Ukrainian architectural modern
Ukrainian architectural modern is one of the most unusual phenomena in the history of Ukrainian architecture. Simply put, it is seen as a purely ethnic style that used "folk motifs." But this is the wrong way. The architecture of this period became part of the global nation-building process. There is a key difference that distinguishes Ukrainian architectural modern from many other styles. It was not forced by the state but arose as a result of base horizontal construction of a new national identity. To be able to implement this idea, the local Ukrainian elite needed, firstly, resources, secondly, professional training, and thirdly, the ideological base. Therefore, architectural modern can be called the child of three major great ideas of its time: modernism, nationalism and social democracy.*
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The long nineteenth century, as Eric Hobsbawm labelled the period from 1789 to 1914, was the period when modern nations were formed. National projects were aimed first at uniting disparate social groups through a sense of common identity and culture and then at developing relevant political institutions. In this context, architecture served as a manifestation of a new identity embodied in space, as a materialised metaphor for distinctiveness and sovereignty and nation’s ability to establish its own traditions.
From the very beginning, the Ukrainian national project was stateless and fiercely competed with other projects. That is why Ukrainian intellectuals sought artistic solutions primarily in the rural culture and folk tradition. This is how “the new Ukrainian style” was formed. Later it would be called Ukrainian architectural modernism.
The term ‘nation-building’ is more deeply rooted in the Western tradition. Here obvious reference to architecture does not seem accidental. Can we talk today about the emergence of a new Ukrainian style, Ukrainian post-modern architecture, insofar as social and cultural contexts are reflected in architecture?
Maidan as eternal loss and eternal return of the public space
Over the last 30 years, Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv has been a place of the constant political redefinition of space. A place, where ideological and physical control and commercialisation have been colliding and coexisting with each other alongside attempts to ‘bring public dimension’ from below.*
The squat is a squat
Nowadays, the word "squat" is contained in the dictionary of fashionable terms, somewhere next to "low-fi" and "hub". The squating rhetoric is being actively appropriated by cultural industries and neoliberal economy: they open cafes and design schools under the name of squat, they shoot popular films with the focus on this topic. But not long ago the squating, i.e. self-acquisition of empty buildings, was a necessity and social mission for certain communities.
The phenomenon of power is seen as a part of politics and economics, that’s why a no less powerful actor ― the Architect — is overlooked. The creator, the demiurge who sets up conditions for life of millions. Isn’t it the highest manifestation of power to determine the future?
In this model, however, architecture completely loses its subjectivity. It is a mere product of the architect’s efforts. However, if we assume that the architect is not a creator, but a politician (the one, who struggles for power), then architecture can be considered as a material embodiment of politics.
With this approach, architecture enters into foreground. It can be a scene of historical events or personal dramas, or a tool in customer’s hands, or criminal evidence, or an individual actor that constructs reality and streamlines processes.
Architecture is a place to realise the right to power, from Agora to the Palace of Westminster.
Architecture is an accelerator of a social protest, from Taksim Square to squats in Berlin.
Architecture is a participant of a power struggle, from Tiananmen Square to Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
Sacralised power in architecture of Kyivan Rus': second Constantinople and new Jerusalem
Modern secularised society that has witnessed the world ‘being gradually uncharmed’ primarily perceives sacral architecture through its direct function ― realisation of the right to religious freedom, or as an example of historical and cultural heritage of a certain period. Such somewhat perfunctory and careless approach to the sacred was typical for historic landmark restoration in the Soviet Union, where the victory over religion was so obvious and final that there was no need to look beyond aesthetics in sacral architecture. That’s why modern replicas were in more demand than careful conservation and demonstration of findings. The Golden Gate of Kyiv with the remarkably grotesque church at the top of the construction is indicative of such approach.
From solitude to community, from caves to the Renaissance
An average person takes the monastery and way of living in it as something completely isolated from ordinary secular life, or even being secretive to some extent. However, the founding of monasteries and their development have a long and exciting history.
Nowadays, freedom of religion is enshrined in the main international legal instruments, as well as Ukraine’s fundamental law. Article 35 of the Constitution says that everyone shall have right to freedom of beliefs and religion, and this right shall include the freedom to profess any or no religion.
However, it was not easy for religion to get to this point. That was a long way from the struggle for the right to profess, to the struggle against any dissent. From limited political rights of people of different faiths to clandestine churches during Soviet times. One day religion could have unlimited opportunities and neglect rights of others, but the next day it could become oppressed. Further to Mykola Bazhan’s message, one should ask, ‘Who are you, Cathedral, an oppressor or a defender?’
Religion has always been a part of society, just as religious architectural objects have always been a part of our urban spaces. Sacral buildings are often the only thing left from the past. To what extent these artefacts are accurate in representing historical reality? Are we correct in interpreting their role and place in society’s culture?
The language of Cossack Baroque
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a prominent master of modernist architecture, once said that architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.
What we call Cossack Baroque is in fact a local assimilation of a broader European cultural narrative in the ХVIІ-XVIII century. The diversity of local dialects within one architectural language is one of the key features of Baroque in general. As an architectural style, Cossack Baroque involved an immense variety of local contexts that existed in this cultural field at that period of time. Even today Baroque makes us overcome the dichotomy of high and low styles, as its full value should be appreciated through the categories of genuineness, authenticity, and distinctiveness.
The main component of the Ukrainian urban architectural heritage is the eclecticism of classical styles. In the 20th century, neoclassicism was superseded by Soviet modernism, leaving a legacy of contrasting patches in the thick of the pre-Soviet era. The period of independence is characterized by an inclusive approach to the development, often chaotic and extemporaneous. One of its widespread trends was the desire to restore classical styles of architecture amid the search for lost identity and forgotten skills. The order is still used in newer construction, but its typology is not just altered, it is distorted and twisted.
Is there the world beyond language? According to analytic philosophers, logical structure of a language puts limits on how we explore and understand the world. Is then architecture possible beyond language? Architectural styles, for instance, are just the tip of the iceberg from architecture’s perspective. Dig a little deeper — and there is a set of codes and structures connected by a central line. They form an architectural expression, a story, a thought, a plot, and all together — architectural language. There is no expression and, therefore, no creative process and architectural activities beyond language.
Do we know architectural language well enough to be fluent in it? Do we need an ‘interpreter’ or a ‘translator’?
Unfortunately, the issue of architectural language has not been thoroughly studied yet. Usually, multiple ‘languages’ and ‘dialects’ are translated with the help of only one dictionary — classical architecture. As a result, not only exact meaning is lost, but also numerous possible nuances and interpretations.
Do we then understand this language well enough to comprehend not only what architecture says, but also who speaks through it? Do not we modify an original idea through the prism of our own or well-established interpretations?
Will there be a name of a building left, when there is no building?
Classicism: ordering the Wild Field without asking it
The architecture of classicism in Ukraine was originally created within the modernization project of empires. From the point of view of its builders, it served as proof of the existence of civilization and the implementation of a kind of civilizational mission. On the other hand, such modernization was in its own way beneficial not only to the imperial center, but also to some extent to the periphery. However, this fact does not change the essence and character of Russian classicism in Ukraine – it is colonial.
Stalinism heritage: is the architecture to blame?
The Stalin age in Ukraine is a difficult, traumatic and controversial time. It also makes the perception of the cultural heritage of that era, architecture in particular, difficult. The post-totalitarian trauma of the Ukrainian society prevents the comprehension and perception of those difficult and painful pages of history. The collective memory is at the denial stage, at the stage of oblivion. But unless the past is understood, we cannot overcome its consequences. The comprehension of the heritage of the past is a necessary stage for further development.
Architecture is all about putting things in order, bringing organised forms into this world and structuring scattered fragments into integral systems. An architect is destined (and at the same time doomed) to constantly improve everything: materials, places, structures, environments, reality and even societies.
Classical architecture uses fundamental concepts of canon, type and prototype to put everything in order. It is, in fact, a set of order system rules. However, modernism is hostile to chaos no less than its principle opponent — academic architecture, and manifests norms, standards and unification just the same.
Ordering process, however, inevitably reaches its limit. Beyond this limit, order transforms from a tool of progress and rationalisation into a tool restricting and inhibiting creative exploration and diversity.
The same goes for historical modernisation processes that usually take place in the name of improvement. Political despotism and the lack of rule of law transform declared values in their opposites, i.e. progress — in stagnation, order — in restrictions, involvement — in colonisation and assistance — in suppression. A progressive idea becomes conservative and hostile.
Goodbye, old Dnipro! That year, in the spring, you will wake up as already young Dnipro! Dnipro of electricity of the future, wide and free, like this stormy sea.
Geo Shkurupii, Dmytro Buzko
Land, water, forests, mineral deposits — all these resources exist only for architecture to utilise them. World architecture criticism of the 1970s-1980s attributed such approach to modernist architects, while post-Soviet critics — solely to Soviet ones. The crisis of modernity in Ukraine coincided with the Chornobyl disaster, which seemed to make environmental protection a priority issue and made it clear that the ‘resource approach’ had run its course.
However, today, despite general condemnation of Soviet economic management methods and abundance of environmental theories, management models are no less resource-intensive. Moreover, stakeholders have a great and continuing interest in resources: they struggle for, spend, buy, appropriate, exhaust and destroy them. While nominally still a ‘public’ good, natural resources are hardly public de facto; much less we perceive them as such. Society does not notice ‘public property’ and therefore is unaware of its loss.
Nowadays, architecture has become a part of material cultural heritage and turned into our public good. Not only forests, water and land, but also landmarks have become abstract, vulnerable and invisible elements of our reality. Just as other public goods, architectural heritage is a non-renewable resource. Will we be able to leave anything for future generations or just waste everything now?
Subway in the city's infrastructure: a complex of significance
From the construction of the first Belle Époque tube in London to the present day, the subway is like no other transport infrastructure associated with scientific and technological progress and still serves as a sign of a high level of "civilization". The architects of the end of the "long 19th century", as well as the "short 20th century" did not imagine the city of the future without the subway. This type of public transport is still perceived by urban residents as an unconditional benefit, occupying an important place in the identity and evoking a sense of pride and affection.
Slavutych is the last city in the Soviet Union, an “atomograd” (or “nuclear city”) that was meant to replace the tragically famous Prypyat, devastated by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster on April 26, 1986. Thus, a small town with a population of 25,000 people was at the center of political events in the last years of the USSR, becoming almost the last attempt of the state to respond to the deep political, economic and social crisis that followed the catastrophe. And the involvement of architects and builders of the eight republics of the USSR in the design and implementation of Slavutych – an attempt to "strengthen" the fading friendship of the Soviet peoples at the time of its collapse.
Infrastructure is a source of pride, a political promise and an indicator of culture, progress and even civilising missions of states. Parisians are proud of their sewers, Romans — of their roads, and Londoners — of their underground, just as Kyivans do.
In Latin, ‘infrastructure’ literally means ‘below a building’ or ‘below/beyond a structure’. Therefore, infrastructure is often the most inconspicuous object of the architectural environment. Can, however, ‘superstructure’ exist without the basis formed by ‘infrastructure’? Infrastructure connects network elements, offers comfort, ensures safety and security, and provides freedom of movement and equal access to resources.
These are not unnecessary sources of pride or unprofitable subsidies we get rid of by reducing social, transport and cultural infrastructure. What we lose is, perhaps, the most important tool of democracy, inclusiveness and horizontal engagement of communities.
Everyone should have its own Detroit
The development of Kryvyi Rih started with a postal station and later – with a provincial Jewish town. In the 19th century it was surrounded by estates of landlord families of Kolachevsky, Kharin, Yanitsky, Halkovsky, Kharchenko...
The Kodaky development
Imagine a village, being attended by sightseeing tours from countrywide and international delegations. Department store’s counters display salmon, caviar, and a local Shuba salad. The locals are involved in work within 135 occupations according to local schoolchildren’s calculations. For its time the village architecture is unique, local architects’ work is award-winning. But what do we have nowadays? Are given statements still true? If this village ever existed?
What to do with factories that no longer work? Most postmodern urban theories and neoliberal urban reforms have grown with the need to overcome the industrial heritage, the need to renovate and convert empty industrial buildings and abandoned industrial areas. When one is in the intellectual bubble of the creative class, one can really get the impression that the whole industry of Ukraine died in the 1990s. In this case, it is obvious that the gentrification of "empty" industrial buildings is an urgent need of Ukrainian cities.
However, the largest industrial enterprises, hubs and even regions of Ukraine continue to operate without solving either the social or environmental problems of their employees and the cities in which they are located. Given this, the gentrification tool is unlikely to help, as the problem has been misidentified.
If we do not see the factory, then, accordingly, we do not see the labour, and therefore in the end we do not see the people who work. It may be nice to be wrong, but Ukrainian society and Ukrainian economy have not yet moved from the industrial state to the post-industrial one. Perhaps it is worth reformulating the question from "what to do with factories that do not work" to "what to do with factories that still work and have people working there"?
Formerly, rest meant only recovery after exhausting work and consisted of sleep, time for food, and a Sunday visit to church. The upper strata of society had access to a variety of rest or unlimited rest. Instead, the modern era has offered such forms of rest as tourism. Now travel out of necessity (business) or need (natural disasters, war) has acquired research, cultural, entertainment purposes or even lost them altogether. The urbanization processes of the 19th century and the resulting availability of public transport (rail, tram, shipping) rapidly increased mobility for the masses, making freedom of movement the new norm. Of course, only the bourgeoisie could afford a full vacation or trip. Their request stimulated the formation of architectural typologies of hotels, boarding houses and resorts.
Dacha – a place to escape
The Renaissance literature begins with The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio – the story about ten young men and ladies from prosperous families go to a country estate escaping from the plague & entertain each other by sharing the stories. The Decameron is not just about the plague, however, it’s also about a new age, since its characters are brave enough to criticize the Church, the foundation stone of the medieval community. It’s not about escaping from the epidemic, but also it’s an escape from the society of that period, that was finding itself in a crisis.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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’?
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.
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?
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.
Everybody wants to live by the sea
Hidden memories of the peoples, nations and states struggling for possession of the Crimean peninsula along with the artist’s personal memories are transformed in a semi-documentary display of imagery and distinctive architectural forms that tells the story of the land, its past and, consequently, its future.*
Architecture is accustomed to the phenomenon of cultural appropriation: from using relics that crusaders took from Constantinople to build St. Mark's Basilica to the wave of rampant appropriation of Asian, African, Middle Eastern architectural heritage in the period of eclecticism (historicism, revivalism). Architects, often guided by far-fetched understanding of exotic culture, synthesised multiple variations of orientalism (Moorish style, Chinoiserie, Japonisme, Mudéjar style etc.) that flooded streets of London, Paris, Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv in the second part of the 19th century. Modernism’s attitude to appropriation and orientalism was more subtle, and its interpretations were less obvious: form- and space-based approach to heritage of donor cultures superseded vulgar borrowing of separate elements or décor. In particular, Le Corbusier and Moisei Ginzburg used Islamic folk architecture to develop their own modernist method.
Unlike mass culture, architecture still deftly avoids ethical evaluation of appropriation and tries to stay within the confines of aesthetics and customers’ preferences. Addressing the phenomenon of heritage (in its unity of material and immaterial forms) could fill in this gap. Destiny of indigenous heritage could complete the logic chain, where material appropriation (colonisation, expropriation, appropriation of relics and valuables and occupation) inevitably follows immaterial one. Appropriation, therefore, goes hand in hand with exploitation and suppression, displacement and extermination of peoples and their cultural heritage. At first, they just ‘like’ your culture, then they start copying it, and finally they want to appropriate your house and land.
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.
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.
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?