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Ginzburg, Moisei Iakovlevich

(1892–1946), architect, theorist, teacher, and a leader of the Constructivist group in Soviet avant-garde architecture. Moisei Ginzburg was born in Minsk into an architect’s family. With limited access to higher education in Russia, he went abroad for his architectural training. He gained a classical education in this field at the Academia di Belli Arti in Milan and then opted for more technical training at the Riga Polytechnical Institute, graduating in 1917. After spending four years in Crimea studying Tatar folk architecture, Ginzburg settled in Moscow, where he taught architectural history and theory at the Moscow High Technical School and in the architecture faculty at the Vkhutemas Art School.

An influential young pedagogue, Ginzburg published discerning critiques of modern architecture. His magnum opus, Stil’ i epokha (Style and Epoch; 1924), emphasized the civilizing role of the machine and theorized its capacity to facilitate the “mechanization of life” and to rationalize new building types consistent with the needs of the working class. Following his cyclical theory of stylistic change, Ginzburg maintained that every “new” civilization created an architecture that was “constructive” in fulfilling its own imperatives toward new building types before reaching “maturity” and eventually succumbing to ornament-laden decadence. Asserting that the revolution had engendered a new constructive phase of historical and architectural development, Ginzburg’s treatise became a veritable manifesto of Constructivism as the architectural style of the new Soviet era.

In 1925, Ginzburg joined with Aleksandr A. Vesnin (1883–1959) to found the Union of Modern Architects and coedit the group’s journal SA/Sovremennaya arkhitektura (MA/Modern Architecture; 1926–1930). He explained the principal tenets of Constructivist architecture in a series of articles formulating the functional method of design. According to this method, architectural problems had to be solved rationally through identifying key factors such as the living, working, and recreational needs of the working class and deriving the most effective organizational, technical, and architectural means to accommodate them in the final design. The functional method stressed prototypical solutions, standardized components, and the grouping of all activities according to related functions. It also rejected any a priori styles.

Between 1928 and 1931, Ginzburg conducted two comprehensive research projects to validate the functional method for seeking new housing prototypes and building techniques. The first, his project to devise and test several minimal apartment types for Stroikom (State Building Committee of the Russian Republic), arrived at an optimal prototype—the compact split-level F and K Units—for the Soviet dom-kommuna (communal dwelling). The second, his project for Gosplan (State Planning Committee of the Russian Republic), developed in conjunction with his Disurbanist “Green Town” competition scheme (1930; with Mikhail O. Barshch and others), aimed to revitalize the country’s lagging building industry by devising a system for constructing detached prefabricated low-rise dwelling units with lightweight wood framing and sandwich panels of inexpensive local materials; these were to be manufactured in regional factories and transported for assembly to nearby sites.

Ginzburg also emerged as a productive designer, entering many major Soviet architectural competitions and designing numerous notable buildings. In addition to the Narkomfin apartment complex (1928–1930, with Ivan F. Milinis), his most accomplished buildings include the Kazakh Republic Government House in Almaty (1927–1931) and his design (with Solomon A. Lisagor and Gustav Hassenpflug) for the third stage of the Palace of Soviets competition in 1932. His Kislovodsk Sanatorium in Crimea (1935–1937) insinuated a smartly articulated functional scheme into a rationalized form of socialist realist architecture that characterized his ensuing career.

When the Soviet Academy of Architecture was founded in 1939, Ginzburg headed its Sector for Standardization and Industrialization of Construction and served as founding editor of its multivolume Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury (General History of Architecture). He began work on an ambitious two-volume theoretical work, but completed only the section on “Tectonics” prior to his untimely death in 1946.

Suggested Reading

Catherine Cooke, Russian Avant-Garde Theories of Art, Architecture and the City (London, 1995), incl. Eng. trans. of several Ginzburg texts; Moisei Iakovlevich Ginzburg, Style and Epoch, trans. and intro. essay by Anatole Senkevitch, Jr. (Cambridge, Mass., 1982); Selim Omarovich Khan-Magomedov, Pioneers of Soviet Architecture: The Search for New Solutions in the 1920s and 1930s, trans. Alexander Lieven; ed. Catherine Cooke (New York, 1987); Anatole Senkevitch, Jr., “The Sources and Ideals of Constructivism in Soviet Architecture,” in Art Into Life: Russian Constructivism, 1914–1932, pp. 175–191 (New York, 1990).