Paper tigers

The utopian projects of paper architecture still today exemplify the visionary power of architecture. They are not only artworks, but also concentrations of design energy projected towards the future.

In 1981, a group of young architects in Moscow succeeded in dodging Soviet censorship by submitting projects to a competition announced by the magazine Japan Architecture . So began an informal movement that would bring together some 50 architects and groups who, throughout the 1980s, were to represent spearhead architecture in Russia and its environs. Dubbed "paper architecture", after an exhibition held in 1984 in Moscow at the offices of Jonost , a youth magazine, this new aesthetic introduced an idea of design far removed from any kind of practical realisation. The drawings and engravings that these "paper architects" began to compose were defined as "projects for projects".

Closer to the sensitivities of artists than to the demands of architecture, the paper architects pictured a dreamy world and an oneiric architecture. Often fomented by the frustration of working at the central office of State architecture, the paper architects practiced an idea of architecture in which projects dissolved into surreal atmospheres. Their paper architecture was a way of cultivating the eccentric and the individual, in a culture which at least officially—and long before perestroika—was still founded on the ideology of standardisation. In this sense, paper architecture was also intimately associated with the non¬conformist practices of Russian art in the 1980s. It was an architecture that made a virtue out of necessity, by transforming the impossibility of realisation into a stimulus to create new fantastic worlds.

Their household gods were Piranesi and Ledoux , Russian Art Nouveau and constructivism, about which in the 1920s the expression "paper architecture" had been coined for the first time, and disparagingly.
Top: Iskander Galimov,
<em>Cathedral City</em>, 1987 (private
collection). State Russian
Museum. Above: I.M. Petrov, Nikolai
Vasiljevitch Tzitzin,
S. Yaroslavtzeva, <em>Klimatron
of the Main Botanical Garden</em>,
Moscow, 1964–65 (Schusev
Museum of Architecture)
Top: Iskander Galimov, Cathedral City , 1987 (private collection). State Russian Museum. Above: I.M. Petrov, Nikolai Vasiljevitch Tzitzin, S. Yaroslavtzeva, Klimatron of the Main Botanical Garden , Moscow, 1964–65 (Schusev Museum of Architecture)
"Architecture is always lovelier in dreams," explains Yuri Avvakumov , who was the movement's founder, spokesman and historical memory. "Today of course, many of the members of Paper Architecture are practising architects, and likenesses could even be sought between the buildings they have completed and the more visionary projects of the '80s. But to retrace the origins of those drawings would be a mistake, a form of vivisection; and vivisection, as we know, kills animals as well as poetry. Paper architecture set out precisely to free poetry, by dissociating the project from its execution. For us it was important to concentrate on presentation and representation, on the concept and not on the end result. It was as if the light that illuminates a project were to be refracted on other surfaces: the project not as a direct projection therefore, but as a more tortuous process, a play of refractions and reflections." Massimiliano Gioni, art curator and critic
Lev Vladimirovich Rudnev,
<em>City of the Future</em>, 1927
(Schusev Museum
of Architecture)
Lev Vladimirovich Rudnev, City of the Future , 1927 (Schusev Museum of Architecture)
Build nothing

...When we mean to build
We first survey the plot, then draw the model
and when we see the figure of the house,
then we must rate the cost of the erection;
which if we find outweighs ability,
what do we then but draw anew the model
in fewer offices, or at last desist
to build at all...

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Act I, 3

The art shown in this collection holds a special place in the contemporary artistic process. The term "Paper Architecture" was assumed in the 1980s as a working name by the founders of the "Paper Architecture" movement, a group of young Moscow architects.

Historically, paper architecture was a derogatory term in Soviet Russia: in the 1930s, the opponents of architectural "group rivalries" of the "Golden Decade" so referred, derisively, to avant-garde architects/artists of the 1920s. Ever after, everything that transgressed the limits of normative architecture tended to be lumped, by officials, under that general title. Mindful of the idealistic Utopianism of their predecessors who were frowned up, even persecuted by society, the new "Paper Architecture" declared, in its formative period, that it gave up, in principle, any applied tasks in favor of pure architectural/artistic concepts. One cannot construct from paper designs. They are certainly no blueprints for the building industry: rather, these are "projects of projects".
Paper architecture set out precisely to free poetry, by dissociating the project from its execution. For us it was important to concentrate on presentation and representation, on the concept and not on the end result
Left, Mikhail Belov, <em>Minotaur
Bridge</em>, 1987 (private
collection). Right, Yuri Avvakumov, SAKB
MARKhI, <em>City-Club</em>, 1984
(State Russian Museum)
Left, Mikhail Belov, Minotaur Bridge , 1987 (private collection). Right, Yuri Avvakumov, SAKB MARKhI, City-Club , 1984 (State Russian Museum)
Uniting artists of different standing and persuasion, the last generation of those who "desist to build at all" is, by and large, an offspring of the romantic visionary art of the 1920s and on "enfant terrible" of involuntary futurology of the 1960s.

In the 1980s, "paper Architecture" was a result of what seemed to be the hopelessly inescapable stagnation in life, architecture and the building industry in the Soviet Union, from which international competitions of architectural concepts were a welcome escape. The first victory at one of the Japanese-sponsored competitions of architectural ideas came in 1981; it was followed in 1984 by the first exhibit of "Paper Architecture" in Moscow held at the editorial offices of a youth magazine); the first significant publication appeared in 1985; and the first show abroad was arranged in 1986.
Left, Ivan Leonidov, <em>House of
Industry</em>, Moscow, 1929-30
(Schusev Museum of
Architecture). Right, Yuri Kuzin, <em>City Sockets</em>,
1988 (private collection)
Left, Ivan Leonidov, House of Industry , Moscow, 1929-30 (Schusev Museum of Architecture). Right, Yuri Kuzin, City Sockets , 1988 (private collection)
Having massed around it the more gifted authors, "Paper Architecture" soon enough won world renown and prestige. In all, more than fifty competition awards have marked its achievement; critics and the press have asserted, in their publications, that "Paper Architecture" was a peculiar phenomenon in modern art. Major exhibits of "Paper Architecture" were held in Paris, Frankfurt, Cologne, Zurich, London and on university campuses in the USA. The "Paper Architecture. Alma Mater" show in Moscow in 1992 summed up as it were, that unconventional artistic phenomenon which found its historical niche in world culture of the late 20th century.

The evolution of "Paper Architecture" is unusual and instructive: it moved from the semantics of architectural ideas toward the expressionism of the easel painting, from the figure of an architect toward that of an artist, from the ideology of an artistic group to a highly individualized position of its every member. One should no think, however, that this "from — toward" motion implied the rejection of the former and the affirmation of the latter. No this new art proved to be wise enough to wed the experience of the past to present-day knowledge. The word "Paper" is no longer an obligatory component of that world combination, whereas "Architecture" denotes rather the professional and educational status of those who produce it and is present in the design concepts which make up the core of mos of such works. With time, the stylistic definition of many works became more compressed. A sketchy rather than detailed program of visual, literary, philosophical and conceptual intentions of every "Paper Architect" could be perceived in a variety of contexts. Guesswork as to the true contents of a "project" served not so must to decipher them as to add new meanings which came in line with the vector of the artist's design concept.
Vladimir Tyurin, <em>Intellectual
Market</em>, 1987 (State Russian
Museum)
Vladimir Tyurin, Intellectual Market , 1987 (State Russian Museum)
Since the structure of the works produced by these architects/artists is so complex, critics tend to interpret their images in the context of architectural studies and in categories of the arts synthesis (an «in» trend only a short while ago), in the coordinates of conceptualism and in terms of traditional visual art; critics also sometimes tend to view such works as part of post-modernist philosophy.

Mere sheets of paper — watercolors, drawings, etchings and serigraphs — shown in this collection are, on the one hand, works of art in their own right and, on the other, accumulations of design energies aiming to expand future spaces. While these people build nothing, they do construct a little something. Yuri Avvakumov, Georgy Nikich
Left, Yuri Avvakumov, Sergei
Podyomschikov, <em>Flying
Proletarian</em>, 1989 (Stella Art
Foundation). Centre, Yuri Avvakumov, Igor
Pischukevich, Y. Zirulnikov,
<em>Matryoshka House</em>, 1984 (State
Russian Museum). Right, Konstantin Stepanovich
Melnikov, <em>Palace of Labor</em>,
Moscow, 1923 (Schusev
Museum of Architecture)
Left, Yuri Avvakumov, Sergei Podyomschikov, Flying Proletarian , 1989 (Stella Art Foundation). Centre, Yuri Avvakumov, Igor Pischukevich, Y. Zirulnikov, Matryoshka House , 1984 (State Russian Museum). Right, Konstantin Stepanovich Melnikov, Palace of Labor , Moscow, 1923 (Schusev Museum of Architecture)
Left, Yakov Chernikhov,
<em>Architectural Composition N.
43</em>, 1928-30 (Yakov Chernikhov
foundation). Right, Yakov Chernikhov,
<em>Architectural Composition N.
22</em>, 1928-30 (Yakov Chernikhov
foundation)
Left, Yakov Chernikhov, Architectural Composition N. 43 , 1928-30 (Yakov Chernikhov foundation). Right, Yakov Chernikhov, Architectural Composition N. 22 , 1928-30 (Yakov Chernikhov foundation)
Ivan Leonidov, <em>Satellite-City</em>,
1958 (private collection)
Ivan Leonidov, Satellite-City , 1958 (private collection)
Nadia Bronzova, <em>The Parnassus
Hill</em>, 1990 (private collection)
Nadia Bronzova, The Parnassus Hill , 1990 (private collection)

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