Uralmash in the Architecture of the Soviet Avantgarde: An Experiment in City Construction in the 1920s and 1930s

Mikhail Ilchenko

Abstract


The article analyses a large-scale urban planning experiment held in the Soviet Union in the 1920s–1930s: the construction of the Uralmash socialist city. It is shown that this avant-garde project, considered a symbol of the era, was determined by multiple factors and thus represented complex social dynamics. The author argues that the analysis of these dynamics requires new theoretical instruments, since those extant largely utilise simplified schemes and explanations. This has meant that the study of Soviet urban planning is usually focused on the search for a certain fundamental principle which can explain all tendencies, challenges, and controversies. Such a principle can be either a subject (e.g. the ‘authority’ or ‘architect-creator’) or a certain universal phenomenon (‘idea’, ‘style’,‘technological progress’). Each of these categories provides a specific framework which allows the scholar to build an integral picture of the development of Soviet urban planning and give an explanation for architectural fashions. However, such a view on Soviet architecture is usually narrow and one-dimensional. Moreover, as the case of Uralmash shows, the meaning of these categories is sometimes highly ambiguous. For instance, the notion of ‘power’ does not always mean the existence of a gradually realised strategy or a clear system of regulation. In many cases, the ‘strategy’ was in fact based on a set of situational decisions; furthermore, certain processes remained beyond any control. Thus considered, if changes in architectural style had a crucial role for the overall development of Soviet architecture in the 1930s, then it meant nothing more for the architects involved than a simple change in the ‘rules of the game’: it thus had little impact on real building practices. For that reason, a comprehensive analysis of Soviet urban planning requires a critical review of these categories of analysis and the development of a new way to implement them into research.


Keywords


Soviet urban planning; avant-garde architecture; social practices; constructivism; socialist city

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.3.175

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