The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Exhibition Recommendation: Building the Revolution

I enjoyed visiting the  current Royal Academy exhibition  Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935  and am just reading the catalogure of the show (which runs until 22 January 2012).   It would make a great Christmas present, as it’s got substatial essays and wonderful photographs of buildings by Konstantin Melnikov, Moisei Ginsburg, Ilia Golosov and the Vesnin brothers as well as European architects who built in the USSR, including Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn.  There are both recent ones by Richard Pare, showing the buildings as they are now, as well as very evocative archive material.     The place names themselves are wonderful, including Ekaterinburg, Baku, Sochi and Nishni Novgorod.

 My first thought was that the Richard Pare photographs recalled those of Mussolini’s holiday camps for children photographed by Dan Dubowitz in the book Fascismo Abbandonato: Fascism in Ruins, but actually the mood is very different.  Whilst Dubowitz’s images revel in a sense of beauty through chaos and ruin, Pare records buildings which are tidy and uncluttered by the detritus of either decay or subsequent adaptation. In the catalogue Pare recalls  how in one building “wandering in the empty silence …. I felt as though the structure had returned to the essence of the architects’  intention; all superfluity had been torn away and what remained was the bare bones of the structure”. [p. 101]  However in some cases this stripping back has revealed that all is not as it might seem: as Pare points out, architects and engineers were “deploying medieval construction techniques to fulfil the requirements of a modern vocabulary”  [p.102]

I like how Pare’s shot of the Shabolovka Radio Tower (taken in 1998–top right) recalls the image above—which is Edwin Smith’s 1930s view up the inside of a very British pylon.


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