The new exhibition in the Design Museum that opens on the 15th of March explores the architecture trends that emerged in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, marking its centenary. The architects of the 1920s and the early 1930s have introduced new styles – and Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution will examine and explain the ideas for Moscow that never came to life.
How can ideologies influence everyday life? Across centuries, those were often the driving force behind the monumental architecture. It was no different for the young, idealistic architects of the newly born Soviet Union: new symbolism bred the ideas for new buildings. Be it factories, communal housing, ministries or cultural institutions – these project offer an insight into the transforming life of the country at the time, and speaks volumes about its stance on industrialisation, communal living, communication, urban planning and recreation.
Imagine Moscow focuses on plans that were never realised: six landmarks that were meant to be located nearby the capital’s Red Square. The stories behind Nikolai Ladovski’s Communal House (1920), EL Lissitzky’s Cloud Iron (1924), Ivan Leonidov’s Lenin Institute (1927), Nikolai Sokolov’s Health Factory (1928), three competition entries for the ‘Narkomtiazhprom’ building by the Vesnin brothers, Ivan Leonidov and Konstantin Melnikov (1934-1936), and Boris Iofan’s winning entry for the Palace of the Soviets (1932) will be told in detail – with many works of artists that will help the audiences to understand the context better. It features loans rarely seen in the UK from the Ne Boltai! Collection in Prague, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Alex Lachmann Gallery in Cologne, the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin, the Collections of the British Library and items lent from private collectors.
Every model has its own distinctive story and fits into urban planning of new Moscow as a solution to particular problems. For instance, futuristic Cloud Iron were the series of skyscrapers that addressed the overcrowding and the public transport accessibility problems. They were meant to conveniently connect housing and office space with tram and metro stations. Palace of the Soviets, on the other hand, was a building that signalised the power of the empire. It was planned to be taller than the Empire State Building in New York and decorated with a gigantic statue of Lenin – however, the construction was withheld during the second world war. Health Factory proposed a sanatorium that emphasised living as a collective, with individual capsules for rest and a variety of communal spaces. Ladovski’s Communal House followed the same idea, but also emphasised the role of a woman in the society and aimed to change the traditional family. Narkomtiazhprom is, on the other hand, a visualisation of what architecture could do for a highly industrialised landscape of the Soviet Union.
But to depict the society fully, it will also include drawings, posters, magazines, models, and everyday items from the era. One of its features will be also a room about the Lenin Mausoleum that became the geographical and ideological centre of the transformed city. It’ll include the design by Aleksey Schusev and the competition entries submitted by professionals and ordinary people in the course of preparations that led to raising the landmark.
“The October Revolution and its cultural aftermath represent a heroic moment in architectural and design history. The designs of this period still inspire the work of contemporary architects, and the radical ideas in the exhibition remain highly relevant to cities today,” Eszter Steierhoffer, curator of Imagine Moscow said. “Imagine Moscow brings together an unexpected cast of ‘phantoms’ – architectural monuments of the vanished world of the Soviet Union that survive in spite of never being realised.”
Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution. The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6AG. 15 March – 4 June 2017, open daily 10:00 – 18:00. Tickets: Adult £10, Student/concession £7.50, Family (1 adult + 3 children) £17, Family (2 adults + 3 children) £24, Child (6 – 15 years) £5, younger children admitted without a fee. Members go free.