Moscow as montage and the experience of the Soviet Modern from 1918 to 1938
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In order to reinvent Moscow into a site of revolutionary spectacle, the Bolsheviks undertook a deeply contested ideological, imaginary, and physical refashioning of Moscow over a period of two decades. El Lissitzky described the transformation in 1929, noting that streets and squares have had to adjust to the entirely new traffic rhythms and to new possibilities of function and use. In addition he recognized, “The introduction of new building types into the old fabric of the city affects the whole by transforming it.” 1 I examine how streets and squares changed to reflect a new psychology of Moscow. My project considers how modernist architecture was incorporated into the existing dynamic of the city street and how it affected the nature and function of the street. I propose that modernist structures functioned as cues within the city, confronting the passerby with a dialectical engagement between both architectural forms and urban function in order to awaken the slumbering masses, similar to the desire of filmmakers who used montage for the same purpose. Given the fact that architects were aware of and engaged with the surrounding architecture, and understood that the environment had the potential to determine behavior and psychology, it is surprising that studies of Moscow have not analyzed the relationships between the buildings and the city streets as a whole, nor the perception of the inhabitants. I hope to correct this oversight by offering a comprehensive urban framework. Important to my study is the interpretation of the city streets and how the modernist structures were perceived. Responses varied widely within the public and intellectual communities; the fact that these modernist structures were classified as “individualistic” sometimes “proletarian” and even “utopian” points to competing definitions of what constitutes Soviet modernist architecture. The debates between the numerous architectural organizations suggest a complex approach to the challenges of reinventing the social and physical space of the socialist city. I argue that underlying all of these competing interpretations is a desire for a dialectical engagement not just with theory but also with the material presence of space.
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