Space Age Modernism
An new photo exhibition looks to outer space to find the inspiration for Russia’s most unusual buildings.
Published: April 17, 2013 (Issue # 1755)
A new exhibition at the Peter and Paul Fortress in honor of Cosmonaut Day, which is celebrated annually on April 12 and marks the anniversary of the country’s first manned space flight, allows visitors to step into the past and look at the Soviet vision of the future through the prism of some of the most ambitious and dynamic architecture of the communist era.
The exhibition consists of a collection of nearly 100 photographs of space-age buildings across Russia, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. The buildings have one characteristic in common: Each is a representative of the “cosmic architecture” that emerged in Russia after WWII and which coincided with the “golden age” of Russian space exploration, which began in the late 1950s.
The buildings of the post-war period in Russia, when the primary aim was to construct inexpensive residential buildings for the Soviet people rather than aesthetic marvels, are generally believed to be of little architectural interest, being associated with unimaginative housing projects and soulless development.
“Yet these are stereotypes that leave in the shadows a whole stratum of Soviet architecture which enjoyed creative freedom and expressed ideas of experiment and innovation,” said Vladimir Ivanov, the exhibition’s curator. “It was the architecture of the so-called ‘cosmic communist’ style.”
The subject of outer space was one of the main cultural references throughout late Soviet culture, with ideas about the universal power of the Soviet Union reflected in literature, movies, music and architecture. It was architecture, however, more than any other discipline, which brought together art, engineering and science, and where society’s most forward-looking impulses found their fullest expression.
To find a way to express the idea of new frontiers, Soviet architects looked to the achievements of modern Western architecture, to the traditional architectural art of the multi-national Soviet Union and to the experience of the artists from the 1920s and 1930s.
“These buildings still make a great impression and provide a powerful emotional experience,” said Ivanov. “There are even some constructions made in the form of rockets, for instance, and a pioneer camp built according to plans developed for a projected moon base.”
The exhibition is divided into several parts, each of which has its own topic. The most interesting, according to the organizers, is that which examines “environments for the new man.”
“We investigated the Soviet inclination to create ideal conditions for the development of creativity among the youngest members of society — from kindergartens in the shape of flying saucers and “lunar” pioneer camps to the unusual project of building wedding registry offices in this style so as to lure people away from getting married in churches,” said Ivanov. “It turns out that every important moment in a person’s life had to be closely connected to space travel, so as to make this image of the future a reality.”
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