Grasping Architecture
A Critique of the Critique

Vol. 7, No. 2 (January 2003)    


___Ivan V.
Delft / Novosibirsk
  "Press – Fight for Socialist Cities!"
Perception and Critique of the Architecture of Novosibirsk, 1920-1940

(Translation by the author)



Theoretically the criticism and self-criticism (kritika i samokritika) should permeate all economic and political life in the USSR (1). In the following text I try to trace back the role of the critique in the formation of the architectural image of one Soviet town, the contemporary Siberian capital, Novosibirsk.

The Capital of

On January 14, 1921, right after the Civil war in Siberia, the Sibburo of the TsK RKP(b) Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviki) decided to move the centre of Siberia from Omsk to Novonikolayevsk (2). This decision was similar to the moving of the capital of Soviet Russia from Petrograd (Petersburg) to Moscow. Omsk was the former capital of the ‘Whites’, the militaristic, counter-revolutionary government of Admiral Aleksandr V. Kolchak (1874-1920), the ‘Supreme Ruler’ of Russia. The Soviet régime distrusted the inhabitants of Omsk. Novonikolayevsk was a pure ideological choice. It was two times smaller than Omsk, and had fewer inhabitants than Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk (3). All all-Siberian institutions should move to the New Capital. Thus in June 1922 the population of the town increased by bureaucrats and their families by 13,500. The town had neither facilities, nor housing for this relocation. Therefore in July the Committee on Relief (clearing) of the town was formed. Those inhabitants, who were not employed in public institutions or were not relatives of the workers, were removed from the town. In this way the history of Novosibirsk as a Siberian Capital started.

From 1922 one third of all new buildings in the Siberian region were erected in its New Capital. In the imagination of a newly arriving peasant, escaping from collectivisation, the city was a phantasmagoric dream of ‘the World Centre of Industry and Culture’.

The establishment of the New Siberian Capital concurred with Lenin’s introduction of NEP, the New Economic Policy. In this atmosphere of relative freedom an intensive construction of buildings for Soviet administration and all sort of NEP enterprises, as trusts, joint-stock companies and syndicates took place. These institutions and enterprises needed individual, representative buildings.

The Peoples’ Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii V.Lunacharsky (1875-1933) visited the town in 1923. In his article “Through Siberia and the Urals. The Siberian impressions” he wrote: ‘This is a very strange town. With any doubts it has a great future, because the railway is crossing here the Great River Ob’. But this twenty-five years old young man/town is very indecent, muddy, badly build. It has separate stone buildings, amongst them there are quite good schools, which look like stones placed here for the future fundament. All space between them is filled up with provincial type little houses. It looks like as probably Klondike was in the first years of its existence. In its present condition Novonikolayevsk is architecturally growing slowly, but in the sense of population rapidly’.

Of course the town had not enough qualified architects and builders. Therefore the architects from the old Siberian capital, Tomsk, and from other more developed towns were invited, for instance a professor of the Tomsk Technological Institute, Andrei D. Kriachkov (1876-1950), who built here the Siberian department of the State wholesale trading organisation, Sibdal’gostorg, which was one of the first buildings to be built under the NEP. Before the Revolution he had already built twelve schools in Novonikolayevsk, mentioned by Lunacharsky. Kriachkov had offered to organise a competition between local architects in Novonikolayevsk. But the competition ended as a failure, therefore Kriachkov was asked to submit a design and build the building.

Bild01 Kopie.jpg (103704 Byte) His Neo-classical building, constructed in the same way as he used to do before the Revolution, got a good rating from the local press (4). The necessity of a new architectural language, different pre-revolution, became urgent and the active architectural discussion in the town started with the Lenin house.



The Lenin House

The death of Vladimir I. Ul’ianov (Lenin) had an impact on the workers and communists of Novonikolayevsk. They tried to rename the own town from Novonikolayevsk to Ul’ianov, but on the 29th of February 1924 the VTsIK, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Party, refused their request to change the name.

Another attempt to honour the founder of the Soviet State was that the Novonikolayevsk regional committee of the Party decided to create a memorial house with a hall for 2,500-3,000 persons. The design was quickly made. But the building was heavily criticised by artists, writers and journalists in a local newspaper, Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), because it looked like a club. They wanted the Lenin house to be something more, something special, something where ‘in every corner of the building everybody will feel the breath of the creative thought of Lenin, noticeably feel the pulsation of his living life, everybody coming to the house will get the communistic mentality. Here Leninism will inevitably be based’ (5).

It was a flood of conceptions: a building with a colossal hall for meetings and processions, a centre of information with editorial offices for newspapers, a radio station, a telegraph and a gigantic screen on the façade on which in the evening the cinema can project the latest news. Also the projectors should project on the clouds the slogan of the day. The last idea came probably from the neboknigi (sky-books) from “Lebedia of the Future” by the Futurist poet Velimir (Viktor) V. Khlebnikov (1885-1922). The artist V. Guliaev advocated for building ‘an intelligent simplicity, fascinating by its expressive splendour’ instead of ‘architectural extravagances and extravagant elegance’. He insisted that architecture should follow the slogan: ‘The proletariat is not the successor of the past, it is the creator of the future’. The artist A. Ivanov insisted on a building as Gesamtkunstwerk and refused the decorations in the spirit of classical stereotypes.

Bild02 Kopie.jpg (101712 Byte) This dispute led to an announcement on March 22, 1924 of an open, unpaid competition. The design should be submitted in eight days. The design was chosen, which planned the Lenin house as a two-story centric building with balconies for orators and with a large cupola over a meeting hall. The construction was started, but it was impossible to build such gigantic cupola, therefore soon another and technically more simple design was made and construction started at another place. According to this project a library of the leader’s works and works on Leninism were to be placed in the building. A hall for 1,200 persons, lecture auditorium for 200 persons, a public library, 3 or 4 rooms for hobby groups, a special room for the Lenin corner.
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On May 1, 1925 the two storeys were roughly ready, but the architecture of the finishing building, executed according to the project by Mikhail S. Kuptsov and Fedor F. Ramman, was deemed unsuccessful. It was therefore decided to add a third floor and redesign the main façade. On the second floor the hall for business meetings or the museum of the revolutionary movement in Siberia should be placed. ‘No one of the rooms of this building must serve the aims of people’s exploitation. In the building the regional Committee of RKP (b) and the regional Committee of RLKSM will be located. These organisations will mainly pay the buildings’ exploitations costs.’ (6)

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The engineers Ivan A. Burlakov and Ivan I. Zagrivko (Zagreyev) designed for the building a more expressive central part with a simplified Doric portico. Above this a replica of Aleksei V. Shchusev’s Lenin Mausoleum on the Red Square in Moscow was constructed (7). The slogan “Lenin is dead- Leninism lives” was put at the top of the façade.

Bild05 Kopie.jpg (67004 Byte) Later the Austrian-German writer Hugo Huppert wrote: ‘The stamp of a new and competent architecture has been set on the centre of the city. Not everywhere, it is true, has competence had the last word. When something new is aimed at, the result is sometimes wide of the mark. Above all the Palace of Culture, or House of Lenin as it is also called, seems a misfit. Imagine a rectangular cube of stone, looking like the Lenin Institute in Moscow with the Lenin Mausoleum on top of it. A piece of symbolism, well-meant perhaps, but quite inadmissible. Institute and tomb in their original Moscow setting are in place, full of meaning, of a power that defies repetition. But this attempt at architectonic allusiveness impresses one like a poor decoration. "That's not architecture, it's a misunderstanding," one of our brigade remarked quite rightly. And this should not be so. The cow tanking up there in a side street, the occasional pigs nosing around the boulevard - these have their place here for a little longer, they are permissible phenomena of a transition period. But this theatre-like decoration, an offence to the visage of the socialist city, stands anchored fast in the earth; it will not vanish as soon as the cows and pigs-and that is a pity’. (8)
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It is an interesting piece of critique, but we should mention that Sergei E. Chernyshev (1881-1963) built Lenin Institute in Moscow in 1926 – when the Lenin house in Novosibirsk was already completed.

This negative attitude towards the architecture of the Lenin house later on finally led to a subsequent redecoration and refurbishment of the building during the 1937-1944 to a Young Spectators’ Theatre by the architect Vladimir M. Teitel’ (1903-1945). The building underwent an ‘Empire’ reinterpretation: The columns were given capitals, the building was crowned with a balustrade with obelisks and relief compositions were included in the décor.



The New Name – Novosibirsk

On the 25th of May 1925 the VTsIK approved the decision of establishing the Siberian Region with its centre in Novonikolayevsk. In the same year a new name for the town was discussed in the press and at the First Siberian Regional Congress of Soviets of delegates of workers, peasants and red army soldiers. There were such proposals as Krasnograd (Red Town), Krasnoobsk (Red+River Ob’), Krasnooktiabr’sk (Red October Town), Krasnosibirsk (Red Town of Siberia), Leninoznamensk-na-Obi (The Lenin banner on Ob’), Oktiabr’grad (Town of October), Sibkraigrad (Town of Siberian Region), Smirnovsk (Town in honour of Smirnov (9)), Sibsovgrad (Siberian Soviet Town), Sovetgrad (Soviet Town). Finally in 1926 by VTsIK resolution town was renamed to Novosibirsk.

The famous Soviet writer Il’ia G. Ehrenburg (1891-1967) described: ‘It was a town like thousands of others. Then, in 1917, the Revolution came. The town was taken alternately by the Whites and the Reds until the Revolution finally carried the day. The town changed its name and became Novosibirsk. It changed not only its name: it began a new life. Newcomers arrived in Novosibirsk from all over the place. But there was nothing to live in. They built shanties and made dug-outs. Their settlements were dubbed Brassyvilles. The newcomers were brassy and no mistake: they wanted to live, regardless of anything. Novosibirsk became the regional centre… The old houses were demolished. All the streets disappeared: the town was one big building site. It was powdered with lime. It smelled of linseed, oil and pitch. Cars bounced over the potholes, got bogged down in the mud and, panting heavily, tore off to the outskirts. On the outskirts it was dusty and windy. On the outskirts people dug into the earth, and the editor of Soviet Siberia quipped, ‘In America they’ve got skyscrapers, but we’ve got earthscrapers.’ (10)


The Modern Movement Came

The Modern Movement appeared in Siberia in 1925 thanks to the MAO (the Moscow Architectural Society) All-Union competitions of buildings for Novosibirsk: the Industrial Bank and the ‘Profitable House’ (Department store and hotel) (11). Moscow based architects won these competitions. Both buildings had a concrete frame, which was virtuously and clearly shown on the outside. The local press was positive about the new architecture. “Sovetskaya Sibir’” wrote that such buildings as Tekstil’sindikat (the Textile Syndicate), the Industrial Bank and the ‘Profitable House’ 'will be an adornment for every West-European city with a secular history of construction’. The architecture of the Industrial Bank was characterised as having 'ultramodern forms' and 'of Moscow's influence' of 'clear Constructivist style'. (12).


  A Critique from Moscow

The achievements of the construction of the New Siberian Capital were a subject of the Soviet propaganda. An article, dedicated to Novosibirsk and published on December 12, 1926 in the Parisian monthly magazine “Notre Union revue hebdomadaire illustrée” somehow came into the hands of the editors of the Constructivists’ architectural journal SA (Sovremennaya arkhitektura, Modern Architecture). The result of this was a crushing editorial article with the slogan “Proletarian community – attention!!!”.

Bild07 Kopie.jpg (230761 Byte) The editors wrote: ‘this needs greater insistent attention because all this eclectic gibberish, all this throw-back of old schools, non-existing any more in our country, does not always walk under its frank banner of eclecticism and atavism. If there is no inclusion for old ideas and conceptions, dodgers do not change the essence, they change only legends on their banners. In the magazine “Notre Union” we see a complete article dedicated to the New capital of Siberia. In this article they pronounce a lot of loud words about the NEW appearance of this city, they remarked millions of roubles has been spent, correctly speaking, wasted on this construction. In this article they wrote: “the majority of the buildings have been built in the spirit of Constructivism”. But in essence, you can see here photographs, these buildings are extremely crude, badly made eclectic rubbish of both bad taste and quality’. (13)
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The criticised buildings were the Lenin house and the Palace of Labour; the locals saw them as the pride of the town. When the buildings were under construction the newspaper Soviet Siberia states: ‘these two buildings because of their architecture will be the best in the town and we have all rights to call them the pride of our proletarian construction’. (14)



Attack on the Front of Architectural Education

Novosibirsk had no architectural school; the architects came from Tomsk. The Soviet architecture was in an experimental phase but in the Siberian Institute of Technology in Tomsk the design task as a whole was kept abstract, unreal and academic. Two of its professors of architecture, Konstantin K. Lygin (1854-1932) and the already mentioned Andrei Kriachkov, favoured diploma projects designed ‘in the historical styles’ as for example the design for a museum in Egyptian style in the form of a pyramid with sculptures of gods and sphinxes, and with obelisks and temple pillars.

Bild10 Kopie.jpg (133940 Byte) A striking example is a design for a post office for Tomsk in an eclectic combination of European Revival and Baroque. It was published in the SA magazine as a bad example of retrospection and restoration (15). The pertaining article was titled “How you should not build!” In the legend of the picture it says: “Post-office in Tomsk. 'Exemplary' design, exhibited in the Tomsk Technological Institute. We recommend students: Do not follow the example”.
  From 1926 on architectural students from Tomsk began excursions to Moscow and Leningrad. Their visits of modern buildings and avant-garde schools were infectious. As a result, some students – adherents of the Constructivist movement – formed in 1927 a branch of OSA in their Institute. Professor Kriachkov explained in one of his lectures Constructivism as ‘a temporary event, similar to the latest fashion of short lady’s skirts’. He said: ‘In a few years Constructivism will only rename its name and its modern leaders will renounce many things’. For such comments Kriachkov was strongly criticised in SA by his student Nikolai S.  Kuzmin(1905-1985). In his article, he called architects as Kriachkov ‘bankrupt eclectisists’ or ‘voluptuous aestheticists, crying over SA asceticism’. The most valuable argument of Kuzmin was that “Constructivism is one hundred percent Marxism” (16). In the atmosphere of the contradictions of NEP, when free competition existed in combination with only one steering Party, the ideological arguments slowly replaced the professional ones.



Architectural Competitions

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The practice of competitions was extremely fruitful on Siberian ground. The competiions brought the latest technical and architectural solutions. A good example is the complex of the Regional hospital. In 1927 SibZdrav (Siberian public-health service) organised a closed competition of drafts for this complex of buildings. The experts from Moscow, Leningrad and Tomsk were invited to take part in the competition. Aleksandr (Isaak) Z. Grinberg (1879-1938) won the competition. In 1928 the Hospital complex was constructed. It had a well-elaborated functional plan-system, favourable building orientation and, according to the Siberian climate, a subterranean communication system, comparable with the St. Paul Hospital of 1902-1911 in Barcelona by the Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923) and the Hospital complex Grange-Blanche (1913-1933, now Edouard-Herriot) in Lyon by Tony Garnier (1869 –1948). From the general planning composition to the buildings and their details- all was submitted to the ideas of the Modern architecture. Nevertheless in 1929 the Moscow based architectural journal described it as ‘old-fashion’ in comparison with ‘Zonnestraal’ 1926-1928 in Hilversum by Johannes Duiker (1890-1935) and Bernard Bijvoet (1889-1979). The authors prized the good proportions, virtuous volumetric composition of the ‘Zonnestraal’ complex. They stressed that the administration of health institutions should pay attention not only to a good organisation of functions but also to ‘architectural inventiveness and giftedness’ of designers (17). It should be said in all fairness that Grinberg’s design, in spite of this critique, was really as modern as it was possible for the Siberian climate (the glass mania of Duiker and Bijvoet would have been absolute nonsense there) and the local level of the building industry.


Perception of the Architecture of Novosibirsk

In 1928 the North American journalist M. Heidus wrote: ‘For me Novosibirsk is especially interesting as an attempt of proletarian construction of the town. What are the contemporary rulers of Novosibirsk doing? They want to transform a big village into a modern capital. Their approach of the construction is absolutely contrary to the one in the past’. ‘…under the power of the proletariat. All new constructions are erected for the social purposes. These buildings present a very impressive outlook of the new construction more than in any another Russian town’ (18).

Bild13 Kopie.jpg (82745 Byte) Lunacharsky visited Novosibirsk again in 1928. He remarked a lot of new buildings and found them ‘positive superb’. He wrote: ‘you go through grey scales of wooden or vulgar brick buildings, across long waste grounds with small houses, and then suddenly you arrive to a splendid building, as an Agricultural College, which with its symmetrical façade, like Palazzo Lippi, dominates a gigantic square. Describing the centre of the town he continued: ‘you pass through huge buildings of banks, shops with splendour windows … you see mighty silhouettes of the Palace of Labour, the Lenin’s house, the Ispolkom (the Executive Party Committee) building etc.’ Lunacharsky wrote that these buildings were closer to new North American architecture than to German (19).


The already quoted Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg wrote: ‘The town dreamed of a new America. They began to put up big buildings: it was the New World, as per the silver screen. The residents called their town the Chicago of Siberia and, not wishing even their jokes to lack style, they promptly added ‘Sibchicago, that is’. The houses were the last word in fashion. They looked like exhibition pavilions, but they were inhabited. They were put up in haste, and within a year were furrowed with geriatric wrinkles’ (20).

Bild14 Kopie.jpg (75512 Byte) Hugo Huppert wrote: ‘Today the general staff of Siberia's socialist heavy industry and agriculture is located here in mighty office buildings of severe and clear-cut architectural style the Kuzbas Mines Administration, the Siberian Railway Construction Trust, the City Building Trust, the Siberian State Farm Administration, and side by side with them the Regional Trade Union Council, the Chamber of State Trade, the Industrial Bank and so on’.
Bild15 Kopie.jpg (90272 Byte) He continued: ‘Novosibirsk is the world's youngest big city. Forty years is an infantile age for a town. As the population has already shot up above the first quarter-million mark, new stories are busily being built on to the old houses. This means planting new, airy, well-lit buildings upon the old, stumpy, thickset houses. It is like the young bright shoots of green pine budding on the old dark trunk’.


Hugo Huppert explained True, the granite centre of this city is like an island in a great ocean of ramshackle suburbs built of clay and wood, which, with their backyards and pigsties, their kitchen gardens, their flower pots on the window sill and their washing hung up to dry on the garden fence, is an exact replica of the tumbledown provincial suburbs of European Russia (incidentally the same type prevails from Minsk to Khabarovsk). Here and there you may see the pretty villa of a former government official or the "private residence" of a merchant, set in green. The green is no longer green, the front garden is blocked up with scaffolding, heaps of sand, wooden sheds, piles of bricks; towering above the delicate, almost aristocratic little house, overshadowing it, swallowing it up, rises the giant, cyclopean new building which is to supersede it. And so Novosibirsk is growing building on this house, finishing that one, extending superannuated family residences, the ludicrous little "hat-box" houses of the 'nineties being put right out of the picture by the giant new buildings. New towns cannot spring up overnight and the shortage of building materials (for the giant babies of industry are insatiable!) even delays the completion of apartment houses that have been started; so organizations in need of premises often resort to buying up those small houses and huts in the suburbs which are no longer fit to live in-much less to use as offices! Then one day begins the work of renovating and repairing, the rebuilding from within, and finally the whole of the old hulk ends its days as the entrance hall to a new building. So it happens that in buildings of the 'style and dimensions of the concrete era you will suddenly be surprised to find yourself face to face with an. antiquity from the wood and stone age of the 'nineties; here a delicately carved door, there a warped wooden staircase, there a floor paved with well worn sandstone tiles’ (21).

The German writer Franz Carl Weiskopf (1900-1955) gave such characteristic in the newspaper “Berlin am Morgen”: ‘Sib-chic – so half-seriously, half-ironically Siberians call Novosibirsk, the capital of Western Siberia. It means Siberian Chicago. But this comparison is not completely true. In Novosibirsk we can find neither armies of bandits, nor poor districts like in Chicago, sinking into disgusting sewage. It also has not the sixteen-floor-skyscrapers of the American City. What does look here like in Chicago is the enormous speed of growth. Five years ago it was just a hole with 50,000 inhabitants, two years ago – a middle-size town with a population of 120,000, now it is a capital with almost 300,000! They build here without interruption: houses, groups of houses, big shops, schools, hotels. All of these are skyscrapers in miniature, “only” of 6 or 7 floors, very stable, skilfully and strongly built, with flat roofs, with high and wide windows and balconies… But not only the dwellings and houses were built here without tiredness, here the New Men are growing’ (22). If the growing of “the New Men”, probably, can be true, Weiskopf was mistaken about “the flat roofs”. At that time all buildings in Novosibirsk had pitched roofs, sometimes for aesthetic reason disguised with high parapets.

Target of

Two years after Kuzmin’s critique of his professor Kriachkov in the architectural journal SA the local press started the persecution of this architect.

Thus the article in the “Siberian Soviet Encyclopaedia” about Andrei Kriachkov, who built during 1923-1928 almost one third of all big stone buildings erected in Novosibirsk, ended with ‘he belongs to the old architectural school, insufficiently responding to the demands of modernity’ (23).

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In 1930 the newspaper Soviet Siberia published a photograph of a fragment of the Kriachkov’s building with the underline: ‘Do you think that these columns are supporting something, that they are necessary? You are deeply mistaken. Here Kriachkov, professor architect, shows his devotion to the taste of pre-Revolutionary “masters” of architecture. This professor is teaching students to build houses of the socialistic state. He shows how he is alienated from the architecture of socialism, how close to him is the noble landlords’ architecture. Students, do not take professor Kriachkov’s bad architectural tricks, he is alienated from the workers’ class’ (24).
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In 1925 Kriachkov built the regional office of the All-Union Textile Syndicate. In 1930 the photograph of the stepped octahedron tower, which crowned the corner of this building, appeared in the newspaper with the comment: ‘An example of uneconomic construction. This tower can not be used, but its erection has cost a lot of money’ (25).
After five months the same newspaper published a design of engineer I.D. Lalevich who added two storeys to the building. The exterior of the building was changed in Constructivists forms (26).
Bild18 Kopie.jpg (144536 Byte) In this way Kriachkov was forced to change his architectural taste. He started to work as a Constructivist and as such successfully took part in several All-Union competitions.



Socialist City – New Housing – New Way of Life

The Siberian housing construction of the 1920-1930s was closely connected with the quest for new forms for the expected socialisation of the communist society. Here, as in the whole USSR, the workers’ residential construction co-operative associations (RJSKT) had solved the large housing problem in 1928-1932. ‘Printer’, ‘Working five-year plan’, ‘Chemist’, ‘Red Tanner’, ‘Checkist’ RJSKTs were established in Novosibirsk. From the construction of separate houses they evolved to the erection of living quarters, in which generally an arrangement of buildings in parallel rows with a special orientation was used. These associations constructed brick communal buildings with communal dining hall, factory-kitchens, reading-rooms, sport-halls, bathrooms and showers (usually placed at the end of the corridor on each floor), rooms for 4-8 year old children, rooms for 1-2 year old toddlers and special rooms for babies. For adult persons, children under 13 years and children of 13-16 years separate bedrooms were designed. The newspapers wrote: ‘Two rooms and kitchen with its petty bourgeoisie cosiness become history. Instead of them the new socialist way of life shall come! Give way for the new way of life!’(27)

The newspaper ‘Soviet Siberia’ was actively involved in the fight for a new way of life.

The newspaper followed the theory of the economist Leonid M. Sabsovich, founder of the Urbanists, a Soviet architectural movement (28). For the Socialist Cities (Sotsgoroda) Sabsovich advocated the construction of minicipal housing complexes, where everything would be collectivised immediately. Private was only the ‘sleeping cabin’.

At that time no article against the daily life reform had appeared in Soviet Siberia. The newspaper is brainwash with effective results. Sabsovich wrote in the Constructivists’ SA journal:

not for nothing, that when I presented in all its sharpness the questions of the organisation of new life to the most active women-workers of the town Novosibirsk, they unanimously gave their view, that the dimensions of the public space in no case can be reduced. They pointed out, that in new dwellings they first of all needed public spaces. A room for collective use is, they say as “necessary as the breath of one's nostrils and as the food’.’’(29)

In 1930 a very important event determined the fate of the Commune-house idea in the region. This event concerned the 100-apartment-house designed for the Sibkombain (Siberian Combine) factory. The first project, designed by Boris A. Gordeyev and Dmitrii I. Koz’min, was strongly criticised for the low level of socialisation of daily life and the use of the habitual individual apartments. A more radical approach for the Sibcombine factory 100-apartment house was offered by the architects Dmitrii M. Ageyev and German E. Stepanchenko (students of the Tomsk Institute of Technology). Their project, with the use of the whole arsenal of means for the socialisation of life: absence of individual kitchens and bathrooms, separation of the children from the parents etc. found great support in the press and at meetings of architects and public. But the specialists for whom it was designed, when they arrived from the European part of the country, with the support of the factory administration refused to use such building-complex. Another counteraction came from the construction organisation hampered the design because of the absence of slag blocks in Novosibirsk. Soviet Siberia published a lot of critical articles supporting the design. Today it can be read as a thriller (30). But further discussions and experiments in the area of daily life were stopped by the TsK VKP(b) resolution “About work on the reorganisation of life” of May 16, 1930. The Siberian journalists, who ardently propagated commune houses, were confused. Soon an article criticised the leftist exaggerations in the housing construction of Novosibirsk (31).


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The 100-apartment-house designed for the Sibkombaine factory was built, though with several changes, according to the first project.
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The users did not appreciate housing complexes without the usual apartments. They were not suitable in the socio-economical conditions of that time and the way people lived. The majority of the masses were also not fond of the aesthetics of Modern architecture; they called the new buildings boxes and cardboards. These new buildings, after few years, were mostly changed into traditional apartment buildings.

Bild21 Kopie.jpg (77506 Byte) Several interesting housing projects were built in Novosibirsk by the architects Boris A. Gordeyev and Sergey P. Turgenyev, exiled from Moscow, like the so-called housing combinate for the Dynamo association. It consisted of a shop, apartments without kitchen, a hotel for 250 persons, a dining hall for 220 persons and a mechanised kitchen for 1,500 dinners.
  The writer Ilya Ehrenburg described this as: ‘The town’s pride and joy was the new hotel. It was called Dynamo. Loudspeakers were installed in the rooms, and the very best rooms were dubbed ‘commissar suites’. One time a real People’s Commissar arrived from Moscow and checked in. He surveyed the room, rather put out: there was no mirror, no towel. Life in Sibchicago began with the big things, with loudspeakers… The hotel had a huge assembly hall for congresses and conferences. Delegates from the backwater villages of Altai were lectured on apatite and the hypocrisy of the League of Nations... The town assigned, admonished, directed. Without taking a breath, round the clock, the town repeated, ‘Considered… Carried…’ It even dreamed official minutes. There were more than a thousand typists in town. There was a Regional Party Committee and a Regional Executive Committee in town. The town just kept on growing…’(32).


“The Unlucky Child of Constructivism”

The Opera and Ballet Theatre in Novosibirsk is nowadays the most famous building in Siberia. The construction of this building reflects the history of the development of the Modern Movement principles in Siberia. The realised building forms only part of a great dream-project for a House of Science and Culture (HSC). The HSC was projected as a six buildings complex, containing a theatre, a library, an exhibition hall and a scientific research institute, also a radio station with studios. The general aim of the complex was of course to propagate socialism and ideas about the socialist building.

In Novosibirsk the possibility of a theatre building for 1,500-2,000 visitors was discussed for the first time in the late twenties. Then it was decided to build it as a cultural centre with conservatory and drama theatre. In July 1928 a committee was installed to lead the building procedure. Then ideas were developed, that finally condensed in a program for HSC in 1929. At the end of 1929 the Building Committee offered to Aleksandr Z. Grinberg a commission to make a design, in collaboration with Innokentii V. Kirenskii.




Six buildings were arranged around a main square, the buildings being connected by bridges. The architects paid special attention to the functioning of the complex, for instance to the acoustical and the optical qualities, for which specific forms were developed in section and ground plan of the auditory. But the committee was not satisfied, because the exterior of the complex had no ‘expressive architectural quality’. The members of the committee analysed the best projects in the theatre competition for Rostov-on-Don in 1930 and the material of the competition for the ‘Collective Music Activity’ theatre in Charkov. The committee invited the stage designer of the Bolshoi theatre Mikhail I. Kurilko and the architect-artist Traugot Ia. Bardt. They invented a new theatre-system, called Teomas. This scheme was inspired by Walter Gropius’ design for Erwin Piscator’s Total Theatre for 2,000 spectators of 1927. Aleksandr Grinberg incorporated the new conception by Kurilko and Bardt in his project between October 1930 and July 1931 with constructivist architecture.
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The design and models of the building were exhibited in several European cities and German, French, British and Czech architectural journals were very positive about its architecture. According to The Architectural Review, number of May 1932 the building ‘ought to be one of the best modern buildings in Russia’.

In spite of this the remark of the German architect Rudolf Wolters, formulated after his visit to a theatre existing at that time in Novosibirsk, was prophetic. Wolters wrote: ‘Das Theatergebäude, in dem diese Veranstaltungen stattfanden, war klein und hässlich und nur selten voll. Das hinderte aber den Staat nicht, ein Riesentheater für 4000 Personen in der Stadt zu errichten, das schon im Rohbau fertig war. Ein unerhörter Größenwahn, der sich bitter rächen wird’ (33). In the autumn of 1934 the building was ready. But the authorities decided that Grinberg’s purist architecture, based on the idea of form-follows-function and the building as mechanism, should be decorated. The interior space was simplified and adapted to traditional theatre. It was not the only tragedy of the megalomaniac building, the construction and decoration of it was also a human drama. Some architects, engineers and builders were repressed as wreckers.


“The Random People”

At the mid thirties the ardour of the architectural discussion decreased. The press mostly produced reports on the development of construction or criticised persons. The construction of the Left-Bank Sotsgorod at some distance from the Sibcombain e.g. was very slow, therefore samostroi (unauthorised dwellings) had intensively developed near the factory. The press had criticised the director of Sibmashstroi, comrade Askol’dov, for patronising such construction (34). The journalists of Soviet Siberia reported a lot about the works of the State city architect Vladimir M. Teitel’(1903-1945). But silence came when he was arrested in 1935. This newspaper described the atmosphere in the professional world as ‘the architects of Novosibirsk are extremely reserved and dissociated. The design institutions do not try to keep contact with each other; here is no exchange of experience between them. The architects never discuss the most important and interesting buildings…’ (35). ‘In a few days the First Congress of the Union of Soviet architects will be opened. In the regional Architects’ Union silence on the problems of architecture reigns… At the discussions we see a clannish system, a hiding of mistakes, a getting through of bad designs and unscrupulousness of opinions’. (36).

Negative attitude to colleagues was common. Kriachkov e.g. wrote about the architects who had designed the Labour Palace: ‘they were random people in architecture of Novosibirsk(37).

The ideological public disputes on architecture of the 1930s led to a strong allergy of the Novosiberian architects to discussions. This is most remarkable in the town planning. The first master plan of Novonikolayevsk (1925) and the draft plan for the Left Bank Novosibirsk (1930) were published in the newspaper ‘Soviet Siberia’ and were reported in professional journals; the master plans of the 1930s appeared only in the professional press, while the master plan of 1946 was designed without informing the other Novosibirsk colleagues (38).


Novosibirsk, the Results of the Architectural Debate of 1920-1940

In the extensive report ‘the Architectonic face of Novosibirsk’, containing an analysis of the work of the local branch of the Union of the Soviet architects (SSA), on November 5, 1943 Aleksandr I. Gegello (1891-1965), has noted, that ‘the constructivist building makes a good impression only, when the quality of the building materials used is rather high and adds positively to the impression, received from a building... Here it is usual that these buildings have a rather bad outlook, are carried out poorly through the lack of quality in construction and certainly cannot leave any good impression’. Gegello expressed the opinion that ‘for Novosibirsk construction poor quality is characteristic, especially for constructions of the years 1930-35’. The poor quality of its construction has in many respects affected the estimation of Constructivism by the general public and resulted in the final discredit of this progressive movement. Gegello also noted an ‘impression of the low level of architectonic culture’ in Novosibirsk (39).

Most fruitful were discussions, connected to competitions. The critiques in professional journals, because of their ideological rhetoric, had fewer results, while the public debates were least productive of all.

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From 1920-1940 Novosibirsk inherited the centre of the town and centre of the Left bank town. Although the architectural quality of some buildings of this period was the highest in the 20th century, from the view of the town planning Novosibirsk was not an urban whole. Its squares and streets presented a collection of separate buildings, bad related to each other. This was the reason for sharp critic on the central square of Novosibirsk in the contemporary Dutch architectural journal. If a prize had to be awarded for the ugliest square in the former Soviet Union, Lenin Square in Novosibirsk would stand a good chance of winning’ - as Reinen Dercksen wrote in Archis (40).




Citations of Russian archival materials by Fond/Opis’/Delo/List are abbreviated: f. #, op. #, d. #, l. #.

1.      According to the official Political Dictionary, ‘criticism and samokritika are the basic means of Bolshevik education of the masses in the Soviet Union.... While criticism generally deals with evaluation of production or conduct of operation ... samokritika uncovers inadequacies and mistakes in the work of individuals, organisations, the government and the Party’ (Aleksandrov C., Gal'ianov V., and Rubinshtein N., eds., Politicheskii Slovar' (Political Dictionary), Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel'stvo Politicheskoi Literatury, 19401, p. 497). English translation from Parkins, F. - City Planning in Soviet Russia: with an Interpretative Bibliography, University Press, Chicago, 1953, p. 107.

2.      Sibburo TSK RKP(b) is an abbreviation of the Siberian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).

3.      According the census of 1920 the population of Novonikolayevsk was 67,989; Omsk – 141, 881; Tomsk - 90,961 inhabitants. The census of 1926 made the impact of Bolsheviks’ decision to move the Siberian capital obvious. Novosibirsk became the biggest city in Siberia (Novosibirsk had 120,128 inhabitants, the population of Omsk decreased to 115,819). M. K. Azadovskii, A. A. Anson, and M. M. Basov, eds., Sibirskaia sovetskaia entsiklopedia (Siberian Soviet encyclopaedia), 4 vols. (Novosibirsk 1929), vol. 1, column 705–6.

4.      Balandin S., Vaganova O., Sibirskii arkhitektor A.D. Kriachkov, Novosibirsk: Zapadno-Sibirskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1973, p. 31.

5.      Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, 16 Mart 1924.

6.      RKP (b) is an abbreviation of the Russian Communist party (bolsheviks) RLKSM – the Russian Lenin’s Communist Union of Youth. Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, August 8, 1925.

7.      Aleksei V. Shchusev (1873-1949) designed the present version of the Lenin Mausoleum in stone in 1930. Before this year there stood on the Red Square a second wooden, temporary Lenin Mausoleum, designed in 1924. This one was an inspiration for Novonikolayevsk’s Lenin house as well as for a row of Labour or Culture Palaces, e.g. Palace of Culture for the workers of the metal factory in Sormov (near Nizhnii Novgorod) opened in November 17, 1927. 

8.      Huppert, Hugo Men of Siberia: Sketchbook from the Kuzbas, New York: International publishers, 1934, pp. 49-50.

9.      Ivan Nikitovich Smirnov was the first chairman of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee, Sibrevkom.

10.  Ehrenburg, Ilya The Second Day, Moscow: Raduga, 1984, pp. 66-67.

11.  MAO (the Moscow Architectural Society) was established in 1867. It was the first public architectural organisation in Russia.

12.  Balandin S.N. A.D. Kriachkov, Sibirskii arkhitektor: Dokumental’nyi ocherk, Novosibirsk: Novosibirskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1991, p. 108.

13.  Our Reality, SA Sovremennaia arkhitektura, 1927, no.2, p. 50.

14.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, 8 August 1925.

15.  SA, 1928, no. 2, p. 45.

16.  V.K. The Constructivism and the Constructivists on their local places. A letter from Tomsk, SA, no.4, 1928, p 103.

17.  Karra A., Bessonova Sanatorii ‘Zonnestraal’, Stroitel’stvo Moskvy (the Construction of Moscow), no. 10, 1929, pp. 27-30.

18.  Balandin S.N. A.D. Kriachkov, ibid, p. 109.

19.  Lunacharsky A.V. Mesiats po Sibiri (A month across Siberia), Leningrad: Krasnaya gazeta, 1929, pp. 12-14. Andrei D. Kriachkov designed and built the Agricultural College in 1926-1927.

20.  Ehrenburg, ibid, pp. 67-68. Ivan I. Zagrivko was probably the first one to call the town “Siberian Chicago”. Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, 10 February 1926.

21.  Huppert, ibid, pp. 47-48.

22.  Press – fight for Socialist Cities, For the Socialist reconstruction of towns, SOREGOR, 1933, no. 1, p. 37.

23.  M.K. Azadovskii, S.A. Alypov, and A. A. Anson, eds., Sibirskaya sovetskaya entsiklopedia (Siberian Soviet encyclopaedia), 4 vols. (Novosibirsk 1930), Vol. 2., Column 1072.

24.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no. 1, 1 January 1930.

25.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no.12, 15 January 1930.

26.  The building was transferred from the Textile Syndicate to the Siberian Coal trust, Sibugol’. Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no.106, 10 May 1930.

27.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no. 1, January 1, 1930. One page of this issue of the newspaper was completely dedicated to the ‘Reorganisation of daily life’.

28.  Sabsovich proposed to collectivise everything immediately and without graduation forms. In his book “The USSR in Ten Years” (1930) he draws fantastic perspectives. The near future will eliminate not only the difference between town and country and the difference in work status between men and women, but also the difference between mental and physical work. In ten years Socialism will ‘change the face of the earth, change mankind’.

29.  About the designing of the Housing Combines (O proektirovanii ZHILykh KOMBINATov) Sovremennaya arkhitektura, SA Sovremennaya arkhitektura, no.3, 1930, p. 7.

30.  Dispute about Commune house, Soviet Siberia, 16 April 1930.
The design for a Commune house by the young technicians: The Kraisovnarkhoz remakes the exclusive qualities of the design, Young Worker, Novosibirsk, 17 April 1930.
Baglai, Kerentsev, Magid (the working brigade of the “Soviet Siberia”) A report on a magnificent burial: the design of the comrades Ageyev and Stepanchenko went from one institution to another institution dozens of times. The young designers received a lot of compliments. But nevertheless the design would not see light., Soviet Siberia, 18 May 1930.
To the wide discussion! The designs for the buildings of workers’ hostels.
Against two rooms and kitchen. The housing construction under the workers control! Young Worker, Novosibirsk, 19 May 1930.
Stepanchenko, Ageyev, We will fight till the end! An open letter of the engineers Stepanchenko and Ageyev to the redaction of the “Soviet Siberia”, Soviet Siberia, 29 May 1930.

31.  Lifts, Mikhail, Do not jump further than the workers’ settlement!, Soviet Siberia, 3 June 1930.

32.  Ehrenburg, ibid, pp. 68-69.

33.  Wolters, Rudolf Spezialist in Sibirien, Berlin: Wendt&Matthes Verlag, 1933, p. 131.

34.  F. Popov Uluchschit’ stroitel’stvo v gorodakh Zapadnoi Sibiri (To improve the construction in the towns of Western Siberia), Sotsialisticheskii gorod, (Socialist city), no. 9, 1935, p. 27.

35.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, 1 August 1936.

36.  Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, 4 June 1937.

37.  Kriachkov A.D. Arkhitektura Novosibirska za 50 let, Arkhitektura Sibiri: Ezhegodnik Novosibirskogo otdeleniia Soiuza sovetskikh arkhitektorov, Novosibirsk, 1951, p.13.

38.  RGAE, The Russian State archive of Economy, f. 9432, op.1, d. 228.

39.  Aleksandr I. Gegello was during the Second World War in Novosibirsk among 24 architects who had been evacuated from the European part of the country. GANO, The State Archive of the Novosibirsk region, f. 1444, op. 1, d. 21.

40.  Dercksen, Reinen - Lenin Squares, Archis 12, 1993, pp. 12-14.




1.      Andrei D. Kriachkov. The Siberian department of the State wholesale trading organisation, Sibdal’gostorg. 1923-1924

2.      The stamp for cost of one brick for the construction of the Lenin house in Novonikolayevsk. The second design of the Lenin house. 1924.

3.      Mikhail S. Kuptsov and Fedor F. Ramman. The third design for the Lenin house. 1924.

4.      Ivan A. Burlakov and Ivan I. Zagrivko. The Lenin house. 1925.

5.      Aleksei V. Shchusev a second wooden temporary Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow, 1924.

6.      Sergei E. Chernyshev. Lenin Institute in Moscow.1926.

7.      Page No. 50 from the Constructivists’ journal SA Sovremennaya arkhitektura, 1927, no. 2.

8.      Sergei A. Shestov and Ivan I. Zagrivko. The Palace of Labour in Novonikolayevsk. The main façade. 1923-1926.

9.      Sergei A. Shestov and Ivan I. Zagrivko. The Palace of Labour in Novonikolayevsk. 1923-1926.

10. Page No. 45 from the Constructivists’ journal SA Sovremennaya arkhitektura, 1928, no. 2.

11. Aleksandr Z. Grinberg in collaboration with Nikolai V. Gofman and Aleksandr G. Klimuhin. The Complex of Regional hospital. 1927-1928.

12. Johannes Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet The sanatory ‘Zonnestraal’ in Hilversum. 1926-1928.

13. Andrei D. Kriachkov. The Agricultural College. 1926-1927.

Lunacharsky: ‘you go through grey scales of wooden or vulgar brick buildings, across long waste grounds with small houses, and then suddenly you arrive to a splendid building, as an Agricultural College, which with its symmetrical façade, like Palazzo Lippi, dominates a gigantic square’.

14. The private house of Aaron I. Kagan in Novonikolayevsk. 1908.

15. The house of Aaron I. Kagan rebuilt for the Siberian Regional Union of the agricultural co-operation. 1930.

16. Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no. 1, 1 January 1930.

17. Andrei D. Kriachkov. The Siberian Revolutionary Committee, Sibrevkom. 1925-1926.

18. Andrei D. Kriachkov. The All-Union Textile Syndicate, 1925.

19. I. D. Lalevich. The Siberian Coal trust, Sibugol’. Sovetskaya Sibir’ (Soviet Siberia), Novosibirsk, no.106, 10 May 1930.

20. Boris A. Gordeyev and Dmitrii I. Koz’min. The 100-apartment-house designed for the Siberian Combine factory, Sibkombain.1930-1931.

21. Boris A. Gordeyev, Sergei P. Turgenyev and the engineer Nikolai V. Nikitin. ‘Dynamo’ housing ‘combine’. 1930-1932.

22. Aleksandr Z. Grinberg with assistance of Mikhail T. Smurov. The House of Culture and Science in Novosibirsk, theatre part, designed following a special ‘Teomass’ theatre system by the architect Traugot Ia. Bardt and the artist Mikhail I. Kurilko, 1931.

23. A photograph of the centre of Novosibirsk. 1930s.

24. The Josef V. Stalin square of Novosibirsk. Now Lenin Square. 1930s.