1928: The Meeting
“Hello. I’m Moisei Ginzburg and I’d like to thank you for allowing my team and I to give this preliminary presentation on the analysis of apartment types that we’ve been conducting over the past three months. We can’t claim to have finished but are presenting it to you today in order to discuss its methods and methodology.”
When Moisei Ginzburg and his team met at STROYKOM [Building Committee of the Economic Council of what’s now the Russian Federation] to present the preliminary findings of The Types Study, there was one unspoken yet strongly felt presence at the meeting – History. It was not on their side of the table.
- March~September 1928: The most likely period for the three-month Types Study.
- 16 May 1928: The Central Committee of The Communist Party issued a formal directive: “On the Work Concerning The Restructuring Of Everyday Life”: WE WARN AGAINST ATTEMPTS OF CERTAIN COMRADES TO CONSTRUCT NEW MODES OF EVERYDAY LIFE BY FORCING MEANS SUCH AS SEPARATE CHILDMINDING , COMMUNAL DINING, ETC. New modes of everyday life must be built by taking into full account existing material conditions. IN NO INSTANCE MUST THEY PROCEED TO CONSTRUCT PLANS FOR WHICH THERE IS NEITHER MEANS NOR POSSIBILITY OF REALISING THEM.
It’s clear someone at the top was upset. Ginzburg and his team had been working to achieve exactly what was now being strongly warned against. Worse, that work had been done under the support and protection of a government agency. The project needed to die and it needed to look like it died of natural causes.
- November 1928: The Meeting
The Meeting was a feature of the entire CA (Contemporary Architecture, OSA crew’s mouthpiece) issue #1 of 1929. Misfits wouldn’t have been able to bring you this post if it weren’t for this coverage.
“In a country of emerging socialism, problems of lowering the cost of housing are connected to problems of improving housing to increase labor productivity, facilitate cultural revolution and to shift to more socially complex modes of housekeeping. Thorough rationalization of pre-revolution apartment plan, analysis of household activity and in the rooms and kitchen in particular could lead to 10% savings.”
Ginzburg began by emphasising that his team pursued building economy in order to better use building resources to supply millions of people with housing. He linked housing improvement to broader questions of the national economy, cultural revolution and changes in the household itself. He recognised that full socialism was still not achieved, and that interim solutions were required.
He stated that pre-Revolution apartments were well suited to bourgeois families but, even without secondary staircases and servants’ quarters, were a poor use of space if they had to house one family per room as had become common. Here’s a modest pre-Revolutionary Moscow apartment currently for sale (http://www.beatrix.ru/en/item/6941). The building has two apartments per floor. It looks like the elevator has been added later.
A downscaled version of such an apartment was used as the baseline for The Types Study.
“Rationalization of the pre-revolution apartment plan and an analysis of household activity in the rooms and kitchen in particular could provide savings of 10%.”
Imagining a future in which people ate in communal canteens, Ginzuburg and his team saw the kitchen as ultimately redundant. In the meantime, they settled for a drastic rationalisation.
“You may see here on the board a rationalised kitchen alongside a conventional kitchen.”
Ginzburg and the crew used the 1926 Frankfurt Kitchen as a design guideline and illustration of a rationalised kitchen.
Photographs of pre-1917 Russian kitchens are few. This next photo is a contemporary Russian kitchen that, though romanticised, probably contains a memory of what a bourgeois kitchen once was. In early 1900s Russia, wealthier houses would have had gaslight chandeliers, for example.
Floorplan and kitchen improvement comprise the essence of A type apartments, so that’s how they’ve been introduced. But back in 1928, “How high did an apartment room really need to be?” was a question that needed an answer. The political revolution of eleven years before still had not reached architecture.
“If surplus height in non-habitable rooms such as the hallway, bathroom, WC and kitchen is redistributed, housing economic efficiency can be further improved.”
By “economic efficiency” Ginzburg means the following.
He then showed the Type B apartment had interlocking upper and lower apartments with the non-habitable rooms having the areas of lower ceiling height.
“Type B has specific issues but outperforms the EKOSO norms by 17% and our own A2 type 10% in terms of volumetric ratio. Keeping in mind additional expenses such as an extra riser or extra joist, we estimated a 15% cost reduction.”
“In this non-habitable room area and height squeeze we’ve reached the extreme we can’t surpass. It’s almost the saturation limit. But for apartments below 50 sq. m. economic efficiency demands more radical measures.”
Those measures included implementing the niche kitchen and installing a shower instead of a bathtub.
“The question of economically beneficial small apartment is brought to the forefront by our social condition.”
Ginzburg began introducing the hurdle of apartment compaction and rationalisation — the internal limitations of building configuration. It was constant volumetric ratio evaluation conducted through the study that enabled them to see those. The desire to construct many small apartments was the reality of constructing habitable envelopes for a thousand stairwells – if done on a regular basis. This was the key problem the crew faced. That enabled MG to move on towards the F, with its renowned features:
- Sleeping area and auxiliary rooms (shower, WC, lavatory) are on one side and with reduced height (2.25 m).
- The living area is on the other side and is of greater height (3.5 m), allowing a corridor because of the accumulated surplus height differences of the portions.
- This corridor may be totally lit.
- Apartments have cross-ventilation and are dual-aspect.
- The building volume to habitable area ratio is the same as in a 3-room apartment.
- The average ceiling height in the apartment is still better than in current worker housing.
- Adopting the kitchen element allows dual use of kitchen activity area.
1. Light in every place of apartment. 2. Cross-ventilation and double-aspect apartments. 3. All bedrooms having the same orientation. 4. Rooms sized according to number of inhabitants. 5. Rooms shaped and sized according to activity. 6. Top-range equipment. 7. Optimum room proportions. 8. Rational colouring of interior surfaces.
Ginzburg ended his presentation with a list of of qualities they strove to achieve through their design process.
His final words were on the topic of standardised construction that was an outline of future work as well:
“Today’s directive on standardization is wrong in our opinion, because the desire to populate whole country with the frightening mediocrity of identical houses is a mistake.”
“We believe standardization should be made not via replication of only one type, but through the use of standard elements that can be combined into a multitude of types.”
THE PEOPLE ONE MEETS AT MEETINGS
Those who go first, and object to the first thing they notice:
Cde. Morosov (Head Regional Engineer) “The corridor is very ingeniously contrived but, in case of fire, would become a large ventilation shaft feeding a fire and blocking the exit. The narrow exit stairs compromise the floor area.”
Those who don’t know what they are saying, but say it anyway:
Cde. Elaschenko (Moscow Council) “These houses must be built with elevators. It’s impossible to use such a house without one. Elevators themselves take up considerable area. [In the case of the lower Type F apartments] the residents will have to go up and then down. This is not pleasant and will have a negative psychological effect in addition to having to climb stairs to go outside.
“I don’t think the height of the kitchen can be less than the living room because it’s impossible to work in a kitchen with a ceiling lower than 2.5m. For the lavatory, a ceiling height of 2.25m would compromise the tank performance unless it is installed at ceiling level – in which case it can’t be adjusted.”
Those who don’t say much:
Cde. Prokofiev (Health Authority)
“The non-habitable area was mentioned but the height of the habitable area will also be reduced, compromising the health of the residents. Expensive mechanical ventilation would be required since the kitchen and the lavatory are so close to the living area.”
Those whose one good point gets lost:
Cde. Serk (Health Authority) [ According to Igor Kazus’ book «Soviet Architecture of 1920s: Design Organisation», from 1922-24, Serk was head architect in the residential department of Gosstroy (State Construction institution) but by 1928 had become an architectural consultant for the Health Authority. As such, Serk would be partially responsible for issuing the sunlight directives still in force across Russia today. ]
“Every time we get back to knowing not what we want to build – sometimes we want 3-room apartments for one family and sometimes we want 3-room apartments as dormitories! If we build 3-room apartments for 3 families to live it doesn’t make sense to shrink the kitchen to the extent proposed by the speaker. The kitchens they have abroad are all good if used by one family but not three. It’s impossible to design a perfect 3-room apartment for both one and three families. This question must be resolved once and for all.
“The speaker mentions a range of ingenious and interesting ploys to reduce the ratio of volume to living area. Good, but how much will one cubic meter cost? A more detailed calculation is required. From what I’ve heard, designers are now considering only the volume value but not all cubic meters cost the same. Height may be reduced to give fewer cubic meters but those meters will cost more. This question of cost was not explained.
“The kitchen rationalization is great theme – but that kitchen can only be possible in Moscow and other cities with water supply, gas etc. In the provinces, it’s too early to implement the degree of rationalization seen in the West.
Those who seem reasonable:
Cde. Rukhlyadev (Tsentrogylsoyuz housing committee)
“The virtue of this design is that kitchen equipment is being taken into account for the first time. This is a complex and important problem that must be explored further for not only urban but for other types of household.
“To me, the key feature of the floor plans is a dedicated area for sleeping. This was noted in Stroykom’s proposed guidelines but never considered until now.
“Cde. Serk is right to note that this apartment won’t probably be inhabited by one person making its mass construction unlikely. We currently have apartments housing more than one family and it’s those apartments that big cities need.
“The corridor is crucial to residential construction, especially in cooperative housing where they are used to connect to other uses such as clubs, canteens, laundries and childminding centres. Implementing this programme by our rustic means will be difficult and the cost per unit volume will be higher than that of regular housing. Stroykom’s further work should focus on standard construction modes for buildings, but not the ones we have now. The cost of housing built with industrially produced elements should eventually become comparable to regular housing.”
Cde. Curella (Arts Sector of the Commissariat of Enlightenment)
“We have to welcome those problems being presented to the general public. Essentially, the methodology is correct. In the report we see new modes of research on scientific organization of housekeeping. For the first time, perhaps, we see problems of new Soviet life modes included into academic architectural research. One of the best achievements is stimulating the shift towards collective housing but if we build housing only equipped with community kitchens, workers will set up kerosene stoves inside their rooms. … A lot of interesting features are seen in incremental design of F type housing. If we compare this new one-room corridor housing to the old ‘hotel type’ housing, the progress is so obvious it couldn’t be ignored. The argument regarding fire escape doesn’t hold water. I reckon we have to discuss all of these problems in a broader public forum. Workers aren’t yet part of the discussion. We need to publicise this work and perhaps go the Western way and set up a housing exhibition or show apartment or a testing station. The following year we could build a few experimental apartments based on these types and test them with real residents.”
The team’s Alexander Pasternak made a clarification at this juncture. He’d noted that people seemed to think the partial reductions in room height led to an overall reduction in room height when in fact the average room height was greater than what was typical.
Those who don’t:
Cde. Bragin (Health Authority)
“Comrades, the recent speaker claimed that volume was reduced at the expense of the dining room but isn’t it the living room where we reside the whole day? Volume reduction is undesirable. Further economies are achieved at the expense of the kitchen. Another issue is the living room and lavatory adjacency. In our conditions it’s inconvenient. How would you design where you don’t have sewers and water pipes, like in worker settlements? Have you made airflow calculation for your housing types? They say about influx ventilation but it’s overly expensive. Cooking inside the same room is a fundamental flaw that will also make the air foul. Was the aspect of children falling from the abundant staircases considered? Is it good to constantly go up or downstairs that ladder? Worker’s household modes must be changed with regard to their demands but I can’t see such consideration. The last aspect is social. I don’t think the corridor would facilitate resident communication, except for its negative aspects.
“Was noise transmission considered? Won’t the corridor facilitate sound transmission between apartments? Such effects can render any economy meaningless.”
Those who have been paying close attention:
Cde. Sadovsky (NKVD)
“I would say the problem posed by the speaker features three aspects. First is kitchen rationalization we have to welcome, but, bearing our situation in mind, we must think again about niche kitchenettes.
“Our situation” was a standard euphemism also used by other people at the meeting to refer to poverty, urban overcrowding and the recurring reality of three families per apartment. Sadovsky is saying that proposing niche kitchenettes is not helpful at the present time.
“In the B type, the entire non-habitable area is on one side of the plan and the habitable on the other and in the next floor they’re flipped. This creates a plumbing (and also an economic) issue since every floor will have pipes running down its full height on both sides.
This is a valid point.
“You would be constricted by the lighting conditions as well because if in the first floor you orient the bedroom to the east and in the second floor to the west.
It is true that similar rooms on adjacent floors are on opposite sides of the building.
“As general remarks on the author’s project, I must say the speaker anticipates a high level of servicing including sewerage and water and gas supply. We have to think about how applicable this proposal is when our cities have them only for 20%. We can’t expect elevator and gas without sewerage or water supply. The dining area and bathroom can’t be adjacent as in this design, unless there is a sewerage connection.”
This is also true. It also questions the fundamental assumptions and applicability of the proposals. It is also a direct reference to their economic viability and, as such, is a direct reference to the prohibiting directive. This could not be left without a response.
Cde. Cornfeld [of Stroykom] replied that the purpose of the work was not to find universal solutions for the entire republic and that it was too early to make detailed criticisms when more research is yet to be done. He defended the decision to do away with a dedicated kitchen on the grounds of increased equality. He also reminded everyone that research into single-room apartments is necessary as a solution to the problem of 3-room apartments being occupied by 3 families.
Cde. Voyeykov [ditto] admitted that the focus of the presentation should have been the theme of the work rather than the designs. He also pointed out the problems in designing to solve existing problems and at the same time for a future no-one knows. He restated how rationalising the floor plan was necessary and beneficial work and, with respect to universality, suggested that they could start by building these apartments in places already with sewerage and water supply, even though the ideas they contain could be applied anywhere.
Cde. Kopelyansky [ditto] explained how the 5-year plan calls for a 40-50% reduction in the cost of construction and that they aimed to achieve this by rationalising volume and the construction process. He added that more work on structure and construction will follow in the second stage of their work, and also stated his agreement with the basic idea of achieving an affordable one-family apartment. He agreed that major decisions can’t be forced upon residents and that it was necessary to build several different test houses for people to live in for a year or so.
Those who say whatever comes into their head:
CCoC representative (Central Commitee of Carpenters)
“About the room height, the authors made it bad because air is short. We have accepted multi-storey construction the best for the city. It was proven by cooperative construction. So we must explain how we’re gonna use this weirdo [такого «чудака»] [points at model] with its many staircases, in 10-15 years time? The workers might then be asking for elevators! Will anyone want to live in it in 10-15 years time? No. Never. Because of all those stairs. This design isn’t good for anything. It won’t be suitable for life either now nor then. No equipment can improve a house built this way. You’re not going to find that apartment anywhere in 25 years. This research is no good. Sometimes people bring new pieces of furniture to our carpentry workshops. They seem promising at first but then turn out to be not worth a row of pins.”
Those who take the opportunity to grandstand:
Cde. Lissitzky (ASNOVA – rival architectural group to Ginzburg’s OSA)
“The report said all this work is only three months old, but for real it’s older: those problems were researched by ASNOVA crew, as well as at VKHUTEMAS, Leningrad Institute of Civil Engineers and in other institutions different residential proposals were designed but those were treated as academic, utopian.”
In an article a few years later for a German magazine, Lissitzky was to use the following housing as examples aiming to determine “the direction in which the housing of a Socialistic society should develop.” The Types A, E and F were also included as work of the Building Committee of the Economic Council of the R.S.F.S.R.
“It hasn’t been properly mentioned here but we have always looked up to the west. I can talk a lot about this because I’ve studied the residential construction of Western Europe. I must point that what may suit them doesn’t suit us at all because our household customs are different. They know what they need, especially in the Netherlands where the architecture is most clearly defined. And those shivers we see in Germany are reflected in architecture as well. We are totally ignorant of what we need. We know now we have a 9 sqm norm and we know it’s not normal. It’s a ration, a temporary case.
“If we build for 50 years on the basis of this norm it means we don’t believe things will get better. What we need to do is calculate how long we would need to live by such a norm and propose five-year plans instead etc. If we build for 50 years to a 9 sq.m norm, then we had better hang ourselves. (Laughter)”
Those who make you go “Huh?”:
Cde. Venderov (VOGI – Civil Engineer Society) “A lot of critique was said here, and I’d like to attend only one detail being the calculations. As to the design, the height here [points at blueprint] is 3 ½ meters. This height must be increased otherwise a minimum height for corridors, bedrooms and bathrooms and lavatories can’t be obtained. There a surplus comes out: instead of regular 2.8 meter height we have 3.5 meters; this makes a difference of 70 cm. If we take the area of this unit, it’s 9×5.5 meters; this makes around 50 square meters. Thus we have 35 cubic meters of surplus per every apartment per corridor.
If we compare it to the volume we might get from regular type with stairwell serving 2 apartments at its sides, having taken common stair 7 meter long and 1.2 meter wide we get something like 9 square meters. Those 9 square meters times 2.80 or 3 meter height make 27 cubic meters, and if we take your project we can’t talk profits.”
This dance of numbers deserves some disambiguation. The talk is about the F – two stacked 3.5 meter living rooms accompany 2.25 m bedroom, a corridor and another bedroom stacked onto each other. The VOGI representative saw the 3.5 meter height as being not compliant with his idea of the volume-efficiency agenda. He claimed 0.7 m excess height across the F when compared to regular 2.8 m high apartment, making an excess of 35 cubic meters over its 50 sq.m floor area, again when compared to regular apartment.
However, the median height of the Type F is 3.06 m and not 3.50. He just got lost in its sectional complexity. Not to mention messy calculation, to blame a design team for increasing the habitable volume is a weird claim in itself. Bizarrely, he then compares this excess volume to the 27 square meters of stairwell of each floor of regular 2-apartment-per-landing apartments and concludes that the Type F underperforms. Mr. Venderov seems to have lost the track somewhere in the middle of MG’s report.
Those who are last:
Cde. Kyzymov (CEKOMBANK)
“What kitchen rationalization comes to be? I suppose it’s the problem of rationalizing the hostess herself. We don’t raise such a question yet. But it’s great the author reckons necessary to rationalize the kitchen. When he approaches its volume reduction, the opposite happens. Because our hostess spends at least 4-6 hours in the kitchen. There’s absolutely different atmosphere compared to the apartment. Could kitchen size be reduced in such case? The most worker women don’t have maids so they have to bear a child to the kitchen as well. Can bedroom height be reduced as well? But in case of scarce habitable area the bedroom must be tightpacked, and you could imagine what the air would be like in winter there. So we mustn’t take the path the speaker suggests. Now about the economy. It was said it’ll be grand. Is it examined? I doubt it. I reckon approval of all these types would be hasty. Comrades who worked on those must continue their work according to preceding conclusions.“
Cde. Jukeov (VSNKh RSFSR – powerful industrial and economic authority)
“The speakers made the wrong assumption to spread proposed types across whole USSR. Conditions are needed for that, now present only in big cities. It’s clear this house can’t be built in Yakutia [easternmost part of Siberia] but that doesn’t mean this house won’t suit Moscow. It is the exact answer to cultural revolution problem that is to come.
“The types presented to us have such virtue of taking not only economic, but social aspect of the problem into account. I admire the idea of horizontal corridor, because the corridor used in Moscow Council buildings is very uneconomical and uses much area and volume.
“We must move to practical examination of those types. All the remarks announced may be excellently resolved. We should build and show first for attitudes to change.”
The people who are last get to hear everything before it’s their turn. In all likelihood, someone has already said what they might have wanted to say. These people are thus more likely to summarise and draw preliminary and quite reasonable, if safe, conclusions. There are two conclusions rising to the surface here. One is that further economic analysis is necessary. The other is that test apartments must be built and studied further.
MOISEI GINZBURG’S RESPONSE
“Many people helped me, so my job is easier now. I’ll divide my afterword into two parts, first commenting on various objections before moving onto overall conclusions.”
- The Type F median floor height is 3.20 meters (crude recalculation returns 3.06, see above)
whilst Mossoviet blocks have it at 2.85 meters, and that the aim was always to increase the media floor height.
- Staircases take up area but so too would the corridor they function as.
- The calculations for Type F were for a minimum 2-floor configuration. So elevator can’t be discussed.
- The overall building depth of a three-room double sided apartment is 9.30 meters not including the wall thickness – so there’s no significant reduction.
- The reality of 3 housewives per a kitchen doesn’t render its rationalisation inappropriate.
“If there are three housewives, it’s three times you have to reconsider the movement graph and appliance arrangement.”
- The 9 sq.m “ration” per person is expected to increase by the addition of more communal facilities rather than increasing the area per-se like a bourgeois apartment.
- The government order was to exploit all the ways of reducing the construction cost and they have preferred to achieve it at the expense of non-habitable rooms and not habitable rooms. Types promising significant volume reductions need to be seriously considered.
- Standardisation that enables variation despite using standard elements is what is needed.
- A-type doesn’t increase cost (“apart from the designer’s brain energy expenditure”, he said). Kitchen rationalisation counted for most of its efficacy. The A-type 2-room apartments provided 9% building volume economy without cost increase. A-3-type (3-room apartment) provided 12-15% area economy and 15% volumetric benefit. He admitted Type B had its faults but its volumetric economy deserved consideration.
“We’ve heard unclear and messy assumptions of what’s to come in 10 or 15 years, We don’t think that everyone will have seven or eight rooms with their own servants. We envisage that in 10 to 20 years the sector we call the collective will grow and the one we call individual would shrink. What will happen to the F-type in 50 years? It’s simple. One or two persons will live there instead of three or four, and in the best case only one person. At the same time there will be expansion of communal facilities such as canteens, kitchens, kindergartens and such that serve not the individual but the community sector. With this in mind, such apartments would be even more necessary and more congruent with life in 50 years than now.”
The Plenum of RSFSR Construction committee and with the presence of scientific, construction and public organizations, starting with the difficult residential condition of USSR workers and from a need to develop and enhance residential construction to the most, decrees that:
- Research into economical forms of residential types and their construction methods is needed.
- Such research must aim to improve the quality of life and not degrade it.
- The construction of the presented types in large cities requires attention.
- Existing apartment types (Types A2, A3) should have more rational planning and surplus non-habitable area reduced to achieve a better ratio of habitable area cost to gross construction cost.
- There should be experimental construction of new residential types (Types B2, B3).
- There should be experimental construction of the compact one-room apartment (Type F)
- Experimental construction must examine the most economical and rational allocation of these types inside single buildings with communal facilities
- The Presidium of Stroykom RSFSR is to assign funds for both the experimental construction as well as their popularization.
- The Typization Section of Stroykom [Ginzburg and his team] will further research new methods and residential types whilst paying particular attention to structural design and inexpensive construction.
- Experimental construction making use of new and inexpensive construction materials should begin in the current building season.
- Typical structures and their elements must be designed to maximize their potential for fabrication in factories.
- The Stroykom Pesidium should facilitate the above by coordinating between the different institutions and organizations.
FOR: 7 AGAINST: 1
Some tactical errors were made by Ginzburg and his team.
- It’s still the case that despite talk of dialogue, collaboration, participation and (these days) integrative design processes, the discussion only really gets started when an architect puts some drawings on the table. Once that happens, the conversation quickly turns specific. This is why it’s better to take hand sketches to preliminary meetings. The project still looks like an idea “stakeholders” feel they can input to. The architect is not seen as imposing some predetermined solution.
- Once people have the impression of a fait accompli, it’s impossible to convince them otherwise. The mood was (and still is when their work gets resurfaced) that “the Constructivists” had designed five types of apartments for five different types of resident. Talk of standardisation becomes impossible.
- It’s also the case that reason stops. None of the “solutions” was appropriate for an unsatisfactory existing situation or for an improved future one. People found fault in everything from maintaining a toilet cistern to walking up a flight of stairs.
- By not pre-empting objections and explicitly stating that more work needed to be done on the economics before any definitive conclusions could be made, Ginzburg was forced to admit that “more work needs to be done on the economics …” This is never a strong position.
- In his final comments, Ginzburg first commented upon individual objections. This was a mistake as it made him appear like the guy who had all the answers, thus confirming what people were already thinking. This is the difficult part. It’s annoying seeing one’s work misunderstood, even by the obtuse.
The Meeting was never going to be an easy one. To present work and discuss it as if it were to go ahead, whilst at the same time knowing that it was no longer what was wanted and was never going to be implemented can’t have been easy. STROYKOM’s decision to invite various external people to the meeting to give their opinions was a good call. Out of the many irrelevancies and understandings came two easy yet anodyne conclusions everyone could agree and vote upon as the “way forward” to be taken up at some unspecified time in the future by some other committee. In this sense, and given the growing political stormclouds, the meeting was a success. Not all those present at the meeting were aware of those stormclouds, of their nature, or even of their growing. It was still a year before architectural organisations were to be forbidden by a decree. Under increasingly darkening skies, Ginzburg and his team went on to design and build four buildings using the apartment types and principles he and his team had developed.