by Ross Wolfe
Just a few brief notes, since I’m presently occupied with other tasks and because I’ve dealt with this topic (however cursorily) elsewhere. Recently I stumbled upon a cache of outstanding images of Walter Gropius’ 1931 submission to the Palace of the Soviets competition in Moscow. The majority of these images are floor plans, numerous because of the complex multilevel structure Gropius envisioned. Many, however, are sketches - perspective and axonometric drawings - depicting the view of the Palace from the river as well as approaches to its various entrances. A few more show the building’s situation vis-à-vis the rest of the city, site plans and the like.
Some have noted the similarities between Gropius’ proposal for the Palace of the Soviets and his earlier experiments with the idea of “total theater” for Erwin Piscator. James Marston Fitch, for example, pointed out the continuities that exist between the designs Gropius made for Piscator up through a 1930 proposal for a theater in Kharkhiv, Ukraine, leading ultimately to his conception of the Palace of the Soviets (Fitch, Walter Gropius, pg. 22). Gropius had already designed a theater for Oskar Schlemmer at his Bauhaus building in Dessau.
Important differences may be mentioned as well, however. Certainly Gropius’ Palace of the Soviets project was conceived on a much grander scale, given the specifications and requirements outlined by the Bolshevik government. Predictably, this entailed shifting qualitative dynamics that couldn’t be solved merely by quantitative increase or multiplication. Acoustical studies thus form an integral part of Gropius’ argument for the viability of his building.
Obviously, as everyone knows, things didn’t turn out the way the modernists had expected in the USSR. Neoclassicism won out, much to the chagrin of Le Corbusier, Moisei Ginzburg, Hans Poelzig, Erich Mendelsohn, Hannes Meyer, Sigfried Giedion, and the rest. Many felt it was a repeat of the whole League of Nations debacle. Giedion even sent Stalin an angry collage in protest - a futile but rather entertaining gesture. Would’ve loved to have seen the befuddled look on Dzugashvilii’s face when he opened that letter.
You can enlarge any of these images by clicking on them and scrolling through the gallery I’ve compiled.
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New National Gallery; model with hypothetical exhibition of large abstract expressionist paintings, 1964 Picture: Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
A new monograph published by Phaidon Press showcases the astonishing achievements of one of the 20th-century's greatest architects
For a man who coined the expression “Less is more”, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) sure had a long name. Born Ludwig Mies, he rebranded himself as part of his rapid transformation from the son of a tradesman to a swashbuckling modern architect working with Berlin’s cultural elite, annexing his mother’s surname, Rohe. How ironic, then, that nowadays he is known simply as “Mies”.