April 9, 2012 / 10:55 AM / 6 years ago

Photographer captures Soviet avant-garde architecture

BERLIN (Reuters) - British photographer Richard Pare is on a mission to capture Soviet avant-garde buildings before they turn to ruins in the hope of raising awareness about this little-known period of experimentation in modern architecture.

The exhibition “Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935”, which opened in Berlin on Thursday, displays his work in color alongside black-and-white archive photos of the buildings under construction and modernist Russian artworks.

“I wanted to change the imbalance in the telling of history of the 20th century and give a little bit more weight to the Russian experiment in modernism,” Pare said in an interview.

“There is a vigor and muscularity to the Russian experiment which is different to its European counterparts,” said the 64-year old, who has spent the last 18 years working on-and-off on this project. “There is also the Socialist slant to the thinking about a new architecture for a new age.”

Books on the history of architecture are full of references to the likes of Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus movement, he said, but seldom do they explore the experimentation in Russian architecture following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

During this era full of optimism, architects such as Moisei Ginzburg and Konstantin Melnikov were looking for a new way to build for a socialist world, free from bourgeois associations and appropriate for a fast-growing industrial society, he said.

Constructivism, an artistic and architectural philosophy that emphasizes the social purposes of art, emerged at this time, influencing many other 20th century movements.

Architects drafted modernist and streamlined designs for factories and communal housing, large-scale buildings free from ornamentation and aspiring to socialist ideals.

One photo shows the interior of the first bakeries to use mass-production techniques, with brown workspaces snaking around a light-filled central room in concentric circles, and beams overhead spreading outwards like a fan.

Another shows a white rectangular residential block with semi-circular balconies, while a third depicts the spacious corridors designed to encourage interaction, reminding us that housing blocks were once seen as a positive innovation.

“There was a really sincere intention to re-define living and living and working in the relationship of work to life,” said Pare, who spends up to 6 weeks at a time travelling through Russia in the hope of finding modernist gems.


Pare, 64, said the legacy of Soviet modernist building was suppressed first under Josef Stalin, who wanted more classical, monumental buildings, and then locked away from sight behind the Iron Curtain.

Nowadays, Russians themselves are happy to see these buildings go into disrepair as they seek to put their Soviet past behind them, the photographer said. His photos show abandoned factories with rusting equipment and housing blocks with crumbling exteriors.

“The architecture just gets lumped into the Soviet hat and anything to do with the Soviet years is frowned upon at the moment,” he said. “People want the big Stalinist skyscrapers because they are pompous and big and people like that.”

“I am looking forward to the exhibition going back to Moscow ... I hope, if it can, it will encourage people to preserve these buildings.”

The exhibition, which runs until July 9 at the Martin Gropius museum in Berlin, will travel on to the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow.

Selected works of art by the likes of Lyubov Popova and Alexander Rodchenko demonstrate the general preoccupation in the early 20th century with geometric form and space, and mirror some of the architecture on display.

In particular Popova’s “Spatial Force”, a dynamic painting showing red circles intersected by black grid-like lines mirrors Pare’s photograph of Moscow’s iconic radio tower, a spiraling cone of latticed steel.

The final section of the exhibition shows the transition period between the Soviet avant-garde and Stalinist architecture. A sanatorium combines the clean lines of modernism with a few classic twists like arched windows, wrought-iron balconies and social realist sculptures on plinths.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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