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Anatole Kopp: Town and Revolution: Soviet Architecture and City Planning 1917-1935

Friday, December 28, 2012

Reviewed by Chen Xi
Anatole Kopp (1915-1990) was born in Petrograd (St. Petersburg)in 1915, but studied in France and America before returning to Europe. He was Professor at the University of Paris VIII,and became involved in the movement of Marxist planners from 1960-1970. This book has been described as 'the clearest and most convincing account yet of the relationship between the Russian Revolution and the modern architectural movement from 1917 up to the full deployment of aesthetic Stalinism around 1937.' Anatole Kopp shows in this book, through texts and quotes new ideologies in the projects selected, in significant events such as the competition for the Palace of Soviets, through the great achievements of the period (such as the university and metro in Moscow), and also through interviews with leading figures. Stalinist architecture is revealed to be deeply marked by social realism, and the "fear of the new." ' Introduction: Why the Twenties?Kopp begins by describing the rise of the Soviet modern period after the October Revolution and with that the new Bolshevik regime. He is primarily concerned with how the change in ideology effected the architecture of the former empire, and how its architects were able to creatively deal with this change. Kopp continues that these changes produced an artistic revolution as well as a political one. The artistic conventions of the West were free to be broken, and with the abolition of land ownership it was seen that architects could be unrestricted in their scope to create a new architecture in a new urban environment, all as a part of the new republic's ideology. This can be summarised as a "new way of life" - In which social and collective activities will take precedence over individual activities and "new architecture" - The rise of new technology, the rise of industry, and the new requirements of an industrial society. Architecture in Prerevolutionary RussiaIn the second half of the nineteenth century there appeared in Europe and the United States the first examples of a new architecture that rejected the traditions of the past. With the development of capitalism and an industrial society new needs arose. At that time, factories, stations, warehouses, stores and workers' housing were equally in demand. In writing of this period, Soviet architectural historians epitomize it in one word: eclecticism. It was simply to apply a given " style" to a structure engineered by others. 1920-1925: The Pursuit of Formal ExpressionIn this chapter, Kopp introduced four examples. They are "Tatlin's Tower", the Palace of Labour, the All-Union Agricultural Exposition and the Exposition of Decorative Arts. "Tatlin's Tower": Today the Monument to the Third International is known as "Tatlin's Tower", and it is a grand monumental building envisioned by the Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin, but never built. It was planned to be erected in St. Petersburg after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern (the Third International). Tatlin's constructivist tower was to be built from industrial materials: iron, glass and steel. In materials, shape, and function, it was envisaged as a towering symbol of modernity. It would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower's main form was a twin helix which spiraled up to 400 m in height, around which visitors would be transported with the aid of various mechanical devices.
The Palace of Labour was designed for the center of Moscow. It is composed of a series of intercommunicating squares. There used to be a little island of buildings of various kinds and a whole network of narrow streets. This was the site chosen for the Palace of Labor. It was designed by the Vesnin brothers, and opened the way for modern architecture in the Soviet Union. In this building there were offices, one 8000-seat auditorium, museum, library, a restaurant and so on. The All-Union Agricultural Exposition: The object of the All-Union Agricultural Exposition was to display the first economic successes of the Soviet Union; there was also a large foreign section intended to restore trading relations that events had thrown into disarray. The Soviet Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of Decorative Arts was designed by Konstantin Melnikov, who had completed his studies in 1917. He was a young man with little experience. He designed Soviet pavilion, of which the conception was new. In this pavilion one could observe the interpenetration of interior and exterior space, which was to become the hallmark of modern architecture. 1925-1932: An Architecture for the New TimesIn 1925, in most of western Europe, modern architecture as a form of expression was still a minority movement. It was to hasten the realization of these latent possibilities that Le Corbusier demanded: " Let big industry take over building." In western Europe the basis for such a development already existed. In the United States, long before the twenties, not only were modern techniques being used by the building industry but entirely new types of buildings. For many architects it was no longer so much a question of inventing a demonstration, of creating a material structure that would both reflect and enrich the new socialist way of life. Between 1925 and 1932 the Association of Contemporary Architects appeared to be the strongest, the most ideologically united, and the O.S.A. described themselves as "Constructivists". These new buildings possessed an added social dimension; in particular, they were marked by a constant effort to give architectural expression to the new society under construction. Town and RevolutionIn this chapter, Kopp talked about the city planning and revolution. It introduced several different aspects such as: To Build New Cities, Urbanists and Deubanists, The Socialist Reconstruction of Moscow, and the New City: Magnitogorsk. Soviet city planning, though often primitive in its forms, was distinguished by a creative dynamism not to be found elsewhere in the world. The years 1929 and 1930 were marked by a keen debate which was to raise all the problems that are now implied by the terms " land use" and " regional planning". There can be no denying that the proposals of both " urbanists" and " deurbanists" were unrealistic, and that the total reconstruction of the country along the lines suggested by either group was clearly impossible. CONCLUSIONIn conclusion, Kopp evaluates the influence of the Soviet Union, and he argued that the modern period of architecture in the USSR between 1917-1935 had an equal effect on the European architectural style as the Bauhaus School Movement in Germany. Kopp talked about the sense of architecture's ability, especially through the toughest social and economic periods.

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