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USSR Pavilion at Paris
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Architect Konstantin Melnikov
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Location Paris, France   map
Date 1925   timeline
Building Type exhibition pavilion
 Construction System wood frame and glass
Climate temperate
Context exposition
Style Russian Constructivist Modern
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Discussion USSR Pavilion at Paris Commentary

"In its final form, the Paris pavilion adhered to a rhomboid plan, with two stairways slicing dramatically in opposite corners, dividing the structure into two acute triangles. By this simple device, the rhombus is denied the slightest chance of settling into a stable—and hence non-Revolutionary—form, and the exhibition hall is given the dynamism that it had heretofore lacked. This scheme was developed first in presentation drawings and then in a final reworked variant....[H]e now stressed the triangle or wedge at the expense of the more passive rhombus, even to the point of requiring visitors to enter the exhibit hall along the diagonal axes of the hypotenuses.

The more immediate antecedent for the floor plan of the final pavilion is to be found in Melnikov's preferred variant of the sarcophagus for V. I. Lenin. Indeed, so close is the relationship that it immediately raises certain rather startling possibilities concerning his broader intentions, namely, that he conceived the pavilion as nothing less than Lenin's sarcophagus and that he was somehow inviting the Parisian public to enter the body of the 'leader of Humanity.'...

That such concerns as these could have had any role in the design of the structure indicates just how wide a gulf separates the Paris pavilion from the cool technological ideal that informed the so-called Constructivism of the years 1925-1928....The Melnikov pavilion also exudes an enthusiasm for modern technology, but through the successful mobilization of abstract forms rather than by means of blatant allusions or machine-age materials. How unsettling it must have been for Ginsburg to learn that Melnikov intended his structure to be framed not with steel but with wood, fitted in Moscow by peasants wielding the traditional Russian axe and shipped to Paris for assembly!

But if Melnikov's pavilion is not the epitome of Constructivism that some observers have claimed it to be, neither is it an experiment in pure form,...To [The Association of New Architects] ASNOVA's all-embracing interest in abstract form per se, Melnikov juxtaposed an interest in abstract forms as the basis for his architecture parlance.

Much of the dynamism and expressiveness of Melnikov's pavilion is to be contrasted to the rejected entries by Ginsburg and Ladovski, so the various exhibits within the hall stand out from the less restlessly innovative styles that costituted the backbone of Russian design in the NEP era.....Just as Melnikov used modern design to reinvigorate the traditional peasant building techniques, so many of the boldly figured textiles by Liubov Popova gave new meaning to the art of the peasant home weavers....Most radical artistic currents were represented, but the one that was soon to expropriate the banner of Constructivism in order to advance a kind of fetishism of materials by no means dominated the occasion.

Far more gratifying to Melnikov than any press reviews was the news, first, that the pavilion had been awarded the highest award by the French commission established to judge the various entries, and, second, that it had earned the plaudits of several of western Europe's leading architects. Josef Hoffman, director of the Vienna School of Art and architect of the Austrian pavilion, termed it 'the best pavilion in the entire exhibition,' an assessment that was echoed by many of the architects who sought out Melnikov during the spring and summer months. Among the local architects to do so were August Perret, Le Corbusier, and Robert Maller-Stevens...."

—S. Frederick Starr. Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society. p93-97, 102.

The Creator's Words

"I believe that we must mark [the foundation of the USSR] so that a living monument to what has just occurred will remain. I think that before much time has passed we will feel crowded in this fine and glittering hall. I think that for our assemblies, for our parliaments, a more spacious and open location will soon be needed....Therefore, in the name of the workers I would propose to our Central Executive Committee that it immediately set about erecting a monument in which the representatives of labor could foregather. In this building, in this palace, which in my view must be built in the capital of the Union on the best and most beautiful square, the worker and peasant must be able to find everything needed to broaden his horizons. I think, furthermore, that this building must serve as an emblem of the forthcoming triumph and might of Communism, not only here but in the West."

—Konstantin S. Melnikov. from S. Frederick Starr. Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society. p73.

Resources
Sources on USSR Pavilion at Paris

Edward Ford. The Details of Modern Architecture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990. ISBN 0-262-06121-X. exterior photo, f9.34, construction section, f9.36, p282.   Highly recommended for serious observers, and available at Amazon.com

Peter Gossel and Gabrile Leuthauser. Architecture in the Twentieth Century. Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1991. ISBN 3-8228-0550-5. exterior photo from street, p144.

S. Fredrick Starr. Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-691-03931-3. LC 77-85566. NA1199.M37S7. Pavilion under construction, f85, p98.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at Amazon.com

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