Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935


Richard Pare, Shábolovka’s radio tower, 1988

Havsko Shabolovski residential block and the radio tower Shabolovka, Moscow, c. © 1935 Department photo, State Museum of Architecture Schúsev, Moscow

Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 presents archive images, abstract paintings, drawings, collages, small videos, texts describing the buildings, etc. All of them are eclipsed by Richard Pare‘s photographs. I toured the exhibition twice (it’s not very big) and my eyes kept falling on his photos to the detriment of the rest other exhibits.

Pare spent 14 years looking for the most striking examples of constructivist architecture in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan for his book Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932.

The photo that opens Building the Revolution shows the Shabolovka Radio Tower. Completed in 1922, it was the first major structure erected after the revolution. From then on until the mid-1930s, social ideals, art and architecture in Soviet Russia will converge and give rise to a radically new architectural language.

The Soviet State that emerged from the 1917 Russian Revolution needed new types of buildings: workers’ clubs, schools, communal housing, sports facilities for the proletariat, factories and power stations to turn into reality the new socialist dreams of industrialisation, living quarters and offices for the new administration, bus shelters, working space for the secret police, organs of propaganda, etc.

Examples below:

Red Banner Textile Factory designed by Erich Mendelsohn and later partly redesigned by S. O. Ovsyannikov, E. A. Tretyakov, and Hyppolit Pretreaus. Built in Saint Petersburg in 1926-1937.


Richard Pare, Red Banner Textile Factory, 1999


Richard Pare, Red Banner Textile Factory, 1999

Gosplan Garage, Moscow, 1999, Built 1934-36. Architect: Konstantin Melnikov with Nikolai Kurochkin:


Richard Pare, Gosplan Garage, Moscow, 1999

The DneproGES dam and power station, built in Zaporozhe, Ukraine, from 1927 to 1932. It was designed by Aleksandr Vesnin, Nikolai Kolli, Georgy Orlov, and Sergei Andrievski.


Richard Pare, DneproGES: turbine room, 1999

Engineering based on the principles of catenary arcs, the Dinamo Sports Club diving board, in Kiev, was designed by Vasili Osmak in 1935.


Richard Pare, Dinamo Sports Club diving board

Narkomfin Communal House in Moscow, built 1928-19320. Architects: Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis. A fine example of Constructivist architecture and avant-garde interior planning, it is now almost empty and falling apart. Proposed reconstruction, in the best case, will retain only exterior walls.


Richard Pare, Narkomfin Communal House, Moscow, C. 1995


Narkomfin Communal House, Moscow, Moisei Ginzburg, Ignati Milinis, 1930 © M. A. Iline, 1931, Department of Photography, State Museum of Architecture Schúsev, Moscow

The Chekist Communal House, designed by Aleksandr Typikov in Nikzhni Novgorod (1929-32) for the notoriously ruthless Cheka, the secret police that will become the KGB:


Richard Pare, Chekist Communal House, 2002 (2009)

Vladimir Tatlin made plans for the Tower or The Monument to the Third International that would rival the Eiffel Tower. It was planned to be erected in St. Petersburg after the Bolshevik Revolution, as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern (the third international). Each floor would revolve separately at different speed. It was never built but the Royal Academy has erected a red model of it in their forecourt.


Tatlin, Maquette for The Monument to the Third International, 1919

Moisei Reisher’s Water Tower for the Socialist City of Uralmash in Ekaterinburg, Russia (1929):


Designed by Sergei Serafimov, Mark Felger, and Samuil Kravets, the Gosprom Building, in Kharkov, Ukraine, was built in 1929 to house the Soviet government’s administrative offices


Richard Pare, Gosprom Building

Konstantin Melnikov‘s house in Moscow (1927-31)


Richard Pare, Konstantin Melnikov’s house

Pare explains in an interview with Metropolismag the reason why his book stops in the mid 1930s: Stalin hands down his fiat in 1932 and dissolves all the clubs and organizations and brings them all together under the single organization of the House of Architects, which was to enforce the use of the heavy handed Stalinist classicism as the state sanctioned style.

Nowadays, most of these magnificent buildings are left to decay. Even more worryingly, many occupy valuable plots in Moscow and other cities and it is feared that they will eventually be demolished and replaced by tall, very high-density constructions.

The show closes rather gloomily with one of the few buildings that remains in pristine condition: Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square by Alexei Shchusev.


Richard Pare, Lenin Mausoleum, the burial chamber, 1998

Related entry: Soviet Photomontages 1917-1953.

Building the Revolution. Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935, runs until 22 January 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.