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Stalinist Architecture, Constructivist

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1881, Moscow, Russia

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Article last edited by AleeshaCallahan on
February 04th, 2013

Nikolai Ladovsky Change this

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born 1881, Moscow
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Nikolai Alexandrovich Ladovsky (Russian: Николай Александрович Ладовский) was a Russian avant-garde architect and educator, leader of the rationalist movement in 1920s architecture, an approach emphasizing human perception of space and shape. Ladovsky is known as the founder of modern Soviet and Russian schools of architectural training; his classes of 1920-1932 in VKhUTEMAS shaped the generation of Soviet architects active throughout the period of Stalinist architecture and subsequent decades.

Ladovsky's life prior to his training in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1914–1917) remains unknown. His private archives were lost in World War II.

In 1915, when the School celebrated its 50th birthday, Ladovsky became a speaker for a group of students demanding change in their training program. The group, in particular, voiced aversion to the decadent Art Nouveau (already obsolete), and the need to invite the best architects of the new movement - that is, Neoclassical Revival, - like Ivan Zholtovsky and Alexey Shchusev. They joined the faculty in 1916. Despite future rivalry for the VKhUTEMAS chair, Ladovsky retained deep respect for Zholtovsky - for his practical achievements as well as his teaching style.

Ladovsky graduated from the School in the year of the economic collapse that accompanied the Russian revolution of 1917. To survive, Zholtovsky and his graduates accepted the Bolshevik's invitation to head the architectural department of Mossovet, engaged mostly in street repairs and temporary propaganda decorations. Training continued at the work site for a year and a half. However, by the beginning of 1919 the younger architects realized the need to break away from Zholtovsky's historical style - to avant-garde architecture. In May–November, 1919 this group (Ladovsky, Vladimir Krinsky, Alexander Rukhlyadev and others), joined by artists like Alexander Rodchenko, gained state approval and incorporated as Zhivskulptarkh (Russian: Живскульптарх, Commission for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture).

Ladovsky graduated from the School in the year of the economic collapse that accompanied the Russian revolution of 1917. To survive, Zholtovsky and his graduates accepted the Bolshevik's invitation to head the architectural department of Mossovet, engaged mostly in street repairs and temporary propaganda decorations. Training continued at the work site for a year and a half. However, by the beginning of 1919 the younger architects realized the need to break away from Zholtovsky's historical style - to avant-garde architecture. In May–November, 1919 this group (Ladovsky, Vladimir Krinsky, Alexander Rukhlyadev and others), joined by artists like Alexander Rodchenko, gained state approval and incorporated as Zhivskulptarkh (Russian: Живскульптарх, Commission for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture).

In 1920 VKhUTEMAS students revolted against Zholtovsky, too. Heads of two other departments, Alexey Shchusev and Ivan Rylsky, and MVTU professors Leonid Vesnin and Fyodor Schechtel also came under fire. Ladovsky triumphantly presented his program of training at VKhUTEMAS and joined the faculty. Initially he was subordinate to the Department of Architecture and the course framework imposed by Zholtovsky.
Ladovsky and his associates, Vladimir Krinsky and Nikolay Dokuchaev, were granted full freedom to set their own training program for the season of 1921-1922. Their new department, known as OBMAS (Russian: ОБМАС, Объединённые мастерские) - United Workshops, indeed united students of now unpopular, 'old school' professors.

ASNOVA, the union of rationalist architects, was founded in 1923; members typically belonged to VKhuTEMAS faculty. Their first public success came with winning the 1924 contest for the International Red Stadium in Sparrow Hills, Moscow (lead designer: Vladimir Krinsky). In the following two years Ladovsky personally led the design team, producing detailed construction plans. However, in the autumn of 1927 the project was canceled citing unsuitable geological foundation of the chosen site.
In 1925 Ladovsky teamed with El Lissitzky to design new housing for Ivanovo; their plans were based on arranging residential blocks at 120° in zigzag or star patterns. This approach allowed cost-saving on common-use staircases, ventilation and plumbing lines. One 12-segment building of this type, combining both star and zigzag junctions, was completed in Khamovniki District of Moscow. The next year, Ladovsky and Lissitzky released the first (and only) volume of Izvestia ASNOVA (Russian: Известия АСНОВА), compiled mostly from Ladovsky's works.

The 1932 crackdown on avant-garde artists that preceded the rise of Stalinist architecture did not mean that Ladovsky or Constructivist leaders became instantly unemployed. On the contrary, Ladovsky was assigned to manage Mossovet Fifth planning workshop, responsible for the redesign of Zamoskvorechye and Yakimanka territories. In 1933-1935, prior to the enactment of Stalin's master plan for the reconstruction of Moscow, but definitely in accordance with its policies, Ladovsky designed a redevelopment plan for Zamoskvorechye. He proposed converting narrow Bolshaya Ordynka Street into a wide avenue, replacing all historical buildings and the existing street network with monotonous rows of new high-rise buildings similar to later, 1970-s, Soviet designs. Like most of the 1935 master plan, it never materialized - due to high costs and World War II.

adovsky took part in the first and third rounds of the Palace of Soviets contest. His first entry (1931) consisted of a hemispherical dome standing on an inclined slab and a free-standing, 35 floors office tower. The second entry (1933) omitted the tower. In 1932-1933 Ladovsky also entered numerous architectural design contests of lesser scale with no success - except for the Moscow Metro designs.

Nikolai Ladovsky died 1941 in Moscow.

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