From Cafes to Cities: Twelve Greatest Modernist Projects of USSR

PHOTO by V. Babailov / RIA Novosti
We continue to explore the world of stark, romantic and underrated Soviet architecture

Afisha.Daily asked Yuri Groshev, admin of the Soviet Modernism Facebook group, to select his ten favourite buildings outside of Moscow, which best express the movement's ideas and style.

Five Facts About Soviet Modernism

1. It's a subject that needs more study

Although the West was interested in modernism, post-Stalin Soviet architecture has long been considered inferior here. The last wave is associated with the Vienna exhibition "Soviet Modernism 1955-1991. Unknown Stories" in 2012. We pass those buildings every day, we use them, but for some reason we go abroad to admire architecture. It's a shame that this heritage hasn't been acknowledged yet. Many of the names are forgotten, including the great Shulgin from Baku.

Russian Academy of Sciences

2. This is utopia, but with an end point

Soviet Modernism was the same post-war experiment which took place in Europe and America: cities had been destroyed and people needed a place to live and work. As the post-war euphoria, which brought along with it a desire to build a wonderful new world, passed, so too faded the enthusiasm for these experiments. The Pruitt-Igoe Modernist quarter in St. Louis became a symbol of frustration and dashed hopes. Ten years after its construction it had turned into a ghetto, and in March 16, 1972 it was spectacularly demolished. A circular block of flats designed by architect Yevgeny Stamo and engineer Alexander Markelov and built in 1979, at Dovzhenko Street.


3. In the 1960s, the whole world returned to these ideas – the international style, on which Corbusier worked in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1960s

The Soviet Union was lagging behind because of its planned economy, so modernism survived longer there. Small architectural forms went ahead alongside large-scale projects. There were outdoor cafe pavilions, dance halls, bus stops, gas stations and even heliports.

New building of the National Library and a monument to Francisk Skorina

4. The Khrushchyovka is also Soviet modernism

Small-sized housing in the Khrushchev era was the result of a serious study, where each element had been thought through. Architects worked at laboratories in design institutes, analysing how people use space, how they go to the bathroom, hang a towel, switch on the stove. The project was hugely simplified afterwards, but the pilot programme in Cheryomushki was excellent. All the details were unified and inserted one into one another like a puzzle.

Noviye Cheryomushki

5. Modernism is a predecessor of Luzhkov's style

By the end of the 1970s, pure Modernism no longer really existed. It was replaced by Brutalism – a practical style, which took solutions and materials from the 1960s, but used them for other ideas. It's heavy architecture without dynamism, for example, like the building of Tsentral'nyy Dom Khudozhnika in Moscow. It grew into post-modernism, and the best example here is Evgeny Ass' pharmacy in Orekhovo-Borisovo: the commitment to the future is gone, here's a kind of sarcastic nod to the past. The building has become a symbol of itself. And Luzhkov's style emerged from the Soviet postmodernism. However, the time period and the meaning of the term "Soviet modernism" aren't clear. The Viennese exhibition combined everything above, with everything that was built from 1955 to Evgeny Ass pharmacy, 1991.