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© Courtesy of the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture

Architect of power

by Joy Neumeyer at 16/01/2012 19:24

Architect of Power: In Commemoration of the 120th Anniversary of Boris Iofan’s Birth

Until Feb. 26 at the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, 5 Ul. Vozdvizhenka, m. Biblioteka Imeni Lenina, www.muar.ru
Open Tue.-Sun. 10 am-7 pm, closed Mon.; box office until 6 pm

Boris Iofan designed Stalinist architectural triumphs including the House on the Embankment and the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. But he is best known for a project that was never realized: the Palace of Soviets, Stalin’s enormous shrine to Communism. Though Iofan’s legacy has often been overlooked, a fascinating retrospective at the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture reveals the extent of his contribution to Soviet design.

The exhibition mostly avoids personal details and focuses instead on Iofan’s work, which appears in extensive sketches, models and photographs. The early Soviet years were led by constructivist architects like Vladimir Tatlin, who dreamed up daring utopian designs. But by the 1930s, it was Iofan’s more solid, neoclassical style that had won the favor of party elites, who granted him prestige projects like the World’s Fair pavilion.

After Iofan won the Palace of Soviets commission in 1932, it became the labor of his life, and he continued to work on it long after construction plans ground to halt during World War II. The project is most remembered for its massive Lenin statue, which would have dwarfed the State of Liberty. But the exhibition gives a rare detailed look at the interior designs, such as the Pantheon-like cupola that was to fill the central hall with radiant light. It also displays the building’s only completed elements: the sumptuous tapestries and marble tables made to decorate the interior.

Iofan continued working until the early 1970s, creating buildings such as the Sports Institute. But he never quite emerged from the shadow of his greatest project. In the exhibition’s final room, Iofan’s passed-over design for Moscow State University still bears the seal of the Palace of Soviets committee, a reminder of the triumph that never was.

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