Khidekel

Khidekel composition

Earlier this year, Floating Worlds and Future Cities, an exhibition and symposium in New York, brought into focus the largely forgotten figure of Lazar Khidekel, and sought to place him properly as one of the pioneers of Suprematism. Khidekel could even be considered the first Suprematist architect, and was instrumental in helping Suprematism move beyond painting towards built form, urbanism and cosmic civilisation.

Khidekel was just 14 years old when admitted to the Vitebsk school of art, under Marc Chagall. In 1919, Kasmir Malevich founded a group called UNOVIS - Champions of the New Art - which also included El Lissitsky, Nina Kogan, Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnik as well as Khidekel.

In 1921, (at the age of 17!) together with Ilya Chashnik, Khidekel headed the architecture and technical department at Vitebsk School of Art, and set about implementing a radical curriculum.

"The training of architects who at the same time will be the organisers and designers of the architectural units of the blocks that will constitute the streets and cities; the training of architects who will also be able to design and plan the economic centers." The official website at www.lazarkhidekel.com offers a tantalising glimpse of Khidekel's talents. The Suprematist works are drawings or paintings on paper, and lack the polish of finished works by Malevich or Ilya Chashnik, but are formally just as stunning.

Khidekel architecton

Suprematist composition

But it is in the architectonic works that we see Khidekel's unique talent, in translating the essence of Suprematist composition to architectural forms. His Architectons matched Malevich's own sculptural explorations, but Khidekel also went further in designing projects meant to be built, such as the Aeroclub project of 1922. As well as practical architectural projects, Khidekel continued to dream of floating cities and futurist visions of space and form. Malevich had called for his students "to show the entire development of volumetric Suprematism in accordance with the sensation of the aerial (aero) type and dynamic", and Khidekel responded with his designs for Aerograd, a city on stilts, hovering above water.

Arguably, only Gustav Klutsis with his designs for a Dynamic City was operating in the same raridied atmossphere, of a cosmic reach for architecture breaking free from the Earth.

Khidekel City on Poles

Cosmic habitat 1924

Floating structure 1923

Later, at the architectural college in Petrograd, Khidekel continued to develop his architectural ideas to more practical applications, as well as working with Malevich, Suetin and Chashnik to create Architectons and Planits.

In 1926 Khidekel created the first realised Suprematist built form, a Workers Club. It was originally credited to Malevich and published in Berlin. A restrained piece of modernism, it is reminiscent of similar avant grade designs of the Bauhaus or De Stijl architects such as Rietveld or JJP Oud.

Workers club

Workers club

In later years Khidekel continued to work on architectural projects, while continuing to create visionary drawings of structures and cities hovering just above the landscape, or orbiting the earth in space.

Khidekel floating city

Khidekel floating city

As Charlotte Douglas noted (quoted in Regina Khidekel's essay "The Trajectory of Suprematism":

"Khidekel’s distinction was that this initial vision of Suprematist structures floating in space remained a central part of his art and architecture for the next forty years, and richly informed his later development as a professional architect." It is not surprising that architects and designers are beginning to rediscover Khidekel's and recognise his visionary works as prefiguring many later projects. In the article "Discovering Khidekel" by WAI Architectural Think Tank, Khidekel is dubbed "The Last Suprematist", still prone to dizzying spatial visions long after his peers and Suprematist mentor Malevich had retreated to a less utopian position.

Khidekel floating city, 1961

"With each brushstroke of watercolor the Bolshevik utopia of utilitarian icons was painted obsolete. With the elongated appearance of each monochromatic volume a new form of revolution was achieved. Khidekel architectural visions transcended the rhetorical games of the revolution by developing complete cities out of sublime architecture. Long before Friedman’s Architecture Mobile, Constant’s New Babylon, and Isozaki’s Clusters in the Air, Khidekel imagined a world of horizontal skyscrapers that through their Suprematist weightless dynamism seemed to float ad infinitum across the surface of earth."

Khidekel Architecton compared against Gazprom proposal,OMA

While the city hovering above the ground still remains a powerful trope in both science fiction and architectural fantasy, Khidekel's visions still manage to look futuristic, arguably more so than most of the Metabolists or Situationist projects that today feel retro-futurist, inextricably tied to the past.

Khidekel's work remains endlessly floating towards the future.

The death of Kosmograd

Baikonour

Baikonour is dying.

"Kosmograd was a dream, Colonel. A dream that failed. Like space. We have no need to be here. We have an entire world to put in order."

William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Red Star, Winter Orbit

Starting with the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union used the Baikonour Cosmodrome, originally known as Kosmograd, as the launch site of virtually all of their space missions. (A few were launched from the former missile base at Plesetsk, and also Dombarovsky). Originally Baikonour was so secret that it appeared on no maps, and it was the objective of US U2 spy mission when Gary Powers was shot down in 1960.

Baikonour Spy Map

But with the break-up of the Soviet Union, Baikonour, now part of Kazakhstan, had to be leased by Russia from the Kazakh government, and suddenly looks less and less like a long term solution to the future of space exploration.

There has always been an air of decay around Baikonour, the terrain littered with abandoned launch facilities. The Soviet Union was not known for sensitive land use, with a territory so large, the overriding mentality always seemed to be to build new rather than reuse or adapt. (I'll be considering the topography of Cape Kennedy in a later post). Baikonour could be considered an experiment in distributed urbanism, a space city sprawled out over 1000s of square kilometres, connected by few roads but an extensive network of railways.

Baikonour

One of the most poignant symbols of the decay of Baikonour, and the Soviet dreams of space, is the collapsed hangar 112 that housed the only Buran orbiter to fly (OK-1.01). The roof of the poorly maintained building collapsed on May 12, 2002, killing 7 people, and crushing the orbiter and the Energia booster mock-up it was sitting on. With it were shattered any dreams of reviving the Buran program to fill the gap left by the cessation of the Space Shuttle program after the loss of Columbia.

The collapsed Hangar 112

The collapsed Hangar 112

The railways were key to Baikonour's survival. The rockets that launch at Baikonour come from other parts of the former Soviet Union, from the Energia plant in Russia, or the Yuzhmash facility in Ukraine, and with cargos from around the world docked in Russian and then transported across the vast steppes.

Baikonour map

Baikonour

Current Soyuz-FG launches are made from LC-1, also known as Gargarin's Start, which has been used for over 400 launches since Gagarin blasted off in Vostok-1 in 1961. A powerful diesel locomotive carries the rocket to the launch platform , where it is then elevated to a vertical position, for the attachment of the launch clamps and support towers. Just prior to launch, the towers drop away, and the rocket is held above the blast pit by the four launch clamps. Finally, the engines fire, and momentarily the rocket holds there, before the clamps release and the rocket slowly lifts off. It is one of the the most transformative acts, an architecture of performance, of modernity itself.

Soyuz launch

In Tim Furniss' words:

"The Soyuz looked beautiful in the floodlights, emitting wisps of frosty air from the cold metallic casing of the liquid oxygen tank. The view was deceptive. A Soviet journalist told me "if it blows up, turn around and run like hell!" The small press stand had a very thick wall behind it for protection. We heard occaisional announcements (in Russian) with major countdown milestones. Strange electronic music was played to herald new announcements. If you did not know the time of the launch, you could be having a cup of Russian tea behind the press stand and miss the whole thing! Eventually, came the call "zhaganinhee!" Engine start. The booster rumbled with a pinkish light beneath, which suddenly turned into bright gold and the engines built up to full thrust. The Soyuz seemingly hung there for ages, straining against the clamps suspending it over the flame trench. A gentle rumble turned into a continuous explosion of noise. We saw it all the way in the clear skies, with the jettison of the strap-on boosters, the shutdown and separation of the first core stage and the ignition of the second. It was a tremendous experience - the best of blast offs" Having a decentralised space industry across the Soviet Union was fine while the union held, but upon the break-up, Roskomos' efforts to maintain an active space program, severely hampered. In December 1991 Cosmonaut Krikalev circled the Earth aboard Mir while the nation that had placed him there fell apart beneath him. While not technically stranded on Mir, (Soyuz TM-13 was docked), there was little direction coming from Moscow. Krikalev, who had arrived in May 1991, finally left Mir in March 1992, having logged 311 days in space, 6 months more than originally planned.

With the collapse of the union came the end of collaboration. Ukraine held Russia to ransom over key components such as the Kurs radio telemetry docking system, and withdrew their fleet of tracking ships. Meanwhile in Kazakhstan cargoes at Baikonour were often looted, and there were frequent power cuts across the region. In July 1993, there was a power failure half and hour before the launch of Soyuz TM-17. Ultimately this all led to the decision to abandon Mir, which was put into de-orbit on 21 March 2001.

Twin launch pads 110

Baikonur is leased until 2050, but already plans are being made to move rocket launches to new sites. Roskosmos has already constructed a new launch facility at Kourou in French Guyana until such time that a new dedicated facility on Russian soil can be built, almost certainly at Vostochny, the former Svobodny missile base. It's likely that Kascosmos, the Kazakh space agency, may use some of the facilities, but the relatively northern latitude of Baikonour makes it less efficient for rocket launches than equatorial locations such as Kourou.

For the time being, the sight of Soyuz rockets rising over the steppe remains one of the potent reminders of the glories of the Soviet space program.

Launch at Baikonour

Manhattan-ization

Manhattan grid

"How do I get to Broadway? ...I want to get to the center of things" "Walk east a block and turn down Broadway and you'll find the center of things if you walk far enough."

Jon Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

The continuity of the gridiron gave rise to an open urban frontier that, by definition, extended infinitely. Before 1950, the urban gridiron flowed seamlessly into the continental grid, creating a continuum for which there was no interior and exterior.

Albert Pope, Zone Research, (via http://blog.nickaxel.net/)

In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas describes the origins of the strict gridiron street pattern of Manhattan, as commissioned in 1807 by Simeon de Witt, Gouverner Morris and John Rutherford. Even though the island was barely inhabited, the grid inscribed upon the island created thousands of city blocks, the future of the city defined and delimited.

"The Grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation. In spite of its apparent neutrality, it implies an intellectual program for the island: in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality.

The plotting of its streets and blocks announces that the subjugation, if not obliteration, of nature is its true ambition.

All blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates, all at once, all the systems of articulation and differentiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan's builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another.

The Grid's two-dimensional discipline also creates undreamt of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy. The grid defines a balance between control and de-control in which the city can be at the same time ordered and fluid, a metropolis of rigid chaos."

Koolhaas describes Manhattanization as a process, an irresistible force of artifice conquering nature.

Manhattan Transfer Manhattan Extended

Manhattan Extended

In 1922, long after the grid had been filled, the famed engineer T Kennard Thomson proposed extending Manhattan island to the south, with a land reclamation project that would add 'Six square miles of New Land' and '12 Lineal Miles for New Wharves. Kennard's proposal was a cut down version of his earlier 1916 plan for a Really Greater New York which planned over 50 square miles of additional land. The plan included filling in the existing East River and building a New East River channel to cut through Long Island.

Extend NY

The conceptual project ExtendNY by Harold Cooper goes even further, extending the Manhattan street grid around the world.

Extend NY

Mapping a rectilinear grid onto a sphere is not a straightforward exercise, but the result is a Google Maps overlay that allows you to see on what NY 'street' you live. (I live on the corner of 63, 696 Street and East 10794 Avenue)

Like Bud Korpenning's futile search for the heartbeat of a city in Manhattan Transfer, the city becomes ever more unknowable, less well defined, fuzzier, it extends everywhere. Everywhere is simultaneously center and periphery.

We are all New Yorkers now.

Red Mars 2

Soviet cities on Mars

"In the bottomless night, glowing brightly out there, Is Mars, my native red star.
But the pull of the Earth is heavy to bear
And its atmosphere weighs on my heart."

Alexander Bogdanov, A Martian Stranded on Earth

"Fifty years ago I got to see Lenin in that same hall, with his broad shoulders and high chest - talking from a small raised tribune. He moved spontaneously and effortlessly on the tribune, addressing different parts of the audience… I recall him now as the flame that burns on the Field of Mars. The revolution came and ascended the stairs."

Viktor Shklovsky, On the Dissimilarity of the Similar

"I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet,"

Hugo Chavez

In the same week (04/11/11) that the "astronauts" in the pretend space mission to Mars emerged from their 500 day solitary confinement, the Phobos-Grunt probe, which was supposed to go to the actual Mars, developed a fault which kept it in orbit around Earth. As metaphors go this is pretty compelling: the Soviet Union/ Russia may be drawn towards Mars, but seem ever to be bound by the gravity of Earth. Twas ever thus. Soviet visions of Mars have always been far more powerful than the sporadic attempts at exploration of the Red Planet.

But why was the Soviet Union so obsessed with Mars? Was the Red Planet the perfect symbol of the dream-myth of Communism? Or was it just the coincidence of the colour red? In this post I will explore the influence of Mars on Soviet art and culture as the canvas for a projected fantasy, a planet wide 'field of dreams'.

Mars as Utopia

Mars has always been a metaphor for an alternate Earth. Since HG Wells' War of the Worlds, the premise of alien society on Mars has been a common literary theme. In Soviet art and culture, the planet of Mars often became a world to be conquered or colonised, or most interestingly used as an example of a Communist utopia . Whereas HG Wells used the Martians as part of an anti-imperialist revenge fantasy to represent his disgust at British Empire atrocities in Tasmania, others used Mars to imagine a post-imperialist society. It was a theme that Russian writers and artists would turn to repeatedly.

poster by Prusakov and Borisov for 1919 film A Journey to Mars

The first Bolshevik Utopia in literature is widely regarded is Bogdanov's Red Star. A rather turgid novel, it was written in 1908, shortly after the 1907 coup which saw Csar Nicholas resume Imperial power, after the Russian Revolution of 1905, which is when the novel is set. In it, a Earthling revolutionary Leonid is taken to Mars to be taught their ways, where he meets one of the most important members of Martian society, Menni, and falls in love with a Martian called Netti.

Whilst perhaps not a Utopia, life on Bogdanov's Mars is fairly idyllic. It is a socialism based on abundance, not scarcity, yet the Martians do not aspire to materialism. A planned economy and advanced cybernetic control and communication systems for a population of billions allows Martian's to only work when they want, own as much material possessions as they desire, and eliminate the needs for money. Spatially, most of the surface is either inhabited or left as parkland, there is no genuine wilderness, and a complex system of irrigation is required for agricultural land. There is little detail on the degree of urbanisation of Mars, and little depiction of the rural culture. The capital city, Centropolis, houses the majority of people, and Leonid also travels to another city on the other side, but there is no mention of suburbs. Martians fly between major cities at tremendous speed.

As Daniel Gerould writes:

"Drawing upon Wells and Western SF for the myth of superior beings on Mars with advanced technology, as well as upon the then popular theory of Martian-made canals, Bogdanov in Red Star uses the already classic formula of the visitor from outside voyaging to the alien country and then returning home. During the revolution of 1905, Martian agents on Earth choose the social revolutionary Leonid as the human most fit to come with them to their planet and see the future in operation, both because Russia is the country most attuned to the times to come and because Leonid personally is endowed with "as little individualism as possible" and therefore stands a chance of adjusting to a collectivist and egalitarian society. Just as in the 1920s and '30s the Soviet leaders would bring leftist visitors from the West to show them how well communism worked, so the Martians offer their guest a model for subsequent human social organisation."

Dramatic tension in the book is introduced by way of failing resources, due to overpopulation. The Martians have to chose between waging war on the barbaric people of Earth, or braving the storms of Venus to secure the supplies of 'minus-matter' they need. While concepts of recycling and conservation are barely considered by Bogdanov, nor what happens to all the waste they must have produced to have completely exhausted Mars' natural resources, he does at least consider the issues that may face a post-revolutionary society.

poster celebrating Soviet space exploration

Bogdanov wrote a further book set on Mars, Engineer Menni, written in 1913 as a prequel to Red Mars. Engineer Menni details the creation of the communist state on Mars and the over through of the feudal house of Aldo. It is possible to read Engineer Menni (who also is a central character of Red Star) as an allegorical tale, with the evolution of the socialist society on Mars predicting the coming revolution on Earth. Through the lens of the society on Mars, Bogdanov was able to show what post-revolutionary Russia might look like, and indeed a planet wide Soviet Union.

Before he dies, Engineer Menni has a series of apocalyptic visions--of the exhaustion of energy, of the dying Sun, of the end of life, of the engulfing void--and he must somehow overcome his nihilistic despair.

"We have exploded and cast into the sun all of our planets in turn, except the one upon which we stand at this moment. The energy released gave us an additional hundred thousand years. We have spent most of that time trying to find the means to resettle in other solar systems. Here we have failed utterly. We could not completely conquer time and space."

The third book was meant to be based on the poem he wrote called "A Martian Stranded on Earth', but Bogdanov died before it was completed. As a pioneer of blood transfusions (a theme which is also present in Red Star) he exchanged blood with a student who has both malaria and TB - he died but the student lived.

Stalin was a big fan of Engineer Menni and Red Star, and drew inspiration from these novels in his zeal to build the disastrous White Sea Canal. Stalin's interpretation of Engineer Menni is remarkable. In Loren Graham's "The ghost of the executed engineer: technology and the fall of the Soviet Union", he writes:

"Stalin was a great admirer of canal projects, and he was fascinated by the role of engineers in their construction, especially engineers whose expertise was necessary but who could not be trusted because of their political views. Two of his favourite novels before the Revolution were Aleksandr Bogdanov's Red Star and Engineer Menni. In these works of science fiction, the builders of socialism on the planet Mars have to rely on an engineer named Menni, educated before the Socialist Revolution, who is both brilliant and traitorous, Menni recommends a path for a canal that purposefully delays construction and causes the deaths of many labourers. Menni is arrested, the mistakes are rectified, and the canal is completed. Stalin believed that, if kept under surveillance, even hostile technical specialists could be forced to yield their expertise for the benefit of the state."

New forms for a new planet

In setting works on Mars, writers and filmmakers could explore new forms, and new spatial arrangements, and discover a synergy with much of the work of avant-garde artists and architects, both Suprematists and Constructivists.

Owen Hatherley, in the article Delirious Moscow, writes:

"One of the war cries of the Russian Futurists was The War of the Worlds' Martian roar 'ULL-AA', which would in 1919 provide the title for one of Viktor Shklovsky's manifestos for the alienation effect, 'Ullya, Ullya, Martians'. In order to truly estrange , to provide the distance from everyday life’s stock responses and learned indifference that, for Shklovsky, is the key element in great art (be it Tolstoy or the circus), the alienation effect is taken literally to mean the visitation by the alien nation. Shklovsky writes of an avant-garde work being 'worthy of my brothers, the Martians'. This is what much of the Russian Avant-Garde saw themselves as. Like Tatlin's Third International Tower , whose iron legs and perpetual motion are akin to the Martians' walking tripods, this was something as fearsome, uncanny and technologically terrifying as the alien invasion, and intended to be every bit as threatening to existing society."

Svetlana Boym, writing in Ruins of Modernity, also notes Shklovsky's admiration of Tatlin's tower:

"from the very beginning, the Tatlin Tower engendered its double - a discursive monument almost as prominent as the architectural original. Victor Shlovksy is one of the few contemporaries who appreciates the unconventional architecture of the Tower, which for his is an architecture of estrangement. Its temporal vectors point towards the past and the future, toward 'the iron age of Ovid' and the 'age of construction cranes, beautiful like wise Martians'."

Gustav Klucis Dynamic City (1919)

Krutikov Flying City

Malevich - Future Planits, Houses for Earth Dwellers

Krutikov's Space City of the Future, designed in 1928, imagined a floating city supported by a anti-gravity coil. Meanwhile in 1919 Gustav Klucis made compositions for an ideal Dynamic City, Malevich devised his Planits, and El Lissitsky's Proun constructions became ever more otherworldly.

El Lissitsky: Proun

Constructivist visions of Mars

The other pre-eminent Russian work of fiction set on Mars is Aelita, by Alexei Tolstoy, written in 1923, six years after the second Russian Revolution of 1917 and the instigation of a Socialist state. In it the character Los travels to Mars to lead a popular uprising against the Elders. When the rebellion is crushed Los and Aelita, the princess of Mars, seizes control to establish her own totalitarian regime. Again the book can be consider as an allegorical tale, though of course Tolstoy could write from a historical perspective rather than predictive as Bogdanov had to.

It was made into a film Aelita, Queen of Mars by Iakov Protozanov in 1924. The Constructivist style of its film sets, designed by Isaac Rabinovich, and with outlandish costumes by Alexandra Exter, depicted the advanced state of Martian society, as something for the new USSR to aspire to. While it was a major influence on Flash Gordon, Metropolis, the film fell out of favour in later years, perhaps for being a little too accurate in prefiguring Soviet society under Stalin.

Set design for Aelita by Issac Rabinovich

Set design for Aelita by Issac Rabinovich

Stills from Aelita

Also in 1924, an animated film Interplanetary Revolution, was made by N. Khodataev, Z. Komisarenko, and Y. Merkulov. In it capitalists escaping to Mars discover the revolution has spread throughout the galaxy.

Mars in American Science Fiction

In contrast to the early Russian works, early American science fiction saw Mars as little more than an exotic stageset, the backdrop for picaresque adventures such as those of John Carter, in the Edgar Rice Burroughs series of pulp novels. Beginning with A Princess of Mars in 1911, the Barsoom series of ER Burroughs was eventually made up of 11 books written up to 1943. Mars is considered little more than a desert environment, based upon the astronomical observations of Percival Lovell, and beset with warring tribes and ferocious monsters.

Red Planet = Red Menace

But it wasn't just the Soviets who would align themselves with the Red Planet. In the 1950's, American cinema was more than ready to equate Martians with Soviets and the burgeoning Red Scare. The 1953 film version of The War of the Worlds made the Martian invasion an allegory for a Communism invasion, and there were similar themes in 1952's Red Planet Mars and 1953's Invaders from Mars.

Red Planet Mars

Expanding the scope further, alien invaders as a metaphor for the red menace was a common theme of many sci-fi movies of the time, Them (19954), This Island Earth (1955), and 1956's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Earth vs The Flying Saucers).

Operating in stark contrast to the Hollywood melodrama of Martian invasion, Pavel Klushantsev's Road to the Stars (1954) is a serious attempt by a Soviet filmmaker to show how the Soviet conquest of space would play out. A young man learns about spaceflight, before a sequence shows a lunar landing. The final sequence shows a lunar base, manned explorations of Mars, the moons of Saturn, and 'beyond the infinite'. The film was rushed to completion and released shortly after the launch of Sputnik 1 shocked the world.

A Red City for a Red Planet

The lure of the Red Planet to the Communists was surely the chance to begin afresh with a tabula rasa, where Communism did not have first to overthrow an incumbent capitalist society, and sweep away its aristocratic past. If there had to be a Socialist Revolution (as in Red Star), it was a total, world revolution.

In 1929, the sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich, part of the radical Constructivist architectural group OSA created a plan for a Red City of Planet of Communism. This disurbanist plan reimagined a city not as a series of concentric rings radiating out from a central hub, which owed its typology to the urbanism of a feudal era, but as a series of rhythms, a distribution of resources, functions and occupancies.

Mikhail Okhitovich Disurbanist proposal

Mikhail Okhitovich Disurbanist proposal

"The whole world is at our service, and first and foremost, transport and communications… We ask ourselves, how shall we resettle all the urban populations and economic activities? Answer: not according to the principles of crowding, but according to the principle of maximum freedom, ease and speed of communication."

Okhitovich saw further than any other contemporary urban theorist, that distributed electrical power, advanced telecommunications and high-speed transport networks created new possibilities for human habitation, and could eradicate the tension between the urban/rural that bedevilled the Soviet Socialist project. The disurbanist proposal was not anti-urban, it was a continuous urban field, city as network, city as process. Thus Okhitiovich prefigured contemporary dialogues on infrastructure ecologies, network displacements effects. As Catherine Cooke writes:

"'The City', wrote Okhitovich, 'is not some kind of sum of people living in "one" place. The city is a socially, not territorially, determined human entity … It is an economic and cultural complex'. Moreover: 'The question to be elucidated now is, must the different functions of the city exist in one physical body; will they become estranged by separation, as the parts of a biological organism would be? In other words, is the ever increasing crowding of people, buildings etc on one spot inevitable or not? Let us examine by what means people are fastened to one place; from what does this attraction to one another derive, this mighty centripetal force?'"

Okhitovich's utopianism matches that of Bogdanov completely, the potential to build a new class consciousness by rejecting the forms of the past, and build a worldwide Socialist settlement. Ultimately, Okhitovich was too much the post-Marxist visionary, unable to scale back from the grand plan, too open to be attacked for failing to directly address the immediate issues of peasant dwellings. Under Stalin, visionary design that did nothing for the common man was considered itself bourgeois, and Okhitovich's fate was sealed under the Stalinist Terror, betrayed by rival architects Mordvinov and Alabian.

Okhitovich didn't specify which planet this Red City might be built on. It was a city reaching around the world, one that could not be confined to national boundaries. Could it be that Okhitovich planned his utopian city not to be on Earth at all? Could it have been meant for Mars?

In Soviet Russia, Mars travels to you

As with so much in Soviet society, the theoretical vision was far in advance of the practical application. As Phobos-Grunt's orbit slowly decays, dooming it to crash back to Earth later this month (January 2012), its destiny is also to be a Martian stranded on Earth.


Previously

Cities and Cosmonauts 3

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

Liam Young and Kate Davies, lecturers at the Architectural Association, are leading a study visit to Chernobyl and Baikonour next July, as part of their Unknown Fields nomadic studio.

"This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and spacesuits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Beginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete."

I'm glad that others have recognised the spatial and architectonic qualities of Baikonour. There are of course the hauntological aspects, the disused and abandoned launchpads, and the tragedy of the collapse of the hangar in 2002 where the last Buran was stored, crushing with it the dream of resurrecting the Soviet shuttle program that was hinted at by Leonid Gurushkin's announcement of 2001. "We have been dreaming of this time," said Gurushkin.

But it is too easy to regard Baikonour as a monument to failed dreams, and forget that it is still a working spaceport. It is a truly disurbanist settlement, to a much greater degree than the compromised linear city plan for Magnitogorsk or the other Sotsgorod. It is a town whose locus is off-world, the earthly counterpart to a true Kosmograd yet to be built.

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

If, like me, you maintain that the Soviet Space program enabled the secret continuation of the Constructivist project after the rise of Stalin, then Baikonour is a site of key architectural importance.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously: