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Constructivist Treasure in the Mountains

New book explores the architectural legacy of the 1920s and 1930s in southern Russia.

Sanatorium of the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry, 1935-1938

Soviet avant-garde projects attract considerable attention from scholars and enthusiasts, but many former USSR regions remain largely unexplored in this context, leaving huge blind spots in architectural history. “Architecture of southern Russia during the avant-garde period,” a new book by Arthur Tokarev, aims to shine the spotlight on buildings that were erected on the sunny shores of the Black and Azov seas and the mountains of the Caucasus – popular tourist destinations in the USSR as well as contemporary Russia. Due to their unique geographical location, grand sanatoriums and health resorts stand out among the more familiar Constructivist apartment complexes, factory buildings and cultural facilities.

The 1930s, when some of these projects were realized, was a difficult time for Soviet architecture. The so-called “post-Constructivist” period was marked by ideological disputes between the authorities and creative intellectuals regarding the future of architecture in the USSR. Constructivist asceticism gave way to classic forms and abundant decorative elements, and this collision made the realization of architectural masterpieces possible. The Sanatorium of the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry, built on the hillsides of Kislovodsk, is one of the most striking examples.

Its chief architect Moisei Ginzburg, best known for his Narkomfin Building in Moscow, was able to find a stylistic compromise during a time of ideological shift. The centered composition and facades of the sanatorium reference classical architecture, while its Constructivist foundations are manifest in rhythmic surfaces. Futurist and  “paper architect” Ivan Leonidov designed the park’s stairway ensemble, which included a theater and fountain as well as numerous rest areas. It was one of Leonidov’s few realized projects and serves as a monument to his “cosmic architecture” ideas. 

The book includes many more unique buildings, located in the Rostov and Krasnodar regions, Caucasus Mineral Waters and Crimea, and is available for purchase at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and the Falanster and Shchusev Museum of Architecture bookshops. Regarding online purchases, please contact the author directly via tokarev69@inbox.ru.