Letter to the editorial staff of Modern Architecture. Source: Sovremennaya arkhitektura. 1926, nr. 3, p. 77 and cover.
A bio-bibliography of Grossman-Roshchin can be found here.
To me, a complete layman in architecture, it is somehow awkward to write in a special journal, in which the best forces of modern, Soviet architecture are involved. What serves as an excuse for my boldness are the following two considerations: 1) I very carefully follow the journal Modern architecture. I am not just a "curious reader." I have my "professional," philosophical approach and commitment. Perhaps I somehow shall risk to state these thoughts of mine on pages of the journal, if the editorial staff finds this interesting. 2) I in fact intend only to put a question. No more. But in fact this is permitted also to a layman. And if my question even in the remotest degree will help to more clearly identify one problem of modern architecture, then also my boldness will be somewhat justified.
Here is what it is about: I was very interested in the question, to what extent modern, Soviet architecture embodies the ideas1 of our epoch?
This question I would like to justify.
In the not so good, and not so really old days we were taught in reputable dictionaries of arch-scientific language, by arch-scientific people the following. "Every building, for whatever it would have been intended, has the goal to meet our needs; these needs, according to the real and spiritual nature of man, are of two kinds: material needs and moral needs". And further: "There is even one kind of building, that satisfies not any material needs, and is being built exclusively by virtue of spiritual demands of human nature."
I think that I will not be mistaken if I say that modern architecture is fighting this dualism, that modern architecture at the root kills the idealistic division between the utilitarian and aesthetic ranks.
Before me is the strongly dated and yet very interesting book "The Psychology of the French people" (La Psychologie du peuple français, 1898) by Alfred Fouillée. In this book there is a chapter "Architecture, music." The author contrasts the French to the German character. The Germans would be characterised by naturalism and mysticism. The French show their genius in rationalism, in curbing fiery, even religious, romance, by intelligence. This is also reflected in French architecture. According to the author French architecture
forced in the sky the immense arch and raised the bell tower up to the clouds, seeking balance not in the mass of the building, based perpendicularly on the ground, but in the aerial combination of aerial forces, opposing the pressure of one part of the arch to the resistance of another part; thus reducing the subordination to the ground and, mutually balancing all the pressures, it drew finally the lean and triumphant arch to the heavens. So were overturned all the ancient procedures of architecture: the arch was no longer only intended to cover the building; on the contrary, the building itself served only as a support for the roof and opened in all directions distant perspectives, under the mystery of twilight. The inner frame of the building, reminiscent of hands folded in prayer, could do almost without external support: it was supported less by its mass, than by the cancellation of its mass.
Is it necessary to prove that the whole scheme of Fouillée is imbued with idealism? Is it necessary to show the metaphysical characteristics of the "nature" of the two nations? But one idea, or rather, approach, is certainly correct. Fouillée does not enclose architecture in some closed series, but treats it in connection with the socio-cultural ideas of the epoch. So I would like to ask our young architects-materialists: to what extent are cultural ideas of the epoch embodied in the works of modern architecture?
The second issue of the journal featured the deeply interesting article of cde. M. Ya. Ginzburg "The International Front of Modern Architecture." But this wonderful article even more strikingly emphasised, at least for me, the legitimacy of the question. In the article is pointed to the emerging united front of progressive architects. Declaring on an international scale the struggle against the routine, crumpled and faded beauty; the international of advanced architecture puts forward the principle of social utility. But indeed that fact, that both America and Soviet Russia base themselves on this platform, proves, that here there is still nothing specific, characteristic for our country and for our epoch! Utility! Good. But indeed we know that also Bentham in another area put forward the utilitarian principle, according to which the individual is a walking psycho-expenditure accounting department. This utilitarianism Marx gave a merciless rebuff as the ideology of shopkeepers. Take another example: Futurism in Italy and Futurism in Soviet Russia. One must be hopelessly ignorant to claim that Russian Futurism is different from the Italian purely thematically: there is sung imperialism, with us Sovietism and communism. The matter is not so simple: the structure itself, the very design of Mayakovsky and Aseev are completely different. And so I ask; what distinguishes our utilitarian approach from the corresponding, American one? On this question the mentioned article by cde. Ginzburg partly responds:
In contrast to that, Soviet modern architecture, at least, grouped around our journal, is primarily based on the firm materialistic method. It does not contain any nihilism, does not in any case waive the demands of a formal expression, but it is based entirely on the functional features of all tasks and each of its elements. Our front of modern architecture is based on the principle that a complete architectural work, like any other true-modern thing, is not a house, not a thing plus some kind of aesthetic increment to it, but a rational and planned organized concrete task, in the very method of its organisation containing the maximum capacity of its expressiveness. Our front of modern architecture is based on the sound principles of constructivism, on the method of functional thinking, on the method, specifically indicating to the architect the path of his activity, telling him one or another formulation of his task.
The answer to my question I do not find. I do not understand why the progressive practicability in America can not regard a house not as a thing plus the aesthetic increment, but as a "rational and planned organized concrete task." True, elsewhere the author points out that standardisation encounters in the conditions of old life the vulgarity of individual tastes, the competition of various companies, the spontaneity of the growth of urban dwellings. But in fact one involuntarily recalls the words of Nietzsche: "why do I need to know from what you are liberated, you tell, for what are you liberated." Indeed the penetration of the given building by ideas of the epoch is described not by the discarded dated superstructure of the past, but by the distinct that is typical of the given epoch. We are very interested to know concretely, in what is materialised the element of planning in buildings or projects of modern architecture.
I am afraid to be misunderstood. Least of all suffices an ideological increment to a strictly utilitarian idea. This would be tasteless revived dualism: the building plus a Soviet-ideological extension. No. I am interested in something else. Wherein is manifested the "organic" nature of the epoch in the real objectification, materialisation of an architectural idea.
Note: I do not criticise, as a layman I just put the question. Perhaps this question is essentially not logical? - I do not know. The legitimacy of posing it is partly justified by cde. Ginzburg. He writes: "In the last decade before the war Germany, under the thrust of pan-Germanism (my italics Gr. Rosh.) sought to find monumental and overwhelming forms, creating a heavy style, animated, mainly, by its chauvinistic fervor" (my italics. Gr. R.).
Thus, still before the war German architecture embodied the idea of a class! Is it really also a sin to raise the question: and how our architecture, not before, but after the October victory, embodies the idea of a new class? – One thing is certain: a thorough identification of this side of the problems of Soviet architecture would be extremely interesting to many workers in other fields. One can say: such problems can be put in a journal, dedicated specially to questions of the theory of art, but not in a strictly specialist journal. I do not think so. Precisely the answer of philosophers and theorists is the least convincing. Yes, and it's time to end this division by theorists and practitioners. Precisely specialists, precisely workers, precisely builders need to carefully highlight the problem: to what extent and to what degree are realised the ideas of the epoch. That is the question that I allowed myself to put as a layman.
The editorial staff finds that previous issues of SA partly already answered comrade Grossman-Roshchin. But in view of the specifically sharpened question, not devoid of purely idealist bias – SOVREMENNAYA ARKHITEKTURA in one of the next issues will try to give the author of the letter a fully exhaustive answer. (От редакции. Ответ на письмо Гроссман-Рощина // Современная архитектура. 1927. № 1. — С. 1—2. http://tehne.com/event/arhivsyachina/arhiv-v-i-vesniny-angar-konkursnyy-proekt-1927 The reply contains nothing new.)
Original reference: И. С. Гроссман-Рощин. Заметки профана. Вместо письма в редакцию Современная Архитектура // Современная архитектура. 1926. № 3. — С. 77, 3 стр. обложки.
The philosopher of art Mikhail Lifschitz tells this anecdote about his encounter with Grossman-Roshchin:
In 1923, the year before Lenin's death, at Vkhutemas there was already taught a course on Marxist philosophy; it was given by the former anarchist, Lunacharsky's friend I. Grossman-Roshchin, a man very funny, a member of the literary controversies of those years. His lectures, however, few students could understand, they were full of all scientific terminology, foreign words, which he oddly shouted. Nevertheless, to this man I owe the discovery of my, if I may say, philosophical talent. During the winter break he gave students topics of independent written work. I chose the topic of pragmatism, read James and wrote a criticism of his philosophy. When the courses began again, Grossman-Roshchin publicly praised me. To me he said the prophetic words, which, I hope, are not so far from the truth: 'Your forte is Leninism.' The word "Leninism" then sounded for the first time for me.
- 1замыслы: plans, designs, aims, intentions, conceptions