'Building the revolution' exhibition & House on the embankment

Posted on January 19, 2012 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Visiting the exhibition, 'Building the revolution: Soviet art and architecture 1915-1935' at the Royal Academy of Art turned out to be quite an emotional experience especially when I saw photographs of where I used to live in Moscow. It brought back many memories but not all good ones.

Due to certain circumstances, I spent one year living in Moscow (the modern one) and it turned out to be the lowest point of my life. Perhaps if I had wanted to live there, I could have had a better time, but that wasn't the case. Walking around the exhibition and seeing beautiful photographs of Soviet architecture taken by Richard Pare, I felt slightly gutted that I never fully explored the city when I lived there.

I have always been intrigued by the several art movements (like Art Deco, Bauhaus, Constructivism and Modernism) that started before the Second World War, so I was glad to see Modernist architecture by Le Corbusier and Walter Groupius, as well as drawings by Constructivism artists like Liubov Popova and El Lissitzky. The work reminded me of the outstanding 'Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivsm' exhibition at Tate Modern two years. Though the highlight of the exhibition has to be the reconstruction of Vladimir Tatlin's unrealised 'Monument to the Third International' by Jeremy Dixon which dominates the centre of the courtyard.

The exhibition ends on 22nd January, and even if you are not interested in it, it is worth checking out Tatlin's Tower in the courtyard.

The famous VTsIK Residential Complex (1928-31), designed by Boris Lofan (also known as 'House on the embankment' or locally as the 'Mercedes building' because of the Mercedes logo on the roof) was where I used to reside in Moscow. The huge Constructivist style housing complex situated on a a tiny island/ swamp next to the river opposite the Kremlin was where Stalin's top-ranking officials and scientists used to live. This complex hid a dark and mysterious history that I shall not go into now but there is plenty of  information online if you are really curious. I used to a bit sceptical of feng shui or negative energy, but my view definitely changed after having lived in this building!

Despite the dark secrets, the initial 'all-in-one' concept of the complex was quite ground-breaking at the time because it was the forerunner of of the luxury apartment lifestyle that we are so used to today. Apart from the luxurious interior fittings (with gas cooker, private telephone lines, central heating and hot running water), the complex had laundry services, department store, library, gym, childcare centre, post office, theatre, and bank. This was not only rare in Russia but also in Europe during that period. Nowadays, the complex still has a theatre, post office, bank, restaurant, supermarket, museum (which I have never been to) and a tennis court that I have never been able to find!

My ex residence was also featured in a documentary called 'Lost Worlds: Stalin's Supercity' (I just realised that it is available to buy on Amazon for $22!), where they used it to reconstruct the horror/ events that went on inside the building during the Stalin days. The filming lasted a few days and I managed to chat to the director and historian who showed me where the 'secret passage/ door' used to be (now behind a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms)!

If you have seen the photos of the complex's exterior at the exhibition or have visited the complex on a trip to Moscow, then you might be interested in seeing the interior of a modern day apartment (filled mostly with Ikea furniture):

The bathroom in the apartment was bigger than my bedroom in London and its jacuzzi could fit about 4 people (not that I have tried it in real life):

View of the courtyard in different seasons:


A different window view of Peter the Great statue in the distance:


This post was posted in London, Exhibitions, Architecture and was tagged with London, art and design exhibitions, architecture, Moscow