Spaces of conflict
Analysis of the Narkomfin building

 

Soviet architecture of late 1920s could be interpreted as ideas enclosed by the borders of communistic ideology. Trapped inside the political situation, architecture was to become one of the main tools of changing the society.

“Of all the various groups and professions involved in the reform of daily life and the consolidation of Soviet socialism in the 1920s, architects were exceptionally prominent.” 2The transformation from the old lifestyle to the new one took one step at a time. One of the first projects to define this transformation was the Narkomfin building by Moisei Ginzburg. It was supposed to become a threshold between the new and the old. (continue after images)

 

Frankfurt. Staedelschule Architecture Class. 2012
First semester project
 
Tutors:  prof. Johan Bettum

 

The project of the Narkomfin consists of two parts – dwelling block and communal block. Ginzburg himself describes the structure of the dwelling block as a “rectangular ribbon threaded through the dwelling cells” 3. By “ribbons” Ginzburg means corridors that are connecting all parts of the building. These spaces can be seen as a digestive tract of the organism, connecting all its vital parts. Corridors are more than just “streets” they also become important spaces for communication between the neighbours. Ginzburg uses 2 storey units of apartments in order to save space, wrapping them around the corridors in a way that there are five inhabited floors and only two corridors.“

 

To solve a problem of dwelling in the city, we must socialise all everyday production processes of an individual, like cooking, washing clothes and childcare.” The usual image of an apartment in this project is being exploded and reassembled in a different way. Spaces that are considered unnecessary are being thrown away, while all the auxiliary functions, such as the kitchen, are moved into a new communal space that is separated from the main block. Ginzburg minimises the number of interior details to create a purely functional space with no references to bourgeois habits of residents. Apartments have no rooms in a classical understanding. Spaces are divided by levels and staircases. This allows for the creation of new layers of interiority within interior space of the apartment. Even though the bedroom and the living room are actually one single space, the privacy is denoted by staircases and height of the celling. Standing in the living room you experience the apartment as one single space; nothing is closed or hidden, but you are not able to see any part of the private spaces except a small segment of the bedroom celling. Living room ceiling is twice as high as the one in the bedroom, which creates a feeling of a safe private place. The borders between levels of privacy are not visible but they are still there.

 

By focusing on communal spaces in the Narkomfin building Ginzburg writes a script of the inhabitants’ everyday life routine. There is a very strict route every person in the building is following every day. Entrance – communal space – private space. There is no branching and no way to skip any part of the route. Inhabitants are being forced to communicate with each other and to be a part of a bigger organism of the building.

 

The political situation in the country changed rapidly in 1930s. The reformism of everyday life fell out of favour. After Joseph Stalin's consolidation of power, collectivist and feminist ideas of the building were rejected as 'Leftist' or Trotskyist. Being created to satisfy specific political requests, the architectural idea of the project fell out from the borders of the country’s ideology and was not needed anymore. Inhabitants started inventing ways to cheat Ginzburg’s scripts and adapt the building to the lifestyles they were used to.

 

The Narkomfin project introduces different layers of interiority, defined by ideological, psychological and physical borders. Starting from the ideology, to the outside walls of the building, borders are drawn one inside the other, from public communal spaces, through the corridors, to the apartments. Despite the complexity of layers, the whole system falls apart as soon as the very first layer of ideological border has