Tag Archives: le corbusier

Architecture Russia

Socialism in One Building: Moscow, 1930

 

The Commune-House on Ordzhonikidze street in south-central Moscow is one of those Soviet projects is a hidden gem of Soviet Rationalist architecture, with heavy Corbusian influences. Designed by Ivan Nikolayev when he was 27, it neatly encapsulates the ideological goals of the revolutionary avant-garde. take a look at the first and second floor plans:

Via sovarch

 

The Commune-House is not just a communal apartment. It’s a type that only flourished for a few years during the radical period of the Soviet Union, when architects saw a need to reproduce the collectivized society of the kolkhoz in urban settings. All of the employees of a bureaucracy, factory, or university would live and work together as a mass collective. The most famous is the Narkomfin Building, which was built to house the workers of the Commissariat of Finance. NarKomFin is an abbreviation of the Russian name.

This dormitory was built for the State Institute of Textiles, to be “socialism in one building,” where people would act collectively, in a mass. As a result, the building’s functions are completely segregated. The plan above shows how Nikolaev divided the building into three sections. One: a 200-meter-long, eight-story bar of 1000 10-square-foot apartments, each meant for two students. Two: a three-story building containing classrooms, a cafeteria, a library, and physical culture facilities. Three: Joining and perpendicular to the two main buildings was a “sanitary wing” containing all of the bathrooms, the showers, balconies for mass exercises, and a set of ramps.

So, the building is laid out much like an apartment, only at the scale of thousands of people. Emerging from their rooms at a set time, the students would perform a mass exercise, shower, dress, and proceed to classes. All food was prepared in the cafeteria, liberating women from “kitchen slavery.” All bedrooms had sliding doors, like train compartments, because privacy needed to be minimized. Compared to the Narkomfin building’s family units and distributed bathrooms and kitchens, Nikolaev’s building is much more radical.

Nikolaev described his program this way:

Eradication of coercion from a man’s life is the first step. Household collectivization and reorganization of study is the second. The third step is the improvement of hygiene and daily life. The fourth the transition to self-sustainence in the home and the mechanization of harvesting. The fifth step is the socialization of the child rearing.

This kind of attitude was common among theoreticians at the time. Unfortunately, it was unpopular with most of the public, who didn’t complain when the ideological underpinnings of mass housing changed under Stalin.

Aesthetically, I think Nikolaev captured the relentless uniformity as beautifully as possible on the exterior, but it is now just a shell. After years of neglect, the building is being restored, with 12-person suites containing bathrooms and kitchens.

Check out the original post at SovArch.

Also take a look at these photographs of the ruined building in 2007.

And, don’t forget the Nazi equivalent! Do you see why Leon Krier deems Nazi architecture modernist architecture?

Architecture

Caracas

The New York Times reports on the appropriation of an unfinished building in Caracas by squatters. It has more in common with opportunistic slums than the politically minded squats that make news in Europe, in that it’s a isocosm for the outside. In addition to the poor and jobless, bankers make do in an economy that isn’t helping any income bracket.

Once one of Latin America’s most developed cities, Caracas now grapples with an acute housing shortage of about 400,000 units, breeding building invasions. In the area around the Tower of David, squatters have occupied 20 other properties, including the Viasa and Radio Continente towers. White elephants occupying the cityscape, like the Sambil shopping mall close to the Tower of David and seized by the government, now house flood victims.

This heterogenous mix of lives is spread over a limited vertical circulation, that than the interconnected mat of housing and streets and sewers. It’s actually a bit like the linear city or the city-building, the Unité. Particularly in its provision of upper-level bodegas:

A beauty salon operates on one floor. On another, an unlicensed dentist applies the brightly coloured braces that are the rage in Caracas street fashion. Nearly every floor has a small bodega.

…without the designer.

Other

Retiring Chatbusier

Lolcats are apparently a little passé, so it’s time to retire my stupid little cat. I am placing it into the main blog stream to let it pass into the aeons.

Architecture Theory Writing

Reburbia and the future of suburbs

Frogs Dream, the winner, brings back the wetlands
Frog's Dream, the winner, brings back the wetlands

Beginning with this post, I’ll be writing on some local and urbanism-related issues at Greater Greater Washington from time to time.

In “Eyes That Do Not See,” Le Corbusier noted that airplane designers were unable to achieve heavier-than air flight until they understood the underlying issues of aeronautics – until they had posed the problem correctly. Until the tinkerers stopped imitating birds and kites and began investigating lift in a scientific way, they just produced spectacular failures and beautiful dreams. So, when looking through the finalists to the Reburbia suburban redesign contest, it was curious to see how, although many projects owe a debt to the Swiss architect, a great deal show confusion about the problems of “suburbia.”

Reburbia was a design competition where designers were invited to remodel, reuse, redevelop, and restructure the landscape of suburban development. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the contest presented 20 finalists and a number of other notable entries for public viewing. Although they’ve already announced winners, the issues that appear in the submissions deserve more discussion. These open competitions are like fashion shows, where the offerings exist as inspiration for other designers more than practical solutions. Some of the ideas tossed around here might make their way into an abandoned mall, but the ideas that grow out of Reburbia are more important. As architects, planners, and citizens look for solution, we have to keep in mind what the problems are to judge any given solution.

Edible Parking? Bumper Crop
Edible Parking? "Bumper Crop"

Declaring that the suburbs need to be re-burbed begs the question of how much, and which kinds, of suburban development are unsustainable, undesirable, or inefficient.  Following that line of thought, designers need to consider whether mitigation of costs can solve an issue, whether simply pulling out unfair subsidies would help, or whether a total revamp has to occur. The projects in Reburbia revolved around a handful of issues that are unique to automobile-dependent sprawl, as well as others that all cities face. The entrants posed their problems around land use, energy waste, sustainable energy production, loss of natural habitats, low density, unappealing or unwalkable street design, transportation inefficiency, water runoff, and the legal mandates for development. read more »