the inadequate reappraisal in Stalinism, as well as the lack of acceptance since 1990 in Russia itself, were a hindrance to reception. The art and architecture historian Selim Chan-Magamedow, who conducted extensive studies on the Constructivism operation. Further representations come from C. Cooke and A. Kopp. However, there is still a lack of acceptance and attention in Russian society and politics, such as the one that exists for the Bauhaus in Germany. Politicians in particular show a strong contempt for that phase of Russian architecture that does not correspond to the self-image of the Russian oligarchy. Yuri Leschkow, Mayor of Moscow, said "What a joy that in our city such wonderful, new shopping centers are appearing - not such junk" while pointing to the narcomic.

ICOMOS has repeatedly put the Narkomfin building on the list of endangered cultural assets and demands that the most important preserved buildings of the Soviet avant-garde be included on the list of world cultural heritage, for which an application from Russia would have to be submitted. Many buildings are therefore threatened with collapse or demolition today.

Western Europe

Leningradskaya Pravda
Alexander Wesnin , 1921
Gouache, charcoal and ink on paper,
52.7 cm × 70.5 cm
Museum of Modern Art; New York City

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There has been strong interest in the Russian avant-garde in Europe since the 1970s.

The architect Mark Wigley sees stylistic parallels between early Soviet architecture (especially the unrealized, early designs before the split into rationalists and constructivists) and deconstructivism . In the exhibition Deconstructivist Architecture , which he curated with Philip Johnson in 1988 , he showed not only deconstructivist works but also those of early Soviet art. The link on the right leads to a picture of one of the exhibited works.

In 2007 the Museum of Modern Art presented the exhibition Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922–32 Photographs by Richard Pare , which showed works of the Soviet avant-garde in architecture in contemporary photographs by the photographer Richard Pare . The exhibition showed both constructivist and rationalist architecture .

Selection of important realized works of Soviet constructivism

Important theoretical writings


  • ABC - Contributions to Building. Basel, 1924-28.
  • Sovremenaya architecture. ( Russian Современная архитектура ). Moscow 1926–1930. (Russian)



chronologically within the topics

Constructivism in Russia

  • Kyrill N. Afanasjew: Ideas - Projects - Buildings. Soviet architecture 1917/32 . VEB Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1973.
  • Stephen Bann: The Tradition of Constructivism . The Viking Press, New York 1974.
  • John E. Bowlt: Russian Art of the Avant-garde. Theory and Criticism 1902-1934 . The Viking Press, New York 1976.
  • Selim O. Chan-Magamedow: Pioneers of Soviet Architecture. The road to new Soviet architecture in the twenties and early thirties . VEB Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1983.
  • Avant-garde I. 1900-1923. Russian-Soviet architecture . DVA, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-421-03018-9 .
  • Elke Pistorius: Wolkenbügel and living cell. How high-rise buildings and pavilions were ideologically occupied in the Soviet architecture of the twenties. In: You. The magazine of culture . tape 54 , 11, topic: high-rise and pavilion. The city doesn't live on the block alone , 1994, p. 50–53, ( online text and as PDF; 5.2 MB ).
  • Barbara Kreis: Between “Living Classics”, Rationalism and Constructivism. The “Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops” WChUTEMAS in Moscow 1920–1930 . In: Ralph Johannes (Ed.): Design. Architectural training in Europe from Vitruvius to the middle of the 20th century. History - theory - practice . Junius Verlag, Hamburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-88506-441-1 , p. 656-682 .
  • Anke Zalivako: The Buildings of Russian Constructivism (Moscow 1919–32). Building materials, construction, maintenance . Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-86568-716-6 . (Meeting:)

Foreign architects in the Soviet Union

  • Konrad Püschel : The activities of the Hannes Meyer group in the USSR from 1930 to 1937 . In: Scientific newspaper. College of Architecture and Construction . No. 23.1976, 5-6 . Weimar 1976.
  • Anatole Kopp: Foreign architects in the Soviet Union during the first two five-year plans . In: William C. Brumfield (Ed.): Reshaping Russian Architecture. Western Technology. Utopian Dreams . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, pp. 179 ff .
  • Thomas Flierl : Standard cities. Ernst May in the Soviet Union 1930–1933. Texts and documents . es 2643. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-518-12643-1 .

International constructivism


  • Away From All Suns! (Alternative title: Fort von Allen Sonnen! ) (English / Russian with English subtitles.) Documentary, Germany, 2013, 74 min., Script and director: Isabella Willinger, music: Benedikt Schiefer , production: Kloos & Co. Medien, cinema premiere: May 14, 2013 at the DOK.fest in Munich , film page with preview (2:56 min.). Three Muscovites working for the preservation of constructivist monuments.

Web links

Commons : Constructivist Architecture  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Christoph Rauhut, Ekaterina Nozhova: A threatened radio tower in Moscow: symbol of the young Soviet Union . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , March 29, 2014.
  2. Stephen Bann: The Tradition of Constructivism . The Viking Press, New York 1974, pp. XXV .
  3. ^ Moissei Ginsburg : Style and Epoch . The MIT Press, Cambridge 1982, ISBN 0-262-07088-X , pp. 44 ( [PDF] Original title: Стиль и эпоха . 1924.).
  4. ^ Konrad Püschel : The activities of the Hannes Meyer group in the USSR from 1930 to 1937 . In: Scientific newspaper. College of Architecture and Construction . tape 23 , no. 5-6 / 1976 . Weimar 1976.
  5. Athlyn Cathcart-Keays: Moisei Ginzburg's Narkomfin building in Moscow: A Soviet blueprint for collective living. In: The Guardian , May 5, 2015.
  6. John Cramer, Anke Zalivako: The Narkomfin commune house in Moscow (1928-2012). (=  Berlin contributions to monument research . No. 11 ). Michael Imhof Verlag , Petersberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-86568-866-8 , p. 11 .
  7. ^ Philip Johnson , Mark Wigley: Deconstructivist Architecture . Museum of Modern Art, New York 1988, p. 13 (online as PDF; 20.5 MB ).
  8. Monika Markgraf: Review of "The Buildings of Russian Constructivism (Moscow 1919-32)". In: , 2012, No. 4, (PDF; 323 kB; 4 pages).