“Superstructure”: 11 Projects That Defined Kiev’s Soviet Modernism

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Pavilion “Transport”, from the of Achievements of the National Economy of USSR. Image Courtesy of Valentyn Shtolko

Around the globe, the post-war years were a period of optimism and extreme experimentation. On both sides of the cold war’s ideological divide, this optimism found its greatest expression, architecturally speaking, in modernism – but of course, the particular circumstances of each city offered a unique spin on the modernist project. According to the curators of “Superstructure,” an exhibition presented at Kiev’s Visual Culture Research Center from January 28th to February 28th, the utopian architectural works of Kiev represented ”an attempt to transform the city into the environment for materialization of artistic thinking – in contrast to the strict unification of city space by typical construction and residential blocks.” Architects such as Edward Bilsky and Florian Yuriyev, often working in collaboration with artists such as Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko attempted to create projects that were a complete synthesis of architecture and art – an approach to design that often didn’t sit well with the Ukrainian authorities of the time.

Featuring research by Alex Bykov, Oleksandr Burlaka and Oleksiy Radynski, “Superstructure” examined the projects which were typical of this particular cultural moment in Kiev. After the break, we present this research, and a selection of images from the exhibition.

Memory Park
1968–1981
Architect: A. Miletsky
Concept, design, architectural plastic copyright modeling, architectural invention of technology creating reliefs Wall of Remembrance: Ada Rybachuk, Vladimir Melnichenko
Geometric construction the Halls of Farewell: A. Podgorny

Halls of Farewell. Image © O.Burlaka 2014

The history of the Memory Park located on the Bajkova Hill represents the complicated history of Kiev neomodernism in a nutshell.

3D section of the Halls of Farewell. Image © A. Podgorny

In the second half of 1960s, the local authorities initiated the creation of Kiev crematorium. This idea immediately faced opposition among the architectural community of Kiev: the process of industrial incineration of corpses was associated with the destruction of victims’ bodies after the Nazi massacre at Babi Yar, and in those years this tragedy had begun to be talked over publicly. A competition for the creation of the first monument at Babi Yar involved the artists Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko. Shortly after that these artists became the full-fledged co-authors of the Kiev crematorium complex in collaboration with the architect Abraham Miletskyj (which later turned into an uncompromising creative conflict). Rybachuk and Melnichenko rejected the initial project of Miletskyj, who saw the crematorium as a purely functional structure, and offered their own concept of the crematorium as a therapeutic environment. In order to help the participants of a funeral ceremony to cope with the psychological trauma, Rybachuk and Melnichenko developed the idea of the Memory Park with their own landscape design, the monumental Wall of Remembrance and the unique Halls of Farewell. The architecture of these halls had to avoid any association with the industrial process of cremation, which took place inside, hence their unique shape. Development of the Halls of Farewell, with close collaboration between monumental artists and engineers, was the epitome of the idea of “scientifically justified artistic consciousness”, which was important for that period. The plastic forms of the Halls of Farewell combined a complicated technical process with avant-garde artistic thinking, dialectically sublating the opposition between technology and humanities – typical of Soviet 1960s.

Halls of Farewell. Image © O.Burlaka 2014

The creative work of Rybachuk and Melnichenko tended to the utopian practices of the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), exactly the kind of art they tried to embody in the Memory Park project on the Bajkova Hill. A monumental Wall of Remembrance was supposed to be the central element of this park: more than two hundred square meters of artistic reliefs, which would be passed by funeral processions. This wall, with its numerous authors’ reliefs, also had to perform a therapeutic function for the participants of the funeral. Its figurative nature – from the myth of Prometheus to World War II and post-war reconstruction – also had to distract the mind of the visitors of crematorium from their grief, instead focusing their attention on the global confrontations of human history.

Geometric construction of the Halls of Farewell. Image © A. Podgorny

Creation of the Wall of Remembrance lasted for more than 10 years, but in early 1982, when its reliefs were almost finished, the party leadership gave the order to eliminate this work. All the reliefs were concreted over. A technical opportunity to remove this layer of concrete remains to this day, but city officials still do not dare to reverse the effects of this vandalism.

Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy of USSR
1979-1981
Architects: V. Shtolko, K. Dabah’yan, A. Kasperov, I. Tsarikovsky, Karpov
Engineers: G. Avdeev, B. Bernarsyy, V. Tretiak, V. Rybalko, G. Zaitsev, V. Kuziakiv, V. Rudnytska

Pavilion “Fish industry”. Image Courtesy of Valentyn Shtolko

In the era of Khrushchev’s Thaw the Soviet utopian model of the world was changing considerably: the coming of communism was transferred into the near, well-defined future, and as an ideological compensation for this “delay”  the Soviet narrative of the conquest of outer space was offered to the masses. Since the 1960s the topic of space conquest was central to the Soviet mass imagination. Images of the Soviet space program were projected onto architecture, film and monumental art, gradually replacing and assuming the dream of equal and fair communist society. The exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy of USSR in Kiev became one of the sites for testing this space imagery. The “Transport” Pavilion was designed as a flying saucer from the popular imagination, as if suggesting that the transport of the future must enable interplanetary travel. Forms borrowed from science fiction become routine material for project development.

Universal pavilion with pneumatic structures. Image Courtesy of Valentyn Shtolko

The popularity of this imagery also has quite a practical, prosaic origin. Unconventional rounded forms are effective for use in awning and membrane-cable-stayed constructions. The design of the “Fisheries” pavilion was created in this way. These projects had every chance of outshining many buildings of Kiev neomodernism – had they only been implemented. Over the years of stagnation, the utopian impulse of Soviet culture gradually faded. The structural inability to implement these buildings became apparent in the projects of Kiev architects, who tended to work more and more in the genre of “paper architecture”.

The House of furniture
1971
Architects: N. Chmutina, A. Stukalov, Y. Chekanyuk
Engineers: L. Dmitriev, G. Avdeev, Y. Rebrov

Furniture exhibition-store building, perspective 1970. Image © Chmutina charitable fund of architecture and development

The project of the House of Furniture was conceived by its author, Nataliia Chmutina, with a dual function: trade and exhibition. In addition to the trading floors, the project involved imitating the interiors of real apartments with examples of furniture compositions.

Furniture exhibition-store building,construction scheme 1970. Image © Chmutina charitable fund of architecture and development

In fact, the House of furniture was an example of the Soviet disciplinary approach to consumption: mass housing involved a total standardization of interiors and homes. Beside a commercial purpose, the House of furniture had an educational function: the lectures and consultations about furnishing of apartments and interior design were held here. This building, which was designed as an exhibition complex, demonstrates the distinct character of Soviet consumerism, based not on the variety of goods, but on unification and didactics.

Furniture exhibition-store building, fasad 1970. Image © Chmutina charitable fund of architecture and development

The spatial resolution of the House of furniture was the result of an experimental search by the engineers of KyivZNDIEP (Ukrainian Zonal Scientific Research and Design Institute for Civil Engineering), who in the 1970s developed a catalog of effective design solutions for large-span public buildings – supermarkets, covered markets, and sports facilities.

The Institute of information
1971
Architects: F. Yuryev, L. Novikov
Engineers: A. Pechenov, L. Kovalev, L. Kovtun, N. Coffman

The Institute of information, 1971. Image © O.Ranchukov 1970s

Since the late 1950s the field of Soviet architecture became more and more interdisciplinary. Popular ideas about a “synthesis of the arts” were complemented with the need to maneuver between censorship restrictions that were specific for each sphere of Soviet art.

The Institute of information, model, 1971. Image © V. Zabolotnyj State Scientific Architecture and Construction Library

The figure of architect and artist Florian Yuryev is representative of this fluid, interdisciplinary identity. In the early 1960s, during the campaign against “abstractionism”, his exhibition of abstract paintings in Kiev House of Architects was closed, his works were destroyed, and Yuryev himself was put under threat of exclusion from the Union of Architects. Yuryev managed to avoid this career catastrophe with the help of an argument that his “fault” happened in the sphere of art, but not architecture, so there was no sense in punishing him as an architect.

The Institute of information, first options, 1971. Image © V. Zabolotnyj State Scientific Architecture and Construction Library

In the early 1960s Florian Yuryev was developing his own vision of a “synthesis of the arts” through a project of a light music theater that was supposed to be a platform for the development of a new artistic discipline called “music of color”. Yuryev surpassed the artistic imagining of “Synesthesia” of that time, arguing that the “music of color” is an independent art form and the transfer of properly organized colors is able to cause the physical perception of sound among the public. With this aim Yuryev created a light music orchestra and developed for it a hall with a perfect system of sound and light transmission.

Dzerzhinsky square, model, 1969. Image © V. Zabolotnyj State Scientific Architecture and Construction Library

Its external form was dictated exactly by these practical needs: the building received the nickname “Kiev flying saucer.” This project was implemented long after its conception and in a totally different context than Yuryev wanted. Instead of color-music theater, this building became a hall for lectures and cinema of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information, which was built in the late 1970s under the guidance of the KGB. Thanks to this protection the avant-garde project by Yuryev could be realized.

Bus Stations
Central Bus Station
1959-1961
Architects: A. Miletsky, I. Melnik, E. Bilsky
Artists: A. Rybachuk, V. Melnichenko

The Central Bus Station, 1959. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

The Central Bus Station is one of the first significant projects of postwar modernism in Kiev. It was here that architects Edward Bilskiy and Abraham Miletskyj and monumental artists Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko started their collaboration. Their mosaics and murals in the waiting rooms of the Central Bus Station are the early examples of their method of artistic collaboration within architectural projects, which involved creating an associative psychological chain between the user of the building and its function. In the case of the Central Bus Station, thematic works of monumental art function to “preparing” the passenger to travel.

Bus station with helicopter site “Brovarska brama” 1973. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

After the creation of the Central Bus Station at Moscow square Edward Bilsky repeatedly returned to the development of such projects. In particular, his unrealized idea for “Brovarska brama” bus station on the Left Bank demonstrates the powerful influence of the futuristic vision on Kiev architecture of that time – its imagery is on the verge of postmodern imagination. In this project the architect tried to make a new node of public transport for left bank of Kiev, which would combine bus and subway stations and a helicopter site. The realization of this project was constrained by a cabinet war that would hinder the architect more than once in the future.

The Pioneers Palace
1962-1965
Architects: A. Miletsky, E. Bilsky
Engineers A. Pechenov, L. Linovych
Artist: A. Rybachuk, V. Melnichenko
Sculptor: V. Boroday, V. Seliber

The Pioneers Palace, outdoor terrace (destroyed in 2000′s), 1965. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

The Kiev Palace of Pioneers is an architectural attempt to develop a space which is maximally adapted to the needs of children. The unique nature of the project by architect Edward Bilsky and Abraham Miletsky and artists Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko is in this attempt to move away from the standards of architecture as the embodiment of the “adult” world.

The Pioneers Palace, first option, 1960. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

The project was the second time, after the project of the Central bus station, that these monumental artists closely collaborated with the architect group, without limiting themselves to purely decorative tasks. The architects tried to “open” the inner space of the Palace to the existing historic architectural environment (Lavra, Park of Glory) and the picturesque Left Banks of the Dnipro river as much as possible.

The Pioneers Palace, interior mosaics. Image © Alex Bykov 2014

Housing estate «Vynogradar»
1971-1986
Architect: E. Bilsky
Artist: L. Muravyova A. Milovzorov, V. Larin and others
Sculptor: V. Shatuh

Residential area “Vynogradar”, public center, first sketches 1981. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

The project of the “Vynogradar” residential area can be considered the most consistent embodiment of an approach to architecture as to the creation of a holistic, total and perfect environment in Kiev architecture. This residential area for 60,000 people is actually a personal project of Edward Bilsky, who played here the role of architect-demiurge.

Multifunctional multiplex cultural – entertainment complex 1986 – 1989, model. Image © Alex Bykov 2014

Vynogradar was conceived as an ideal residential area with the highest living standards which were possible in mass housing. The location of this area – near Pushcha-Vodytsia forest – had to provide favorable climatic conditions. The infrastructure of Vynogradar had to be exemplary not only from technological, but also from an aesthetic point of view: the external appearance of many of its facilities was designed in the author’s manner. Edward Bilsky assembled existing types of residential buildings into the individual and architecturally expressive image of a residential area.

Residential area “Vynogradar”, Children’s Music School, 1983. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

Vynogradar was intended to become one of the greatest achievements of the Soviet project of mass housing building, but in reality it became its opposite – a case of anti-utopia. The building of the district lasted from 1972 until the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union left Vynogradar one step from its completion, which was to provide its residents a convenient connection with the center of Kiev via a subway and also a grandiose culture center – a key part of the infrastructure. The lack of these two elements turned the utopia of Vynogradar into an anti-utopian area.

Residential area “Vynogradar”, Children’s Music School, 1983. Image Courtesy of Edward Bilsky

Hotel “Salute”
1976-1984
Architects: A. Miletsky, N. Slohotska, V. Shevchenko
Engineers: Y.Shames, S. Sirota, E. Furmanov

Hotel “Salute”. Image © O.Ranchukov 1987

The complicated history of the interaction between architectural thought and bureaucratic party apparatus is represented in the current appearance of the hotel “Salute”. According to the original idea of the authors, the hotel on Slava Square was to be a skyscraper designed with the application of innovative construction.

Hotel “Salute”, last option, model. Image Courtesy of Volodymyr Shevchenko

The project received support from the party leadership, but after the collective refused to add the party curator to the authors list, the process began to decelerate. This also entailed funding problems and as a result the original project had to be, in the full sense of the word, cut by more than half – despite the fact that the foundation had been designed for much higher construction.

Hotel “Salute”, last option, model. Image Courtesy of Volodymyr Shevchenko

The architects tried to save the project, developing numerous variations after the start of its building process: it was necessary to balance the disproportionate capacity of stylobate. The amazing form of the hotel “Salute” was the result of a direct collision between architecture and power.

Hotel “Salute”, first option, model. Image Courtesy of Volodymyr Shevchenko

Instead of using steel cables to support the slabs, the authors used 19 reinforced concrete walls between the rooms that cantilever from the central nucleus, which contains the lifts and a circular ramp. Thus, because of the small number of rooms and their inability to expand, the hotel was ineffective from the beginning.

Kyiv State Music and Ballet School
1964-1967
Architects: Michael Budilovsky, Z.G. Khlebnikov
Engineer : V.B. Halimsky

Kyiv State Music and Ballet School, Concert Hall, photo 1970s. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

One of the most daring projects of Kiev modernism in the 1960s indicates the significant differences between the architectural search of that time and its implementation in Soviet society.

Kyiv State Music and Ballet School, Concert Hall, model. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

The complex of music and ballet schools and their dormitories was conceived as a single unit. Thus, various creative professions, different practices and institutions had to coexist in the space of one complex. The facade of the concert hall was to be decorated with mosaics. Neither it nor the decorative pool were implemented.

An attempt to create common space for different music professions and institutions failed when the building was divided between different owners and it ceased to exist as one functional single unit.

Universam №1 (Universal store)
1973
Architects: M. Budilovsky, I. Verymovska
Engineers: A. Pechenov, V. Drizo

Universam №1, exterior, 1970s. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

Another innovative approach to Soviet consumption culture was realized in the project of the Universam on Borshchahivka.

Universam №1, interior, 1970s. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

Nikita Khrushchev brought the idea of building a network of Soviet-style supermarkets from his trip to the United States of America. The problem with the implementation of this plan was that the Soviet food industry was not focused on consumer diversity. This contradicts the idea of a shopping space opened for the “free choice” of consumer. The project’s architect, Budilovsky, proposed the Universam, whose architecture was self-sufficient, shifting the focus from function to form. This light, multilayered space made up of volumes of different functions and forms was not just a secondary important background for products.

Universam №1, interior, 1970s. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

The constructive solution of the Universam had a self-sufficient value, diverting the attention of consumers away from the uniform range of products. “People should come to this Universam as to the fest” claimed Budilovsky, taking the Bessarabskiy market as an example. However, the food crisis and the deficit of Stagnation Era canceled the plans of the architect.

New buildings of T. Shevchenko University
1972-1980
Architects: M. Budilovsky, V.Ladny, V. Kolomiets V. Katsyn, V. Morozov
Engineers: V. Drizo, I. Novichenko, Shapiro

The housing of the Physics Department. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

The initial design of the university campus in Kiev’s Teremky neighborhood is associated with the architecture of Japanese metabolism – blocks, different in form and function, are integral elements of a common structure. By linking up with each other they can be expanded as required, forming a complete environment. The implemented part of this project gives only a rough idea of its intended scope. A scheme with a linear parallel development of the area for education and research included the multiplication of university blocks – educational buildings, canteens and accommodation for students on a huge campus. From this perspective, the modern “white buildings” of the university look like only a tiny cell of a future scientific utopia. The original project demonstrates exceptionally the striking gap between the planned scale of science development and its practical implementation in late Soviet society. During the 1990s and 2000s areas which had been set aside for future development were detached and built up by private owners.

The housing of the Physics Department. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky
The housing of the Physics Department. Image Courtesy of Michael Budilovsky

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