Magic socrealism? -  - ebook

Magic socrealism? ebook

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Socialist in content and national in form – these were required features of art and architecture made under the doctrine of socialist realism. Today, in Central Europe, the relics of socialist realism evoke unambiguously negative connotations. Fifty years on, are we able to look at them without these emotions? Which works have stood the test of time? Magical socialist realism – a joke or a hypothesis?

The new issue of “Herito” brings more than 160 photos and fourteen texts on architecture, literature, and the arts. Authors present a subjective atlas of socialist realist architecture in Central Europe, recall the history of the construction of the famous Marszałkowska Housing District, and discuss iconic works of Bohdan Pniewski – one of the most elusive figures of postwar architecture. They also examine the first Polish socialist realist building listed as a historical monument, wander to Krakow’s Nowa Huta district, to Poruba in Ostrava, to Eisenhüttenstadt and Prievidza, and search for forgotten socialist monuments in the countries of former Yugoslavia. Moreover, they investigate the Soviet orientalism, the rhetoric of socialist optimism, and contemplate the cosmos together with socialist artists.

The issue features texts and essays by Greg Castillo, Bohdan Cherkes, Beata Chomątowska, Łukasz Galusek, Anna Łazar, Karol Kurnicki, Lidia Pańków, Grzegorz Piątek, Anna Syska, Katarzyna Trzeciak, Miłosz Waligórski, Michał Wiśniewski, Aleksandra Wojtaszek, Marcin Zgliński, as well as reviews of recommended Central European publications.

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Table of contents


Worth a Look

What if socialist realism is not over?

National in form, socialist in content

HERITOHeritage, culture and the present

[email protected]

ISSN: 2719-3160

Publisher: Rynek Główny 25, 31-008 Kraków, Poland

Editor‑in‑chief: Prof. dr hab. Jacek Purchla

Managing editor, editorial assistant: Bartosz Sadulski

Editorial team: Łukasz Galusek, dr Żanna Komar, dr Beata Nykiel, Agata Wąsowska‑Pawlik, dr Michał Wiśniewski

Text editor: Adam Ladziński, Anna Mirkowska, Anastazja Oleśkiewicz

Proof‑reading: Anastazja Oleśkiewicz

Cover design: Kuba Sowiński (Biuro Szeryfy)

The editors reserve the right to edit the texts received and their titles.

Every effort has been made to contact all copyright holders. We will be pleased to rectify any errors or omissions.

The electronic version was prepared in the Zecer system


Socialist realism as an ideological and propagandistic tool of Stalinism has unambiguously negative associations in Central Europe. As a tool of Sovietisation, it brings to mind the overwhelming monumentalism in architecture, the assault on the avant‑garde in culture and art, the extremely conventionalised form, the bombastic realism, and sometimes kitsch. Not by accident, the buildings and monuments from the turn of the forties and fifties are perceived as troublesome heritage. This is a strongly engrained stereotype, although today we already know that there was no single socialist realism. The post‑war period in Central Europe remains crucial for understanding contemporary times: the wave of first critical reappraisals of socialist realism appeared already during the post‑Stalinist thaw, and the first attempts to interpret it took place in the 1970s. The beginning of our century is a period of intensified research and breaking away from the perception of socialist realism exclusively in terms of style and form. That is why in this issue we look at departures from socialist realist doctrine, cracks in the idea, but also fruits of dogma. Looking at it in its broadest sense, we wonder today whether, just as magical realism was a response to expressionism and supernaturalism was meant as a reversal of reality, socialist realism has its germ of magic and exoticism.

Jacek Purchla Editor‑in‑chief

Worth a Look

The Renaissance of Etching. From Dürer to Bruegel

Albertina, Vienna Until 10 May 2020

The early days of printmaking were punctuated by several important innovations that ended up giving rise to a multitude of technical processes by 1500. In this context, the emergence of etching during the late 15th century along with its subsequent swift spread during the early 16th century represents one of the most important turning points. The exhibition focuses on the first seventy years of the etched print: from its beginnings in Dürer’s time to Breugel’s era, which already saw numerous famous and less-famous artists in Germany, Flanders, Italy and France working in this technique. Approximately 125 etchings will be shown along with drawings, printing plates, and illustrated books. This exhibition has been conceived in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Daniel Hopfer, Woman and Attendant Suprised by Death, 1500–1510© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beautiful Madonnas

National Gallery in Prague Until 19 April 2020

The term “Beautiful Style” captures the specific appearance of artworks dating from c. 1400. The visual renderings of two Marian themes – the Madonna and the Pietà – are especially compelling. The exhibition displays some twenty major artworks in the Beautiful style of Salzburg type, some of which were discovered only in the recent years. Some are presented for the first time, others are shown side by side with the works most closely related with them. Their charm and beauty, but also iconographic differences, seeming naturalness and stylization of these sculptures offer a rare aesthetic experience.

Madona from Hallstatt, around 1400 © National Gallery Prague

Umbo. Photographer

Berlinishe Gallerie Until 25 May 2020

Umbo. The name was a sensation in the avant-garde photography of the 1920s. Otto Umbehr stood for everything new: a new type of portrait, a new image for women, a new take on street life, new photo-journalism. The artist’s first retrospective in nearly a quarter of a century will consist of about 200 works and many documents.

Umbo, Untitled (Menjou en gros), 1928/1929 © Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020

Forsaken World. The Art of István Farkas (1887–1944)

Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest Until 1 March 2020

The Hungarian National Gallery’s temporary exhibition presents the oeuvre of István Farkas’ with unprecedented richness. István Farkas is one of the most original artists of post-WWI Hungarian Modernism. Hungarian and French art criticism regards him as one of the foremost artists of the time, whose way of seeing, pictorial world, technical sophistication and skill as well as experimental spirit made him unique among his contemporaries. Forsaken World comprises 170 works by the artist as well as those by his masters and contemporaries, from the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery, and from five foreign and eleven Hungarian collections. The exhibition has a complementary chamber exhibition, titled Shoah, which pays a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust seventy-five years ago.

István Farkas, He Said…, 1941 © HNG

István Farkas, Madman of Syracuse, 1930© HNG

Plants and animals. Atlases of natural history in the age of Linnaeus

International Cultural Centre, Krakow From March 25 until 31 May 2020

A vast presentation of perfectly preserved and delightfully colourful graphic images of plants and animals from the collection of old prints of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. While the images on view were made primarily for use in the sciences, the artistic quality of the prints argues for their recognition as independent works of art. The exhibition will survey prints and portfolios as well as flora and fauna atlases, most of them never previously displayed publicly. Often ravishingly edited, many of them, like the celebrated work of naturalist Maria Sybilla Merian and the famous book by Ulisses Aldrovandi, were milestones in the scientific exploration of the world. The presentation is interdisciplinary in character: it is rooted in art history but at the same time is both informative and educational, and as such will appeal to a wide range of audiences, from traditional gallery goers to nature buffs (gardeners, breeders), professional biologists, and all with an interest in ecology.

Iranian poppy


Banana plant with life stages of bullseye moth

Boris Bućan. Posters

International Cultural Centre, Krakow From 31 March until 30 April 2020

A painter and graphic designer who in the late 1960s became one of the first Croatian artists to gravitate towards art in public space and to create Yugoslavian pop-art. Bućan has developed an individual and immediately recognisable style, particularly in posters, which he has been making since the 1970s. Powerful, distinct shapes, vivid colours, geometrised and multiplied elements arranged into eye-catching, at times psychodelic, patterns, and the use of commercial and advertising hacks situate his poster art between op-art and pop-art.

Boris Bućan, Poster to Othello, 1983

Boris Bućan, poster to opera Nikola Šubić Zrinski, 1983

Willmann. Opus magnum

National Museum in Wrocław Until 26 April 2020

A great monographic exhibition dedicated to Michael Leopold Willmann, one of the most prominent Baroque artists in Central Europe, popularly known as the Silesian Rembrandt. For the first time ever, art lovers will be able to view under one roof an extraordinary selection of works by the Silesian master. Exclusively for this exhibition, many paintings have been loaned from numerous churches as well as Polish and foreign collections. The exhibition is displayed in the Four Domes Pavilion; exposing Willmann’s works in an original scenario using modern presentation techniques and their opportunities is not only an exceptional challenge for the curators, but most of all a form of homage to the pre-eminent artist that ever lived and worked in Silesia.

Michael Willmann, Self-Portrait, 1682© Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu

Robert Hromec. Falling Comet

Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava Until 15 March 2020

Robert Hromec (1970) received his MFA degree in painting from Hunter College in New York (1998) and his BA degree in printmaking from The City College of New York (1995). He studied fine arts at the Pratt Institute (1990–91); and worked at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (1992–1998). During his eight-year stay in New York City, Hromec experimented with mixing various art techniques to achieve his unique art language, which he calls “printpainting”. Optical illusion plays an important role in his latest printpaintings, with aluminium plate used as the base. Hromec lives and works in Bratislava. His award-winning work has been shown in over seventy exhibitions throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

Robert Hromec, Falling Comet I, 2019 © Danubiana

What if socialist realism is not over?

Professor Bohdan Cherkes interviewed by Łukasz Galusek

Despite the proclaimed references to “democratic” antiquity, to the rules of Greek architecture, socialist realism liked imperial forms, the style of the tsars transformed into proletarian classics, as we used to say. The new architecture had to be above all comprehensible to a man who came from the countryside to the city, who started working on a construction site or in a factory.

© Paweł Mazur / MCK

Łukasz Galusek: What is socialist realism about?

Bohdan Cherkes: The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, this “bible of communism”, unequivocally states that it is a creative method that gives an aesthetic expression to the socialistically conscious concept of the world and man, a method specific to the times of struggle – or “fight”, as the phrase went at the time – to establish a socialist society. Living in accordance with the ideals of socialism – as was emphasised in the entry – defines the content, structure, and artistic means of the “new” art. The encyclopaedists also stressed the role these artworks played in promoting socialist ideas in the Soviet Union and beyond.

The term itself appeared for the first time on 23 May 1932 in the Literaturnaya Gazeta…

One scholar researching the architecture of that time, Dmitry Khmelnitsky, says unequivocally that proclaiming the “new” method in art was Stalin’s idea and had one goal – to liquidate the existing creative organisations and to subordinate all artistic activity to the leader and party. Specifically, the publication in Literaturnaya Gazeta was aimed at the members of RAPP, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers established in the early 1920s, who had been openly and aggressively destroying the literary avant-garde, trying to stage a kind of cultural revolution and reduce writing to yet another form of class struggle. In his memoirs, Ivan Gronsky – who was the first to use the new term – recalled a conversation with Stalin at the beginning of May 1932, when he proposed that the “dialectical-Marxist creative method” promoted by the writers associated in RAPP should be opposed to “communist realism”. However, the Soviet leader was not convinced. Stalin believed that before communism was achieved, socialism should first be built. So he went for “socialist realism”.

Which, it seems, did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953.

And this is the most interesting part. Nikita Khrushchev, who took over after him, opposed the cult of his predecessor, but did not question socialist realism as a method. The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, with its third edition published as late as the eighties, tells us exactly when and how socialist realism came into being, but does not mention whether it ever ended. Khrushchev tried to repair the Soviet empire, one of the problems of which was the housing situation, with the infamous komunalkas, communal flats. His postulate to use industrial methods, improve quality, and at the same time reduce construction costs opened the way to the so-called socmodernism, that is modern construction based on the Western model, in technologically justified forms. The Khrushchev tenements, which were more economical, began to be built on a mass scale. Stalin’s classicism was simply too expensive. Then Leonid Brezhnev’s rule came and socialist modernity was monumentalised again. The facilities built for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games are its culmination. And although in the eighties the empire was already heading for the inevitable collapse, in my opinion we can speak about the architecture of socialist realism until the very end of the Soviet Union, until 1991. And for me the so-called socmodernism is only a stage of socialist realism initiated in the thirties.

In my opinion we can speak about the architecture of socialist realism until the very end of the Soviet Union, until 1991.

Let’s talk about the method. What was attractive about socialist realism in architecture?

In the international competition for the Palace of Councils, announced in 1931, all modern projects were rejected outright. Soviet society wanted an academic classicism in the vein of 18th-century St Petersburg. Despite the proclaimed references to “democratic” antiquity, to the rules of Greek architecture, socialist realism liked imperial forms, the style of the tsars transformed into proletarian classics, as we used to say. The new architecture had to be above all comprehensible to a man who came from the countryside to the city, who started working on a construction site or in a factory. Other than form, the problem with constructivism was the quality of the buildings, workmanship, adapting the forms to the climate and the functions to real needs. To this day, for example, Moscow has trouble maintaining the icons of constructivism intact, such as the Melnikov House or the Narkomfin residential unit designed by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis.

Competition projects of The Palace of the Soviets from 1931 by (from above): All-Union Association of Proletarian Architects brigade, Ivan Zholtovsky, Boris Iofan. Next: model of The Palace of the Soviets as a skyscraper (version from 1946) according to the joint concept of Boris Iofan, Vladimir Shchuko and Vladimir Gelfreykh.© Cyt. za: / Quoted from: Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956

While socialist realism was very durable.

I do not hesitate to say that almost like in Vitruvius, functionality and beauty went along with durability in socialist realism. It is enough to mention the works of Ivan (Jan) Żołtowski, incidentally a Pinsk-born Pole, educated at the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, who in 1900–1920 made the first Russian translation of Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books on Architecture, published in Moscow in 1936, i.e. after the proclamation of socialist realism. As an architect, Żołtowski had come of age still before the revolution, he was an excellent draughtsman, and he valued the Renaissance and Classicism. When I came to Vincenza and saw Palladio’s Loggia del Capitaniato, I realised that it was the 1932–1934 house on Mokhovaya Street designed by Żołtowski, only on a smaller scale, without a proper setting… In this house so admired by the Muscovites, and maliciously called “a nail in the coffin of Constructivism” by architects, I see – without the slightest irony – the “cornerstone” of socialist realism in architecture. But the controversy does not stop even today. The already mentioned Dmitry Khmelnitsky, the author of Żołtowski’s monograph, criticises the building because of its proximity to the Kremlin. Originally it was meant for the American embassy, but it was so crammed with wiretaps that the Americans gave it up, so it was adapted for a residential building for the employees of Mossoviet, the Moscow City Council. Stalin was delighted with this architecture. Żołtowski won his great liking and favour.

Andrea Palladio, Loggia del Capitanato, Vicenza (1565–1572)© Wikimedia Commons

Ivan Zholtovsky, Mokhovaya Street Building, Moscow (1932–1934) © Wikimedia Commons

In retrospect, who would you name as the most outstanding creators of socialist realism?

Apart from Żołtowski, I would certainly name Alexey Shchusev, the author of the famous Lenin’s Mausoleum and the infamous Lubyanka, whom I value for the Marx–Engels–Lenin–Stalin Institute in Tbilisi, which was created between 1934 and 1936 and combined classical monumentalism with a wonderful detail inspired by Georgian art. I would also name Boris Iofan, although his Palace of Councils – intended as the highest building in the world – never came into being. I would definitely mention Leo Rudnev, the designer of Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science and Moscow’s Lomonosov University building, and for me, above all, the author of the 1936 building of Supreme Council of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic in Baku. This is oriental socialist realism, the quality of which is best evidenced by the fact that it remains the seat of the Azerbaijani government even today. I would also add Ivan Fomin with the 1936 building of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in Kyiv, originally intended for the KGB. This Kyiv building also remains the seat of the government. From my own Ukrainian backyard I would also add the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building in Kyiv designed by Volodymyr Zabolotny, erected between 1936 and 1939 and originally intended for the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. And the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine – currently the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – by Iosif Langbard, born in Belsk, present-day Bielsk Podlaski, and known primarily for his great Minsk creations: the Government Square with the seat of the Supreme Council of the Belarusian SSR, the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and the building of the Academy of Sciences of the Belarusian SSR.

Socialist classicism works well as government architecture!

Lev Rudnev, House of the Government of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in Baku (1936), currently headquarters of the Azerbaijani government© Wikimedia Commons

We have been talking about the luminaries, but what happened to those unable to come to grips with the new “creative method”?

They emigrated, sometimes internally.

Again, let me use an example close to me: Witold Minkiewicz, an outstanding architect, professor, and even rector of the Lviv Polytechnic. At the Modern Lviv exhibition in the ICC Gallery, his excellent Mechanical Laboratory built for our Polytechnic between 1923 and 1937 was shown. Made of reinforced concrete, a modern thing, because Minkiewicz admired contemporary French and German architecture; he quoted Le Corbusier in the lecture inaugurating the academic year 1928. In 1941 he was invited to Moscow to learn about the achievements of socialist realist architecture. I know that he was a guest at the Moscow Institute of Architecture, where people tried to convince him that socialist realism was the most progressive design method. To no avail. On 3 January 1945 he was arrested. I found his case in the Lviv NKVD archives. On the fateful day of 3rd January the professor’s apartment was searched. I was struck by the detailed description in his file of what was in the apartment: how many chairs, what kind of sofa, what kind of furniture, that he had a blue pencil… During the interrogation Minkiewicz was accused of being critical of the local architecture after his return from Moscow. They also interrogated Professor Jan Bagieński, trying to get a confirmation that Minkiewicz had spoken critically about socialist architecture. When he denied it, Minkiewicz was accused of silence, of not promoting socialist architecture among the people of Lviv. He was also charged with continuing to teach in Polish and that his course in architecture was based on the pre-war “Polish” curriculum. Despite the lack of hard evidence, he and several other professors were sent to the Krasnodon mine in today’s Luhansk region. He was 65 years old! In September 1945 he returned, but in June the following year he left Lviv in the last group of repatriated professors. He first went to Kraków, and finally to Gdańsk. In Poland, let me remind you, he led the renewal of the Wawel Castle and headed the Department of Monumental Architecture at the Gdańsk University of Technology, but this is a different story. Much has been said about the fate of his generation, afflicted by totalitarianism and the effects of the Yalta order, and I was struck by the fact that Minkiewicz’s misery had actually been started by his lack of enthusiasm for socialist realism!

Ivan Fomin, KGB building, Kiev (1936–1938), currently headquarters of the Ukrainian government© Wikimedia Commons

The professor’s wife, Zofia Albinowska, decided not to leave; she remained in Lviv. It took me a long time to get any information about her. Daughter of a Polish general, she was a painter educated in Vienna and Paris, a sought-after portraitist, the president of the Association of Polish Artists. I found out that in the fifties and sixties she was quite popular in the Lviv circle of artists, she exhibited her works from time to time, she even signed up for the Association of Ukrainian Artists. But she painted only interiors and flowers. This was, it seems, her expression of disagreement with the decreed “creative method”, her inner emigration. She died in 1972, ten years after the death of her husband, whom she never saw again after his departure from Lviv. The fate of both spouses is the reverse side of the medal on which the merits of socialist realism doyens were engraved. I was struck by the surprising coincidence of the detailed description of the Minkiewicz family’s apartment made by a KGB officer with the post-war interior paintings by Albinowska – the interiors were empty after her husband’s departure, but at the same time intact, as if nothing had changed, as before… as in Akhmatova’s poem beginning with the words: “Just as before: in the canteen windows / Beats the fine blizzard snow.” Akhmatova was so cruelly afflicted by the loss of her loved ones and by the Bolshevik anathema.

Volodymyr Zabolotny, edifice of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Kiev (1936–1939), currently headquarters of the Verkhovna Rada© Wikimedia Commons

Are we already able to look at socialist realism without emotion?

We can appreciate it for its quality – designs selected in contests, prepared on a grand scale and comprehensively, as a Gesamtkunstwerk, as a total, not to say totalitarian work of art, but designed reliably, solidly made, with great craftsmanship and clever engineering. This is to be appreciated especially nowadays, in the era of developers for whom only the square-metre-to-cost ratio counts. In contrast to the tightness of our “apartments”, to the jammed “arteries” of our cities.

We may regret that many good works have been devastated, but we won’t change our nature. Iconoclasm is one of the forms of breaking up with the past. Forgetting, erasing helps to deal with the past.

I would not like to be considered an advocate of socialist realism. But I look at it and find paradoxes.

Iosif Langbard, edifice of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Kiev (1939), today the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs© Wikimedia Commons

On the one hand, I discover with what pride some of Moscow’s skyscrapers built already in our 21st century invoke the famous Seven Sisters – Stalinist skyscrapers, which in the fifties made Moscow the true capital of the red empire. On the other hand, on Russian and Ukrainian websites dedicated to socialist realism I find paintings by… Zofia Albinowska.

Isn’t it a sign that this story has not come to an end yet?

Translated from the Polish by Tomasz Bieroń

Iosif Langbard, The National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Minsk (1937–1938)© Wikimedia Commons

Iosif Langbard, building of the Academy of Sciences of Belarusian SSR, Minsk (1935–1939)© Wikimedia Commons

Iosif Langbard, Government Square with the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Belarusian SSR, Minsk (1934–1937)© Wikimedia Commons

One of the KGB documents found in Witold Minkiewicz’s file© Bohdan Cherkes

Arkady Mordvinov, Hotel Ukraina, Moscow (1953–1957), one of the seven Moscow Sisters (photo from 1958)© Répay András /

Andrei Trofimov, Elena Treschilina, Victor Scheller, Olga Markova, ”Triumph Palace”, Moscow, sometimes called the eighth Moscow Sister© Wikimedia Commons

Prof. Bohdan Cherkes – architect and researcher of architectural history. Since 1995 he has been a professor and dean of the Architecture Department of the Lviv Polytechnic, and since 2001 the director of the Architecture Department of the Lviv Polytechnic. His research interests include issues such as identity in architecture and city planning, urban models and urban planning, city history and theory. He is the author of over one hundred scientific publications. Recent monographs: “Identität, Architektur und Rekonstruktion der Stadt” (Berlin 2014) and “Lviv: city, architecture, modernism” (edited together with Andrzej Szczerski, Wrocław 2017).

National in form, socialist in content

A subjective atlas

Łukasz Galusek

Edmund Goldzamt, author of the report Zagadnienie realizmu socjalistycznego w architekturze [The question of socialist realism in architecture], on the basis of which socialist realism was adopted as the ‘mandatory creative method’ in Poland in June 1949, set out his views on architecture that was socialist in content and national in form in a publication entitled Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa [The architecture of central urban ensembles and issues of heritage], released in Moscow in 1952 and in Warsaw in 1956. How did he understand it?

Socialist architecture in its revival as a great community art seeks in the heritage of the humanistic and democratic tradition the skill of giving form to the ideological and moral content that speaks to us so unequivocally from the best works of ages past, which so objectively characterize the attitudes, possibilities, and world view of their times. What we seek in that heritage is the skill of identifying and exploiting those laws of the construction of architectural organisms that facilitated the development of the classical unity of technical, utilitarian and compositional solutions to produce the full practical and aesthetic effect of architecture. We seek the richness of spatial solutions accumulated over centuries, the repeatedly honed arrangements that broaden our horizons by revealing the unlimited spheres of new possibilities and concepts, supporting our strivings for innovation with the consciousness that there are those reservoirs of experience on which we can draw.

The realist essence of socialist architecture postulates the reflection in works of construction of all the aspects of our life, existence, social and moral ideals, and the mental constitution of a nation in all its richness and concreteness. In conditions of the existence of socialist nations, with all their characteristic features, faithful and substantive reflection of aspects of the life of society must stimulate the generation of unique, original attributes in the architecture of every nation. The issue of the individuality of national architectural output thus follows organically from the realism of our architecture, while national form is an inalienable condition of substantive, objective expression of socialist content.

The development of national forms in socialist architecture cannot be taken apart from the major trends in contemporary construction such as the concentrated character of residential development, based on scientifically proven economic discipline and the tendency towards typification and standardization of component elements. At the same time, alongside individual aesthetic preferences, which never age, a plethora of crucial, individual functional considerations – such as climate, local building materials, the specific characteristics and mores of everyday life, even down to local cuisine, custom, and the rhythm of family and community life – all this, in a percipient approach to meeting human needs, will contribute a marked national expression to this architecture as to any other.

The richness and diversity of national forms is the foundation on which the bonds of cultural community between socialist nations will be strengthened. It is on this path of development that work towards the distant prospect of the unification of national cultures into one common culture begins. This process, foreseen and postulated by Marxism, will be a lengthy one, involving the development of and extensive contact between national cultures.1

Edmund Goldzamt – (18 Aug. 1921, Lublin – 3 Nov. 1990, Moscow) – Polish architect and urban planner of Jewish descent. He reached Moscow during World War II, via Lvov and Tashkent, and did a degree in architecture there. From 1952 he lectured in urban and spatial planning at Warsaw Polytechnic. In 1975 he became professor and head of the chair of contemporary architecture at the Moscow Institute of Architecture. Author of the works on urban planning and architectural theory: Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa (Architecture of central urban ensembles and issues of heritage, 1956), William Morris a geneza społeczna architektury nowoczesnej (William Morris and the social background of modern architecture, 1967), Urbanistyka krajów socjalistycznych. Problematyka społeczna (Urban planning in socialist countries: The social issues, 1971), and Kultura urbanistyczna krajów socjalistycznych. Doświadczenia europejskie (The urban planning culture of socialist countries: European experiences, with Oleg Shvidkovsky, 1987).

Berlin →Bukareszt / Bucharest →Dąbrowa Górnicza →Dunaújváros →Eisenhüttenstadt →Hawierzów / Havířov →Kijów / Kyiv→Mińsk / Minsk →Moskwa / Moscow→Nová Dubnica →Nowa Huta →Nová Ostrava (Ostrava-Poruba) →Nowe Tychy →Ołomuniec / Olomouc →Prievidza →Rostock →Sofia →Warszawa / Warsaw→

Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956, pp. 75–76, 81–82, 85, 88, 90. [back]

Moscow, the Lenin Mausoleum

Alexei Shchusev, a temporary wooden mausoleum was erected on the day of Lenin’s funeral, 27 Jan. 1924, and was subsequently altered in the April and May of the same year (also in wood). Over the years 1929–1930 a granite mausoleum was built whose form preserved the architect’s original compositional concept.

Facing pages from Edmund Goldzamt’s book Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa showing the genesis of Lenin’s mausoleum

Old mausoleums suggesting the belief in humanity’s powerlessness in the face of supernatural forces proclaimed the finality of death; they were monuments to its majesty and irrevocability. These ideas were expressed in their absolutely static form, their immovable regularity, their perfect, symmetrical indifference to all the axes of the building. The Lenin mausoleum, as a monument to the immortality of the idea of Leninism, was built with an entirely different purpose in mind. Its role was to forge pain and solemnity into power. This historical role of the building made Shchusev aware of the exanimate features of old mausoleums, and led him to treat their dead staticness, their immobile geometricism, as an expression of a defunct ideology. These anachronistic attributes gave way to an element of dynamism introduced by the building’s new content. The mausoleum was designed in the form of a tribune, from which the continuators of the great Lenin and his idea review the forces of the people on solemn days.1

Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow (postcard from 1932) © Wikimedia Commons

E. Goldzamt, op. cit., p. 304. [back]

Moscow, the ‘Seven Sisters’ high-rise towers

Panoramic vision of the rebuilt Moscow downtown (drawing by Henryk Dąbrowski) from Edmund Goldzamt’s book Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa.

Mikhail Lomonosov Moscow State University, Lev Rudnev, Sergei Chernyshev, Pavel Abrosimov, Alexandr Khryakov, Vsevolod Nasonov, 1949–1953

Ukraina Hotel, Arkady Mordvinov and team, 1953–1957.

Residential tower block on Kudrynski Square, Mikhail Posokhin, Ashot Mndoyants, 1948–1954

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, Vladimir Gelfreykh, Mikhail Minkus, 1948–1953

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leonid Polyakov, Alexandr Boretsky, 1949–1953

Red Gate Building (mixed-use office and residential), Alexei Dushkin, Boris Myezentsev, 1947–1953

Kotyelnicheski Embankment Building (residential), Dmitry Chechulin, Andrei Rostokovsky, 1938–1952

Palace of the Soviets – never built, the building of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The winning design in the architectural competition (1931–1933), that of Boris Iofan, was later redesigned by Iofan, Vladimir Shchuko and Vladimir Gelfreykh as a 415-metre high skyscraper. Had it been built it would have been the tallest building in the world in its day

Administrative building in Zaryadye – never built, Dmitry Chechulin

These seven high-rise buildings in central Moscow (the eighth was never built), together with the gigantic Palace of the Soviets (which was also never built, but was to have stood close to the Kremlin, on the site of the Orthodox Church of Christ the Redeemer, which was demolished), bestowed a new metropolitan and at once communist demeanour on the capital of the Soviet Union.

Facing pages from Edmund Goldzamt’s book Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa comparing Moscow and New York high-rise buildings

American skyscrapers tower alongside one another, reflecting the chaos and internal contradictions of the capitalist economy in the random, sprawling wastes that grow up without any functional or compositional consideration or thought for the city, reducing its streets to deep fissures. […] Moscow’s towers are silhouetted harmoniously across a broad, unbounded space, forming spreading solids that are more functionally optimal and contribute to a well-rounded architectural image […]. The layout of the towers, in a ring around the ensemble of the Kremlin and what is to be the Palace of the Soviets, creates a city-centre composition without precedence anywhere in global urban planning, yet at the same time revives the historic skyline of old Moscow, in which dozens of auxiliary temples and cloisters stood clustered around the dominant campanile of Ivan the Great and the central composition of the Kremlin’s towers.

The reconstruction of Moscow is characterized by a bold thrust into the city centre and the iron will of the urban planners spearheading the fundamental remodelling of the central ensemble into a new layout. […] References to the reconstructed centre are incorporated in the building of the new Moscow, which is bonded to it with a shared, socialist content. There is no divide or opposition between the historic Moscow and the modern Moscow – there is one, socialist Moscow, whose heart is its historic centre.1

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building© Wikimedia Commons

Red Gate Building© Wikimedia Commons

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR© Wikimedia Commons

Mikhail Lomonosov Moscow State University© Wikimedia Commons

Leningradskaya Hotel© Wikimedia Commons

Ukraina Hotel© Wikimedia Commons

Residential tower block on Kudrinskaya Square© Wikimedia Commons

E. Goldzamt, op. cit., pp. 329–331, 334, 294, 296. [back]

The Moscow Metro

The Sokolnicheskaya line, 1931–1935

The Arbatsko–Pokrovskaya line, 1938

The Zamoskvorietskaya line, 1938

The Koltsevaya (Circle) line, 1950–1954

This is perhaps the most sublime work of socialist realism, a Gesamtkunstwerk combining architecture with visual arts and craft. The first metro line was opened in 1935, and a further two were completed before the outbreak of the Second World War. The war did not interrupt the construction work, though at the most tragic point, in the autumn of 1941, when the German army was nearing Moscow, the metro tunnels served as civilian shelters and makeshift hospitals. The stations on the first three lines, among them Mayakovskaya, Ploshchad Revolutsii, and Sokol, reference historical styles, above all classicism. They are minimalistic, though tastefully executed. The decor of the stations completed during the war, such as Partizanskaya and Semenovskaya, is equally well executed, and introduces the theme of the heroism of the Red Army. The most opulent stations are those on the Circle line, which was built in record time in the years 1950–1954. It is these that gained the Moscow Metro its fame as the most beautiful in the world. They elevated the capital’s public transport system to a work reflecting the quality and joy of the life of ‘homo sovieticus’. The stations on the Circle line, among them Beloruskaya, Kiyevskaya, Komsomolskaya, Kurskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Oktyabrskaya, Park Kultury, Paveletskaya, Prospekt Mira and Taganskaya, are not deep tunnels but proletarian palaces, the most grandiose examples of interiors executed in the style known as the Stalinist Empire or triumphal style, a composite of baroque, late classicism, Napoleonic Empire, and Art Déco, making lavish use of marble, stuccowork, mosaic, ceramics, brass, and crystal. The trademark feature of this proletarian sumptuousness was the candelabra. The Stalinist Empire age came to a close in November 1955 with the decree On the elimination of excess in design and construction issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The stations on later metro lines were built in the more economic modernism of the Khrushchev years.

Komsomolskaya Stationv© Wikimedia Commons

Prospekt Mira Station – detail © Wikimedia Commons

Belorusskaya Station© Wikimedia Commons

Prospekt Mira Station© Wikimedia Commons

Paveletskaya Station© Wikimedia Commons

Kievskaya Station© Wikimedia Commons

Taganskaya Station – detail© Wikimedia Commons

Taganskaya Station© Wikimedia Commons

Minsk, Stalin Prospekt (now Independence Prospekt)

Mikhail Parusnikov and his team, 1945–1954

The need to remodel Minsk arose with the establishment of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The plan to increase the city in size originated in 1926, but it gained its capital demeanour with the construction of three buildings designed by Iosif Langbard and built in the years 1929–1935: Government Square, with the seat of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR, the State Opera and Ballet Theatre, and the building of the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR. Although socialist realism became the mandatory ‘creative method’ in 1932, all three buildings were completed in the modernist style as originally intended. Owing to extensive damage sustained during the Second World War, Minsk had to be reconstructed, and this permitted the execution of a new axis, Stalin Prospekt, which lent a thoroughly metropolitan flair to its centre.

Stalin’s Prospectus (1950s)© Cyt. za: / Quoted from: Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956

When, as in Minsk, a city lacks a cohesive historic centre, a new centre grows up in the form of a large, linear ensemble that fuses the scattered sub-centres.

Stalin Prospekt, 2800 metres long and 48 metres wide, begins at Lenin (formerly Government) Square, and ends at Circular Square on the opposite bank of the Svislach. The most important unit in the ensemble is Central Square (148 × 200 m), which is flanked by the buildings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia, the Palace of Culture of the Byelorussian Trade Unions, and Soldier House. The never executed building of the central state authorities was to have stood in the centre of the square (the Palace of the Republic was only erected in the 1980s).

The visual composition of Stalin Avenue and the squares threaded onto it exudes a mature simplicity. The alternation of the solid forms of the buildings and the green spaces, the slight cour d’honneur, breaks, and porticos – all these creates a lively, rich, solemn image of the main axis. The image is completed with three monuments, which form part of the ensemble along with the main squares: the Lenin monument outside the building of the Council of Ministers of the BSSR, the monument to Stalin on Central Square, and the 45-metre high obelisk commemorating the fallen soldiers of the Soviet Army and the Byelorussian partisans on Circular Square. This obelisk is the end focal point on the almost 3-kilometre avenue.

A good illustration of the way the avenue is shaped is the point at which it meets the Komsomolsky Boulevard, which runs perpendicular to it. This latter leads to the seat of the Byelorussian KGB, designed by Mikhail Parusnikov and built in 1945–1947.

This building set the tone for all the built fabric of Stalin Avenue, contributing to it the optimistic tone of classical order architecture and a richly textured spatial sculpting.1

End of the Komsomolsky Boulevard with a view of the headquarters of the Belarusian KGB (1950s)© Cyt. za: / Quoted from: Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956

E. Goldzamt, op. cit., p. 368. [back]

Kyiv, Khreshchatyk

Alexandr Vlasov and his team, 1945–1949, up to Anatoliy Dobrovolsky and his team, 1955

Kyiv’s city centre is not concentrated around a square or a complex of squares, but along a spacious thoroughfare, located in the valley of the Khreshchatyk Street, which since the mid-nineteenth century has been uniting the historical parts of the city located on the hills – the one built around Kyiv’s old castle, the one surrounding Pechersk Lavra – with the Podil (lower city) on the Dnister River. Khreshchatyk was almost completely destroyed in 1941, when the Red Army was retreating from the city before the approaching Germans. Its reconstruction became the subject of a great competition, its result announced at the beginning of 1945. The avenue starts in Bessarabska Square and runs in a gentle curve towards Stalin Square (today’s European Square). Its culminating point is Kalinin Square (today Maidan Nezalezhnosti), with four streets radially connecting it with the hill of St. Sophia’s Cathedral flowing into it. The street is 1280 m long and 75 m wide. The avenue runs on two levels. The lower part is a roadway with two wide pavements. The upper one is a pedestrian boulevard erected on a terrace. The street frontages are also asymmetrical. The lower one, where some buildings have been preserved, is compact. Public utility buildings have been located in it. The upper one is picturesquely shaped as a series of free-standing residential buildings separated from traffic by a green promenade.

A special feature of the Khreshchatyk Street complex, wrote Edmund Goldzamt in the mid-1950s, is its peculiar, multiplane composition, which incorporates into the layout of the avenue all the natural richness of the hills that shape the valley. […] The individuality and richness of the architectural face of Khreshchatyk brings out the beautiful, unique cladding of its buildings made of ceramic tiles with rich ornamentation. In the earliest buildings, the cladding was somewhat fragmented and visually overloaded. Today, it is being simplified and monumentalised, while retaining its texture and bright, warm colours that emphasise the humanism and optimism of the architectural face of Kyiv’s city centre.1

Ceramic cladding detail© Wikimedia Commons

Khreshchatyk (1950s)© Cyt. za: / Quoted from: Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956

E. Goldzamt, op. cit., pp. 356, 360–361. [back]

Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of Culture and Science, Lev Rudnev and team, 1952–1955.

Panoramic vision of the rebuilt Warsaw downtown (drawing by Henryk Dąbrowski) from Edmund Goldzamt’s book Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa© Cyt. za: / Quoted from: Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problemy dziedzictwa, Warszawa 1956

As early as in February 1945, less than a month after the liberation of Warsaw, the Office for the Reconstruction of the Capital was opened. Shortly thereafter, the idea to raise the prewar city from the ruins was superseded by a vision to create an entirely new city centre, and to rebuild only the most precious historical urban ensembles – the Old Town, Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat Streets, and the Saska–Stanisławowska axis. ‘The new Warsaw,’ Bolesław Bierut declared, ‘the capital of a socialist state, must be endowed with a beautiful expression all its own, heralding this new age of true humanism – the age of the rights of the working man.’1 The book edition of Bierut’s Report on the Six-Year Plan for the reconstruction of the capital was illustrated with architectural visions of this new expression.

Rather than ‘an array of advertising and city-centre traffic’ – Edmund Goldzamt commented – what we have here is images of the capital’s monumental fora filled with demonstrating crowds. In place of ‘automobile dealerships’ and images of ‘the advance of technology on what is now a dehumanized scale’, this is a concept for a huge cultural and social hub with a central urban square to be subordinated to a central culture complex.2

Before the reconstruction of Warsaw reached its apogee with the building of this ‘central culture complex’, i.e. the Palace of Culture and Science, several large city-centre ensembles were constructed, the most important of them being the Marszałkowska Residential District (MDM), and more specifically the Constitution Square ensemble, the reconstructed Zbawiciela (Redeemer) Square, and their immediate environment, completed in 1952.

The Palace of Culture and Science remains the highest building in Poland (237 m), a gift to the Polish nation from the Soviet Union. It is the work of Lev Rudnev, the co-author of the Moscow State University building, which was completed shortly before the construction of the palace began. Inspired by the Moscow ‘Seven Sisters’, it both reflected the characteristic universalism of the ‘communist civilization’ and, through its architectural detail (its Renaissance attics), demonstrated its roots in the Polish architectural tradition. It was a mixed-use building, which comprised the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences and several other scientific institutions (in the tower part); the ‘palace of youth’, incorporating an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium; a performing arts complex with cinema and theatre auditoria and a museum of technology and industry (in the lateral wings); and a congress hall (on the building’s axis, to the rear of the tower). The building was the centre point of Warsaw’s new central district, and redefined the cityscape.

Bolesław Bierut, Sześcioletni plan odbudowy stolicy, Warszawa 1951, p. 265. [back]

E. Goldzamt, op. cit., p. 457. [back]

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