Crimean Tatar modernism – an architectural project that did not happen

The biography of Moisei Ginzburg (1892–1946), one of the main theorists of Soviet constructivism, reveals some episodes related to the Crimea. Those remained on the margins despite the researchers’ thorough focus on the creative career of the architect. I am inviting the readers to cast a look at how Ginzburg tackled the Crimea issue, and to see whether the experience he gained during his stay on the peninsula influenced his growth as an architect.

Moisei Ginzburg began his career with acquiring architectural education: first in Milan and later in Moscow. After receiving a diploma in 1917, the young twenty-three-year-old architect accepts a customer's invitation and goes to the Crimea to perform his first professional project: the private manor of the Lokshins in Yevpatoriya. However, taking into account the historical context of Ginzburg's stay in the Crimea, it is reasonable to assume that the project was not implemented. After all, in his book “Style and Epoch” Ginzburg himself gives only a model of the manor, or its project as a matter of fact, but there are no photos of it having been built, whilst the edition presents plenty of photos.

However, the Crimean period of the outstanding architect's activity was specified not only by designing the manor, but also by such a breakthrough that gives us the insight into the young architect's ideas evolution. On returning to Moscow in 1921, Moisei Ginzburg  publishes an article "Tatar art in the Crimea", in which he meticulously analyzes the trends the Crimean Tatar art was influenced by, having highlighted the role of ancient (‘archaeological garbage’) and Byzantine heritage, Goths, Arabic-Persian and Turkish styles. He pays considerable attention to sacral architecture, and cites as an example, the mosque of Juma-Jami (or Khan-Jami), and the tekke (monastery) of dervishes in Yevpatoriya. Ginzburg assumes that Juma-Jami is a majestic copy of a miniature dervish monastery, and concludes that despite the obvious borrowings from Istanbul, the architecture of old Gezlov has substantially national features, and the mosque and monastery are unsurpassed examples of Tatar monumental architecture.

From the other side, in describing civil architecture, Ginzburg cites only the example of the Khan's Palace in Bakhchisarai (metaphorically calling it ‘the house of the Gurians’, ‘the mine of joy;’), regarding dwelling houses as secondary ones and as being of low-value. Defining non-sacred Crimean Tatar architecture as the pavilion one, Ginzburg writes that such architecture has no purely architectural value, but delivers an example of decorative art. However, in his article in the magazine "Modern Architecture" published in 1926 he would write that the brilliant oriental mosques are dead material of history, while the unimposing dwelling of a poor Muslim is the starting point for the development of his (Muslim’s) new culture. The architect characterizes the Crimean Tatar housing as pavilions ‘scattered in the gardens’, forming ‘irregular buildings’, full of beauty and comfort, decorated in an inconsistent way though tastefully. Ginzburg also pays attention to the functionality of the apartment: the house has two or one and a half floors, where the lower floor is non-residential and upper floor is a gallery (usually glazed) or a terrace on wooden pillars. In his opinion, the Crimean Tatar house is characterized by asymmetry and ‘irregular’ distribution of volumes. However, despite the ‘pavilion’ style and lack of monumentality inherent in stone mosques, Ginzburg considers the Khan's Palace in Bakhchisarai to be literally a pearl. At the same time, he is aware of this, and several times draws the reader's attention to the fact that this was no longer the authentic Khan's palace, burned by Minich's troops in 1736. Ginzburg claims that in 1783, with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, a fairy tale of ‘Crimean Shaherizada’ abruptly breaks off, the lid of the ‘magic snuffbox’ closes forever. It is worth mentioning that he highlights the point that the appearance of the palace was changed not only as a result of multiple devastation and looting, but also because of reconstruction and restoration to match the pseudo-Arab-Persian style, that ‘painful agony’ performed by ‘Russian hands’.

The attentive reader would hardly fail to notice Ginzburg's piety before the Khan's period. He implies that it was during the reign of the khans that the Crimean Tatars experienced their ‘magnificent’ prosperity and rise of national life. Recalling the Juma-Jami in Yevpatoriya, Ginzburg claims that the period of construction of the mosque was the time of ‘national power’ being born. There again, what coincided with the general rhetoric in 1921 was already considered a rudimentary sentiment in 1926. In an article written for Modern Architecture edition, Ginzburg wrote that the Ulug-Bek Mosque in Samarkand was a ‘tombstone’ of the period of ‘autocratic Eastern tyrants’ who enslaved the ‘living force’ of Muslim workers, which presented a reflection of the atavistic national idea of ​​the East. After all, in the young architect's essay on Crimean Tatar art, written in 1921, Crimea is also given as the embodiment of those days prevailing vision of the exotic East, namely its attractiveness and charm.

Despite the name ‘Tatar art in the Crimea’ the article by Ginzburg in fact analyzes only Yevpatoriya and Bakhchisarai. Obviously, the study of Crimean Tatar art was not the main purpose of his stay in the Crimea, so the question of what the young architect was doing during 1917–1921 remains unanswered. Still, it can be said without a doubt that this work publishing contributed to the promotion of Ginzburg's reputation as an expert on the Crimea. The architect's first project was the pavilion of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic at the first All-Russian (All-Union) Agricultural Exhibition in 1923. It is noteworthy that the Bakhchisaray Museum, namely its director, Usein Bodaninsky, as well as a representative of the Cimmerian school of painting, the Crimean artist Konstantin Bogaevsky, took part in designing the pavilion, which in fact imitated the Khan's Palace, but with a rigor that would later turn intoconstructivism feature. Thematically, the exhibition derived from agricultural and manufacturing exhibitions popular in the Russian Empire. However, unlike those mentioned above the exhibition pavilions of 1923 represented the achievements not of manufacturers, but freshly baked autonomous republics. Within a year, Ginzburg prepared a design for the USSR pavilion for the 1925 World's Fair in Paris, but he did not win the competition. It is reasonable to assume that such attention to the peninsula was fuelled by the desire to demonstrate the Crimea as a showcase for a successful socialist project of ‘the empire of affirmative action’.

Thorough attention to the innovative methods of Moisei Ginzburg, as well as his knowledge of the architectural heritage of the Crimean Tatars, let us conclude that the Crimean period in Ginzburg’s life and work was not only time of rethinking the rhythm and style immanent to classical architecture. It was also a period of his practical solutions which, perhaps, years later Ginzburg himself did not define as being specifically Crimean. At the same time, it is worth-while to assume, that a number of architectural elements used by him during the construction of the People's Commissariat of Finance were if not originated from, then at least concordant with similar solutions in the traditional architecture of the Crimean Tatars. The first thing that comes to mind is the pillars on which the house stands, they are so-called ‘Corbusier legs’, which Ginzburg, as it turned out, had used earlier than his French counterpart. In his project, the Soviet architect claimed that the use of pylons would allow to avoid constructing the plinth in an uneven area.

Indeed, in the foothills and mountainous areas of the Crimea, the lower floor of traditional Crimean Tatar dwellings did not have a back wall, instead of it they used a rock or slope on which the house was built. The use of pillars also makes it possible to divide the house into an economic part (first floor) and residential area (second floor), the stairway to which was made from the outside. The family could live on the first or second floor depending on the season. Thus, according to the level of the lower floor comfort, it could be used as a living space as well, while the second floor served as a guest room. In cities, the open or semi-open space of the first floor could become a shop or a cafe. Rather often the second floor protruded, forming a gallery, which was a characteristic feature of the Crimean Tatar houses. Boris Kuftin, who in 1925 published a study of the dwellings of the Crimean Tatars, wrote that such architecture made houses ‘airy-fairy'. The pillars on the ground floor and the galleries on the second were also used by Moisei Ginzburg in planning a typical economic housing, which was to replace the barracks as part of the Green City desurbanization project.

Also flat roofs, as well as their functional purpose, were typical for the traditional Crimean Tatar architecture. Erecting houses on the slopes, one after another, led to such a solution that the roof of one house could serve as a terrace for another, as Mikhail Dubrovsky noted in 1914. Kuftin claimed that you could often get to some houses only by the roofs. Inhabitants not only dry fruit on their roofs, but they also sleep there and gather for having coffee. Indeed, one of the characteristic features of the People's Commissariat of Finance's house was a flat roof, which, according to the design, was conceived as a terrace, or in other words a common space for the residents of the house. It should be clear that in the case of Crimean Tatar dwellings, flat roofs were a necessity rather than a whim. However Ginzburg in the design of his work was also guided by the principle of priority of function over form, he argued that functional architecture is impossible without a specific utilitarian goal. In accordance with the same principle, when designing his work, Ginzburg reflected on the modularity of residential equipment and their compactness. The traditional Crimean Tatar apartment also has signs of modularity, which the young architect, attentive to details, was sure to know. Thus, in the residential part of the house, usually in the part separated by a curtain, there was a suv dolab (suv – water, dolab – closet), a bath cabinet (actually, a prototype shower), which in rich houses was connected to a primitive sewer system. Also some niches built into the wall were common, they were used for storing utensils and food.

In the early 1930s, Moisei Ginzburg namely returns to the Crimea. In 1932, at the request of the State Institute of Urban Design (Giprogor), he headed a large interdisciplinary group of researchers (among them there was the Crimean Tatar architect Sadyk Nogaev) to perform the task of the Council of People's Commissars of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on ‘the first in the USSR territorial replanning’. In 1935 the ‘interim report’ of the group work ‘Socialist reconstruction of southern coast of Crimea’ was published. The editorial preface to the publication (ed. SI Emirveliev) stated that the planning covers three national (Crimean Tatar) districts (Alushta, Yalta and Balaklava in part), and therefore it is the embodiment of Lenin's national policy. The actual embodiment was supposed to raise the material and cultural levels of native workers. It is not difficult to guess that we are talking about the Crimean Tatars. Despite the fact that in the introduction Ginzburg compares planning of the southern coast to the planning of the industrial area and indicates that instead of minerals those are the climate and nature of Crimea that become the productive forces, the Derzhplan (State Plan Body) conclusion writes on ‘broad involvement of local Tatar population’ to work in resorts and state farms. According to the scheme, the native population should have been settled between the resorts and the agricultural area, which would allow members of one family to work in both industries. The use by a group of researchers of geomorphological, climatic, and, ultimately, medical approaches to the zoning of the southern coast was not something new at that time. In fact, the project's contemporaries may have been surprised by bold decisions, such as building an airport on Ai-Petri, a railway from Simferopol to Yalta, or a network of railless roads. However, the ‘broad involvement of the local Tatar population’ included into the plan to transform the southern coast of the Crimea to ‘exemplary health resort’, has a familiar bitter taste of something different from raising the cultural level of the working masses. This was especially obvious against the background of the gradual shutting down of ‘Lenin's’ national policy (I’d like to remind you that it was only a few years before the large-scale persecution when the Crimean Tatar political and intellectual elite would be exterminated). The dark irony of the situation lies in the fact that Ginzburg himself in the introductory part points out to the tsar's colonial policy and considers it necessary to restore justice by giving the local population free access to the sea and park areas, which they were deprived of  in ‘tsarist times’ yet.

With regard to namely architectural solutions, Ginzburg, who denied the ‘resurrection’ of old architectural decorative forms of the national style, relied in his project on the functional heritage. He argued that the first task of the architect was being aware of the area features. He strongly rejects the ‘pre-revolutionary’ practice of building palaces by ‘manufacturers from Moscow and St. Petersburg’. Instead he offers to pay attention to the experience of Crimean Tatar settlements for their skillful combining nature and architecture. He sets apart two possible systems that correspond to the traditional (intrinsic) of these areas laying out: a picturesque ‘mess’ of houses scattered like oases, and amphitheaters of villages in which houses are located on the slopes one after another. Therefore, for the first time since 1921, now being not only a theorist but also a practitioner, Moisei Ginzburg comes back to the vernacular architecture.

To sum up, we should note that a thorough study of the Crimean period (1917–1921) of Moisei Ginzburg’s work demands to involve new sources, while unfortunately, their availability is doubtless. However, his stay on the peninsula and his studies of traditional Crimean Tatar architecture not only boosted his career, but his creative work as well. The architect implemented the ideas inherent in traditional Crimean Tatar architecture, such as flat roofs, pillars, galleries, non-residential ground floor and modularity, into his projects. It seems that if the thesis of his borrowing the ideas appears too daring, then we can talk about his succeeding to the functional approach at least. Ginzburg's creative path was fulfilled against the background of changes in the national policy of the USSR evolving from national self-determination claims, to shutting down of Soviet localization policy (indigenization policy) and persecution of national elites. Thus, the project of Socialist reconstruction of the southern coast of Crimea, despite the Crimean Tatar architects taking part in it, and the planned improvement of locals’ living conditions, is rather a reproduction of the old ‘metropolis-colony’ discursive model, according to which the coast was not regarded as area for native people identity formation but as the all the Soviet union resort with healing sea and air, which spared only the minor role to Crimean Tatars. However, his interim project, presented in 1935, embodies not only Ginzburg's experience as a well-known architect then, but also his knowledge of Crimea and indigenous (traditional but at the same time functional) architecture which he acquired at the beginning of his creative career.

Translated by Olena Sokolynska

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Work and fatigue go hand in hand. There is a need to rest, of course. Rest and work are two interrelated categories within a day and a calendar year. Is there a direct correlation: less work ― more rest? Or the more we work, the more we rest?

For a long time, only privileged segments of society could enjoy leisure time. Others had to fight for an opportunity to rest, for leisure duration and quality, and limited working hours. Different political systems offered different approaches to the problem of collective recreation. Architectural topologies evolved from country villas and hotels to a network of health resorts, boarding houses, recreation centres, and even the whole recreation areas. While work has been always a social need, leisure has become a public good only recently.

Under current conditions, it is important to ask yourself: is rest a luxury or a right nowadays?


“The fifth line” as a weapon against competitors

After the Second World War, the attitude towards Jews in the USSR changed dramatically as compared to the interwar period. Until then, the Jewish people had been regarded as a “loyal” minority without a conceivable homeland outside the USSR. (Although as far back as the mid-1930s they were unofficially squeezed out of the administration higher-ups, with an opportunity left for them to pursue careers in the fields of science and culture). However, after the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Communist party leadership and security services began regarding Soviet Jews, who were cultural professionals, worked at universities or medical institutions, as being a threat. In the territories that had undergone Nazi occupation during the war, this attitude was further intensified by the consequences of three years-long exerting ideological influence of outright anti-Semitic propaganda upon the local population.

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“Interdetermination” is a visual study the purpose of which is to distillate the relations between the human body as an environment projection pattern and the environment itself that forms social and cultural practices around this body.

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Affordances and constraints

The concept of affordances and constraints is consistent in its duality: the two phenomena are impossible and unthinkable without each other. Architecture requires extensive material resources, and therefore always depends on those, who can provide them. On the one hand, availability of resources defines the category of affordances, on the other — architect’s dependence on resources is always associated with constraints, set up by a customer, state, society or other stakeholders.

Architects have to align their design with reality and implement it as applicable. For instance, natural factors and nature itself are both affordances and constraints for an architect (that’s what accounts for drama in their relationship). There are also such rational constraints as a project budget or state construction regulations and rules. Ideally, a system of public standards, just like laws, is supposed to protect public interests from architectural failures. Architects are only partially constrained by these norms, which quite often become a starting point for creative exploration and encourage looking for unconventional solutions.

But what if constraints are irrational and not only limit architects’ affordances, but suffocate them as creators, personalities and representatives of a certain group or nation? Just like political or social censorship. In this case, there are only two, rather unpromising, options for an architect left: to adapt and disappear as a creative thinker or to voluntary or forcibly leave the profession.


Natalia Chmutina – “the Iron Lady” of Ukrainian architecture

Natalia Borysivna Chmutina (1912–2005) — an outstanding Ukrainian architect, honoured academician of the Ukrainian Academy of Architecture, People’s architect of Ukraine, PhD in architecture, professor.

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Do (not) build like girls do

Every one of us, both boys and girls, after having finished school need to make a tough choice of our future trade. We do not always choose it on our own though. Our family and the society assert all along that this occupation “doesn’t befit women/men”, “you won’t make much money with it”, “this is not a prestige profession”. Even if you managed to get what you had craved for and entered your dream architectural college, the challenges do not end there.

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Visibility and presence

What can be more visible than architecture? The mere existence of architectural objects inevitably proves the existence of an architect. However, although our environment has plenty of constructions and even towns and cities, designed and built by women, female architects remain invisible for some unknown reason. Women’s contribution to the world culture is ignored, no matter how accurate and sound evidence of the quantity and quality of the architecture created by women is. All arguments are refuted by the same old statement: ‘There are no women in architecture’. This hopeless discussion has been going around in circles for several decades now, triggered by an inevitable need to prove the contrary.

However, lack of visibility goes hand in hand with another problem — lack of voice. Architecture is a message, rather than just material volumes of buildings and spaces they occupy. One should not only exist, be visible and recognised to express oneself in architecture, but also to have the opportunity and right to speak. Moreover, your voice should be strong enough to control and materialise your message. Therefore, a voice in architecture is an attribute of a role, position, authority and power, rather than just of a mere presence. Here we get to the next round of contradictions: it is impossible to build and, therefore, express oneself without a voice, but a woman cannot get her voice and become visible unless she builds something. However, even if a female architect overcomes all obstacles, finds her voice and builds plenty of objects, can we be sure that future generations will not deny her existence, because ‘there are no women in architecture’?


Pioneer camps

The first children's summer camps appeared in the late 19th century in the United States and Europe. There are mentions of children's camps also in the Russian Empire. The ideas underlying the support of the camps by private individuals and statesmen in the capitalist West and in the early USSR were very similar.  Both believed that urban industrialized space is harmful to children who have to spend more time in nature. It was also widely believed at the time that skilled professionals could better raise children than their own parents. In the context of these views, children's camps became institutions and spaces that were to combine the functions of rehabilitation, recreation and education.

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Childhood memories

Every summer my brothers and I used to go to the summer cottage that belonged to our mom’s parents.

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The architecture of the 18th-19th century tended to neglect children. The architecture of the 20th century, in its turn, perceived children as a problem: no political or social matter could be settled without addressing it. Only delegating childcare to a state could solve the issue of equality and access to work. There could hardly be a project of a city or a district without a kindergarten, school, medical facility etc. That was true for both capitalist and socialist countries. However, while some obtained their rights, others had their rights still limited in the 20th century. Architecture of childcare facilities defined children as objects, deprived of their identity and right to decide over their own bodies and creativity. Several generations of Soviet children were deeply traumatised by growing up within the education system of that period, and architecture, perhaps, played an important role in the process.  There is scarcely a post-Soviet family with no legends of scary kindergartens, brutal schools, gloomy hospitals, and summer camps, where children were forced to stay. There are good reasons, why stories about children escaping from educational institutions become manifests of rebellious generations in times of social changes, e.g. Oliver Twist, Antoine Doinel from The 400 Blows, Kostya Inochkin from Welcome, or No Trespassing and Lena Bessoltseva from Scarecrow.

Is another architecture possible? Architecture that would be a friend, rather than a jailer. Architecture that would support, rather than re-educate. Architecture that would create opportunities, rather than barriers. This leads to another question: Is the Ukrainian society ready to change its attitude to children and their rights?


Renaissance migration and immigration: ideas, people, style

In his essay "Migration, Tolerance and Intolerance", Umberto Eco proposes to distinguish between the concepts of "migration" and "immigration". Immigration is when a small group of people moves from one country to another. Accordingly, this phenomenon can be politically controlled, limited, stimulated, or taken for granted.

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They once left Ukraine – on the eve of the First World War, between the wars or during the perestroika, but still call themselves Ukrainians. They took with them memories of mountains, Hutsul legends about forest spirits, their native language, and created their own Ukraine — somewhere overseas — as an alternative reality that might have existed in our country as well if we had not been in the arms of empires for a long time. However, history does not know a conditional mode, so now here in mainland Ukraine, we are trying to deal with the postcolonial consciousness and traumas of the Soviet past, and they, the Ukrainians of Canada, are proud of their national identity and research Ukrainian culture and history. Together with embroidered shirts and chests, they managed to take out a part of the Ukrainian soul and preserve it. A striking example is the preserved Ukrainian spelling of the 1920’s. However, they failed to completely isolate themselves from the cultural influences of another continent, so a strange surzhyk of Ukrainian and English languages was formed in Canada, and sometimes Canadian Ukrainian sounds exotic to us.

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To what extent is a migration process crucial for spreading architectural styles and ideas? On the one hand, talented immigrants accepted rules of new societies, getting an opportunity to implement things that were impossible back home. On the other — diasporas created authentic architectural phenomena, which went far beyond their limits, becoming a desirable asset for representatives of wider social groups. It should be noted that diasporic architecture was often ‘more national’ than homeland one. There was also a third trend of encouraging ‘professional migration’. In that case, local elites ‘bought’ an architectural style to be a part of a prestigious phenomenon. All three trends have one thing in common: migration boosts development and enriches culture of the party ‘receiving’ a migration wave.

The question of ownership of architectural heritage goes beyond the national problem and becomes a matter of cultural diplomacy, international relations and law. Who is then responsible for preserving heritage that has no ‘advocates’ and protectors? For instance, heritage of peoples that no longer live on certain territories, have lost their identity, have been forcibly displaced or wiped out. What should we do with material evidence of contribution of those, who are no longer with us and, therefore, who do not have us anymore?