Communal House of The Textile Institute - Design

Design

The Communal House of the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys became the first solo project for 28 year old Ivan Nikolaev of the OSA Group; the contract awarded to him was a part of a larger project that included three student campuses in (then) remote areas of Moscow. The contract specification defined a modest maximum construction cost and building volume (50 cubic metres) per student. Any communal facilities, from staircases to libraries, counted towards the quota and decreased the actual living space. While all architects addressed these constraints by reducing available living space, Nikolaev's proposal was the most radical of all.

Nikolaev's principal design rule was a strict physical separation of common study space, public services (with cafeteria, showers and storage rooms) and the living space. Thus the building was H-shaped: a public services block connected a 200-metre long, 8-storey dormitory with a 3-story study block. Since all the students' possessions - from textbooks to day clothing - had to be stored in the lockers of the public services block, Nikolaev reduced dormitory rooms to sleeping space only. Initially, a standard sleeping cabin for two had a very small area, 2×2 metres, but 3.2 metres tall. It had no windows and was connected by the door to a long corridor running along the exterior wall. Nikolaev attempted to compensate for the shortage of space with elaborate ventilation system. This proposal seemed too radical even for the Soviet avant-garde, and the cabins were increased to 2,7×2,3 metres with proper windows.

These windows ran the full length of a 200-metre building - narrow continuous bands of glass without apparent structural support; they were only 90 cmhigh (110 cmafter 1968 reconstruction). The residential block relied on a steel frame structure. Initially Nikolaev designed all load-bearing in steel, but due to metal rationing he eventually replaced internal floor supports with wooden girders. The building had elevators, but they were reserved for cargo deliveries only. Instead, the students had to use three spacious staircases - two in the living block and one in the public services building. The latter had an unusual triangular shape, with smooth ramps instead of stairs, as in contemporaneous work by Le Corbusier. These staircases are sometimes compared to the spiral ramp of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

According to Nikolaev, the lives of the students should have been regulated in a nearly military communal fashion. After a common wake-up call all the students proceeded to common physical exercise areas (either a gym in winter or an open area in summer); at this moment the residential block was to be locked until late evening. After exercise, the students took a shower and dressed up in the public service locker rooms; after a breakfast in the canteen they followed their college schedule - either in off-site auditoriums or in the study block facilities. Nikolaev suggested injecting ozone into ventilation ducts at night and even considered sedating students to ensure they all fall asleep in due time (Russian: "не исключена возможность усыпляющих добавок", "do not rule out the feasibility of sleepening additives"). Except for centralized sedation, this paramilitary order was actually maintained in the first years of operation, but later the regulations were eased up.

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