- Taking StockDocumenting Russia's Modern Heritage
In a review of writings from the 1960s on the Modern Movement in Russia, S. Frederick Starr reminded his readers of Sybil Moholy-Nagy's remark that Erich Mendelsohn had the "unspeakably bad luck not to be mentioned by Mr. Giedion" in his Space, Time, and Architecture.1 Moholy-Nagy likened Mendelsohn's omission from Giedion's influential textbook to "a historical death sentence."2 The Modern Movement in Russia had suffered much the same fate until a boom in publications in the 1960s brought the achievements of this extraordinary chapter of modernism into general recognition both within the Soviet Union and abroad. Starr ascribed the neglect of the Russian movement to the unavailability of information to Western scholars and to political pressures placed on Soviet historians to avoid the output of the 1920s, which Nikita Khrushchev had characterized as being "ugly as sin."3 Although the many articles, books, and exhibitions of the 1960s devoted to the first two decades of Soviet modernism had changed the situation dramatically, the wave of interest in Soviet architecture had yet to bring about the restoration of any of the built work of the 1920s.
Today the architecture of Soviet modernism is threatened not by historical obscurity but by physical neglect and rapid real estate development. This new mode of endangerment calls for a different kind of engagement with the architecture of this period. The research carried out in the 1960s and 1970s assured a place for Soviet modernism in the historical record, yet the most widely circulated accounts of the Modern Movement in Russia have emphasized the unrealized "paper projects" of the 1920s.4 Now that the buildings of the Modern Movement are in danger of being erased from the historical city, preservationists, historians, and photographers have turned their attention to the tangible structures that are still standing. The documentary character of many recent publications on the Modern Movement in Russia reflects the urgency of the task at hand—to record the architectural legacy of the Soviet Union before it is lost forever. A decade and a half of stocktaking has both expanded our view of the quantitative output of the Soviet architectural vanguard and deepened our understanding of the physical state of the iconic buildings of the 1920s.
The first attempts at documenting the built legacy of Russian modernism have come in the form of architectural guides. [End Page 81] Credit is due to the international architectural journal Proekt Rossiia/ Project Russia for its documentation on cities often overlooked in accounts of Soviet architecture. Olga Orel'skaia's guide to Nizhniy Novgorod initiated Proekt Rossiia's series of articles on the twentieth-century architecture in Russia's regional capitals.5 For the first time an Anglophone audience can read about monuments such as A. Iakovlev's Communal house in Nizhniy Novgorod, which uses the same split-level floor plans as Moisei Ginzburg's Narkomfin building in Moscow. Ekaterina Shorban's guide to Ivanovo-Voznesensk documents both an early prefabricated housing settlement designed by Leonid Vesnin and Il'ia Golosov's dynamic House of the Collective of 1929–31.6 A. M. Gustov's remarkable Tartar Republic House of Print of 1932– 35 is documented in drawings and archival photographs in Sergei Sanichin's guide to the Modern architecture of Kazan.7 Other cities covered include Iaroslavl', Khabarovsk, Rostov on the Don, Tver, Ekaterin burg, and Saint Petersburg/ Leningrad. Proekt Rossia's series of architectural guides provides a wealth of hitherto unavailable graphic documentation. Each guide includes a map and short descriptive texts. This series reminds us that the Modern Movement in Russia was not confined to Moscow and Lenin grad, and that the surviving building stock is vast.
Proekt Rossiia's architectural guides have produced two book-length studies of Russian cities. Ivan Nevzgodin's The Architecture of Novosibirsk chronicles the history and urban development of this twentieth-century boomtown.8 Nevzgodin's richly illustrated book supplies a vivid account of the transformation of the trading post of Novonikolaevsk into the metropolis of Siberia. Arranged chronologically, the book showcases the development of Russian architectural styles from the Neo-Byzantine of Saint...