Ruins of Utopia
Built by Moisei Ginzburg in 1929 as a Constructivist machine for radical living, Moscow’s Narkomfin Building immediately fell foul of Stalinist orthodoxy and now rots in a climate of state neglect and apathy
Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin Building occupies a key place in the story of the development of Modern architecture. The problems faced by this prime example of Constructivism and failed prototype of communal living are eloquently captured in the images shown here; its fate is one which echoes that of many architecturally significant buildings in Moscow.
Several factors have brought the Narkomfin Building to the catastrophic state we see it in today. It is the nexus of apparently unresolvable conflicts of interests, meaning that we are increasingly at risk of losing it − this after it has survived the vast destruction of historic building stock in Moscow over recent years.
Narkomfin’s neglect has, however, made it a unique haven for young artists and professionals working in creative fields, appreciative of its architecture and the communal lifestyle it was designed to promote. Young people, who have been renting or half-squatting the building, have brought new life, and some essential maintenance, to its dilapidated apartments and communal areas.
A collaborative project between the twinned institutions of London Metropolitan and Moscow Architecture School, Narkomfin: A Modern Story opens this autumn at the Cass Showcase Gallery in London. It aims to capture contemporary life at Narkomfin through the portraits of residents shot by Moscow-based photographer Sergei Savenkov, contrasting them with drawings and images from when the building originally opened in 1929.
Most importantly, the project aims to provoke a discussion about the situation facing monuments of Constructivist architecture in Moscow today, and what obstacles there are to restoring them and bringing them back into full use. With participation from both schools, a conference in London will look at the types of communities and creative projects the Narkomfin environment has hosted and created, the (generally failed) attempts to regenerate and restore it and, crucially, what will be its fate in the future.
Architect: Moisei Ginzburg
Photographs: Sergei Savenkov, historical photos by Richard Pare