Thursday, 8 December 2011


The Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 exhibition at the Royal Academy makes comparisons between the art and architecture of this intensely innovative period for the avant garde of the newly formed USSR. A taste of things to come is in the courtyard in front of the RA, where there's a (scaled down) recreation of Vladmir Tatlin's proposed Monument to the Third International, also known as 'Tatlin’s Tower' (below):

Much of the architecture inside the exhibition itself is shown through the magnificent contemporary colour photographs of Richard Pare. Despite, or perhaps because of the fact that many of the buildings are derelict and decaying, Pare's photography enhances the cold, functional Modernist 'sleeping beauty' of the buildings. His great use of composition and perspective is evident in both the next two photographs (below) of the Shabolovka Radio Tower (1922) in Moscow and the Gosprom Building (1929) in Kharkov, designed by Vladimir Shukhov and Samuil Kravets respectively.

Shabolovka Radio Tower (detail) (1998), Richard Pare

The tower itself was inspired by the design for 'Tatlin’s Tower'.

Gosprom Building (detail with covered skywalk) (1999), Richard Pare

I like the curvaceous shapes of the slopes and staircases, and the way the natural light works with them, in the interiors of these two buildings (below) again photographed by Richard Pare. These are the Tsentrosoyuz Building designed (in 1929-36) by the renowned (Swiss born) Modernist architect Le Corbusier, and secondly the Chekist Housing Scheme in Ekaterinburg designed (in 1929-36) by Veniamin Sokolov and Arsenii Tumbasov.

Tsentrosoyuz Building (1999), Richard Pare


Chekist Housing Scheme (1999), Richard Pare
This was originally constructed for the officers of the Cheka (the Soviet secret police, which subsequently became the KGB).

Below is the VTsIK Residential Complex in Moscow designed by Boris Iofan (in 1928-31) that was built to house high ranking Communist Party officials, but its the sickle and wheat design on the iron railing (in the foreground) that caught my eye...

VTsIK Residential Complex (1999), Richard Pare

These two interesting paintings by the female artist Liubov Popova are Spatial Force Construction (1920-21) (above) and Painterly Architectonics (1918-19) (below). They both also featured in the Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibtion at the Tate Modern in 2009. I like the sense of intense activity and movement in them.

Jay Merrick's excellent preview of the exhibition for the Independent newspaper expresses just how influential this period of Russian art and (to a greater extent) architecture has been for nearly a century:


  1. As I have not seen the exhibition notes, please can you explain what the evidence is for the Shabolovka Radio Tower being inspired by 'Tatlin’s Tower' as Vladimir Shukhov had been designing and constructing hyperboloid towers for about 20 years before Tatlin designed his monument?

  2. Hello Peter.
    Thank you for reading my blog and for your comment.

    When I stated that: 'The tower itself was inspired by the design for 'Tatlin’s Tower'', I was referring to part of this following passage from the (hard copy of the) exhibition guide/leaflet (published by the Royal Academy of Art):

    'While Izvestia and Pravda communicated the Communist Party’s policies and achievements internally, Vladimir Shukhov’s Shabolovka Radio Tower (cat. 62; see cover) projected the message of revolution to the wider world. Built in 1922 for the newly created Comintern, or Communist International, the tower was inspired by Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed Monument to the Third International (1919-20), a re-creation of which stands in the Annenberg Courtyard of Burlington House, complemented by an exhibition in the Architecture Space.'

    (As you said you have not read the programme notes, I would have scanned in that section of my copy to post on here but it’s covered in my own messy notes!) Regarding your request for evidence, there is no list of references on the guide and the online/digital version that I just downloaded from the RA’s website goes into a little more detail but is still rather ambiguous:

    'Fig. 2 The Shabolovka Radio Tower was, therefore, intended to be as much an emblem of the Revolution as a functional structure. In that regard, as well as structurally and functionally, it shared a number of characteristics with Vladimir Tatlin’s famous Monument to the Third International – commonly referred to as ‘Tatlin’s Tower’ – designed between 1919 and 1920. Both Shukhov and Tatlin’s towers combined innovative or experimental engineering with an iconic form designed to express the glories of the Revolution.'

    I did not buy a copy of the full exhibition book/catalogue when I visited the show, which presumably substantiates the information given above, or at the very least will obviously reference its sources. The exhibition is on until the 22nd January though, so there is still time for you to source the evidence (of my original statement) from the RA if you wish.

    Finally, the reason I sometimes do not research & provide evidence for all of the content in my blog posts, as I would do if I were writing a thesis or book for example, is because my blog is often intended as an expression of my personal opinion as opposed to an attempt to form a critique of my subject matter.