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The following lecture illustrates Soviet projects from a particular angle by pointing to a certain progression of Soviet Modernist projects being conceived and built as generic, to borrow a medical term, in other words, anonymous and non-discrete architecture to the iconic, image-driven and signature type structures.

Such analysis is particularly relevant today, when there has been a similar shift in architecture, but in reversed direction – from the iconic to generic, from signature buildings to performance-driven structures.

As we know the conversion to modernism in the Soviet Union was initiated by Nikita Khrushchev and was achieved very quickly with two main goals:

Social – to provide every Soviet family with a personal apartment

Economic – buildings had to be standardized and built very fast, without what was labeled as superfluities. 

Initially, even important cultural buildings were built as generic containers.

Here is the Soviet Pavilion at 1958 World’s Fair. Despite long tradition of Soviet pavilions being built as heroic and ideological icons – such as at Paris Expos in 1925 by K. Melnikov and in 1937 by B. Iofan – this building did not feature a distinct form.

1958 Expo was the first after World War Two. American flags point to the fact that Soviet and American pavilions faced each other directly, which perhaps meant to ease escalating tension during the Cold War. Still architecture at that point did not carry any signs of ideology.

Palace of Pioneers, Moscow – competition winning project – was one of the first true experiments of Soviet modernism. The project featured many innovations – open composition with blurred boundaries between interiors and landscape, pure geometric forms, light structures, deep cantilevers, new materials and finishes. Many solutions were carried out by architects spontaneously, right on the construction site.

The palace was true testing ground for a very young group of architects.

Khrushchev personally opened the complex and offered his positive review and approval:

“Beauty is subjective. One person may like this project, another may not, but I like it!”

The form of the project is not iconic, but the project itself became one of the icons of the 1960s. It was a true showcase of Soviet architecture and renewal process, visited by numerous dignitaries and famous personalities.

Concert hall building presents itself as a pure minimalist and refined block of glass.

Hotel “Yunost” in Moscow is another example of pure, suspended over the landscape minimalist volume.

In early 1960s a great deal of new buildings were built, as millions of people were still living in communal and dilapidated apartments. In 9 years 54 million people or quarter of the country’s population moved to individual apartments.

But in contrast to the refinement of the first modernist projects thousands of featureless residential blocks without top and bottom were built all over the country ignoring very distinct typographic, cultural, climatic, and geographic conditions.

As noted by Alexander Ryabushin: “The architectural character of the whole country was lost.”

Mikhail Posokhin’s Kremlin Palace of Congresses was built as a blunt out of scale and out of place discrete and featureless volume in the midst of historical Kremlin complex, surrounded by 14th to 19th century cathedrals.

Despite its generic form the building became the icon of its time – it remains the only modern structure in the complex.
This Palace of the Arts appropriately assumes a form of a section of a Doric column, making it one of the first iconic examples of Soviet modernist architecture, symbolizing a temple of the arts.   

Here is a very elegant bowl of a stadium, which with its curved and straight ramps within circular plaza recalls supremacist paintings by Lissitzky and Malevich.

By mid-1960s Soviet architecture was producing more and more iconic buildings. Here is the 1967 Expo Soviet Pavilion in Montreal. With 13 million visitors it became the most popular pavilion at the Expo. After the Fair this heroic building was taken apart and rebuilt in Moscow.  
The 1960s saw the rise in popularity of futuristic and utopian projects. They were inspired by Soviet victories in early years of space exploration. Here is one of the most published student projects by Viacheslav Loktev, which has a resemblance with modular space stations, also reflected in similar projects by the metabolists in Japan. The project explores ideas of building massive housing clusters that would grow in size with height and occupy small footprints to free up the land.

Another building that looks like it is just about to take off is a TV Tower Ostankino.

A plethora of global building types was completely missing in the Soviet Union. Therefore there had to be a very unusual program in order for a building to be unique. A TV tower was such type of a building.

Monolith concrete structure, half a kilometer tall, broke many records. It was world’s tallest tower at the time and remains the tallest in Europe.

Associated with a number of images – syringe, rocket, an upside down lily with 10 petals.

With traditional churches in the background the tower appears to be a modern-day cathedral of technology.
Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics in Kaluga, Russia shows a very unusual composition with locked in place soft form of the off-centered parabolic dome of the planetarium which appropriately recalls a form of a spaceship.

Kalinin Prospekt – major thoroughfare with 5 residential towers and 4 office buildings shaped as open books.

These buildings famously illuminated letters CCCCP (USSR) on holiday nights.

Buildings are united by a common commercial base. Everything from overall composition to street furniture and window displays was designed according to a single integrated vision.

The complex was criticized for destroying historical fabric at the heart of the city. Nevertheless, this urban complex had a strong contemporary character, a showcase of modernity on a giant scale.

The same architect Mikhail Posokhin was responsible for the SEV Building which culminates the Kalinin Prospekt Complex and opens to the Moscow-River.

Its unusually dynamic form is made up of two softly bent wings, connected by elevators’ hallways.

The form is associated with an open book and symbolizes openness for collaboration.

Administrative Building in Rapla, Estonia, 1971.

Despite its modest scale the building with an almost inverted reflective pool conveys monumentality of stepped pyramids of pre Columbian civilization.

The complex also recalls a fantastic launching pad.

Many buildings, particularly circuses were designed to look like flying saucers. Here is a scientific research center in Kiev, Ukraine on the left and a famous circus in Kazan, Russia on the right. The circus, a giant structure with lower plate-like structure supporting the upper one. The interior diameter is 65 meters with no internal supports. When the building was finished local government asked the architects and engineers to test the safety of the building in person. They stood under the structure while 2,500 soldiers filled the seats of the auditorium. Obviously, both the building and the architects withstood the test.

Cinema “Rossiya” in Yerevan. The two main movie theaters are articulated by gradually curving bottoms and are suspended over the common foyer, forming deep canopies over public plaza.

The profile is based on the double peak mountain Ararat in Turkey, which is prominently visible from the center of Yerevan.

Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi by George Chakhava is appropriately associated with a multilevel highway intersection.

The architect was at the same time the client and designer, as he headed the Ministry of Highways at the time.

This unusual solution allowed minimizing the building’s footprint to retain most of the site untouched. It also resulted in smaller number of floors, which was a more economical solution.
The building in Tbilisi explored a popular theme in architecture, which is horizontal skyscrapers, inspired by fantastic visions by Lissitsky and Lazar Khidekel.

Automotive Service Center in Moscow by Leonid Pavlov whose architecture featured grand urban scale in the spirit of Le Corbusier.

The building is triangular in plan. It is associated with forward striving aircraft carrier.
A sports complex with its shell in a shape of a sailing boat without the superstructure.
Airport in Leninakan formally is based on rigorous use of geometry. Its form is a repetition of a quadrant which allows a very economical system of construction, as it is based on the use of identical mass-produced elements. This design approach could be inspired by modular sculptures by American sculptors Norman Carlberg and Charles Perry who used similar modular systems from 1950s on. 
Sports and Concerts Complex in Yerevan features complex and fluid iconic form of a lotus flower.

This unusual structure is more associated with wheel gears of a giant mechanism than a building.

If Le Corbusier called his residential buildings machines for living, this building can be called a machine for resting.
Apart from wheel gears the building is planned as Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon who designed it not only for prisons, but also equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums.
Danilovsky food market in Moscow with its flower-like roof does not communicate the building’s function, but the form serves as a memorable symbol for the market. 

While many critics declared the end of the Iconic building, it can be argued that the Iconic building is here to stay. One reason to support the continuation of the iconic buildings to be built is in the increasing concentration of power and capital in the hands of multinational corporations and governments. But what is even more significant is the architects’ natural desire to produce distinct, memorable, and ultimately unique buildings. This was true in the Soviet Union and the West in the period after the War and it is still the case today.    

Finally, I would like to plead to all practicing architects today – please do not give up on the iconic building.