Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture: Creating a National Imagery and Ideology
Presented by Jean-Louis Cohen
Once in a generation, in any field of study, a new book can emerge to change our entire view of the subject. Jean-Louis Cohen’s major new work is in that rare category: it is a sweeping review of the totality of the Russian-American relationship going back to pre-revolutionary days and extending up to the end of the USSR. Yes, it is focused on Architecture and Urbanism, but this book demonstrates that this prism is a very useful vehicle to understand the theoretical or philosophical underpinnings of a multi-faceted relationship, particularly if both partners on their own seek to redefine the nature of society and the role of government while creating a methodology of responding to industrialization and modernization. The USSR and the USA both valued symbols and theoretical models as demonstrations of viability and correctness: Architecture and Urbanism were quintessential expressions of policy and dogma, and explain each government’s actions from a most revealing viewpoint.
This is only the second event in our virtual series examining the history of the Russian-American relationship, but it presents a book that redefines its scope. It is epic in scale yet full of telling details, revealing the startling level of support US Industry and increasingly, the US Government extended to the USSR, starting with industrial and policy support even during the Revolutionary years while the US still officially supported the Russian Empire, and continuing to significantly support the regime through most of the years up to the beginning of the Cold War.
Notes from the publishers of Americanism in Russian Architecture – Building a new New World, the Canadian Centre of Architecture and Yale University Press:
Idealized representations of America, as both an aspiration and a menace, played an important role in shaping Russian architecture and urban design from the American Revolution until the fall of the Soviet Union. Jean-Louis Cohen traces the powerful concept of “Amerikanizm” and its impact on Russia’s built environment from early czarist interest in Revolutionary America, through the spectacular World’s Fairs of the nineteenth century, to department stores, skyscrapers, and factories built in Russia using American methods during the twentieth century. Visions of America also captivated the Russian Avant-Garde, from El Lissitzky to Moisei Ginzburg, and Cohen explores the ongoing artistic dialogue maintained between the two countries at the mid-century and in the late Soviet era, when the Cold War induced a strategic competition. This first major study of Amerikanizm in the architecture and urban design of Russia makes a timely contribution to our understanding of modern architecture and its broader geopolitics.
About the Speaker
JEAN-LOUIS COHEN is an architect, an historian and a curator, with a long track record in research on modern architecture and city planning. Born in Paris in 1949, he has studied architecture at the École Spéciale d’Architecture and at the Unité Pédagogique n° 6 in Paris, graduating in 1973, and received a Ph.D. in art history from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in 1985, and a habilitation from the same institution in 1992.
After having directed the Architectural research program at the French Ministry of Housing, he held from 1983 to 1996 a research professorship at the School of Architecture Paris-Villemin, and from 1996 to 2004, a chair in town-planning history at the University of Paris 8. Since 1994, he holds the Sheldon H. Solow Chair for the History of Architecture at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Since 2014, he holds a chair at the Collège de France and has been a frequent visiting professor at Princeton University’s School of Architecture.
He has been a curator for numerous exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, and at MAXXI. He has published more than forty books in many countries and in multiples languages. The most significant are:
• Building a New New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture, 2020.
• Frank Gehry; Catalogue Raisonné of the Drawings; Volume One, 1954-1978, 2020.
• Le Corbusier: an Atlas of Modern Landscapes, 2013.
• Interférences / Interferenzen: architecture, Allemagne, France 1800-2000, 2013.
• The Future of Architecture. Since 1889, 2012.
• Architecture in Uniform; Designing and Building for WWII, 2011.
• Scenes of the World to Come, 1995.
• Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR, 1992.
PIPPO CIORRA is an Architect, Senior Curator of MAXXI Architettura in Rome, critic, professor at SAAD (University of Camerino) and IUAV (director of the PhD program “Villard d’Honnecourt”), and author of many books and essays. Member of CICA (International Committee of Architectural Critics), advisor to the EU Mies van der Rohe award for architecture, he was part of the curatorial team for the 1991 Architecture Venice Biennale and juror for the 2016 edition.
He has curated many exhibitions in Italy and elsewhere, notably since 2009, at MAXXI: Re-cycle, Energy, Food, Piccole Utopie, The Japanese House. In 2018 he co-curated Bruno Zevi – History and Counter-History of Italian Architecture; in 2020, the collection display At Home. He curates the Italian edition of YAP, the MoMA PS1 international program for young architects. He also co-curates Demanio Marittimo km 278 (Senigallia), a yearly festival dedicated to culture and arts, is a co-founder of Future Architecture, a European platform for young talents, and has co-directed the inter-disciplinary research program Housing the Human, based in Berlin.
CHRISTINA E. CRAWFORD is an architectural and urban historian, a licensed architect, and assistant professor of architectural history at Emory University. Her forthcoming monograph Spatial Revolution: Architecture and Planning in the Early Soviet Union (Cornell University Press, 2021) explores the foundations of early Soviet urban theory and practice, and her new research explores interwar exchanges of housing expertise between the US and Europe, using Atlanta as a primary node. Her scholarly writing can be found in Future Anterior, Harvard Design Magazine, Journal of Architectural Education, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Journal of Urban History. Crawford received her PhD and MArch from Harvard University, and her BA from Yale University.
YURI AVVAKUMOV is an architect, artist and curator. Born in Tiraspol in 1957, he has lived in Moscow since 1968, graduating from the Moscow Architectural Institute in 1981. He has been a key participant in architectural and art exhibitions since 1982. In 1984, he introduced the term PAPER ARCHITECTURE to designate a genre of 1980s conceptual design in the USSR, and curated exhibitions of PAPER ARCHITECTURE in Moscow, Ljubljana, Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, Cologne and Brussels. His book PAPER ARCHITECTURE. AN ANTHOLOGY won the title of Book of the Year 2020 from The Art Newspaper Russia.
Avvakumov is deeply immersed in the heritage of the Russian Avant-Garde, reconstructing Malevich’s Architecton in 2002. In 1986, he began a series of TEMPORARY MONUMENTS dedicated to the Russian Avant-Garde and its heroes Tatlin, Lissitzky, and Mayakovsky. He participated in Venice Biennales with installations “Russian Utopia. Depository” (Russian Pavilion 1996) and “BornHouse” (San Stae 2008). Recently, he focused on museum building design e.g. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
Featured image: Iakov G. Chernikhov. “Giant skyscraper city”, plate in 101 Architectural Fantasies, Leningrad: Mezhdunarodnaia knigaz, 1933. Plate 10. Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), W12242. © Estate of Iakov Chernikhov / Iakov Chernikhov International Foundation