The term Soviet architecture refers to architectural production on the territory of the former Russian Empire under the control of the Soviet power in the aftermath of the revolution of 1917, and in the USSR between its establishment in 1922 and its fall in 1991. In addition to Russian architecture, it includes a variety of other architectural traditions in national republics and autonomous districts. Somewhat simplistically, the history of Soviet architecture has traditionally been divided into three periods: the “avant-garde” (1917–1932), “socialist realism” or “Stalinism” (1932–1955), and late modernism (1955–1991). The neat boundaries between these periods are provided by two political interventions in architecture. The first is the announcement of the results of the second round of the Palace of the Soviets competition (28 February 1932) followed by the Communist Party decree “On the Reconstruction of Literature and Artistic Organizations” (23 April 1932), which abolished independent artistic groups and replaced them with the state-controlled Union of Soviet Architects. The second is the Communist Party decree “On Elimination of Excesses in Design and Construction” (4 November 1955), which enunciated a turn to postwar modernism and standardization. This stylistically and politically motivated periodization reflected the lack of exchange between Soviet and Western architects and scholars during the Cold War. Indeed, while during the 1920s and the early 1930s, Soviet architects remained in dialogue with their international colleagues, in the late 1930s the ties were cut off, while the historicist turn inside the Soviet Union led to the discreditation of early modernist architecture. It was only in the 1960s, when the “thaw” in the Soviet Union and the activization of left politics in Europe (most importantly in Italy and France, which restored cultural and social connections with the Soviet Union) led to the “rediscovery” of Soviet post-revolutionary architecture, which progressive European architects saw as an operative model for their own programs. During the 1970s, the formal aspects of avant-garde Soviet architecture came to the fore in Britain, where they inspired the work of visionary architects later celebrated as the “deconstructivists,” while simultaneously being cleansed of their political and social program. The destabilization of the Soviet Union during the following decade and its eventual collapse led to the rise of political histories of Soviet architecture. All these historiographic traditions significantly favored the avant-garde over the subsequent period, when, it was believed, architecture had lost its autonomy and hence ceased to exist. More recent scholarship questions these assumptions as more and more projects and discussions from the Cold War period are coming to light, elucidating such topics as Soviet architects’ progressive stance on ecology and the sociability of cities, their use of cybernetic methods in urban planning, and their structural and formal innovations, which situates them on par with their Western counterparts.
First accounts of Soviet interwar modernist architecture appeared as early as the 1960s. Undeservedly overlooked today, these illustrated surveys of Soviet architecture were written by Soviet scholars and published in Moscow both in Russian, such as Bylinkin, et al. 1962, and in English, including Ikonnikov 1988 and Ryabushin and Smolina 1992. They provide extensive descriptive, illustrative, and historical material, which inform the works of subsequent scholars and are still useful today. Later publications by Western, particularly American, authors attempted to provide a critical analysis of Russian and Soviet architecture. While Cracraft and Rowland 2003 is a collection of narrowly focused articles, Anderson 2015 constitutes the first comprehensive analysis of Soviet architecture in the format of a dedicated textbook. In addition, Cohen 2016, although dealing with the much broader subject of modern architecture on a global scale, convincingly introduces Soviet architecture as an integral part of the history of 20th-century architecture, pointing to dialogues between Soviet and other national traditions.
Anderson, Richard. Russia. London: Reaction, 2015.
Part of the textbook series Modern Architectures in History, the book offers an overview of Russian and Soviet architecture after 1861. It is especially valuable as a recent English-language summary of new research, in both English and Russian, on Soviet and Russian architecture after World War II. The book is supplemented with a bibliography.
Bylinkin, N. P., V. N. Kalmykova, A. V. Riabushin, and G. V. Sergeeva. Istoriia sovetskoi arkhitektury, 1917–1954. Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1962.
In Russian. 2d ed. 1985. Forgotten but valuable illustrated textbook that, in addition to well-known examples of modernist architecture, discusses little-known projects from different parts of the Soviet Union. Especially useful as a source of reference on architecture after 1932.
Cohen, Jean-Louis. The Future of Architecture since 1889: A Worldwide History. London: Phaidon, 2016.
This textbook by the leading international expert on Soviet as well as international modernist architecture presents a global history of architecture in the “long” 20th century. Chapter 13 (“Architecture and Revolution in Russia”) is fully devoted to Soviet architecture between 1917 and 1932, while other chapters also address some aspects of Soviet architecture, such as VKhUTEMAS education (chapter 12), Classicism (chapter 17), and socialist realism and its critique by Khrushchev (chapter 27).
Cracraft, James, and Daniel Rowland, eds. Architectures of Russian Identity, 1500 to the Present. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.
A collection of articles (three of which deal with the Soviet period) that followed a conference on Soviet history. Particularly useful is the article by Lauren M. O’Connell, which examines the construction of the orientalist concept of Russian architecture in late-19th-century Europe.
Gnedovsky, Yuri P., ed. World Architecture, 1900–2000: A Critical Mosaic. Vol. 7, Russia, USSR, CIS. Vienna: Springer, 1999.
The book belongs to a series, edited by Kenneth Frampton, of catalogues of buildings representing 20th-century architecture. Each volume provides descriptions for one hundred buildings. The volume on the former Soviet Union is useful inasmuch it avoids focusing on Moscow and instead assesses architecture in Tashkent, Dushanbe, Yerevan, Tbilisi, Minsk, and Kiev, among other cities of the former Soviet Union.
Ikonnikov, Andrei. Russian Architecture of the Soviet Period. Moscow: Raduga, 1988.
Little-known overview written by a Soviet architectural historian who traces the history of Soviet architecture from its 19th-century roots until the 1980s. The last third of the book, reviewing architecture of the 1940s to 1980s, is particularly useful as a well-informed (even if largely uncritical) summary of major problems and approaches. Translation of Arkhitektura Sovetskoi Rossii (1988).
Ryabushin, Alexander, and Nadia Smolina, Landmarks of Soviet Architecture, 1917–1991. Introduced and edited by Vieri Quillici. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.
The book is organized as a historical guidebook to a series of representative buildings (most of them in Moscow) from different points of Soviet history. It is structured chronologically, and each period (the interwar avant-garde, “return to tradition,” and Cold War modernism) is preceded by a general overview.
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