Soviet Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair

If you’re like me, you have a perverse fascination with Stalinist architecture. You know all the competitions, who what was getting built, and who was getting condemned in Pravda any given week. So when a project that you’ve overlooked shows up on the internet, you just want to share it with the world.

So, thanks to Arkhobzor, take a look at this forgotten gem: the Soviet Pavilion at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.

The building is pretty exemplary of Stalinist architecture as executed in a post-constructivist style. Designed by Boris Iofan, it fulfills the representational goals of Socialist Realism with marble statuary, murals, and an amphitheater for informational films. The composition is still rationalist, with a simple circular plan opened unclassically by intersecting it with a square. Massive pylons turn into entry propylea, facing a courtyard and a blood red granite tower supporting a statue dubbed “Joe the Worker” in the American press.

The original plan called for a muscular man to be clad like a classical sculpture, holding up a red star. That changed in the execution, with a man in a jumpsuit replacing the Stakhanovite demigod.

Inside the building, there were dioramas, paintings, and models that showed off the cultural and economic might of the prewar Soviet Union. Perhaps most notably, it included a full-scale mockup of the spectacular moderne Mayakovskaya metro station, mirrored to create the effect of repeated bays. Also present were statues of Stalin and Lenin. The statue of Stalin is a smaller version of the one that stands in the Muzeon park, defaced.

I don’t have much else to say, but I’d take a look at the following posts about the building for the incredible images.

Looking back after the Cold War and its end, it feels pretty strange that something this thoroughly Stalinist ever stood on US soil.


Duke Ellington May Leave Northwest

This topic is a little out of my usual purview, but it’s worth commenting on because schools are so necessary for smart growth – and are such a bloody issue.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is apparently considering relocating the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a more central location. Currently, the school occupies a historically significant building in Burlieth, but if the move goes through, the school will move into the old Logan Elementary building near Union Station. In its place, a new High School serving mostly Ward 2 students (according to Councilmember Jack Evans) would begin operating.

For the most part, I support this move. Locating the building near a metro station will make it much more accessible for both students and teachers. Logan would also require a renovation, which would hopefully allow for some great new architecture and preservation by a local firm. The building seems dilapidated and lacking in the relevant facilities – and theaters demand great architecture. It could be a win-win for DC and its design community.

But much more importantly, opening up room for a new public high school in Northwest will accommodate new families who will undoubtedly come as appropriate development restarts in Northwest. Don’t forget, the building now occupied by Duke Ellington once held Western High School, one of two high schools in Northwest, along with Tenleytown’s own Wilson. Wilson is now pretty crowded. With more residents along Wisconsin and Connecticut, it will need to more room even than what the current renovation will provide. Private schools cannot be the answer anymore – St. Albans, Sidwell, Maret, and GDS are already larger than intended – and the costs of each are way too high for most families, $30,000 per year for some.

Backlash and speculation has (unsurprisingly) followed the discovery of the plan. Is it a racist plot to get black kids out of Georgetown? Apparently some assholes not only think so, but approve. Perhaps its is just a ploy to get better test scores from parents unable to foot private education. That’s plausible to me. Either way, the students are even getting involved, with a blog and a facebook group.

But look at it this way: growth in Northwest means slower growth and minimal displacement in less affluent parts of the city. If a new high school – and a renovated campus in Capitol Hill helps to facilitate those trends, then it is definitely worth it. Even if Jack Evan’s posturing is right, and this school will serve only students in Ward 2, then it will still likely serve African-American students. However, like Wilson, Hardy, and Deal, it should be open to promising students across the city. Compromises that benefit the entire city are absolutely necessary.

There are a lot of “ifs” behind my support. But planning for a future of 600,000 DC residents is necessary, and a new high school in Northwest would play a major role. DC has sacrificed enough school properties in recent years, however, it is time for re-use and revival.

Reno Park Update 091125B: ANC

One more legal aspect worth mentioning are the Advisory Neighborhood Councils in any given site. There are three ANCs in the subject area, 3E, 3F, and 3G. The division between these three wards is at the park, as seen below.

basic ANCs

As you can see, each ANC consists of a handful of single-member Districts, which elect the individual neighborhood councillors. Because of the different densities in the project area, the number of SMDs in an ANC varies, as does the size of the SMD. So, 3F04, which represents a cluster of apartment buildings, is geographically small, while 3F03 is vast because it mostly represents a handful of people, deer, and some of the more intelligent trees.

Reno Park Update 091021: Pedestrian’s Perception

I wrote in the last update that any analysis of the spatial relationships of a suburban-style city needs to consider the legal rules and social sentiments that coexist with physical boundaries. Of course the laws vary based on your “mode” of travel, with pedestrians getting a bit of leeway in terms of “travel.”

But let’s do pedestrians. How do they interact with space?

God Hates Blog Posts

GodHatesProtesters is the hardest-hitting webstream of tomfoolery that’s come my way recently, and with much more palle than the backroom snickering of  Spotted: DC Summer Interns. While garrulous and hateful protesting isn’t a novel phenomenon, the people doing it do seem to be acting crazier than usual. Likewise, the approach featured in GHP is not the usual counter-protest tactic of more anger. Instead, it builds on the rich tradition of snobby pranks and other high-minded jackassery. Enjoy yo guvmin’t cheese!

Also! This is my 100th post, less than a year from the first. Hooray for arbitrary milestones!

“Oh God…”

… as a friend said when I sent him the that screenshot. The Obama administration has made a point of increasing organizational transparency, but the results aren’t pretty. What’s particularly terrifying (I think) is the guns/butter dichotomy. It’s sure to offend every side imaginable, except the literal fascists among us. Considering the costs of entitlement programs and the influence of the aerospace-weapons cartel this isn’t surprising. But the shock is still there; it’s so undeniably Roman.
You can take a look at some of the other fund recipients at

Two big things happening tomorrow

Within DC, the Watergate Hotel, just now slipping from the hands of Monument Realty, goes up for auction tomorrow. I am placing my bets on the Jumeirah group, who are richer than Croesus and even crazier. One has to be at least bold enough to assume the debt and cost of renovations necessary to bring the building into operations. Although the building is structurally fine, the constant need for interior renovations and building system upgrades led Monument into a period of severe financial hardship when their backers went bankrupt.

Outside of DC, Joe Biden is in Ukraine. After the niceties of Obama’s visit to the Kremlin two weeks ago, Biden may be going over to reassure the shaken administration that the US is still an ally. On the other hand, the alleged “reset” of Russo-American relations and the tanking of the pro-wetern Ukrainian coalition would mean that his meeting with Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yuschenko could be both tense and unsatisfying. On Wednesday, the Vice President will be in Sakartvelo Georgia to speak to the parliament. Again, this meeting is a cautious attempt to maintain relations between the US and Russia’s prime enemies. Unlike the Baltic States and the Balkans, these countries are unstable and still sucsceptible to major influence. It will be interesting to watch the developments.

N.B. – Please do not refer to Ukraine as “The Ukraine,” as that implies that Kyiv is just some Russian border town. Украина literally means “hinterland” or “borderland,” but generally had its connotation set with a capital letter by the 18th Century. Only under the later Tsars and Soviets did the government take advantage of the lack of articles in Ukrainian to insist to western observers that the “Little Russians” did not deserve independence; it’s right there in the name, “our borderland.” If you’re under 30, you probably don’t make this mistake, but it still creeps into the news every once and a while to irritate sticklers like me.

Is America ready for an Urban President?

This weekend, the Obamas went on a personal trip, to New York City, eating at the chic Blue Hill Restaurant before seeing August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, before returning home. Their not-so-little-trip was only one of a handful they have been having, beginning with a trip to the Kennedy Center in February, their night at Citronelle, the pre-inauguration trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Joe and Barry’s Excellent Adventure back earlier this month. There are probably others events I’ve omitted, but add his preference for basketball to the mix, and it’s not quite brush clearing. 

Their nights out reflect a certain kind of lifestyle, an elite urban one. The ability to ditch the kids for a few hours and get out to a nice restaurant is precisely the sort of habit that is vaunted by pro-urban activists and expected of cities by young people looking forward to the freedom of the city. It’s luxurious, it’s cool, and it’s only possible in a city. Even for denizens of suburbia, a night in town is still obviously possible, but you still have to go into town, even if you start and end elsewhere. As for the elite part, anything any president does will be tinged with a degree of fanciness, for better or worse.

Not unlike Bill Clinton’s much-publicized jogging in the Nineties, I wonder whether Obama’s enjoyment of city life will raise attention – and elevate the place of  – something many people are already doing. Americans were already crowding into Broadway shows and going out to dinner, and going into urban centers for dates. There is nothing new here, but the perception has historically been that these activities do not jive with the populist image that comes with the Resolute Desk. 

At the same time, the more recent trips outside the White House do not depict the less glamorous benefits of cities. They reinforce the sort of young, fashionable life that has always been associated with date nights; they do not demonstrate that more prosaic aspects of life, especially with children, are still possible. Hot nightlife might be attracting people to the city for a boozy 10-year sojourn, but it doesn’t keep them. Comfortable neighborhoods and convenient shopping do. Perhaps Obama’s recent trip to the Palisades to watch his daughter play soccer is a reasonable balance to the condo-advertisement life that has otherwise made the news. 

On the other hand, no Twentieth-Century President has lived a particularly ordinary life, not mowing his grass or running down to CVS to get cough medicine. It might be unreasonable to expect a world leader to move the culture of country by example in those areas. The best citizens can expect, then, is better policy. If he delivers that, a night out doesn’t have to mean anything.