Wednesday, April 21

Constructivist Architecture: Samara's Fabrika-Kukhnya

I am finally getting around to writing about this - a forum post prompted me to get my move on. I cannot even remember how I came across the rather elusive subject - I think it was mentioned, briefly, in an article I was reading on the Soviet concept of "Factory Kitchens" - public kitchens that were established in the 1920s to provide proper nutrition to workers, and give women proletars the option of breaking free from the kitchen slavery at home. Ekaterina Maximova's 1931 "fabrika-kukhnya" (Factory Kitchen) of the Maslennikov factory in Samara is a constructivist wonder in the shape of a hammer and sickle, but as most constructivist buildings in Russia, and particularly provincial Russia, the preservation strategies have been less than ideal. Or more frequently, entirely absent.

Archnadzor notes in an article from March 2008 that "if such a building had appeared in a capital, it would have been esteemed, and entered the textbooks of architectural history long ago". (Though the sad state of similar constructivist buildings in other parts of the former USSR may call in question that the writer has namely post-Soviet capitals in mind; with honourable exceptions such as samples of Melnikov's oligarch-sponsored work and Kharkiv's polished Gosprom facade). Its purpose and shape nails several aspects and definitions of the era's art as industrial art. These architectural concepts were ideally employed for factories, workers' clubs, canteens, garages and modern working class housing projects, airy and sunlit, and even in Moscow a quarter built purposely to maximise sunlight exposure in all the flats; art became a practicality, industrialised, and intended to serve/stimulate etc. the masses. Housing projects were designed as a vessel to ease muscovites into the perks of communal living. The particular hammer and sickle layout reads like an ideological extravagance; similar projects were realised in Moscow and then-Leningrad - a school in a vaguely similar hammer and sickle shape, and a Red Army theatre in the shape of a star. The building thus "demonstrated the progressive aesthetical, engineering and ethical ideas of the Soviet avant-garde". It was also one of the first buildings in the Volga area with concrete lift slabs/floor structure (Archnadzor), i.e. a showcase of modern, creative technology.

The factory kitchen itself was located in the hammer, from which three conveyor belts brought the food to the canteen in the sickle. There were two floors, with airy mezzanines and staircases, and the building also housed a sports facility, reading room as well as the kitchen's administration. The interior and plan design formed an integral, dynamic part of the building's aesthetic impact; however, these aspects are rarely considered by the city council, considering their lack of expertise, and most of the original design - interior and exterior - was destroyed during extensive reconstructions in the 20th century.

In a motion comparable to a lot of countries' immediate pre- and post-WWII failure to preserve symbols of their era, the building was refurbished for the the first time already in 1944. The entire front facade was remade, and like a sarcophagus a classical style shell covered the face of the building. Some internal changes and coverings were also made. In 1998-99 the building was transformed into a shopping centre. Threatened by demolition several times, the building now houses stray dogs and the homeless, and in the TV-programme "Dostoyanie respublika" (see link underneath), it is mentioned that the government (federal as well as local) have neither will or possibility to aid the reconstruction of these buildings - a tragic example may well be the Narkomfin in Moscow, which figures on the UNESCO list of endangered buildings, whilst it is literally falling apart (with people inside, as observed by Owen Hatherley on a recent Moscow excursion). By 2008 there were plans of again transforming the Samara building, this time into an office centre. By February 2010, the plans of restoration had stagnated, and the building is facing, again, destruction.


There appears to be no logical conclusion; many constructivist buildings have been saved from destruction by prominent oligarchs' wives, which was the case with Melnikov's Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage in Moscow, that was subsequently turned into an art gallery. This is, however, no guarantee that sufficient expertise will be employed in the restoration.


Russian programme on "constructivist Moscow". I love how the feature ends with action thriller music and dramatic zooming in on the conspicuously phallic City of Capitals-project:

1 comment:

  1. Although I am madly in love with this piece, you should include more...pre-Soviet "glories" of Russia. All of us with family from that era, are hungrily striving for a Russia that died in 1914. Ironically my mother's side of the family were hardcore military Soviet men and on my father's were the true Kubanskiy Cossacks who lost all to the so-called 'revolutionary' Communism. Please, please, write more about the New Russia!