Russian landscapes with color errors. Picked from the Library of Congress’ Prokudin-Gorskii Collection of color composite images from ca. 1909-1915.
Entrance and car-port at night, of house designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris for John Entenza in Santa Monica, California.
From Designs for Outdoor Living (1941) by Margaret Olthof Goldsmith.
Jason Schwartzman and Giada Colagrande in Wes Anderson’s Castello Cavalcanti short film for Prada. A racing driver marooned by accident in his ancestral village in rural Italy, visually surrounded by the retro aesthetic of 1960s small bars and cafés. If there is Americana, this is Europeana.
Soviet architectural dreams from Sputnik Digest, August 1971.
This interview appeared in the Sputnik Digest, August 1971. In it Vladimir Belousov of the Union of Soviet Architects discusses the current state of architecture and urbanism in his country. The piece is interesting (enough to OCR it here) as I think the way it emphasizes the theme of urbanization with certain tone of urgency, strikingly similar to many of today’s discussions, focusing heavily on numbers and the projected urban growth. In fact, the rhetoric of the pro-utopia modernist Soviet architect sounds surprisingly current with some of the wordings on the same theme related to China or many other emerging and urbanizing regions today. There is a lengthy part on the importance of “ethnic” elements in contemporary Soviet architecture, which I find somehow problematic in its suffocating pseudo-authenticity and yet interesting as a comparison to the exporting and importing of today’s starchitecture. On the other hand, the Soviet rationale of building cities seems to also have a humanist dimension in admitting that cities regardless of why they are built will eventually become their own entities (Lookinatchu, the over 160 Chinese cities with over 1 million inhabitants). In this aspect, the interview seems to even go into the post-oil, post-Soviet future.-
CORRESPONDENT: Modern architecture has developed so many facets and aspects that no individual expert, let alone layman, can grasp all of them. What is the central problem of Soviet architecture?
BELOUSOV: To my mind, the problem of town planning. In the past five years we have built over 100 towns and several hundred housing estates and neighbourhood units. By 1980 we are to build roughly another 200 towns and several thousand neighbourhood units. That’s the size of the question, the quantitative aspect. But quantitative change eventually builds up into qualitative change. Everything we now build or design is, in one form or another, part of, or depends directly or indirectly on town planning. In the past the architect could build a detached nobleman’s castle set in an English style park or a landowner’s mansion among a few villages without having to tackle any town planning problems. Towns arose spontaneously. Now the situation is different. The modern city is a single organism which is built strictly to plan, and all the rest of it - suburban construction, industrial projects, recreation areas and so forth - is built with an eye to this plan. Roads and transport have become integral parts of the city. Today all places where man works, lives or plays are under the “jurisdiction” of architects, who decide even small details such as the arrangement of factory windows or the interior layout of a flat. It is precisely town planning that brings architects together: only the common effort of many narrowly-specialised architects creates the compnex entity known as a “town”. The architect now works in the countryside, too. With his assistance, the present-day village is slowly but surely changing its aspect. In the Moscow Region, village reconstruction has become the responsibility of the Union of Soviet Architects’ Moscow organisation, the largest in the country. Over fifty design institutes are working on orders from it.
CORRESPONDENT: It must be very difficult to design a modern urban organism. What technical innovations do you make use of?
BELOUSOV: Naturally, we don’t work as architects did in the past. Two centuries, or even one century ago the architect planned buildings solely on the basis of his own experience and intuition and was hemmed in by very few restrictions. In St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), for instance, no house was allowed to he higher than the Winter Palace. Today intuition alone will not take the architect far. We no longer think in terms of separate buildings. We plan whole towns. A great deal of thought has to be given to everything from the social and the economic standpoints, and precise technical calculations are essential. Computers have become a must. Now we are having to automate the designing of towns and individual projects: the human brain simply cannot cope with the host of factors relevant to the choice of the optimum version.
CORRESPONDENT: How do you consider national traditions in architecture? The question is too subtle for the computer, isn’t it?
BELOUSOV: Yes, that one’s a bit too much for the machine. It requires human taste, creative ability, imagination and talent. National traditions in architecture are discussed in a multitude of books. In theory, it all seems clear. Not so in practice. National architecture is not just a matter of ornamentation or of repeating archaic forms. It is the use of the rich experience of folk architecture. True enough, that presupposes the extensive application of a wealth of modern finishing materials, and the architect’s imagination sometimes outruns the potentialities of our building material’s industry. Here it is vital to turn our Russian and non-Russian architects with a good knowledge of the achievements of world architecture and sensitive to their own national architectural traditions. Now we have such personnel. In recent years we have been doing thorough research and we frequently find a harmonious combination of national and international elements. The architect who takes account of the climate, landscape and customs of his people always works .with an eye to the given environment. In other words, he draws upon the historic experience of national construction. In this sense the new areas built in Tashkent, which was ravaged by an earthquake in 1966, are most indicative. Alongside multistorey blocks of flats there are groups of one-storey buildings. The new homes, though built of modern materials, are in keeping with many of the local traditions. Each one-storey house is in tended for one large family, of which Uzbekistan has many. Interesting projects are now underway in Ashkhabad, capital ot another Soviet Central Asian republic, Turkmenia. Examples are the offices of the Karakum Construction Board, the Ashkhabad Hotel, and the public library, all designed under the direction of Abdullah Akhmedov. The designers have made bold use of ornamentation typical of traditional Turkmenian carpets. The Alma Ata Hotel, in the capital of Kazakhstan, and the Iveria, in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, both modern but different in pattern, form organic parts of their cities’ ensembles. The city of Navoi, in Uzbekistan, and the city of Shevchenko, in Kazakhstan, have been designed by Leningraders with an eye to local conditions and traditions. In view of the rigorous conditions of life in the hot, arid desert, something had to be done to make life tolerable to man. The new blocks of flats in Navoi and Shevchenko are airconditioned, and the homes are built to keep out the scorching sun. Courtyards and streets are rich in trees and plants and abundantly watered. There are good leisure facilities, including sports installations and children’s playgrounds. The architecture of Zirmunai, a new district in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, has won the USSR State Prize. The city is building another district, Lazdynai. Its designers promise that it will be still more attractive.
CORRESPONDENT: And how about the Russian Federation?
BELOUSOV: On a recent visit to Tula I attended the opening of a new regional theatre. Architecturally, it is the best theatre in the Soviet Union. Four architects have created most interesting and original theatre building. The roof is of a new design, the stage equipment is unique and the interior decoration is effective. The auditorium and seating arrangements can be transformed - something that Eisenstein and Meyerhold dreamed of. It is noteworthy that the Tula people have manufactured everything in their own factories. This theatre, therefore, is their own, down to the last brick. Intensive construction is going on all over the republic. In Vladivostok, new housing schemes on complicated hilly terrain have given the city a memorable silhouette.
CORRESPONDENT : It is certainly a welcome development that we are now building many graceful buildings, and rapidly,too. But another question arises: 100 towns built in five years and another 200 to go up - do all of them have a secure future? New towns are usually built for some utilitarian purpose: around a factory, near a newly-discovered ore or oil deposit, or beside a communication line. But suppose the deposit is exhausted. What will become of the town?
BELOUSOV: It is a difficult question, to which, so far, no one can provide a definitive answer. Indeed, many new towns come into being on bare ground. There is a general development plan for them all. Depending on circumstances, the population has a set limit. The oil cities of Siberia, for instance, will have many thousands of residents; Togliatti, on the Volga, will have 350,000. A city like that cannot be built in one go, so it is coming into being in stages. Meanwhile, life is modifying the plans. The general plan sets out the prospects for the development of town planning over the next 25 or 30 years - in fact until the year 2000. After that boundary it is all rather vague. For most cities we have outline plans for the next 50 years. Occasionally we can visualise, in general terms, the fate of a city a century ahead. Colossal amounts of money are spent on capital construction, so we have to have at least a general idea of the future. According to terrain, scenery and climate we can predict that the given town will keep expanding a hundred years from now, say, southwards and . not northwards. That guides us in orienting its communications. Of course, an ore or oil deposit may become exhausted so the plant will have to be dismantled but the city, once it emerges, becomes an entity in itself, with its own interests which must be taken into account by the architects.
Postcard view of downtown Regina looking east along Victoria Avenue.
Postcard depicting the Moose Jaw Civic Centre (1959) designed by architect Joseph Pettick and structural engineers J.L. Miller.
Postcard depicting the Siesta Motel (1960) in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Some photos from last weekend, as the @studiox-global hosted POP-UP Studio-X Shenzhen closing event at the Value Factory. The 2013 Bi-City Biennale of Architecture \ Urbanism (Shenzhen) is running for two more days. An impressive setting in the former Guangdong Float Glass Factory.
Research and Practice in the Urbanity.
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