The Island of Constructivism
What makes constructivism a visual embodiment of the revolution? Why did this particular movement in architecture flourish in the 1920s, immediately after the Bolsheviks came to power?
Dialectics of pure geometrical forms and austere monumentality of steel and concrete, as preached by constructivism, were, of course, congenial to the revolution. However, the main point of interest about the constructivists (such as Tatlin, Melnikov and El Lisitsky) was not their avant-garde aesthetics but rather the fact that they developed new architectural forms for the transfigured world, where the architecture was no longer restricted by the market or the tastes of the bourgeois circles.
Palaces for the peoples, revolutionary pantheons and catering factories – which brought together large-scale canteens and food production lines under one roof – all these new types of buildings were designed to adorn the utopian garden-city that the characters of Mayakovsky’s poem dreamt of:
The clouds go roving
through the sky,
grips the heart.
In cramping damp
the workers lie
beneath the ancient cart.
Though all is soaked
both near and far
a garden-city here
In just four years
Translated by Dorian Rottenberg
In the very heart of Vasilievsky Island, the constructivists planted all sorts of exotic flowers. Taking a walk through the utopian garden, you will come across a catering factory, the flying-sauce-shaped “Red Nail-Maker” water tower and a palace-like workers’ club.
Architect Yakov Chernikhov
Address: 6b, 25th Line
Discernible from the Palace Bridge, the silhouette of an unusual building peeps out through the shipyard’s cranes and masts of the ocean liners moored along the shores of Vasilievsky island. As if it were a UFO, the massive concrete water tank hovers above the island. The water tower, designed by architect Yakov Chernikhov, is part of the nail and wire manufacturing plant, the “Red Nail-Maker”.
If it were not for this building, Yakov Chernikhov would have been remembered only as a visionary architect. Like the great Giovanni Piranesi, Chernikhov produced a massive collection of architectural graphics. His series included “Palaces of Communism”, “Pantheons of the War” and “The Architecture of the Future”. The “Red Nail-Maker” tower was the only building ever completed by him.
As a constructivist architect, Chernikhov sought to formalize the artistic process of creating an architectural form. Accordingly, the art of making a new building is just the process of combining various elements from the list of “basic architectural elements”, as found in a book by Chernikhov. For instance, the UFO-like water tank is nothing less than a “regular body with rectangular contours”.
«The ability to dream and to visualize the images of the dreams is the first foundation of the new architecture. Besides that, it is necessary to encourage the so-called architectural innovativeness that leads to the revelation of new types of architecture.»
“Foundations of the Contemporary Architecture”
Architects: the ARU group
(A. Barutchev, Ya. Rubanchik, I. Gilter, I. Meerzon, A. Dzhorogov)
Address: 68, Bolshoi Prospect VO,
at the intersection of Bolshoy Prospect and Kosaya Line
Long before the smiling clown Ronald MacDonald conquered the world, the Soviet state set a goal “to liberate women from house exploitation” by providing the workers’ families with industrially prepared food. On the instructions of the party and the government, members of the ARU group (“association of architects-urbanists”) came up with the design for the chain of so-called catering factories in the industrial areas of Leningrad.
The catering factory located next to one of the country’s largest Baltic Shipyards was built in 1930-1931. The factory produced both convenience food and hot meals. As with other catering factories, the distinguishing feature of the building was that the canteen and the factory shops were under the same roof. As a result, the building combines the forms of industrial architecture with the forms of civil buildings: an elegant balcony, which juts out from the glassed-in wall, adjoins to the ribbon windows.
«...A new giant of catering, indeed.»
Leningradskaya Pravda daily