Category Archives: Russia

Architecture Russia

Three Soviet Memorials to Massacres

Sov-arch continues to continues to offer up unknown treasures of the FSU. Take a look at these three incredible memorials built during the Brezhnev era, published by LJ user dariuss.

 

The first is a monument to the victims of the Salaspis concentration camp, not far from Riga, Latvia. The photographs are evocative enough to not need the Russian text in the original post, but I’ll provide a short description for non-slavofils.

 

You enter the complex through the woods and travel under a massive concrete bar, which appears to have come to rest askew on a black granite block. It is referred to as the “Border between Life and Death.” Beyond it is a set of allegorical statues, including “Humiliation,” “The Mother,” and “Unbroken.”  The concrete foundations of the barracks remain in the ground, contrasting with brutalist concrete beams that hover, cantilevered from memorial markers. Permeating the site is the deep ticking of a metronome, meant to evoke the passage of time, a heartbeat, and death.

Having walked around the site, the massive concrete beam reveals itself to be a building. Passing over a razor-thin concrete stairway, you enter a long, skylit hall, walking up a monumental stair to a viewing area and back down into a small exhibit. The allegory is a little too heavy-handed for my taste, but I think the images speak for themselves.

The second site is Khatyn, in Belarus. The site is a little bit more complex, covering the extents of a former town named Khatyn, which was obliterated by the invading Nazi army for harboring partizan activity in 1943. The site should not be confused with the location of the Katyn massacre – more on that later.

Khatyn is explicitly a landscape memorial, employing the strong gestures of Brezhnev-era architecture over large expanses of ground and without a strong central focus. It’s less iconic than Salaspils, but its architecture still has the same grim impact.

Down a ramp, visitors are greeted by a monumental statue of a man holding a dead child, entitled the “Unconquered Man.” The image is apparently based on the one survivor of the down, a blacksmith, who found his son shot in a barn. So, you have a great example of socialist realist use of a real person idealized to represent a larger population. The whole site, in fact, is a synecdoche for all of the towns massacred by the German army. A man is to Man as Khatyn is to the Motherland.

Adjacent to the statue is a white slab that caps the mass grave and there is a bent slab of black marble meant to remind visitors of the barn where most of the town was burned. Beyond this is a wall of remembrance and a “Cemetery of Villages” commemorating the 186 Belorussian towns lost during World War II. 186 black marble urns filled with ground from their respective villages stretch out into a huge field. A black platform contains three birch trees and an eternal flame to symbolize the 1/4 of all Belorussians who died during the war.

All around the memorial axis are monuments on the site of each structure that existed at the time of the massacre. Paths follow the original streets, symbols of an index, like the Cretto di Burri. The former house sites are bounded by concrete beams. Bell towers inscribed with the names of residents stand in for the chimneys. Even wells are marked with marble platforms and concrete roofs.

Finally, The third is the tiny Dalva complex, located about ninteen miles to the north. Its architectural elements are similar to Khatyn’s, but I think that the concrete beams surrounding former sites are more elegantly abstract. On the other hand, the beam assemblages are punctuated with bronze recreations of household objects like vases or teddy bears.

Photos from Khatyn and Dalva are in the same post.

These three memorials, built from 1967-1973 are emblematic of Soviet design at that time. What distinguishes these memorials from earlier Stalinist is the emphasis of human suffering and the effort to instill a sense of loss in other people. The strong emphasis on representation seen in Stalinism remains, but the new generation adds expressionist gestures and compositional abstraction to Socialist Realism.

Like all memorials, they also reflect the political ideology of the time. Part of the purpose of building such extravagant memorials was to focus regional antagonism towards German Fascism and away from Stalinist repression without overtly denying that anything happened. This is particularly in the case of the Khatyn memorial, where the names were similar enough between Katyn (Катынь) and Khatyn (Хатынь) to misdirect people.

Yet on the other hand, these sites mark legitimate sites of atrocities that occurred to people who were caught in world history. So, the ambiguity of architecture, that it generally means nothing external to its own form, works to its advantage. Even as the ambiguity between Khatyn and Katyn casts a shadow over the memorial, the ambiguity also prevents it from being simply a political tool of the regime. Compare this to the Stalinist memorials in the Tiergarten or Vienna, whose message and representation cannot be mistaken.

Russia

Design the next Moscow Metro map

The City’s Department of Transportation has announced a contest to redesign the cartography of the Moscow Metro, one of the busiest and longest urban rail systems in the world. The impetus for the redesign seems to be the limitations of the current system diagram, which is light on information, and already quite dense with stations. More importantly, that map is about to get more confusing, because the Metro plans to grow 150% in size, with 70 stations to be added by 2025. So, there is a lot of material to work with.

I say cartography, because the brief asks for a tiered wayfinding system, where the diagram on the trains is expanded for each station to include relevant ground transportation and sites, at that particular station.

I am generally negative about designers doing work for free, but the restriction that this contest only be open to individuals ensures that the playing field is at least level, even if only one person is paid for the work that they do.

Submissions are due as PDFs by December 23rd, 2012.

 

 

 

Architecture Russia

Brutalists separated at birth?

Kazan Commuter Terminal (Mosgiprotrans, 1976)

Boston City Hall (Kallman, McKinnel & Knowles, 1968)

Russia

Moscow’s lost trees

I love Moscow, but its downtown is barren of trees. Even when you get a prerevolutionary or constructivist break from the Stalinist promenade down Tverskaya, it’s just a little lifeless. But check out Ilya Varlamov‘s collection of photos of what Moscow looked like before its streets lost their trees. So much better.

Why, you might ask, did the trees all go? Well, zyalt says that the official answer is that they couldn’t take the pollution – but this is nonsense after the financial crises of the 90s.

At the end of the day, the answer is autocentrism. Trees interfered with parking, they posed security risks, and they took up potential lanes. Under the 1990s program of incoherent highway expansion, the last remnants of downtown greenery were torn up. If, on the other hand, Moscow had pursued a sustainable transportation policy before Sobyanin, the trees would have survived to serve the 80% of Muscovites who take public transport.

Maybe now is different. Check out the whole set, it’s remarkable what a difference there is.

Other Russia

Marion Barry, Russian Punchline

This is just a small aside from the post about urban planning in Moscow. In the February 2011 Echo of Moscow interview with Sergei Sobyanin comes about halfway through it, when they take a break and offer Sobyanin a book as a token of appreciation.
In response, Sobyanin makes fun of an unspecified Washington mayor. I’d bet money they’re not talking about Adrian Fenty’s cycle club escort.
А.ВЕНЕДИКТОВ: Мэр Москвы Сергей Собянин. Прежде чем мы прервемся на 2 минуты и передадим слово нашим корреспондентам, мы хотим вам сделать подарок, Сергей Семенович. Это книга бывшего мэра Нью-Йорка Рудольфа Джулиани «Лидер», который принял Нью-Йорк городом мафиозным и тяжелым, ну а, как говорят те, кто там живут, когда он ушел, этот город стал пригоден для жилья всем. Так что, я думаю, вдруг она вам понравится.
С.СОБЯНИН: Спасибо, что не от мэра Вашингтона.
А.ВЕНЕДИКТОВ: Да-да. (смеется) От мэра Вашингтона ни в коем случае. 2 минуты перерыва, потом наши корреспонденты.
I’ve included the Russian from the transcript, lest anyone doubt this happened. It’s hard to capture the sarcasm, but the translation is clear:
VENEDIKTOV: We’re with the Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin. Before we take a two minute break and let our correspondents have a word, we would like to give you a gift, Mr. Sobyanin. It’s the book, Leadership, by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who turned New York City from a frightful mafia-infested wreck to the kind of a city, the residents who lived there when he left said, that was safe for all. So, I think you’ll take a liking to him.
SOBYANIN: Well, thanks for it not being from the Mayor of Washington.
VENEDIKTOV: Heavens, no. (Laughs) No way we’d give you something from the mayor of Washington.  Two minute break, then our correspondents’ questions.

 

Leadership was translated in 2004. I’m not sure why they’re handing it out now, but there it is, next to DC’s shame, circa 1990.

planning Russia

In Moscow, a revolution for transportation

Велодорожки МГУ from Alexander Tugunov on Vimeo.

The city of Moscow opened its first on-street bike path in September. It’s a small sign of a strategic change in the urban development of a city that has become legendary for bad traffic.

According to the article, behavior on the trail isn’t perfect: people are parking in the bike path! Unthinkable! But, also unthinkably, the police has promised to enforce the laws and educate drivers. Now, when I lived in Moscow, I saw the city rip up Leningradsky Prospekt to convert it into a highway. That remains unchanged, but now dedicated trolleybus lanes will run along the highway. The entire transportation and land use strategies are being upended because the mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, and the Kremlin have realized that you cannot build yourself out of congestion with still more roads.

If there’s any doubt as to whether this is a token effort, Sobyanin’s comments here and there are explicit commitment to a complete transportation strategy. Take this interview on Lenta.ru:

SOBYANINThe easiest option we could offer is: “Let’s build more roads and interchanges, at two levels, three levels, and, sure, everything will be wonderful.”

Lenta.ru : Yes, like in Tokyo, Beijing and other Asian cities.

SOBYANIN: Yes, but it’s a dead end. It is impossible, even if we had a lot of money. And, there can never be enough money, because the building of highways and interchanges costing absurd sums.

That is just the beginning. There’s trams, trolleys, and a hundred miles of metro construction after the break.

read more »

Russia Theory

Figure/Ground

January, 1905. St. Petersburg.

Architecture Russia

“Death and Life” Published in Russian

Jane Jacobs’ seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is now available in Russian by the house Novoe Izdatelstvo. I think this is pretty remarkable that it took so long, but the editor says that it’s appearing at the right time.

In translation, the title is Смерть и жизнь больших американских городов. Literally, that means “The Death and Life of big American cities.” That, to me, loses the valorizing nuance of the word “Great,” but maybe the fancier translation of the word, “великие” has too much Stalinist baggage, or perhaps my reading of the title is wrong. Either way,they say translation is tricky.

In an interview with the Strelka Institute’s blog, the editor of Novoe Izdatelstvo provides his own example:

This issue arises first and foremost with relation to one of the central concepts of Jacobs’s book: the neighbourhood (in our book, “okrug“, or “district”). The word “neighborhood” taken literally means something like one’s personal area, an urban habitat, the borders of which are determined not by the government but by one’s own typical routes of travel, one’s everyday needs and habits, and so on. This word is difficult to translate into Russian precisely because this way of conceiving space doesn’t really exist in our cities.

For the unfamiliar, the term “okrug” is much more of a legal category, like an ANC, that reached its modern meaning during the era of hyper-centralized Soviet housing estates. One other part of the interview stood out to me, where the editor, Andrey Kurilkin remarks:

I would say that this book is like a new optical instrument that allows you to see complex processes where only yesterday you noticed nothing at all. Our intuitive conceptions of a conveniently designed city, with small streets, parks, a local butcher shop across the way, old buildings, and a convivial street life are given a logical and vigorous theoretical foundation.

Jacobs and her work have suffered from creeping hagiography, so it’s good to see the author reinforcing the intention that the book be a tool for understanding, rather than a prescriptive manual.

You can read the introduction here (PDF), and I recommend the other book mentioned in the interview, Seeing Like a State.

Russia

Russia Today covers women like it covers politics

Robert Bridge, courtesy RT

Sloppily. And with lots of zhlobstvo. Actually, Russia Today’s “Russian Women Guide” much less autocratically slanted than the usual RT fare. It’s just sexist. It fetishizes sexist behavior, like it’s meta-ogling the article itself – which uses, as a lens, pricy mail-order date with a woman named “Natasha.” At the end, a genuine, authentic Russian woman is allowed to meekly respond. Were it not so inane, it would probably be a featured text in a class called “GEND V3302 Ridgidity Tourism: Sexism and Orientalism in Expatriate Communities.”

Ah, but the deepest irony is that the guy who wrote it, Robert Bridge is an American expat who has totally adopted the look of a stereotypical Russian bureaucrat, yellow shirt, dead eyes, and all. But the best joke is a ridiculous statement delivered eagerly, let’s let some choice cuts of of Mr. Bridge’s dainty prose stand and fall without intertitles and see if it lightens your morning:

Welcome, cowboy, to the Motherland, the legendary land of milk and honey. So what should a wide-eyed westerner expect from a Russian female? Well, first you must be absolutely willing to leave your big bag of stereotypes at the border. They won’t help you here.

Russian women somehow achieved, without the angst and anger of the western women’s man-eating philosophy, a sense of freedom, independence and, I dare say, happiness that their bra-burning sisters sacrificed a long time ago on the great battlefield of the sexes.

Indeed, the practical value of a Russian woman ranked somewhere between a good tractor and a surplus wheat harvest: extremely useful in the right situations (snowstorm, famine, revolution), but certainly not the most likely candidate to grace the cover of a glossy fashion magazine, for example, or win Playboy playmate of the year.

Thus, painful questions concerning the rightful place of western women in the early industrial system (exposed for its cruelty by progressive writers of the time, like Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle in 1914) were being debated in the West while, half way around the world, Russian women were peacefully picking raspberries and milking goats in the idyllic countryside.

‘Natasha’ lets you open the door for her; in fact, she coolly expects it, and doesn’t even say ‘Spasibo’ as she sweeps past with a violent toss of her blonde locks.

The svelte Slav at your side expects you to help her with her fur coat, position the chair just right under her awaiting derriere, order the food, and yes, even pay the exorbitant bill without even so much as feigning to open her Gucci pocketbook.

All of the unnecessary guesswork between the males and females has been cleared away, or never existed in the first place. For the most part, everybody understands their role.

As it is, Russian women, who deftly use every inch of their femininity – high heels and mini skirts included – to their general advantage, have no desire to ‘lower themselves’ in an effort to obtain equality with men.

Nevertheless, the system did provide some attractive perks that helped to advance the condition of women without the need for unsightly marches and protests.

They are at the controls of their womanhood and the miniskirt and high heels only adds to the sense of their feminine powers that no man has been able to fully explain. Oppressed? Don’t bet on it.

Are Russian women materialistic? Yes, of course they are. After all, they are women, and I can’t think of a single place in the world where the sight of a mall does not cause heart palpitations in the female species.

The film was called “The Dark Knight.” Since it was a story about the superhero Batman, it was not the intellectual movie of the year.

(For any Russian woman who would like to exact some verbal revenge on Mr. Smirnoff, he is still alive and may be hunted down at www.yakov.com).

———-
Oh, but nothing can wholly bad. The article deserves some credit for including a photo of New Holland Island in the top left corner of the article. Ain’t she a beauty?

Local Russia

Снегомагеддон

Fun fact: February 14th is also the feast of Saints Cyrill and Methodius. Apropos of that, let me mention that the New York Times ran an article today about the amused reaction of some Russian journalists at Snowmageddon. I can’t find the clip mentioned therein, but here’s NTV’s coverage of the whole event. I’m really amused at their calque of the term “snowmageddon,” but if it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for Zakharov. I wonder how they’d do “SnoMas?”

I apologize that it’s not in English, capitalist pig-dog readers, but just I can’t bring myself to link to Russia Today. It’s really not my goal to promulgate the skeezy propaganda of Russia’s delusional statist-right, so you may have to Google that yourselves.