Konstantín Mélnikov: City as sleep machine | Jelena Prokopljević

Dormitorio bloque, maqueta
Bedroom block, model

In 1929, in full propaganda explosion about the first five-year plan was summoned the contest for the Green City, a neighborhood of rest placed in the green space in the suburbs of Moscow. The first five-year Soviet plan (1928-1932) took as a central topic the large-scale industrialization and the mechanization of all the branches of production, colectivización of the agriculture and of the land, formation of the koljoses (agricultural cooperatives). The plan laid the foundations for the economic planning in the whole Eastern Europe, finishing in a great celebration for having advanced in one year the foreseen production. The construction of complexes of industry weighed in the whole geography with the accessions for the workers, they provoked the second urban development debate on the characteristics and the organization of the socialist city, after the first debate related to the massive electrification and the economic suppositions defined by the NEP.

In a few years a multitude of contests was summoned to plan the new industrial cities: Kuznetsk, Avtostroi in Nizni Novgorod, Magnitogorsk, Stalingrado, Kharkov, Kominternovsk, between others. The big names of constructivismo Russian took part in the debate between the beginning of urbanism and desurbanismo and there was very much exchange with the European forefront; several important names especially concerning Ernst May and to his “Brigade May” that was working on Magnitogorsk, they took part in the planning and construction of the new Soviet cities.

The Green City, nevertheless, was another thing. Satellite was treating itself about a city near Moscow for 100.000 inhabitants (or users) that was not linking itself directly to the centers of work. In fact, everything opposite: his raison d’être was the intensive rest of the workers and therefore, was interesting his more extreme withdrawal of the industry. There was foreseen a type of temporary housing, a species of the second exchangeable residence, joined by the centers of culture and education and big green masses.

Mélnikov‘s offer was possibly his more radical project: the principal idea was to assure the maximum quality of dream, raising the city as the machine to sleep. His element bases they were the residential units of collective bedrooms, each one for 4000 persons, organized in such a way that they were allowing a deep and uninterrupted dream and whose design would have to join the knowledge of doctors, musicians, architects and other technical personnel. The problem of the working class was the rest. 8 working hours were getting longer systematicly to expire or to overcome the quotas of productivity established by the plan. There was in addition the volunteer work for the community, hours of education it continues, endless meetings of the political cells and meetings self-criticisms that were making disappear to 8 breaks besides some hour of the dream that also was diminishing for the loss of time in displacements or supply. In the memory of the project Mélnikov he was writing:

“And now when I hear that our health needs from supply, I say that not, that what he needs is a dream. They all say that to rest he needs of air, and I say again that not: without dream the air is unable to restore our forces…”

Dormitorio bloque, planta y sección
Bedroom block, floor and section

The block – of type barrack – was consisting of two wings joined by the core of communications and services whereas the ends of each one are reserved for the areas of environmental control. To do agreeably and especially functionally the individual dream in a collective bedroom, the most important thing was the isolation or the acoustic control. Mélnikov considered a work interdisciplining to offset the noises of people entering, speaking or snoring while other proletarians sleep. There could be reproduced sounds of the nature, of leaves of trees, rain it dies or of waves of the sea. Also there were reproducing pieces of music or reading book if the natural sounds were not giving proved. There was controlled the temperature, the dampness and the pressure of the air, there were stimulated aromas of forests or meadows, but if still it was difficult to harmonize the dream, the beds, completely mechanized they could move to and fro softly. Hereby the building was acting in all the sensory levels: physical, psychic, chemical, thermal or mechanical. Also the wings of the blocks had the wrought ones inclined to optimize the position of the bodies that rest. The absolute environmental control in the interior, since also the control of the mechanism of the dream was allowing that the finished ones should be totally transparent and to restore with the light the natural cycle of the dream.

Mélnikov calculated that the city would have 12 of these blocks placed along the ring perimetral, whereas the interior was dividing in sectors of forest, gardens and gardens, infantile city, zoo, public sector. The geometric center of the circle was destined to the Institute of the Person, marked in the plane by a star, where the workers were receiving the ideological education. The Green City had other buildings with related contents to the general function of rest: station of trains that was taking advantage of the great cover of the platforms to turn punctually into room of concerts, hotel with tourist pavilions and blocks of housings for the employees of the center. These blocks were thought as public galleries – or servants like them it was calling Mélnikov – of 200m of length where in the ground floor the housings were placing and in the first plant the public contents: library, day-care center, cafeteria, etc. The municipal hotel, also of two long wings of rooms, was proposing to climb in three levels the interior of every room to allow a total asoleamiento and an ideal ventilation of the interior space. It managed to construct a room to scale 1:1. Whereas the public galleries and the hotel had a similar and racionalist design, the tourist pavilions – the conical and different one in the shape of reversed pyramid – were resembling the forms of his pavilion of Paris of 1925 or of the project for the beacon dedicated to Cristóbal Colón, also of 1929.

Mélnikov’s Green City touches the limit of the dystopia in the point where it raises that a top structure – the condition – could manage to collectivize and control the dream, the last redoubt of the individuality that was staying after the total occupation and organization of the time frees. The use of the mechanics and the technology to give form to the daily life, up to to impose it to the nature and to the humanity it was the obsession of the first decades of the USSR, which he was accompanying on the illusion of an industrial explosive development. The architecture of the constructivismo was forming a part importantly of the imaginary mecanicista, especially the works assigned to the OSA group. Melnikov is the constructivista more acquaintance in the west precisely because it it was not completely. His thought, in a time next the ASNOVA group of Ladovsky and Golosov, was exploring the psychological and perceptive implications of the architecture. His funcionalismo was basing on the expressiveness of the form – of the volumes on movement – and on the graduation of the appraisals both of the new architecture and of the historical one.On the part of his contemporary opponents, Mélnikov often was labelled as formalist, the major disqualification in the architecture (and culture in general) Soviet. The position to half a way between the constructivismo and the academismo isolated it, first of the education in Vjutemas and after the professional practice, in a historical moment in which the shades did not have sufficient force of persuasion.

Ciudad verde. Plano general.
Ciudad Green city. General Planning.

More than a solution for a neighborhood of rest, Mélnikov’s Green City emphasized the lacks of the quality of individual life of the cities projected from the functionality and the efficiency. The machine to sleep was a way of saying that the psychological well-being had the same importance for the individual (or for the proletarian) that the physical well-being. Over the abundance of the clean air, of the trees and of the natural light, it was necessary to do a professional effort to add the qualities: smells, temperature or dampness, colors and intensity, sounds and silence.

Jelena Prokopljevic. PhD Architect
Barcelona. April 2014

Photographies: S.O. Khan Magomedov “Las 100 Mejores Obras Maestras del Vanguardismo Arquitectónico Soviético”. Editorial URSS, Moscú 2004.

Jelena Prokopljević

Arquitecta e investigadora serbia, titulada por la Universidad de Belgrado, y residente en Barcelona, miembro del Comité de Expertos del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público Urbano desde la edición del 2014. Se doctoró en 2006 en la ETSAB, ciudad en la que reside y trabaja. Ha colaborado con la plataforma Eurasian Hub en proyectos de transformación urbana y ha sido responsable del área de arquitectura y urbanismo en la Casa del Este, organización radicada en Barcelona y dedicada a promover la cooperación con la Europa Central y Oriental. Entre sus publicaciones más destacadas, consta el libro Corea del Norte: Utopía de hormigón; arquitectura y urbanismo al servicio de una ideología (escrito con Roger Mateos, 2012) y el artículo «Espacio público en la ciudad socialista: entre la abundancia y la indefinición», publicado en URBS, revista de estudios urbanos y ciencias sociales. Además, suele impartir conferencias y participar en coloquios en lugares como la ETSAB, la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), la fundación Amigos de la UNESCO de Barcelona o la Universidad Ion Mincu de Bucarest. Prokopljević es miembro del Comité de expertos del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público Urbano desde su edición de 2014.

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