A quick glance at the covers of Russian Constructivist magazine Contemporary Architecture (Sovremennaya arkhitektura – SA), with their bold typefaces, powerful geometry and vibrant colour combinations, should convince casual observers of the creative energy associated with the movement in Russia, before it was compromised and eventually extinguished by the Stalinist taste for realism. Inside, the content and images are organised into varied layouts – nearly 90 years later its graphics are still strong and fresh to modern eyes. Photomontages are present, a motif of Constructivist design, but used in this publication quite sparingly. The magazine is generously illustrated with plans, axonometrics and elevations of buildings (mostly from Germany, another centre of Constructivism, and Russia), standard fare for architecture journals; but the design and typography sets them apart from the more rigid presentation of titles found in the English-speaking world of the same era.
Contemporary Architecture (SA) was the journal of the group of Constructivist architects OSA. In 1927, several pages were devoted to the first exhibition of contemporary architecture in Moscow, organised by the OSA. The magazine’s artistic editor Aleksei Mikhailovich Gan (1889-1940) was a typographer and responsible for designing its posters, covers and layouts. He worked closely with other Constructivists such as Rodchenko and Stepanova on other projects (1).
SA was published from 1926, with the last issue in 1930. What makes them so valuable is that they are physical reminders of a movement that was influential internationally and that can still inspire artists today – even to those alien to the Cyrillic alphabet. Some of Britain’s more high-profile architects, such as Zaha Hadid, are known for borrowing from the Constructivist canon. Designers influenced by the Bauhaus and Deconstructivism will find the bold and unbalanced geometric forms found in Gan’s covers for SA familiar.
This material is now part of the RIBA’s collections, having been donated last week by Academia Rossica, an arts organisation set up to promote cultural links between Russia and other countries. These facsimiles can be seen at the British Architectural Library where, through these magazines, visitors can still discover some of the early transformative promise of Constructivism after the Bolshevik Revolution. It is a reminder of how Russia’s experimental arts scene attempted to encompass all the arts, bringing fresh and rational thinking to architecture, as well as to painting, design, theatre and cinema.
- Lodder, C., Russian Constructivism. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1983