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SOME THINGS FROM SOVIET DAYS ARE WORTH SAVING – The Maslennikov Kitchen Factory is Classic Constructivist Architecture

Soviet-era poster showing the factory's hammer & sickle design

A fight is on in Russia to save one of the most memorable Soviet architectural creations – the Maslennikov Kitchen Factory in Samara, the country’s sixth largest city.

The factory’s fame stems from the fact it was designed in the shape of the U.S.S.R.’s emblematic hammer and sickle, an instantly recognizable symbol of communism, representing the union between industrial and agricultural workers. From the air, the factory is pure agit-prop architecture and is a stunningly impressive piece of constructivism entirely realized.

Now, however, demolition is threatened after the site was purchased by a development company who clearly have no use for such a structure.

The Maslennikov will not go easy into the night, however. Thankfully a preservation movement has grown significantly in size and is agitating to have the factory declared a national landmark.

I’ll leave the story of the Maslennikov to the folks at the wonderful WebUrbanist site. Pay them a visit ….. their mix of art, architecture and abandonment is compelling stuff.

Here it is:

Constructivist Manifesto: Russia’s Hammer & Sickle Canteen

The hammer & sickle shaped Maslennikov Kitchen Factory, located 500 miles southeast of Moscow in Samara, once stood at the pinnacle of the Soviet Constructivist architecture movement. Today, as a date with the wrecking ball looms ever closer, this iconic abandoned building stands as a battleground between Russia’s grassroots architectural preservationist movement and shady developers looking to make a fast ruble once the building is rubble.

(image via: Archnadzor)

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1932… the acrid smoke of the Russian Revolution still permeates the air, while Stalin’s iron boot has yet to crush the bright hopes and soaring aspirations of a nation proudly waving the flag of a new ideology. In this narrow historical window between the World Wars, it seemed most anything was possible. Creative movements in art and architecture were allowed free reign as Russians shook off the stereotype of backwardness, ignorance and xenophobia like a bad case of fleas.

(images via: Fotki Yandex and World of Level Design)

Out of this fermenting stew of creativity rose new ways of artistic expression such as Futurism, Suprematism and Constructivism. The latter movement, an outgrowth of Russian Futurism, sought to meld avant-garde design with the practical engineering required to facilitate everyday living. Sponsored and supported by the Soviet leadership, Constructivist buildings large and small began to rise from one end of the vast USSR to the other. Factories, offices and apartment blocks displayed modern outlines exemplified by vast expanses of light-admitting glass windows.

(images via: Workers of the World UnitePutri Purwandani and Russia Beyond the Headlines)

This utopian creative era was not to last – as Joseph Stalin consolidated his grip on all aspects of Soviet life, he began to see the free-wheeling aspirations of the Constructivists as a threat. One of the last major state-sponsored works of Constructivist architecture was the massive Maslennikov Kitchen Factory in Samara, built between 1930 and 1932. Resembling a gargantuan, stylized Hammer & Sickle in horizontal plan, the look of the “Fabrika Kukhnya” didn’t upset Uncle Joe as much as the innovative thought processes that went into its design.

(images via: Archnadzor and Snegourotchka)

According to Moscow-based architect Vitaly Stadnikov, in its heyday the Maslennikov Kitchen Factory served more than 9,000 meals at a time to workers at the neighboring military components manufacturing complex. “The factory was designed to feed the whole workforce for each factory shift,” explained Stadnikov. “Because of its unique composition, the canteen (dining area) was in the sickle, administrative offices were in the handle of the hammer, and the kitchen was in the head of the hammer.”

(images via: URBAN3PRegion Samara and Samara On Foot)

The Maslennikov Kitchen Factory was ground-breaking in a number of ways, starting off with its female architect, Yekaterina Maksimova. Tasked with constructing the building in the shape of communism’s twinned symbols, Maksimova made certain compromises that aided the finished building in performing its function with smoothness and efficiency. Once the meals were prepared in the hammer’s head, three conveyor belts delivered the cooked food to distribution points in the sickle-shaped canteen. The factory building also housed a gymnasium, a reading room and other health and recreation related services.

(images via: Arguments and Facts – SamaraEternal Remont and Owen Hatherley)

The Maslennikov Kitchen Factory was the first building in Samara to be made out of reinforced concrete, considered to be an expensive luxury at the time. The choice of construction materials undoubtedly helped the building survive over the decades, as did regular maintenance and upkeep. A Stalinist makeover in 1944 (above, top) added a heavy-handed, neoclassical look to the facade but some portion of the original appearance was restored in 1988. It’s notable that the kitchens were still in operation at that time, over 55 years since they first began operation.

(images via: Architectural Walk)

A shopping center and several sports clubs occupied the building up to the mid-1990s but for the past few years the structure has been empty of tenants. Maintenance and repairs were withheld and the once-proud symbol of Soviet socio-economic progress steadily deteriorated.

(image via: Architectural Walk)

Several years ago the abandoned canteen was bought by Clover Group, a property developer headquartered in Moscow, with the intention of redeveloping the site. In April of 2008, the daily newspaper Noviye Izvestia reported that Clover Group intended to demolish the complex, which by that time occupied an increasingly valuable plot in downtown Samara, Russia’s sixth-largest city.

(images via: Bookcase.com and Architectural Walk)

The looming loss of the Maslennikov Kitchen Factory galvanized a grassroots movement among architectural preservationists within Russia and abroad, as well as rallying local citizens to realize their city’s cultural legacy was rapidly slipping away. “Constructivist architecture can function beautifully in the fabric of a contemporary city,” said Clementine Cecil, one of the founders of MAPS (Moscow Architecture Preservation Society). “It was built in the golden era of Soviet Architecture,”continued Cecil. “Just because its not in Moscow or St. Petersburg, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. It is such a unique and exciting example of Constructivism.”

(Excerpted from the article on the WebUrbanist site)

As 2010 draws to a close, it is still unclear what fate awaits Maslennikov. Preservationists fear shady dealings and corrupt practices will win the day and the kitchen factory, which has been awaiting listed status for the past 17 years, will either be abruptly demolished or perish in the sort of “mysterious blaze” that happens a little too often for comfort in Russia these days.

In Soviet times, Samara was a closed city, primarily because its main industry was rocket construction. (A Soyuz Space Rocket dominates the center of town; see below). Nowadays the city might be open to visitors but local politics is very much a closed – and notoriously corrupt – shop.

The final frontier - a Soviet Soyuz rocket lurks in the center of Samara

Samara is an ancient city of intricately carved wooden buildings, complimented by art nouveau flourishes. Sitting on a sweep of the mighty Volga river, it grew to prominence as a trading center and many of the wooden buildings were built and owned by merchants in pre-revolution Russia.

A haunt of party functionaries during Soviet times, the city – then named Kuybyshev – benefited from the exuberance of the constructivists even while suffering the destruction of many of its churches and monasteries. The Maslennikov is but one of several buildings designed in that style situated in Samara.

Examples of architecture in Samara - a wooden home, the Zhigulyovsk Brewery and a Samara underground station

But modern Russia appears to be a even more rapacious beast than the communists when it comes to the obliteration of older historical buildings. Many of Samara’s wooden houses have suffered death by unexplained fire, others simply bulldozed without warning.

Nobody in authority seems at all receptive to the saving of Samara’s heritage. The city government have tossed 2,000 buildings off the list pending approval as historically worth preserving and the major is tight with a shady bunch, the SOK Company, known to have no aversion to a bit of bribery, extortion and physical persuasion to ensure support for their development plans.

Things are looking especially grim for the Maslennikov Kitchen Factory now the city has approved a vague commercial development plan for the site – a plan proposed, naturally by the bruisers at SOK. Letters of protest and pleas to intervene delivered to the Minister of Culture in the regional government, meanwhile, are returned unanswered.

Curtains for the kitchen factory?

It will be a sad day indeed if this grand example of Soviet architecture gets consigned to the garbage heap of history much like the regime which gave it birth, especially if it is to be replaced by some garish and unnecessary commercial project whose only statement speaks to the overriding greed and vicious corruption running rife in the modern capitalist version of poor old Russia.

Save the Maslennikov!!

~ by Fray D. Jay on December 2, 2010 . Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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