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Unbuilt: Paper Architecture and the Russian Utopia

Sun, December 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Floor: 3rd, MIT


In Soviet Russia, the architects were engaged in the effort to create an infrastructure for an alchemical transformation of social life, and the state was the sole patron ordering new designs. In the 1980s, a group of architects stepped out from under the shadow of the state planning collectives and united in the Paper Architecture movement that claimed their lineage back to the era of futurists and constructivists. New liberated trend produced conceptual narratives and received major awards in international competitions. A dialog commenced between the early twentieth-century’ designs and the paper architecture of the 1980s. A range of approaches had to be distinguished, from rhetorical self-identification of the contemporary to reassessments of legacies of the historical avant-gardes, to the ironical comments that obscured the boundaries of the western modernism and postmodernism. The argument between the projects of the 1920s and 1980s in Russia marked the distinction between utopia and fantasy. In the eighties, that was an essential yet illusionary way of liberation from the authoritarian control. Contrary to the term utopia that implied a sense of failure of Marxist constructs, a fantasy would lead to a land of dreams, where the tales of a better future and a perfectly rewritten past were projected onto the mysteries of the imagined present and transformed into a splendid artwork followed by a conceptual record. An archive entitled the Russian Utopia was created by Yuri Avvakumov as a pool of unbuilt designs that turned into an “incubator” of ideas for the new practices.