Jun 12 2012

Konstantin Melnikov

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So, after a very brief mention on BoingBoing, I’ve become fascinated with Konstantin Melnikov.

I tracked down the issue of Cabinet that BoingBoing referenced, and couldn’t bring myself to spend 10 dollars for what amounted to about 3 pages worth of stuff.

So, I spent a little time researching him this evening at work.

If you don’t feel like clicking on the BoingBoing link, or want more info, here’s what’s intriguing to me.

Apparently, in 1929, Pravda thought an ideal and perfect socialist community should be build outside of Moscow. This morphed into something known as the “Green City” competition. Per, Susan Buck-Morss (2006) – .PDF link, “Green City was to be a recreational, collective space not devoted to production.”

Unfortunately, most of the entries were comprised of designs that would provide relief to workers, who needed rest and relaxation from toiling in the factories. This ran kind of counter to the prevailing ideas of “socialist work ethic” of the day.

Melnikov was a well-known architect of the time, and (again, per Buck-Morss), “correctly began with the assumption that members of the overworked labor force were exhausted.” In addition to creating a relaxing “natural” environment, Melnikov suggested that the Green City have a collectivist hotel, designed to be a “Laboratory of Sleep.”

Once more, per Buck-Morss (quoting one of the few English books I’ve been able to find about Melnikov, Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society, by Frederick S. Starr) :

[It would be] a total sleep environment wherein all elements of the human sensorium could be affected. ‘All beds were to be built-in, like laboratory tables; to obviate the need for pillows, the floors sloped gently to the ends of the structure. The walls were broken with great sheets of glass, for sleep would be encouraged at all times of day and would under some circumstances require sunlight as well as darkness.’ At either end were control booths, where technicians produced an entire synaesthetic system by using instruments ‘to regulate the temperature, humidity, and air pressure, as well as to waft salubrious scents and rarified condensed air through the halls. Nor would sound be left unorganized. Specialists working according to scientific facts would transmit from the control center a range of sounds gauged to intensify the process of slumber. The rustle of leaves, the cooing of nightingales, or the soft murmur of waves would instantly relax the most overwrought veteran of the metropolis. Should these fail, the mechanized beds would then begin gently to rock until consciousness was lost. At this point, the natural sounds might continue or, at the command of trained specialists in the control booths, specially commissioned poems or works of music would be performed so as to obliterate any residual tensions or anxieties from the world of consciousness. Step by step, the worker would relax and his psyche would be rehabilitated by the combined forces of art and technology.'”

I’m simultaneously amazed and horrified. I love it.

Melnikov, apparently, was also responsible for designing Lenin’s tomb.

According to Robert C. Williams (again, reviewing the Starr book), “Melnikov believed in a form of resurrection derived from the notion that death is simply a form of sleep. Melnikov’s Lenin sarcophagus therefore assumed that the dead leader could some day be awakened like the sleeping princess by a signal from the Russian people.”

Melnikov eventually fell out of favor, spending his final days in his rather interesting house, which also reflected his fascination with sleep.

“The sleeping area is a more intimate space, lit by 12 hexagonal windows, with a much lower ceiling than the adjacent living room. The whole family slept here because Melnikov had complicated theories about sleep—he considered it to be restorative in an almost miraculous way. The only objects in the room were a concrete sleeping platform for the architect and his wife and smaller platforms for the children. (These were long ago replaced by conventional beds.) The parents’ platform was separated from the children’s by diagonal partition walls on each side that stopped just short of the ceiling. Melnikov’s esoteric ideas about sleep were behind another unusual feature of this room. He told us that it had originally been gold: walls, floor, and ceiling were painted gold, and the bed linens were all gold. “When we woke up in the morning,” he said, “we felt as if we were floating in thick golden air. It was an extraordinary feeling.”

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