11 April 2012
From The architects' blog
My architecture school was the Moscow Architecture Institute (MARCHI).
I went back to see the room where design was taught to me in my formative years. In those days the rooms were numbered. Mine was 404. Nowadays the auditoriums are named after Soviet architects, mostly constructivists like Melnikov, the Vesnins and Golosov. My classroom is now named after Alexey Schussev – perhaps the most conformist architect of the Soviet era. Oh, well.
I liked my school this time. Gone were the guards on the gates and it was full of students doing exams – nervous, busy, badly slept. The spaces are still grand – an inheritance of the 19th century – slightly scuffed and a bit smoky.
The new extension on the top is light, elegant, and filled with sun. The space is interesting and even inspiring – sort of essential for a place where creativity is supposed to thrive.
A lot of them are out of work here. The crisis is never ending. Professional problems seem to be miles away from the ones I am exposed to in the UK.
Many architects are still somehow stuck in the 1930s. They call architects from those times the old masters. Despite a massive leap forward (or is it?) and great intensity within society in general, the city seems to be drowned in nostalgia.
What would the average British practising architect of 35 care about someone like Grey Wornum (architect of the RIBA building) or even Charles Holden?
However, in Russia it somehow still matters. There is an exhibition of Boris Iofan (the author of the Palace of the Soviets) in the Museum of Architecture. There is a special journal called Project Classica whose motto is: “For each challenge of modern architecture, there is an answer in the classical period”.
The idea of the classical in the light of mass culture is still pertinent for many thinking architects. Perhaps it is the best way of grounding your own architecture. I applaud it. It is interesting to me, but sometimes it feels so far away.
Or is this way of doing architecture an attempt to rethink something that was not thought through properly before? So much happened in 20th century Russia – so many horrendous things. And people are tired of talking and thinking about it. They put it away for now. Or for ever. For never.
Now you feel that although all that is becoming history, it has not been analysed or assimilated. It was too painful. It was impossible. People have moved on.
And yet, at some level, they cannot. They are stuck, trapped in an impasse cluttered with all these pseudo-classical details: frontons, capitels, porticoes… They are still trying to think over something that was not quite thought over in the 1930s and 1950s… Or am I over-simplifying a timeless architectural discourse?
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all kitsch. There are some pieces of solid contemporary architecture. But these do not form the fabric of the city. Whereas the retro “postmodern” stuff does.
Like the new Central Market building – it is interesting and sleek and could be anywhere in the world. I think it’s all right for a building to be from “anywhere”. Other people may think it better to do things “our” way, nevermind how provincial or unattractive.
But then again there are still sizeable pockets of architectural subculture – and it really is a subculture here. It’s commingling with other creative discourses. These quasi-architectural groups of architects-cum-artists who think concepts and future rather then money and past…
For me this spells hope.
Moscow’s duality is manifested not just in architecture, but in the city in general. In the arts and in theatre, too.
The more unwelcome on the surface (outside) the more intense and intimate inside.
I went to two theatre shows that week. I loved the spaces – informal, intimate, inviting, friendly, and the shows – subversive and madly inventive.
These spaces and shows exist almost in spite of the system. And they seem to depend on enthusiastic and altruistic individuals. But then again, it is the system that somehow manages to produce these individuals.