Tag Archives: Russia

Architecture Russia

Brutalists separated at birth?

Kazan Commuter Terminal (Mosgiprotrans, 1976)

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

Architecture

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.

 

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.

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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.

Russia

High-Speed Rail Service Begins in Russia

Today, the Sapsan high-speed rail service began running between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The two cities are about 400 miles from each other, and the 3 hour, 45 minute trip costs around $95. To go from DC to Boston (around the same distance) it takes six and a half hours and costs $200. Awesome. Anyway, trains go 155mph now, but could be upgraded to 200 if conditions make it feasible in the future.

The trainsets were designed and built by Siemens in Germany based on the ICE III trainsets for Deutsche Bahn. The thing is that it’s much colder in Russia, and the tracks are significantly wider. So the trains are hardened against cold and snow and their frames are built out to meet the invasion-proof Russian gauge. Although I think they look pretty damn sweet, I would like it if they had painted them with the safety orange detailing that’s been standard on elektrichkas for a while.

Russian Railroads, the state-ish rail corporation has been upgrading the century-old route for high-speed service for almost a decade, so it’s been a pretty exciting time there. Even Google is in on it. This notwithstanding the recent bombing of the service the Sapsan will replace, the Nevsky Express. Eventually, it will also reach Helsinki and Nizhny Novgorod, a city that is a lot like the Chicago Philadelphia of Russia, except that nobody outside of Russia seems to know it exists.

Anyway, it adds to the amusingly diverse options for travel in the former Soviet Union. Here’s a video about the train that makes international trade deals sound awesome.

Russia

Transit insanity in Perm

This gentleman in the Ural city of Perm had a close call with a bus, and no doubt is thanking the polar-bear-riding bible that is on Perm’s crest.

But what happened to the bus? Well, the brakes failed and it hit 16 other cars before getting stuck near a statue. All that after the break.
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