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Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Constructivism


Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin launched the constructivist movement when he proposed the futuristic, glass-and-steel Tatlin's Tower.
Model of Tatlin's Tower at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

This model of Tatlin's Tower was part of the 2008 exhibit, "From Russia," at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Press Photo, Royal Academy of Arts

During the 1920s and early 1930s, a group of avant-garde architects in Russia launched a movement to design buildings for the new socialist regime. Calling themselves constructivists, they believed that design began with construction. Their buildings emphasized abstract geometric shapes and functional machine parts.

Constructivist architecture combined engineering and technology with political ideology. Constructivist architects tried to suggest the idea of humanity's collectivism through the harmonious arrangement of diverse structural elements.

The most famous work of constructivist architecture was never actually built. In 1920, Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin proposed a futuristic monument to the 3rd International in the city of St. Petersburg (then known as Petergrado). The unbuilt project, called Tatlin's Tower, used spiral forms to symbolize revolution and human interaction. Inside the spirals, three glass-walled building units - a cube, a pyramid, and a cylinder - would rotate at different speeds.

Soaring 400 meters (about 1,300 feet), Tatlin's Tower would have been taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The cost to erect such a building would have been enormous. But, even though Tatlin's Tower wasn't built, the plan helped launch the Constructivist movement. By the late 1920s, Constructivism had spread outside the USSR. Many European architects called themselves constructivists. However, within a few years Constructivism faded from popularity and was eclipsed by the Bauhaus movement in Germany.

Constructivist buildings have many of these features:

  • Glass and steel
  • Machine-made building parts
  • Technological details such as antennae, signs, and projection screens
  • Abstract geometric shapes
  • A sense of movement

Constructivist Architects:

Learn More:
Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932 by Richard Pare (2007)
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