As recently as ten years ago, it seemed likely that the avant-garde legacy of Moscow would crumble into dust. The government that seized control after the failed experiment of communism wanted to highlight its wealth, and few Russians remembered the utopian dreams of the 1920s. More vivid were memories of the Great Terror, the privations of war, the long lines and empty shelves of the stagnant decades. In The Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932 photographer Richard Pare chronicled the terminal decay of factories and housing, workers’ clubs and palaces of culture that expressed the revolutionary aspirations of the first decade of Bolshevism. His survey appeared in 2007, when every old building was at risk.
Now the tide has turned. Moscow has become a glittery showcase of refurbished churches, palaces and parks, interspersed with new temples of commerce, and landmarks of modernism that are finally receiving the respect they deserve.
Exhibit “A” is the Narkomfin Building communal housing project that Finance Commissar Nikolaj Aleksandrovič Miljutin commissioned to his friend Moisej Ginzburg, in collaboration with Sergey Prokhorov and Ignatij Milinis, keeping the penthouse for himself. Completed in 1930, it features a linear block of
split-level family apartments and single rooms opening off covered walkways. A bridge links this block to a refectory, gym, and
child-care center. There was also a laundry for the residents. Ginzburg designed a larger version of this complex in Sverdlovsk and both were cited as models of collective living; a crucible for the new Soviet man and woman wedded to the State. The architect explained his intentions in Dwelling, which has recently been reissued in an English-language facsimile of the 1932 Russian edition.
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