The same faith in the power of technology to forge a better life for all that marks all of early Soviet society marks the architecture of the time. Architects saw the old forms as “imprisoning” people yearning to be free. The same almost reckless experimentation seen in the innovative painting of Matisse and Cezanne in France and in Russia’s own Kandinsky helped inspire architects to think outside the boxy structures of the past. Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist art and it’s almost messianic desire to transform the world drove architects to reevaluate the role of geometric forms in the designing of living and working spaces. Melnikov’s Rusakov-House of Culture on Strominka Street (above, from 1927-1929) exemplifies this use-centered approach to building, keeping the needs and desires of the people inside as a central focus. Classical ideals fell by the wayside as architects designed using space and volume as their materials rather than stone, freed by the technical innovations of steel and glass. Buildings were now “living sculpture,” created not for the bourgeoisie elite but rather for the people. Architecture now interacted with people on an unprecedented scale, achieving a social relevance in such public works as Melnikov’s cultural center that helped generate a new sense of community.
[Many thanks to Michael Craig and Copernicus Films for providing me with a review copy of Architecture and the Russian Avant-Garde and for the images from the film.]