THE GREEN CITY
Radical Russian architects wanted to actively assist in the construction – not only of buildings, but also the ‘new way of life’ – socialism. The traditional city presented problems incompatible with socialist concepts. Socialism was about a productive, strong, safe society populated by dedicated and healthy workers, living in an effecient way. The fabric of the city – its transport inefficiencies, illogical physical channels for the distribution of goods and services, the difficulty and cost of maintaining a habitable infrastructure in such a crowded and over-built environment – made perfection far more achievable elsewhere, starting from zero.
A BOLD PROPOSITION
A potential answer was the ‘green city’, a completely new, out-of-town city of 1,000,000 inhabitants. This concept is discussed at length in this issue.
The architects writing here in Stroitelstvo Moskvi – Ladovsky, Ginsburg and Melnikov, put forward their suggestions and comments in support of the idea. The defining feature of the whole plan is that everything is included – the architect is not merely a designer of buildings but a planner of social services and industry, a farmer, transport organiser, caterer and entertainment provider. The architects were putting themselves forward as advanced social engineers.
The Green City featured ‘ribbon’ developments – long apartment blocks running lengthways along the roads, with no development off the main road. Factories were similarly situated in industrial regions. Every building could thus be easily accessed by public transport. There would be a mainline railway connection to the rest of the country. Local industry would provide the city with its materials and foodstuffs.
The amount of light entering each apartment would be maximised by building then as stepped structures. The optimal position of the block (and thus the road on which it would be built) was to be decided by orientation towards the greatest amount of warming sunshine, with the back of the house facing the direction of the prevailing cold wind.
Garden Cities and Utopia
The project is a more modern version of the British Garden City Movement – established by Ebenezer Howard at the turn of the century. Howard was certainly motivated by ‘socialist’ principles but was not a card-carrying member. He was one of the long line of British social reformers whose desire to change things was inspired by the squalid, short lives of industrial urban workers. He wanted to plan towns combining healthy living with employment opportunities and social services with the goal of improving the life of the individual or family unit – not providing better and fitter workers for the good of the state. Howard advocated the use of pre-fabricated houses to speed up construction and lower costs, as do the architects writing in this issue of Stroitelstvo Moskvi
Howard’s first garden city, Letchworth, was built before the first world war. It provided for a population of around 35,000 – much smaller than the Russian utopian architects envisaged in their plans. They, however, lived in a different idiom. The USSR had massive problems and only massive solutions were considered. Reforming and improving things step by step (or steppe by steppe, in the case of agriculture) was not on the agenda. It was a period of ‘all or nothing at all’. That is why eventually the Zelyeni Gorod plan was to house, employ and care for 1,000,000 people. It was not built.
On the back cover are two excellent avant-garde – designed advertisements. They are both for construction enterprises. The Inner one is for ‘Betonpromstroi’, (‘ConcreteIndBuild’), showing Ginsburg’s design for the new Government building in Alma-Aty. The outer one is for ‘Mosstroi’, (‘Mosbuild’) and offers reinforced concrete constructions, featuring part of the famous ‘Tsentrosoyuz office complex in Moscow. The buildings currently house the Russian State Statistical Service.