CFP: Quotidian Avant-Garde: Architecturing Daily Life in Russia (Research Seminar, Ekaterinburg, May 21-22, 2014)

“The Soviet settlement must be honest and simple in its forms – as the working class is honest and simple; varied – as life is varied; … economical in the material and maintenance expended, but not in their expanse and volume; joyous as nature is joyous. Finally, they should be comfortable, light and hygienic,” wrote the Soviet architect and theoretician of the constructivist style in architecture Nikolai Miliutin in 1930. This unique combination of avant-garde aesthetics, utopian social-engineering spirit and functionalism in what concerned the choice of building materials, construction principles and practical usage is a major paradox of the Soviet avant-garde architecture of the 1920s and the 1930s. For millions of Soviet citizens, constructivist architecture served as a direct visual and tactile embodiment of the promised socialist reality: the new types of buildings, such as kitchen-factories (fabriki-kukhni), workers’ clubs, communal housing apartments were both venues and instruments of socialization, as they shaped the everyday practices in a desired manner, assigning revolutionary meanings to supposedly private spheres of life. The unusual forms, rhythms and dimensions of the new architecture promoted the new self-perception of the buildings’ inhabitants, shaping the patterns of everyday life, urban spaces and symbolic structures of the new social order.

At the same time, revolutionary forms of the daily life inevitably came into contact with old and established habits. Quite often, the intended forms of communal existence mutated into the modes of behavior that were quite different from those envisioned by the architects. It is exactly the analysis of such clashes, convergences and transformations between the new and the old ways of life that constitutes the main goal of the seminar Quotidian Avant-Garde: Architecturing Daily Life in Russia. The organizers of the seminar seek to draw attention to the ways, in which the Soviet avant-garde architecture of the 1920s and the1930s structured the fabric of the Soviet urban life and the daily practices of the masses. We would like to go beyond the conventional view of the avant-garde architecture as a radical overhaul of both aesthetic and social orders and to look at the possibilities of the emerging subjectivities, identities and ways of life, which circumvented the intentions of the Soviet architects and policy makers.

The architecture of the avant-garde continued to shape the everyday practices after the end of the Soviet era. Constructivist ensembles, which once were the embodiment of the futurist utopia, became part of the historic and architectural heritage of Soviet cities, a fact that set the new formats for the use and consumption this architecture. The architecture of the 1920s and the 1930s held an attraction for tourists, contributing to the influx of people and investments into the territory and reshaping its symbolic make-up.

Although rich and varied scholarship on both the Soviet avant-garde architecture and the everyday practices of early socialism exists, the link between the two has not been fully explored yet. The organizers hope that the seminar will initiate a productive dialogue between scholars who study architectural and urban developments of early socialism and the students of Soviet everyday life.

We welcome submissions from historians, architects, sociologists, anthropologists, specialists in political science, cultural studies, aesthetics and other disciplines, who are interested in studying the intersections between the Soviet avant-garde architecture and the everyday practices, both during the early decades of Soviet history and during later periods.

Contributions related but not limited, to the following topics of interest are expected:

  • avant-garde architecture and avant-garde ways of life (daily habits, modes of communication and behavior, which were brought to life by avant-garde architecture);

  • avant-garde architecture as the machine for the production of Soviet ideology (the role of aesthetics in the state’s political life);

  • avant-garde architecture as a laboratory for new life (experimental types of buildings and the daily practices constructed by them: house-communes, kitchen-factories, workers’ clubs, children’s complexes);

  • avant-garde architecture as an object of resistance (forms of non-conformity and defiance in citizen’s everyday life of the Soviet urban-planning policies);

  • avant-garde architecture without avant-garde artists (the after-life of the avant-garde architecture and of the everyday practices it constructed in the later periods of Soviet history);

  • avant-garde architecture and modern urban life (best practices of preservation and revitalization of constructivist ensembles, constructivism and creating new tourist destinations, modes of tourist consumption, sources of financing, public-private partnership, etc.)

Conference languages: Russian, English.

Submissions: Please submit a 300-word abstract (in English or Russian) by February 1, 2014 to the following e-mail addresses:,

Submissions should include the speaker’s name, place of work and position, as well as the contact address, phone number(s), e-mail and the title of the proposed paper. Those selected to give presentations at the workshop will be contacted by March 1. Final papers will be due no later than April 20, and they will be posted on the conference website.

Parallel program, in partnership with Union of Russian Artists (Sverdlovsk branch) and V. G. Belinsky Universal Scientific Library of Sverdlovsk Region. A photo exhibition that explores the intersection between avant-garde architecture and everyday life in Soviet cities by local Ekaterinburg artists will be on display in the original interior of the so-called “Cell F” in the apartment complex of Ural Regional Council (architect – Moisei Ginzburg, 1930–33).

The Seminar Committee:

Sergei Kropotov, Rector the Ekaterinburg Academy of Contemporary Art (Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation)

Serguei Oushakine, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University (USA)

Natalia Vlasova, Vice-rector, Ural State University of Economics (Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation)

Mikhail Ilchenko, Senior Researcher, the Ekaterinburg Academy of Contemporary Art (Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation)


Mikhail Ilchenko,
40-A Mira St., Ekaterinburg, 620078, Russian Federation,
Phone: +7 343 253-7317; +7 343 375-42-02; Fax: +7 343 375-42-11

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