The main driving force behind the Space course was the founder of the Rationalist architectural movement Nikolai Ladovsky (1881—1941). “One of the progenitors of the Soviet architectural avant-garde, he remains, perhaps, the most undervalued and least recognized of his contemporaries,” writes Anna Bokov. “Very few of his architectural projects were built, and his career fell victim to the political struggles of the 1930s. <...> His goal was to develop a comprehensive foundation for a new formal language, a version of a ‘classical order.’ This foundation was based in his viewpoint, inspired by scientific thought of the time, that the basis of architecture was rooted in ‘rationality,’ a set of objective laws and principles.”
While sharing certain characteristics with their Constructivist rivals (strong emphasis on the functionality and rejection of historical architectural styles in favor of a vocabulary of simple geometric forms), Rationalists pursued different goals. They aimed to discover and verify universal principles of architecture in order to build “a theory of architecture as a realm of science” and were highly interested in the psychology of perception. Ladovsky instructed his students to work out different scenarios of human interaction with form and space. Instead of imagining buildings as walls enclosing space in between, he described them as spatial entities: “Space, not stone, is the material of architecture.”
The articulation of space was therefore the last and most difficult task of the Space course. This photograph demonstrates one of the students’ responses to the assignment: the vertical partitions combined with the wires curving into the model’s background create an optical illusion of depth. As spatial intelligence—ocular accuracy, visual attention, spatial coordination and orientation—were considered key to one’s successful development as an architect, Ladovsky tested students in the VKhUTEMAS’ Psychotechnical Laboratory known as the “Black Room.” There, in a space darkened for the purity of the experiment, he evaluated students’ visual and spatial abilities with the help of questionnaires and instruments of his own invention: Liglazometr (line-eye-meter), Uglazometr (corner-eye-meter), Ploglazometr (plane-eye-meter), Oglazometr (volume-eye-meter), Prostrometr (space-eye-meter).
Maria Timina, 2023
photographs; sculpture; design; geometry; models and modelmaking
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