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 potentialitiesvisions 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, organizingthese 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 completely, creating instead an antihierarchical space, a monument without monumentalitya burial ground for those killed in street fighting, a processional route for revolutionary events, and a place that could connect the victorious workers of Petrograd to the failed revolutionaries of the
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