Last edited 11 Oct 2016

Constructivist architecture

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Constructivist architecture, or ‘constructivism’, is a form of modern architecture that developed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Inspired by the Bauhaus and the wider constructivist art movement that emerged from Russian Futurism, constructivist architecture is characterised by a combination of modern technology and engineering methods and the socio-political ethos of Communism. Despite there being few realised projects before the movement became outdated in the mid-1930s, it has had a definite influence on many subsequent architectural movements, such as Brutalism.

Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, the USSR became economically insecure and unable to embark on major construction projects. Nevertheless, avant-garde design schools began to encourage and inspire ambitious architects and urban planners, in particular the Association of New Architects (ASNOVA) which was established in 1921.

The fundamental tension of Constructivist architecture was the need to reconcile the economic reality of the USSR with its ambition for using the built environment to engineer societal changes and instill the avant-garde in everyday life. Architects hoped that through constructivism, the spaces and monuments of the new socialist utopia, the ideal of which the Bolshevik revolution had waged, could be realised.

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As such, constructivist architecture was used to build utilitarian projects for the workers, as well as more creative projects such as Flying City, that was intended as a prototype for airborne housing.

The main characteristic of constructivism was the application of 3D cubism to abstract and non-objective elements. The style incorporated straight lines, cylinders, cubes and rectangles; and merged elements of the modern age such as radio antennae, tension cables, concrete frames and steel girders. The possibilities of modern materials were also explored, such as steel frames that supported large areas of glazing, exposed rather than concealed building joints, balconies and sun decks.

The style aimed to explore the opposition between different forms as well as the contrast between different surfaces, predominately between solid walls and windows, which often gave the structures their characteristic sense of scale and presence.

The first and perhaps most famous project was one an unrealised proposal for Tatlin’s Tower, the headquarters of the Comintern in St. Petersburg. Many subsequent, ambitious projects were not actually built, but Russia’s fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg is regarded as a ‘Constructivist museum’ including 140 built examples of the form. Another famous surviving example is the social housing project Dom Narkomfin in Moscow.

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