The Stenberg photomontage cover comprises many of the aesthetic and political elements that defined the later avant-garde and particularly, constructivism. Stenberg and his brother were at the forefront of the new artistic directions.
The colours, black and red
Text flowing at uneven angles to introduce a new section of the image
The cult of the physique, as alluded to by the gymnasium equipment
Mass inclusion (the rows of seats)
In the centre of the composition, a brand new construction. Tall windows in gentle bays harmonise with the angular verticality of Melnikov’s structure. The white space to left and right lead the eye up to the title.
‘For fundamental reconstruction of the building industry, for the fulfilment of construction programs’
The XVI Party congress gave some forceful messages about the future of industry in the USSR. Stroitelstvo Moskvi therefore devotes 10 pages to explaining what that means for the acrhitectural and construction professions:
These goals were typical of the USSR. Everything had to be done quickly, so little was done well. The lack of properly trained specialists would be compensated by the increased use of standard designs, working practices and materials, supposedly allowing the recruitment of the least capable and inexperienced workforce. The forthcoming purges of the mid to late 1930s were to cause even more acute shortages of skilled employees throughout industry.
Later in this issue of Stroitelstvo Moskvi there is an announcement:
Construction in the RFSR (Russia) in the coming year. Gosplan (State Planning Agency) confirms that the value of new construction in the RSFR for 1930/31 will be 7,227,000 Roubles. According to Gosplan, labour productivity must rise by 20% in comparison to the current year. Costs must be reduced by 14%. Average yearly requirement for construction workers will be 1,450,000 people. The seasonal requirement will be 2 million. It is necessary to train 400,000 qualified and semi-qualified workers.
The ‘workers’ club’ was a particular subject of fascination for early Soviet architects.
The task was clear – to design a building in which factory workers could fulfil as many non work-related functions as possible whilst at the same time keeping them locked into the workplace and the workers’ collective. It was intended to be an alternative to and a replacement for the family home. With both parents working, the child(ren) in the kindergarten, the evening meals provided by the factory with entertainment and education all available at the same place – what possible reason could there be for someone deciding to ‘stay in’?
The provision of workers’ clubs also meant that the average number of square metres of living space per adult could be reduced since there was no reason for them to be at home other than to sleep.
Designers such as Rodchenko had produced plans for ‘Red Corners’ in factories and social blocks. These places afforded the visitor access to Leninist and Stalinist reading materials and games such as chess.
Such trivial design objectives turned into high-value architectural projects when they became ‘workers’ clubs’, large multi-function buildings provided by the employer with the objective of making the worker more productive, achieved by giving access to things unavailable at home – books, papers, performance, friendship and an appreciation of the political responsibility of the individual.
Architects gaining commissions for such developments won large amounts of money. This issue of ‘Stroitelstvo Moskvi’ announces an architectural competition for social housing with a prize of 1000 roubles for the winner – that is approx. 10 times the salary of a worker at the time.
However – the same journal – whilst offering incentives to architects to participate in new competitions – does not restrain itself when it comes to the judgement of those who have won previously.
Melnikov’s ‘Burevestnik’ Worker’s Club
In 1927, Konstantin Melnikov designed four workers’ clubs for Moscow. The next year he was approached by the Burevestnik Shoe Factory to build one for them.
The building was completed in 1930 and is reviewed in this magazine. The article praises the exterior design of the building but sharply criticises the interior: ‘….it’s more ‘everyday’ than Melnikov’s previous clubs…the lack of rooms (only 5 workers’ rooms…) hinders the correct arrangement of mass works…A place for a library and reading room was not included…The equipment and furniture of the club is not satisfactory…The biggest complaint of the club’s director is that because the club has poor transport links with the workers’ living quarters so it’s difficult to organise club work properly. On finishing work, the worker wants to get home to have some food (there is no canteen in the club) and then its very complicated and difficult to get him back to the club after that.
The building is still in use today. It underwent complete renovation in 2000. We can compare the photographs of the gym, starting with the one from this issue of Stroitelstvo Moskvi from 1930, to get an impression of the life of the building so far.