Architecture Misfit #19: Illarion Ivanov-Schitz
Since 2010, misfits’ architecture has identified eighteen architecture misfits who seem to have little in common. Not all are or were architects. No.16: Douglas Haskell, had a life in architecture, but mostly as journalist and commentator. No.5: The Futurists, had little interest in architecture but nevertheless managed to greatly influence it. No.1: Hannes Meyer, No.2: Irving Gill, No.8: Hassan Fathy, and No.12: Nader Khalili, No.14: Eladio Dieste, No.15: Knud Peter Harboe, and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg all had an intimate knowledge of building construction. No. 4: SUPERSTUDIO and No.9: Karel Teige gave us new thoughts about how architecture should relate to society.
All these people had a curiosity about how to make buildings better. For No.2: Irving Gill, No.6: George Fred Keck and No.12: Nader Khalili, this resulted in the development and refinement of a particular system of construction. Others such as No.10: Colin Lucas and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg focussed on improving the internal planning of buildings for the efficient use of space and, because of that, the more efficient use of the construction materials that enclose it.
Their fields of interest and activity are different but all of these architecture misfits have in common a passionate interest in some aspect of the craft of designing and making buildings.
None were interested in creating a media presence and this is one reason why, on the whole, they remain relatively unknown. Having said that, architecture misfits No.9: Karel Teige, No.16: Douglas Haskell and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg were all comfortable with and competent in engaging with architectural media society in their respective eras. What they didn’t do was use it as a vehicle for fame in the way Frank Lloyd Wright invented and Le Corbusier perfected. The buildings came first. In a world where it’s easy to think architects are driven by nothing but media impact and commercial success, this has become increasingly difficult for us to imagine.
(March 28, 1865 – December 7, 1937)
The fact most people will not have heard of Illarion Ivanov-Schitz is alone insufficient evidence to consider him an architecture misfit. Most people have not heard of most architects. But is it possible for an architect whose uniqueness lay in “developing a unique personal style” (w) to even qualify as one? Many architects develop a unique personal style but it’s also true that many do so in order to merely have something that differentiates them in the market – a USP.
The situation we have now is one where a Unique Selling Point is generated, presented, and unquestioningly accepted, as a Unique Personal Style. The two have become interchangeable to the extent their meanings have now completely overlapped. Be that as it may. If however, an architect develops a unique personal style as part of an ongoing quest for a particular kind of architectural truth, then they most definitely qualify as an architectural misfit. Ivanov-Schitz was most active in the years 1900–1910. We’ll have to move now to William Craft Brumfield’s book “The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture” to better understand what was going on at the time.
“Every major architecture style was imitated or paraphrased on the facades of commercial and housing structures in [St.] Petersburg during the late nineteenth century: neo-Renaissance, neobaroque, neo-Greek, Louis XVI, Russian Revival, and Moorish. Mixed or unrecognizable styles, however, may in fact have predominated.
A good example might be Fedor Shekhtel’s Vikula Morozov house of 1895,
the same year as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Nathan Moore House.
British people would understand both as late-Victorian eclecticism.
BRICK: As well as all this, there was a growing appreciation for unadorned brick, initiated by Webb and Morris’s Red House from 1859.
One of the best examples of the non-historicist use of brick is Viktor Shreter’s 1872 apartment building in St. Petersburg.
- Shreter advocated brick without stucco for its “durability, originality, and rationality”. It was also economical and relatively easy to maintain.
- In “Brick Architecture,” published in Zodchii in 1872, Leronim Kitner joined Shreter in advocating a brick style, saying “A facade of brick facing is incomparably more rational than one of stucco. In our climate a structure with brick facing has greater durability and can be erected in a much shorter period.”
- The architect-critic V. Kuroedov predicted a great future for brick because of its structural qualities rather than its decorative uses.
- Both Kuroedov and Kitner were disciples of Apollinarii Krasovskii (1816–1875), the leader in Russian architectural education during the nineteenth century. The following is an excerpt from Krasovskii’s 1851 textbook Civil Architecture: “Architecture should not tend exclusively toward either the useful or the beautiful; its basic rule is the transformation of the one into the other. . . . Tectonics or construction is the main source of architectural forms. The role of art in the composition consists only in conveying artistic finish to the crude forms of tectonics. . . . The property of a material and the best possible means of applying it determine the means of construction, and construction itself determines the external form of both parts and buildings.”
THE SHINGLE STYLE: America’s Shingle Style was well known through the work of Henry Hobson Richardson—one of the few American architects whose work appeared frequently in Russian journals. His Watts Sherman House is from 1874.
ART NOUVEAU: In one of the October 1899 issues of Nedelia stroitelia there was a brief unsigned article describing two Petersburg apartment buildings with art nouveau affectations. “Decadence in architecture is beginning to appear also among us. . . . The striving for new forms, for a rejection of the cliché, should of course yield quite varied results, some more or less successful. Having created an entire range of new architectural goals, life persistently demands new forms for their expression.” In the March 1900 issue of Zodchii, V. Shmor raised the question of “style or fashion?” and criticized the eager imitation of foreign design in the name of progress and questioned the durability of the new style, “which seems . . . at present . . . only the unsubstantial blending of various fashions.”
VERNACULAR: The turn of the century saw a global drift away from eclecticism and the exploration of less expensive vernacular materials and methods. The shift towards unpretentious structures with simple logic owes much to the thinking embodied in vernacular architecture whatever the country. Greene and Greene’s Gamble House was 1908.
V.A. Simov and Leonid Vesnin’s Nosikov Dacha was 1909. It’s not worlds apart.
MODERNISED NEOCLASSICISM (aka “THE GERMAN STYLE”): This is Peter Behrens’ 1911-12 German embassy in St. Petersburg. “The residents of Saint Petersburg didn’t take kindly to the new building – the German style was quite alien to the rest of Saint Petersburg.”
STYLE MODERNE: Other articles of the time reported on the competition to design the new campus at the University of California. There was also a survey of the English vernacular revival with mention of Charles Voysey and M. H. Baillie Scott. In 1901 there was a report of Joseph Olbrich’s 1897-98 Secession House in Vienna as well as detailed reports of the 1900 Paris Exhibition. On the whole, everyone was pretty well connected, considering. There was also a flourishing system of international architectural competitions. One of the first modernist buildings in Moscow was the 1898–1905 Hotel Metropole by British architect William Walcott.
In the February 1902 issues of Zodchii, Pavel Makarov defined the new style as having “Freshness, simplicity, lack of pretension, and a complete rejection of old form…” His first article focussed on England and the Arts and Crafts designers. The second was on Belgium and Henry van de Velde, and the third was on Austria and the Vienna Secession, giving priority to Otto Wagner. Makarov issued the challenge of a socially responsible architecture ennobling and beautifying life for the poor as well as the rich.
NEOCLASSICAL REVIVAL: A tussle began – one of those cyclic competitions to lay claim to the soul of architecture. Some interpreted a neo-classical revival in Petersburg as a rejection of the moderne. Evgenii Baumgarten raised the stakes in 1902 in his review of Otto Wagner’s recently published Moderne Architecture, taking issue with Wagner’s statement that “Nothing impractical can be beautiful.”
“Although Professor Wagner’s instructions are practical, we are compelled to take a negative view of this theoretical argument. In leaning toward the utilitarian, he falls into an obvious absurdity. Proposing that the contemporary architect “come to terms” with the statement nothing that is not practical can be beautiful, he lowers the architectural art, praised with such feeling, to the level of an applied craft. With such criteria for appraising the beautiful, there is nothing left to say about original artistic creativity. … Of course it is necessary to build houses solidly, cheaply, quickly, and conveniently, but the beauty of a house has no relation to the technique of construction. The human soul requires architectonic beauty just as human vision requires good illumination.”
We’re still arguing over this a century later. Back then it was still early days. Baumgarten wouldn’t have liked Wagner’s 1904 Postparkasse (Austrian Postal Savings Bank) of 1904
or the Otto Wagner Spital from 1907.
and definitely not Adolf Loos’ Goldman & Salatsch Building from 1910. Even the Viennese found it difficult to accept the starkness of this building. I like to believe the story the window boxes were a last-minute compromise to gain planning approval.
The most famous Russian architects of 1900-1910 worked in ALL these styles, often at the same time, sometimes in the same building.
Fyodor Schechtel began Gothic-Romantic but during the 1890s oscillated between Gothic and Russian Revival, turned to art nouveau at the beginning of the century, and chose between art nouveau and neoclassical revival for the rest of the decade, with random dalliances with style moderne inbetween.
Ivan Fomin, similarly, was initially enthusiastic about art nouveau but switched to neoclassical and later, in turn, Soviet neoclassical, Stalinist neoclassical, plus something known at the time with, in hindsight, scary prescience, as Postconstructivism.
Illarion Ivanov-Schitz was not architecturally promiscuous like superstars Schechtel and Fomin. True, he did eclectic buildings in the 1890s but, in fairness, Eclecticism was the style of the 1890s.
Devichye Pole Orphanage, Moscow, 1892
This building is now the Embassy of Vietnam. It is the only Ivanov-Schitz’ building of the 1900s that has a different use today.
6, Kuznetky Most Street, Moscow, 1898
This was originally the Muir and Mirillies department store. It is now the Khomyakov Trading House.
From about this time, Ivanov-Schitz began to develop his distinctive style that has been said to use a modernised form of classical tectonics. Others simply called it “A Greek sort of Wagner”.
Offices of the State Savings Banks, Moscow, 1898
This was Ivanov-Schitz’ first major post-eclectic building. Despite the Ionic columns it was regarded as unusually modern. Here it is under construction.
The corner of Kuznetsky Most and Petrovka Street is in the historic centre of Moscow,
and is a painter’s favourite.
It’s still a bank. Office space is currently renting.
We get to see the rear of the building.
And also get a sense for at least how the interior might once have been.
(Wagner’s Austrian Postal Savings Bank was 1904.)
Moscow Savings Bank, Rakhmanovsky Lane, Moscow, 1903
There are many excellent photographs to be found here.
1903-1906 Abrikosov’s Maternity Hospital in Miusskaya Square
It’s still a maternity hospital, but now renamed the Nadezhda Krupskaya Maternity Hospital, after Lenin’s wife.
Vvedensky People’s House, Vvedenskaya Square, Moscow, 1904.
“People’s houses were Soviet cultural centers (clubs) that were built in the early twentieth century on the outskirts of the city, in order to educate workers and poor and population. Cinematograph and library were open, free morning shows, musical evenings, variety of lectures conducted in the People’s House.“
“The building was rebuilt beyond recognition by architect BV Efimovich in 1947. Since then nothing reminds of a refined Viennese Secession. As a result there was a palace of the typical of the late- Stalinist architectural style. Some critics jokingly referred to this architectural style as ” the Elephant’s Empire” due to very large forms and details.“
The building was refurbished in 2008 to become the “Yauza Palace” concert venue it is today. This is the only example of an Ivanov-Schitz building being “modernised” but it’s easy to imagine this modernisation had more to do with updating the perception of government priorities. The building continues to exist as a concert hall and theatre.
Morozov Hospital, Moscow, 1905.
This is now Morozov Children’s Hospital.
Merchants’ Club, Moscow 1907–1908
The advanced style is even more evident inside, where decorative shapes—streamlined, abstract—resemble those of contemporary Viennese design and anticipate modern design in the West during the 1920s (Brumfield)
The building served as a hospital during WWI
and is now the Lenkom Theatre.
“The recessed Ionic portico of his Merchants’ Club on the Dmitrovka is flanked by square towers with classical elements whose form owes much to the Vienna Secession.” (Brumfield)
[Maybe. With its focus on form, architectural history is always quick to talk of “influences” rather than “good and useful ideas that quickly found wider application”. Getting rid of ornament is always presented as local stylistic choices rather than universal economic imperative.]
Soldatenkovskaya Hospital, Moscow.
It’s now the Hospital Botkin. Between 1908 and 1928, Ivanov-Schitz was officially employed as the architect of Botkin Hospital in Moscow.
Orlikov Lane Flophouse, Moscow, 1909
According to one unconfirmed report, it is still standing and now known as the Bugrov Hostel.
Shanyavsky University, Miusskaya Square, Moscow, 1910-1912
This is now part of the campus of Russian State University of the Humanities (RSUH).
• • •
Over the period 1900-1910 Ivanov-Schitz used the same block-like massing with various degrees of relief and ornament on buildings having widely different briefs and budgets. Ivanov-Schitz’ combined the clarity and rationality of Wagner with the dignity of Greek classicism and produced something that was at the same time modern and timeless. This understandably appealed to the financial institutions and charities who were his main clients. Just as it is difficult for us now to appreciate the simplicity of Georgian architecture unless we compare it to the excesses of the Victorian era, it is difficult for us now to appreciate the simplicity and the radicalness of Wagner. We find Loos easier to understand – and consequently dismiss – because of his famously noisy essay.
What’s remarkable about the output of Illarion Ivanov-Schitz is that so many of his buildings still exist, but also they are still being used and appreciated in much the same way they were meant to be used and appreciated. Apart from the orphanage now used as an embassy, a bank is still a bank, a hospital still a hospital, a university a university, a flophouse a hostel. Even Yauza Palace is still an active part of the city. In terms of whole life-cycle performance these buildings are doing amazingly well.
Illarion Ivanov-Schitz’ buildings are too easily dismissed as neoclassic or as ‘a Greek sort of Wagner’ but to see buildings in terms of arbitrary stylistic categories such as these misses the point of why buildings are built. There is something we can learn from this. If Ivanov-Schitz’ intention was to develop a durable aesthetic for buildings he could imagine being needed and used for a long time to come, then he did very well.
• • •
For reminding us what it’s supposed to be about,
misfits salutes you!
• • •
A special thanks to Dmitry Panov for suggesting I write about Illarion Ivanov-Schitz and for his help along the way. The post began with a long-overdue clarification on what makes a misfit architect. I was open minded at the beginning, and it was only when I learned more about the riotously innovative first decade of the century (that was just as directionless as the previous) did I begin to appreciate how unique Ivanov-Schitz was. Much later I was surprised to learn most of his buildings were still being used as they were intended. I was then surprised I was surprised at that. Today, we accept a high churn ratio and have invented concepts like adaptive re-use to make ourselves feel better about buildings that become obsolete too soon. It would be better to design so adaptive re-use is never necessary. Realistically though, no building lasts forever. Renovations and restorations have been made to Ivanov-Schitz’ buildings over the years but nobody ever thought it would be better to knock them down and building something more functional or more fashionable. They still made sense. And they still do. This is timelessness at a level more profound than how we’ve come to use the word.