The private house of architect and painter Konstantin Melnikov in Krivoarbatsky Lane in Moscow is the finest existing specimen of Melnikov's work. It was completed in 1927-1929 and consists of two intersecting cylindrical towers decorated with a pattern of hexagonal windows.
His flow of commissions in 1926-1927 provided enough money to finance a three-story house of his dreams. At this time, many well-to-do Russians were lured into building their own city houses; Melnikov was one of the few who managed to retain his property after the fall of New Economic Policy. His request for land (790 square meters) had few chances to pass the district commission; to his surprise, a working class commissioner supported him, saying that "we can build public buildings anytime and anywhere, but we may never see this unusual house completed if we reject Melnikov". The city endorsed Melnikov's draft as an experimental, one-of-a-kind project.
Concept and structure
Melnikov preferred to work at home, and always wanted a spacious residence that could house his family, architectural and painting workshops. As the Russian idiom says, he designed the house starting "from the oven"; existing white oven in his living room dates back to his 1920 drawings. Floorplan evolved from a plain square to a circle and an egg shape, without much attention to exterior finishes. Melnikov developed the concept of intersecting cylinders in 1925-1926 for his Zuev Workers' Club draft (he lost the contest to Ilya Golosov). Twin cylinder floorplan was approved by the city in June, 1927 and was revised during construction.
The towers, top to bottom, are a honeycomb lattice made of brickwork. 60 of more than 200 cells were glazed with windows (of three different frame designs), the rest filled with clay and scrap. This unorthodox design was a direct consequence of material rationing by the state - Melnikov was limited to brick and wood, and even these were in short supply. The wooden ceilings have no supporting columns, nor horizontal girders. They were formed by a rectangular grid of flat planks, in a sort of orthotropic deck. The largest room, a 50 square meter workshop on the third floor, is lit with 38 hexagonal windows; equally large living room has a single wide window above the main entrance.
In 1929, Melnikov proposed the same system of intersecting cylinders and cheap honeycomb structure for apartment blocks, which did not materialize.
The own house built by Konstantin Melnikov - the recognized masterpiece of architecture – is a honeycomb lattice shell made of bricks with hexahedral cells. The similar lattice shells out of metal were patented and built by Vladimir Shukhov in 1896. Melnikov built his house in 1927-1929, and by that time in Russia there had been already built about 200 Shukhov’s steel lattice shells as the overhead covers of buildings, hyperboloid water and other towers, including the famous 160 meter radio tower in Moscow (1922). Since Melnikov and Shukhov were well acquainted with each other and made joint projects (Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage, Novo-Ryazanskaya Street Garage), it is not surprising that the Melnikov’s house in Krivoarbatsky pereulok was built in the form of an original lattice shell. The overhead covers of the own Мelnikov’s house are the honeycomb lattice shells made of wooden boards placed edgewise.
The well-known and highly praised Melnikov House currently finds itself in imminent danger.