Owen Hatherley

  • Iakov Chernikhov, Kompozitsiia 49 (Composition 49), 1933, letterpress on paper, 12 × 8 7/8". From Arkhiteturnye fantazii: 101 kompozitsiia v kraskakh, 101 arkhitekturnaia miniatiura (Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions in Color, 101 Architectural Miniatures) (Mezhdunarodnaia kniga, 1933).


    THE REVOLUTION IS STILL WITH US: A century ago, the Russian uprising of October 1917 defined the world order we know now, in which the struggle between individual and collective, capital and welfare, identity and authority continues to rage in new and unexpected ways. And though the Soviet state ultimately failed, it nevertheless left smoldering the embers of unrealized utopias and potentialities—visions of life and experience that challenged Western realities of oligarchy, democracy, colonialism, and war.
    Art was at the center of these transformations. More so than Thermidor or Tahrir Square, the October Revolution posed the perceptual as political. Changing the way we see and sense could change the way we acted and thought. Forms, materials, making, organizing—these were, and could still be, the elements of a new society. In the essay that follows, critic Owen Hatherley looks at revolutionary architecture and its seditious possibilities in the present.

    THERE’S ONLY ONE surviving piece of architecture that can be said to be of, rather than about, or inspired by, the 1917 revolution in Russia. In Petrograd, the city’s Soviets (as in the term’s original usage as “workers’ councils”) commissioned the young architect Lev Rudnev to redesign the Field of Mars. This square was originally a czarist parade ground near the Neva River, overshadowed since the late nineteenth century by the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a florid, polychrome structure of asymmetrical onion domes. In his design, Rudnev broke with these dominating surroundings

  • Still from the video for Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” 1988.

    Neneh Cherry’s The Cherry Thing

    IN THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM’S recent blockbuster “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990,” there was a room where fragments of pop videos flashed on overhead screens and small eye-level monitors. The show’s effect was mostly deflationary—various poses of art-historical irony, a wan sifting through the ruins. In this room, though, there were sparks of the New, of what, temporality aside, was clearly modernism, in the sense of the London modernists (or mods) of the 1960s—a love for machine-made surface and technology-aided drama, with no hint of melancholia or antiutopian

  • Rendering of the London skyline including Renzo Piano’s Shard (foreground) and Norman Foster’s 30 St Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin) (background, left). © London Bridge Quarter.

    Renzo Piano’s Shard

    THE ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN Manfredo Tafuri famously claimed that “no better way exists of grasping what the American skyscraper is not than by studying how European culture has attempted to assimilate and translate [the skyscraper] into its own terms.” For him, the problem with adaptations of the skyscraper in Germany, France, the former Soviet Union, and the UK was that all operated under the erroneous assumption that the skyscraper was “architecture.” On the contrary, wrote Tafuri, skyscrapers were “real live ‘bombs’ with chain effects, destined to explode the entire real estate market.” They