Postconstructivism was a
transitional architectural style
that existed in the Soviet
Union in the 1930s, typical of early Stalinist architecture before
World War II.
was coined by Selim Khan-Magomedov
, a historian of
architecture, to describe the product of avant-garde
artists' migration to Stalinist
identified postconstructivism with 1932-1936, but the long
construction time and vast size of the country extended the period
Existence of this style is evident, but Khan-Magomedov's
explanation of its evolution as a natural process inside the
architectural community, rather than a by-product of plain State
intervention, is disputed.
This section is based on Khan-Magomedov's "Soviet avant-garde
architecture", vol.1, "Avant-garde to postconstructivism and
1932-1933, during the Palace of Soviets contest, the State sent a clear message to
architects that the age of experiment was over and the new
buildings must follow the classical canon.
At this time,
architectural profession was divided into three generations:
- Mature Neoclassical architects (most of them in their fifties
and sixties), like Ivan Fomin, Alexey Shchusev and Ivan Zholtovsky. Excellent
education and experience led them to success in any style -
Art Nouveau, Neoclassicism and
- A younger, diverse avantgarde movement (itself divided into
rationalists and constructivists). With the
exception of the Vesnin brothers,
few constructivists had acquired professional experience before
World War I; the war, Revolution of 1917 and Civil war halted any new construction for
a decade (1914-1926). In 1927-1929, former theorists Nikolai Ladovsky, Moisei Ginzburg, Ilya Golosov stepped aside from public
discussions and switched to practical building and urban planning.
By 1933, they had not more than seven years of practice, and were
just entering their own age of maturity.
- Finally, the vocal students of the 'Proletarian School',
members of VOPRA: the "class of 1929"
(Arkady Mordvinov, Karo Alabyan). Trained by Constructivist
leaders in a style they dubbed "sterile avant-garde", they were
completely unaware of the classical legacy and had no practical
experience. They compensated for this with left-wing political
assaults and accusations, in particular a campaign against Ivan Leonidov.
Birth of a style
According to Khan-Magomedov, two forerunners of the style were
and Ilya Golosov
. They converged on the same style
from opposite directions - neoclassicism and constructivism.
Fomin's concept, easily formulated, erected in steel and granite in
Moscow (Dynamo Building), was well understood even by the
inexperienced youth. "The youth instinctively followed those who
managed to declare their stance clearly. The youth believed that
this period is a self-sufficient cultural stage, not a transition
to something else". In 1933-1934, Golosov publicly disposed with
the avantgarde. He returned to Neoclassicism, trying to avoid
direct citations from the past. For example, he used square columns
instead of traditional, round ones. Square, lean columns without
capitals became a trademark feature of the emerging style.
Golosov's entries in public design contests exposed his style to
and Ilya Golosov
Original concepts (never
materialized):Image:Yaweyn_kursky_fomin.jpg|Ivan Fomin. Kursky Rail
Terminal, 1933Image:Yaweyn_kursky_fomin_hall.jpg|Ivan Fomin. Kursky
Rail Terminal, 1933Image:Moscow_Golosov_Ogiz_Draft_1934.jpg|Ilya
Golosov. Ogiz Building,
Trade Union College, 1938
Khan-Magomedov defined postconstructivism as neoclassical
shapes without neoclassical detailing
. Golosov and his
followers deliberately replaced the proven historical details
their own inventions - to differentiate themselves from pure
Revivalists. The main volumes follow the classical rules, and
usually are perfectly symmetrical.
. Apartment buildings in
MoscowImage:Moscow_golosov.jpg|Ilya Golosov. Yauzsky, 2,
1936-1941Image:Moscow_golosov_statue.jpg|Ilya Golosov. Yauzsky, 2,
, Patriarshy Ponds, Penthouse with
, Patriarshy Ponds, Balcony
Postconstructivism benefited from a natural reaction against both
the avantgarde and the eclectics of the past. It was perceived as
, and at the same time allowed grand
that were to the taste of provincial elite. Another benefit in a
time of total rationing was that, unlike Constructivism, the new
style minimized use of steel and cement, turning back to primitive
masonry with wooden floors and partitions. This helps explain the
spread of Postconstructivism in 1930s.
Evolution - Constructivism to Postconstructivism to
Stalinism (Moscow)Image:Wiki_school_518_2.jpg|School 518 by Ivan Zvezdin,
Entuziastov housing by Guryev-Gurevich and Zaltsmann,
Entuziastov housing by Guryev-Gurevich and Zaltsmann,
by Molokov and Chekmotayev, 1935-1937Leningrad
housing, by Igor Fomin,
prospect housing by Simonov, Abrosimov, Khryakov,
Soviet, by Igor Fomin, 1930-1935Sverdlovsk and Kuibyshev
housing, by Matveyev and Bosim,
hospital, by Yugov,
by Oransky, 1936
By 1936, the left-wing "class of 1929" and younger (Mordvinov,
Alabyan) had gained some practical experience. These architects
completely lacked the classical training of older Constructivists;
lack of skill prevented them from inventing their own incarnation
of classical legacy; all they could do was copying. As a result,
they buried their avantgarde teachers and proceeded straight to
pure neoclassicism. They could not stop at postconstructivism
because they - unlike Golosov or Fomin - could not innovate.
Meanwhile, Fomin died in 1936, and Golosov was ageing physically,
clearing the road for the young.
Another group of young architects, seeking academic training,
joined the workshops of Zholtovsky and other old neoclassicists.
They, too, skipped over postconstructivism - straight to the
Stalinist canon. Their old mentors were still active and enjoyed
the support of the State. There was no need for inventing new
shapes or styling anymore. Postconstructivist projects draggedon
for a few more years; World War II
finally sealed the fate of this style.
Criticism of Khan-Magomedov's viewpoint
Role of State
Authors like Dmitry Khmelnizky appreciate Khan-Magomedov's studies
of 1920s and 1930s, but completely disagree with him on the origins
and evolution of early Stalinist architecture and the demise of
Khan-Magomedov barely mentions the role of State (or Stalin
personally) in those events, presenting the
demise of avant-garde as a natural evolution within the
professional community. He admits that the profession was
manipulated by the "class of 1929" youth, but does not study the
forces that shaped and directed their assaults. Not a word on
Stalin's personal influence, not a word on rising terror.
Khan-Magovedov discusses the 1929-1931 political assaults by
at length, but fails to mention that
they were part of an all-out national campaign. As Khmelnitsky
summarized it, "Postconstructivism was born by terror
very term is misleading. Traces of the Constructivist style in the
Postconstructivism of 1930s are a sign of indecision, not
banned constructivism, but didn't explain
to do... the result is an architectural pathology.
Comparison with European parallels is useless. There were no
, even Nazi
does not come close".
Art Deco factor
Postconstructivism merged closely with Soviet adaptations of
. Some examples of this style, like
the 1934 Lenin Library
, may be mistaken for Postconstructivism
fact, Schuko was a seasoned Neoclassicist and the Library was his
attempt to differentiate into proletarian classic
Deco tools. The situation inside professional community was even
more diverse than Khan-Magomedov's picture. Vladimirov's apartment
block featured above is usually classified as an Art Deco
Public awareness and preservation
The general public is seldom aware of the concept of
. Real estate agents classify these
buildings as early stalinka
, and that's how they are
perceived by the public.In Moscow, such buildings are gradually
torn down or completely rebuilt (see facadism
); demolition of postconstructivist
buildings, with few exceptions, goes unnoticed even within
preservationist community. One recently lost example was A.A.
on Novy Arbat in Moscow, torn down
The buildings of the 1920s-1930s were built using primitive
technologies (masonry, wet stucco
ceilings and partitions), low-grade materials and a low-grade
workforce. Poor initial quality and inadequate maintenance led to
rapid decay. Excluding a few well-maintained, high-class apartment
buildings, early stalinka
are unsafe. February 10, 1999, a
fire in Samara police
department, built 1936, killed 57 men and women.
13, 2006, Panteleimon Golosov
Constructivist Pravda Building burnt down, killing one person and
Proper reconstruction of Constructivist or early stalinka
buildings is challenging. The structures are weak, and often
require complete demolition. A notable example is School 518 (Balchug, Moscow), designed
in 1933 by Ivan Zvezdin (1899-1979) and completed in 1935.
Praised by Khan-Magomedov, the only Postconstructivist building
entered on the national monument register, the school was
reconstructed in 2001 to modern safety standards. Most of
and all 1935 interiors were completely
rebuilt from scratch .
Preobrazhenskaya Zastava, 2002-2005,
or early stalinka
are rare. Preobrazhenskaya Zastava (Преображенская Застава)
mixed-use project (two blocks, 308 apartments and retail stores)
was completed in 2002-2005. Unusually for present-day Moscow, it
actually looks like a period piece, not a cheap modern replica.
There are no trademark square columns or slim porticos, yet it is
the best attempt to recreate a style of 1930s.On a smaller scale,
Russian architectural firms design country
in true postconstructivist shape .
- Russian: С.О.Хан-Магометов. «Архитектура Советского
авангарда».Т1. Москва. Стройиздат. 1996 (S.O. Khan-Magomedov,
"Soviet avantgarde architecture", 1996)
- English 1987 version: Khan-Magomedov, "Pioneers of Soviet
Architecture: The Search for New Solutions in the 1920s and 1930s",
Thames and Hudson Ltd, ISBN 978-0500341025
- Academic training in Tsarist Russia was long. Zholtovsky
trained for his diploma for 11 years, Fomin - 17 years.
- Note that Ivan Fomin (like Alexey Shchusev) was successful in
any style, including Constructivism - he practiced
whatever was in demand.
- Black and white photography: "XXX years of Russian Federation
(1917-1947)" by Academy of Architecture (Moscow), 1950 edition.
Most of these photographs were actually taken before 1941
- Russian: Dmitry Khmelnitsky, "Stalin and Architecture", 2004,
- Russian: Dmitry Khmelnitsky, "New versiond of History", 2000,
- Russian: photo gallery, www.wbb.ru
- Russian: Radio interview with federal fire marshal of Russia,
- Russian: Aнна Куприна. "Виновники в пожаре 'Правды' не
найдены". 12.07.2007, www.smi.ru
- English: "Fire on Ulitsa Pravda Comparable To Manezh Fire for
the Russian Avant-Garde', Izvestia, 20.02.2006, Moscow Architecture Preservation Society
- Russian: Zvezdin bio at School 518 site
- Photo gallery, interiors before and after reconstruction
School 518 site
- Russian: photo gallery www.wbb.ru