bauhaus
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Bauhaus in Russia

Haunted houses

The following material was produced during the photographic workshop Bauhaus in Russia: Haunted houses, which took place in the framework of the exhibition bauhaus imaginista. Moving Away: The Internationalist Architect at the museum of contemporary art “Garage” in Moscow. The exhibition focuses on the life and work of the Bauhaus architects who moved to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to work on the large-scale construction projects that were part of the first-five-year plans and the problematics this story raises today. Hannes Meyer, the second director of the Baushaus, and the former students who accompanied him—including Konrad Püschel, Philipp Tolziner, Tibor Weiner, Antonin Urban and Béla Scheffler—became employees of Soviet design and planning institutes and studios. They designed standard and individual projects for furniture, housing, college buildings, universities, kindergartens, houses of culture, and produced plans for districts, settlements and regions throughout the USSSR.

Through an open-call we invited participants from several Russian cities to take part in the visual research on both the visible and invisible legacies of the “bauhauslers”: the realized buildings that do not necessarily fit within our expectations of what constitutes a signature “Bauhaus style” and often recede into the fabric of the post-Soviet city, as well as the unrealized projects and the after-lives they attained within local mythology. Every participant received historic and geographic information to assist in deducing the object of documentation (see extracts below), and then chose her or his own approach to how these should be treated.

Tatiana Efrussi
Yuri Palmin

Birobidzhan

Photo: Kirill Stepanov, 2018.

City master plan (Hannes Meyer)

In 1933–1934 Hannes Meyer headed a brigade of the Moscow city-planning institute Giprogor, where he was employed at that time, to design a new capital for the Jewish Autonomous Region—the city of Birobidzhan. The majority of the project was never completed. The brigade first suggested to move the city center from a swampy low bank of the river Bira to a hilly area on the opposite bank, but for various reasons this never happened. However, one can observe that certain planning proposals did become realized in the city structure: by the end of the 1930s the station had been moved from its initial position and a park of culture and leisure on the semi-island had been developed.

Photo: Kirill Stepanov, 2018.

Kirill Stepanov (Architect, architecture historian):

The term “Bauhaus” has long been used by Birobidzhan’s local historians, guides and representatives of the city’s small intellectual milieu, while Hannes Meyer has become an almost legendary figure. Love for the “beautiful word” and admiration for this exceptionally talented architect in part derives from our nostalgia for the unrealized project of building the first Jewish socialist city in modern history, and for the time when Birobidzhan was not only the geographic center of the Soviet Union, but was also central to world events. Today, however, there are very few material monuments documenting that era left in the city.

The Bauhaus architects involved in the design of the “Far East Zion” (Дальневосточного Сиона), in the 1930s worked on issues distant from the global agenda, such as building a new society or creating a new aesthetic paradigm. The paramount task was to provide workers with a means of subsistence and to bring water to their barracks. This is why half-ruined barracks and their inhabitants take center stage in my series of photographs depicting the ghosts of the Bauhaus in Birobidzhan.

Photos: Kirill Stepanov, 2018.

Ekaterinburg

Sotsgorod Uralmash (with contributions from Béla Scheffler)

From 1932 Béla Scheffler worked in the design department of the Uralmashstroi (a trust that oversaw construction at the Ural machine-building factory, Uralmash). He was employed in the “sotsgorod” (“socialist city,” a district by the factory) construction section of this department, headed by the architect Petr Oranskii. According to later witnesses, Scheffler participated in the design of at least three objects: the main building of the factory administration, the factory club and pavilions of the municipal stadium. He might have also collaborated on designing other projects undertaken by the sotsgorod, including the largescale hotel “Madrid” built for foreign specialists.

Photo: Dmitry Protasevich, 2018.

Dmitry Protasevich (Architect):

Uralmash is a world in itself: it is a district separated from Ekaterinburg by an industrial area originally constructed as part of the building of the new socialist society. At the time when the country embarked on a capitalist path, it became an anchorage for an infamous organized crime group. Even today, compared to the rest of Ekaterinburg districts Uralmash leads in crime statistics. Perhaps, it could be called the “ghost” of an unrealized dream.

By “Bauhaus ghosts” I mean building-shadows: buildings that don’t themselves cast shadows.

Functional architecture as such appears unclaimed by Russia’s “dysfunctional” (disjointed) society. The notion of a simple, laconic architecture remains in the air but such buildings are no longer reproduced and aren’t part of the tradition.

On the contrary, elegant buildings are hidden under signage, ads and other types of “Euro-style renovation.” The straightforward concept of socially significant architecture is overlapped by a bunch of separate eclectic (and often tasteless) statements.

Photo: Dmitry Protasevich, 2018.

Moscow

Palace of the Soviets project design (Giprovtuz brigade)

Moscow master plan, central part (Hannes Meyer and brigade)

In 1931 the Giprovtuz (Design Institute for Design of Technical Schools) brigade participated in the competition for the Palace of the Soviets building. The brigade consisted of former Bauhaus students Philipp Tolziner, Antonin Urban and Tibor Weiner (with Hannes Meyer serving as consultant). The designs for two auditoria-transformers—for five and fifteen-thousand people respectively—were solved in the functionalist spirit. On the other hand, efforts were made to make the building more “monumental”: the design team included sculpture groups working on propaganda subjects, a giant Lenin statue. There was also a suggestion to decorate the building with precious materials. A focal point of the brigade’s palace design was a spectacular thoroughfare broad enough to accommodate columns of marching demonstrators.

Photo: Mikhail Ekadomov, 2018.

In 1932 Hannes Meyer and his brigade (Izrail’ Geimanson and Peer Bücking) designed a master plan of Moscow for a competition. It envisioned turning the capital into a system of satellite cities while also seriously transforming the city center. They proposed, among other things, constructing two skyscrapers on Red Square that would serve as headquarters of the Party Central committee and the Komintern, a new vast square for demonstrations in the Kitay-gorod area of the Tverskoy District, and enlarging the Moscow river by partially destroying the Bolotny island in order to underline the grandeur of the view from the Kremlin.

Neither of these projects were ever realized: they were both criticized as mechanistic and purely functionalist.

Photo: Mikhail Ekadomov, 2018.

Mikhail Ekadomov (Photographer):

The most challenging thing was shooting that which never existed. The most obvious and promising way was to fix geographical references in compliance with the mapped-out plans and film what is located there today. Early into the shooting process, however, I thought this “game” could be developed further. For instance, we were not entirely sure that the Lenin monument was to be located exactly at a certain point [in contemporary Moscow], but nevertheless, why not make a shot here, where several trees are growing? Or over there, where there is empty space and excursion buses—a passage for demonstrations, cranes sticking out in the air near GUM department store—that’s where the Komintern tower construction site would have been, of course.

Overall, at least for myself, this project has been the pursuit of a phantom, but a fairly controlled phantom who succumbs to my fantasies. Probably, because the whole of Moscow is just like that, not ruled by the dictate of the eternal, but ever-changing and impermanent instead.

Photo: Mikhail Ekadomov, 2018.

Moscow

Former Industrial Academy on Novoslobodskaya (with contributions from Philipp Tolziner); Motor Teaching Block of Moscow Aviation Institute (Konrad Püschel); Aeroport metro station (with contributions from Tibor Weiner), International Red Aid (MOPR) Pavilion (with contributions from Max Kraevsky)

In the mid-1930s Moscow was turned into a large-scale construction site, the most prestigious in the country. In 1933–34 Philipp Tolziner, who was employed at the Giprovtuz (called Vuzstroyproekt since 1932) worked on a commission in the Soviet capital to build an Industrial academy on Bor’by Square. As he wrote, the project was not accepted until he added pilasters on the façade. With only forty per cent of the building completed, it was turned into a hospital. Konrad Püschel, another employee of the Giprovtuz, also managed to receive a commission in Moscow: Motor Teaching Block of Moscow Aviation Institute.

Photo: Anna Pronina, VDHN, 2018.

As the 1930s progressed, foreign architects were increasingly excluded from city planning processes, and were forced to take other sorts of design work. For example: in 1936 Tibor Weiner returned to Moscow from the city of Orsk in the far south of the Urals, and took a job with the design department of the Moscow underground stations before departing in 1937. One of his assignments was the Aeroport station, where he was worked in a collective of architects.

Max Kraevsky received Soviet citizenship and remained in the Soviet Union (as a Jew, neither he nor Tolziner could return to Germany). In 1939–1940, together with his wife Faina Belostotskaya, he designed a pavilion of the International Aid (MOPR) at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV), which had started in 1935.

Photo: Aeroport, Anna Pronina, 2018.

Anna Pronina (Architectural historian):

Obviously, the view of a beautiful, thoroughly restored building beloved by everyone, for instance the Bauhaus in Dessau, is enjoyable. But more often, the story is different: covered by sidings, the building has mured windows, sheds and throughways attached to it, with grim guards stationed at the entrance. A lot of work needs to be done in order to get to the original layer, and this is the most interesting process. Moreover, oftentimes these strata tell a lot about the monument itself. It reminds me of the debate around Roman ruins: during restoration is it worth it to destroy ground floor benches constructed in the early Middle Ages? I believe the answer is no. Moscow itself comprises such a multitude of architectural layers.

Photo: Industrial Akademie, Anna Pronina, 2018.

I love this archaeology of architecture most of all. I adore it. It is like a field research one shouldn’t be afraid of, because the experiment is conducted only once and the same material would be impossible to gather another time. The researcher should act immediately. These were the problems I had to solve, albeit on a smaller scale, throughout the workshop, with the help of photography.

The pleasant thing was learning to pay no attention to people and what they thought about me and my camera.

Nizhny Novgorod

Sormovsky Mechanical Technical School (allegedly, with contributions from Antonin Urban)

Antonin Urban was a Bauhaus student of Czech origin. He followed Hannes Meyer to the USSR and and some of his comrades was employed at the Giprovtuz design institute. In 1932 he worked there on a project for the technical school in Sormovo (Sormovsky disctrict of Nizhny Novgorod). As witnessed by Philipp Tolziner, Urban was arrested as a spy and murdered in 1938. In the 1970s Tolziner conducted research on his colleagues’ work. Through an acquaintance in Nizhny Novgorod he received a photograph of the Sormovo Mechanical Technical School, which underwent reconstruction (seemingly, a neoclassical treatment of the façade) in the 1940s. He noted, however, that authorship of the original building had yet to be confirmed.

Photo: Irina Maslova, 2018.

Irina Maslova (Architect, architectural historian):

In the Sormovsky district architecture is not believed to be part of everyday life, because life means people and their work. Architecture is absent from this view. It exists perhaps only as an accessorial membrane enveloping the working people. Several research meetings with the staff of Sormovo’s museums and libraries have revealed one thing: “We only have data in relation to production, not architecture.” This situation seems typical to me, with the minor exception being industrial architecture from the turn of the last century, which is appreciated and perceived as historically important, even though only one person has conducted research on this topic thus far. That person wrote a book providing a formal evaluation of building in the Russian brick style and art nouveau as “warmhearted” and “beautiful.” Soviet avant-garde architecture, “Culture One” as Vladimir Paperny called it, is excluded from perception; the architecture of the “Culture Two” era is recognized as valuable, as, god forgive me, “nice petty-bourgeois houses.” Is this all typical? Anyhow, can we judge this perception?

Photo: Irina Maslova, 2018.

Novokuznetsk

Kuznetsky Metallurgical Technical School (Antonin Urban)

The scenario is similar to the situation in Nizhny Novgorod. During his 1970s research, Philipp Tolziner reported that a building for a technical school in Novokuzntesk had been designed in 1932 by Antonin Urban, who could not confirm his authorship as he became a victim of the Great Terror. Photographs from the 1970s in the Tolziner archive shows Kuznetsky Metallurgical Technical School.

Photo: Arseny Toskin, 2018.

Arseny Toskin (Architect):

The building of the technical school is located on the border with the industrial zone. It doesn’t stand out from the rest of the housing, and only knowing the project’s history allows its paradigmatic qualities to be seen—the arrangement of the windows, the stained-glass elements. People who use this building today do not appreciate it much, but they perceive a threat in taking photographs, that’s why the interiors have remained undocumented.

Photo: Arseny Toskin, 2018.

It was the first time that I had seen this building but I haven’t developed any special attitude to it, it still seems alien and somewhat random in this city. I completed the series with photographs of similar looking random buildings I encountered during the documentation process: each of them is a separate story, even though they have no connection to each other.

Photo: Arseny Toskin, 2018.

Vladivostok

Master plan of the Vtoraia Rechka district (with contributions from Philipp Tolziner)

In the 1960s Philipp Tolziner was employed at the Central Scientific-Research Institute for Experimental and Typical Design of Housing (TsNIIP Zhilisha), which also produced city and district plans. While in this position he collaborated on the design of the Vtoraia Rechka district in Vladivostok, where, according to his writings, he participated in positioning of standard housing in the relief and design of social and trade center of mikroraion 2.

Photo: Evgeny Pankratyev, 2018.

Evgeny Pankratyev (Artist, journalist):

In this shot we see Vladivostok, the Vtoraia Rechka (The Second River) district, Stoletiia Avenue, a district built on the slope of a hill along the main entrance road to the city. At first glance, the housing system is reminiscent of the majority of other Vladivostok buildings—standard housing of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev era, whose unusual arrangement is explained largely by the contours of the landscape. However, there are a number of crucial differences: the houses form an ensemble with, in most cases, open views and substantial courtyards. The definitive architectural element is the canopy, curved into almost equal flat surfaces above the entrances to high-rise buildings. This “Tolziner’s district” comprises three main building types: separate nine-story apartment blocks erected along the edge of the slope (Prospekt Stoletiia, 109, 113, 117, 129, 131, 139); a continuous chain of one-story shops and other amenities at the base of the apartment houses standing between the bottom and the middle of the slope, with walkways into the courtyard; and deep within the district, interconnected five-story panel apartment houses separated by arched aisles (Prospekt Stoletiia 121, 123, 125, 133, 135, 137).

Photo: Evgeny Pankratyev, 2018.

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