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24 April 2017
Evening Sedition

Architecture Fit for an Emperor
Errr, I mean, Fit for a Comrade!

Russian Seal

The Soviet Union — this is more properly pronounced "Stalin" — decided to completely redo Moscow in the image of a people's paradise. (We all know what happened to anyone who voiced doubts about the wisdom of destroying the city's architectural heritage to build monstrous buildings.) And, since this was a people's paradise, the people were invited to contribute entires. Well, architects were invited, at any rate.

One of those entires proposed building the tallest building in the world. Just to show the bourgouise capitalists how it was done, of course. At 1572 feet (415 meters) the building would be taller than the Empire State building (highest at 1250 feet, 381 meters) and Eiffel Tower (second highest at 984 feet, 300 meters, excluding the transmitting tower at the top.) Hard to imagine a time when the (now) relatively puny Empire State building was seen as competition. But that's because we're spoiled; every decade the ante gets upped by some country eager to make a name for itself by building towers that are difficult to use. (Who wants a ten minute elevator ride to get lunch?) The latest project scraping the heavens, Burj Dubai, is going to be 2,275 to 2,925 feet or (700 to 900 meters) tall. But back to Russia.

Many of the grand — one might even say grandiose — plans have an architecture that one cannot help but be impressed by. This is the sort of architecture at which Albert Speer excelled. (Or, say, the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. If that isn't an edifice worthy of Triumph of the Will, I don't know what is.) Anyway, I found the entries interesting, overall, from both architectural and historical contexts. Two of them were particularly interesting; one because of its sheer mass and height and the other because it reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of some of the rounded, yet boxy, glass buildings being built in the city today.

Among the far-reaching projections of the first stalinist "five year plans", the 1935 General plan for the reconstruction of Moscow overshadowed all others. According to this plan, Moscow was to become, in the shortest possible time, the showpiece capital of the world's first socialist state. The General plan envisaged the development of the city as a unified system of highways, squares and embankments with unique buildings, embodying the ideas and achievements of socialism. This plan contained a number of major flaws, especially in connection with the preservation of the historical heritage of the city. The specific nature of the architectural process of this period was determined wholly by ambitious government schemes. In order to realize them, extensive architectural contests were held and architects of diverse orientations and schools of thought were invited to tender their projects.

"Architecture of Moscow From the 1930s to the Early 1950s (Unrealised Projects)"

"Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)" B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov, 1946

Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)
B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov
1946

The Palace of Soviets was planned to be the largest building in the world. Its height was to reach 415 metres - higher than the tallest buildings of the time, the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, The building-postament was to be topped by a 100 metre statue of Lenin. The constuction of the Palace of Soviets developed into an independent economic and scientific field. This system included special laboratories dealing with optics and acoustics, for the development of special construction materials such as "D.S. steel" and "D.S. brick", mechanical and ceramic-concrete works, The building site was serviced by its own railway branch. By special decrees of the Soviet of People's Commissars and the Council for Labour and Defence, the construction of the Palace of Soviets was designate a priority project in 1934, and by 1939 the foundations of the upper part were completed. Construction was suspended in 1941 because of the war and never resumed. However, work on the Palace of Soviets project continued until the end of the 1940s.

"Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)" B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov, 1946

"The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry", A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko, 1934

The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry
A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko.
1934

Four towers, up to a height of 160 metres, on a stylobate which harmonizes with the Kremlin wall. A rhythmical construction, expressed in four vertical elements and the colonnade of the stylobate, creating a visual extension, essential to the longitudinal framing of the Square and responding to the Kremlin wall. The vertical divisions correspond to the four divisions of the Kremlin tower and are necessary for the inclusion of the building into the overall ensemble. The project envisages a single vestibule the length of Red Square.

"The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry", A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko, 1934

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

— Sir Winston Churchill, speech 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords) about the rebuilding of the House of Commons which had burnt down in a fire started by the Nazis.

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