Moisei Ginzburg’s “New Methods of Architectural Thought” (1926)

 From Sovremennaia arkhitektura, 1926 (no. 1, pgs. 1-4):

One decade separates us from the architectural ‘affluence’ of the pre-Revolutionary era, when in Petersburg, Moscow, and other great centers the best Russian architects lightheartedly cultivated every possible ‘style.’

Is a decade so much?

It is a small fissure in time.  But the Revolution, in sweeping away the stagnant prejudices and outlived canons, has turned the fissure into an abyss.  On the far side of that abyss remain the last witherings of the already decrepit system of European thinking, of that unprincipled eclecticism which always has a thousand aesthetic recipes at the ready, all of them approved by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.  Such thinking was ready to ladle out truth from wherever suited — provided it was from a source in the past.

On this side of the abyss is opening up a new path which still has to be paved, and great new expanses of space which still have to be developed and populated.  The outlook and worldview of the contemporary architect is being forged in the circumstances of today and new methods of architectural thinking are being created.

Instead of the old system in architectural designing, where the plan, construction, and external treatment of the building were in a state of constant antagonism, and where the architect had to use his powers to the full as peacemaker in irreconcilable conflicts of interest, the new architectural work is characterized above all by its single indivisible aim and aspiration.  It is a process in which the task is hammered out logically and which represents a consciously creative [sozidatel’ny] process from beginning to end.

In place of the abstracted and extremely individualistic inspiration of the old-style architect, the contemporary architect is firmly convinced that the architectural task, like any other, can only be solved through a precise elucidation of the factors involved [literally: the unknowns] and by pursuing the correct method of solution.

The architect sees around him the fearless creativity of inventors in various fields of contemporary technology, as with gigantic steps it conquers the earth, the ocean depths, and the air, winning new bridgeheads by the hour.  It is not difficult to see that these astonishing successes of human genius are explained, in general, by the fact that the right method was pursued in tackling the task.  The inventor knows full well that however energetic the upsurge of his creative enthusiasm may be, it wil be useless without a sober consideration of all the minutiae in the circumstances surrounding his activity.  He is fully armed with contemporary knowledge.  He takes account of all the conditions of today.  He conquers the future.

[On the so-called ‘machine aesthetic’:] Certainly it would be naïve to replace the complex art of architecture by an imitation of even the most sparkling forms of contemporary technology.  This period of naïve ‘machine symbolism’ is already outdated.  In this field it is only the inventor’s creative method that the contemporary architect must master.  Any mould or model from the past must be categorically repudiated, however beautiful it may be, for the pursuits of the architect are in their essence precisely such invention, just like all other invention.  His is a work of invention which has set itself the aim of organizing and constructing a concrete practical task not just in response to the dictates of today but as something that will serve the needs of tomorrow.

Thus first and foremost we face the question of clearly exposing all the unknowns of the problem.  First among these are the unknowns of a general charcter, dictated by our epoch as a whole.  Here we are identifying those particular features of the problem which derive from the emergence of a new social consumer of architecture — the class of workers, who are organizing not only their own contemporary way of life but also the complex forms of new economic life of the State.  It is [130] not a question of adapting to the individual tastes of this new consumer.  Unfortunately, in posing the problem it is often reduced to precisely this, and people hastily try to attribute to worker tastes and preferences which are essentially echoes of old pre-revolutionary attitudes.

Least of all is it a matter of tastes here at all.  What we are concerned with is elucidating the characteristics of the new consumer, as a powerful collective which is building a socialist state.

It is a question, above all, of the principle of plannedness.  This must not just be a feature of the way leading state organs operate, but must become part of the work of every architect.  It is how the solving of individual problems becomes part of the larger productive network of the country as a whole.

The character of a contemporary architect’s work is radically altered by the fact that he recognizes his activity to be the establishing of architectural standards for the organization of new dwellings and towns, rather than the fulfillment of individual commissions.  He sees it as his task to be continually advancing and improving those standards, in connection with the larger characteristics of production and with the advancing technological levels both here and internationally.  In the conditions through which we are living as we develop socialism, each new solution by the architect, be it a dwelling block, a workers’ club, or a factory, is conceived by us as the invention of a more advanced model or type, which answers the demands of its brief and is suitable for multiple production in whatever quantities the needs of the state require.  From the very start, this situation diverts the architect’s energy away from the pursuit of a solution answering individual tastes, and redirects it towards further improvement of the standard type which he has devised, and a fuller, more sophisticated standardization of its details.  But in order that these type-solutions may undergo a genuinely radical renewal, they must derive from the new principles of a rational urbanism which will satisfy tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s.

[…]

The social conditions of our contemporary world are such that questions of individual aesthetic developments in architecture arise only secondarily.  Today’s conditions focus our attention first and foremost onto the problem of rational new types in architecture, and by including the architect within the overall production chain of the country, they abolish the isolation which previously existed between various forms of architectural and engineering activity.  Certainly the complex development of our life is such that more than at any other time, it compels the architect to specialize in a specific field, but at the same time the firm conviction that has arisen amongst all contemporary architects that their different specialisms — housing, community buildings, factories — are merely subsections of a homogeneous territory [ubezhdenie v odno-znachnosti ikh tvorchekoi deiate’nosti]. …Not only has the boundary between engineering structures and public architecture been wiped out of our thinking, but those very engineering structures themselves have come to be seen as front-line pioneers in the shaping of a genuinely contemporary architecture.

Sober calculation of all these circumstances, which have been created and intensified by our present social conditions, is not just the first condition for a correct solution of our architectural tasks.  It is also the source of all those purely architectural possibilities which lie concealed within the changes which have taken place in our mode of life.

But alongside these, there is a series of other ‘unknowns’ facing the architect, which derive quite separately from the particularities of each factor of the given piece of work, from the particular features of the task in hand, from its functional requirements and from the productive and locational conditions obtaining in that situation.

[On the ‘Functional Method’:] The solving of these ‘unknowns’ leeds to an entirely new method of architectural thinking: to the methofd of functional design [literally, functional creativity].

Free from the handed-down models of the past, from prejudices and biases, the new architect analyzes all sides of his task, all its special features.  He dismembers it into its component elements, groups them according to functions and organizes his solution on the basis of these factors.  The result is a spatial solution which can be likened to any other kind of rationally conceived [razumnyi] organism, which is divided into individual organs that have been developed in response to the functional roles which each fulfills.

As a result of this we are seeing in the works of contemporary architects the emergence of entirely new types of plan.  These are generally asymmetrical, since it is extremely rare for functional parts of a building to be absolutely identical.  They are predominantly open and free in their configurations, because this not only better bathes each part of the building in fresh air and sunlight, but makes its functional elements more clearly readable and makes it easier to perceive the dynamic life that is unfolding within the building’s spaces.

That same method of functional creativity leads not only to clear calculation of the ‘unknowns’ of the task, but to an equally clear calculation of the elements of its solution.

[…]

Thus the very method of functional creativity leads us to a unified organic creative process where one task leads from another with all the logic of a natural development, instead of the old-style chopping up into separate independent tasks which are usually in conflict with each other.  There is no one element, no one part of the architect’s thinking which would be arbitrary.  Everything would find its explanation and functional justification in its suitability for a purpose.  The whole unifies everything, establishes equilibrium between everything, creates images of the highest expressiveness, legibility, and clarity, where nothing can be arbitrarily changed.

In place of the ready-made models of the past which have been chewed over endlessly, the new method radically re-equips the architect.  It gives him a healthy direction to his thiking, inevitably leading him from the main factors to the secondary ones.  It forces him to throw out what is unnecessary and to seek artistic expressiveness in that which is most important and necessary.

There is absolutely no danger in the asceticism of the new architecture which emerges from this method.  It is the asceticism of youth and health.  It is the robust asceticism of the builders and organizers of a new life.

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~ by Ross Wolfe on June 23, 2011.

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