Stalinist Architecture - The Beginning (1931–1933)

The Beginning (1931–1933)

This section is based on Dmitry Khmelnitsky's "Stalin and Architecture" (Russian: www.archi.ru)

Stalin's personal architectural preferences and the extent of his own influence remains, for the most part, a matter of deduction, conjecture and anecdotal evidence. The facts, or their representation in public Soviet documents, largely concerns the Palace of Soviets contest of 1931–1933:

  • February 1931: Major Soviet architects receive invitations to bid for the Palace of Soviets design.
  • June 1931: The Party Plenum authorize three megaprojects: the reconstruction of Moscow, the Moscow Canal and the Moscow Metro.
  • July 1931: Architects present 15 designs for the first contest and a second, open, international contest is announced.
  • February 1932: The prize for the second contest is awarded to 3 drafts (Iofan, Zholtovsky, Hector Hamilton). All modernist designs are rejected.
  • March 1932: 12 architects receive an invitation to a third contest.
  • April 1932: The Party outlaws all independent artistic associations. Victor Vesnin is assigned to direct the official Union of Soviet Architects.
  • July 1932: 5 architects receive an invitation to a fourth contest.
  • August 1932: Stalin (then in Sochi) writes a memorandum to Voroshilov, Molotov and Kaganovich. He explained his opinion of the contest entries, selected Iofan's draft and proposed specific changes to it. This memorandum, first published design 2001, is the basis for most conjectures concerning Stalin's personal influence.
  • February 1933: The fourth contest is ended with no winner announced.
  • May 1933: Public approval of Iofan's draft.
  • September 1933: All Moscow architects are assigned to 20 Mossovet workshops, most of them directed by traditionalist architects (Shchusev, Zholtovsky etc.).

The architects invited to direct these workshops included traditionalists – Ivan Zholtovsky, Alexey Shchusev, Ivan Fomin, Boris Iofan, Vladimir Schuko – but also practicing constructivists: Ilya Golosov, Panteleimon Golosov, Nikolai Kolli, Konstantin Melnikov, Victor Vesnin, Moisei Ginzburg and Nikolai Ladovsky. This began an important trend that lasted until 1955. Stalin chose Iofan for one project, but retained all competing architects in his employ. As Dmitry Khmelnitsky put it, "Comparison with Nazi architecture works to some degree, yet there is a major difference. Stalin never picked a single architect, or a single style, as Hitler picked Speer. No elite group could claim victory ... neither constructivists, nor traditionalists... Stalin forged his "Speer" from whatever he could find."

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