MELNIKOV, Konstantin Stepanovich


MELNIKOV, Konstantin Stepanovich
(1890-1974)
   Konstantin Melnikov was the leading architect during the "New Economic Policy" of Vladimir Lenin after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Melnikov was born into an impoverished family, but his father encouraged his artistic abilities and Melnikov was soon discovered by a wealthy engineer who paid for his entire education. Melnikov first studied painting after the 1917 Revolution, and in the 1920s he was encouraged to work in architecture, so he designed a series of modernist buildings that conformed to the new socialist ideals of the decade. Although Melnikov sought to distance himself from specific theoretical issues, his work is consistent with the Russian architectural avant-garde movement called Constructivist architecture, which focused on the creation of a new, modern machine for living. Melnikov's apartment buildings, parking garages, and workers' clubs were part of a larger building boom in Moscow that included modernist buildings constructed for all aspects of revolutionary education, public services, and recreation.
   Melnikov's Soviet Pavilion at the World Exposition in Paris, from 1925, was his first work of international significance, and it most impressed people with its simple construction; it consisted of a wood building with a single-sloped roof easily assembled by a small number of workers in a short time. Throughout Melnikov's short-lived architectural career, the persistent rationing of building materials and heavy-handed bureaucratic oversight of architectural construction in Russia gave him the opportunity to create highly inventive solutions to traditional architecture, using alternate building materials and unorthodox structural components.
   The workers' club was an entirely new building type, and Melnikov paved the way in defining this structure in a bold new dynamic style. His Rusakov Workers' Club, built in Moscow in 1927-1929, was located on a main road and designed with a fan-shaped triangular base upon which three cantilevered rectangles protrude out at slight angles at the upper story, separated by exterior glazing. On the interior, movable walls allow for a variety of different functions by creating larger or smaller auditorium configurations. The building, made from concrete and glass, is forcefully designed into strong cubical shapes that jut out at angles to symbolize the dynamic political situation in Moscow at the time. The back courtyard was made of brick to create a more intimate space in which to socialize. Melnikov's Kauchuk Factory Club, also built in Moscow from 1927 to 1929, is designed as a cylinder that boldly curves out into the surrounding space. The interior is formed into a large auditorium with a balcony level, while exterior stairs on the façade were created as a fire exit, in conformity with the new and highly innovative government-imposed architectural safety regulations. Although many Constructivist buildings are currently in danger of demolition, Melnikov's Svobada Factory Club is an exception in that it has recently been restored to its original red and white color. However, more preservation and restoration work is urgently needed in Moscow.
   Melnikov explained that his architecture is like a tense muscle, based more on intuition rather than theory, and this is best seen in his own private house, constructed on Krivoarbatsky Lane in Moscow in 1927-1929. Melnikov designed his three-story home as two inter-secting towers made of wood and brick, with a fanciful arrangement of rhomboid windows that give the effect of either a honeycomb or latticework. Melnikov is best known for his five workers' clubs in Moscow, built before his expulsion in 1937 from the architectural profession by the First Congress of Soviet Architects. Although he was initially embraced by this organization, Melnikov's desire to work as an individual ultimately led to his return to painting; he devoted the rest of his life to a successful career in portraiture.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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