Russia’s artful classicist – Da!

Roman House (2006), the firsr major project in Moscow by Mikhail Filippov. (YouTube)

Historian James Stevens Curl, the author of Making Dystopia (2018), the most comprehensive critical history of modern architecture, has sent me a marvelous video of the classical work of the Russian architect Mikhail Filippov. His work has been described as “Piranesian,” a reference to the Renaissance Italian artist whose specialty was imaginative classical structures and ruins that seem drawn from his own dreams. Elements of Filippov’s fanciful style call this quality to mind, but his finished works are far from ruins, and in a world fatigued by our dismal built environment it all does seem dreamlike, even utopian. But it is real.

In the half-hour video, Filippov describes his work in Russian, with subtitles. It displays a multitude of sketches of major urban developments he was asked to submit early in his career, which began as an artist and architectural renderer. Some of his unbuilt projects are on Russian waterfronts. He pairs his drawings with footage of what was actually built, his vision scrolling leftward at the top at the same pace as today’s view scrolling leftward at the bottom. These are heart-rending sequences. He says:

We live in an epoch exempt from the architecture we like, and we don’t care about the architecture of our time. We might like many things about our modern neighborhoods. We like them for abundant greens, fresh air, kindergartens, playgrounds, parking lots, etc., but not the architecture. If we want to see architecture we have to go to the center, or travel to historical sites, such as St. Petersburg, Venice, Paris and others. There we can see the true architecture that we miss in our modern places. This is a very unique situation in the human’s history. In all times people used to prefer the architecture of their own epoch. Today all the architecture of the city centers all over the world are declared as architectural monuments by law. They have to be preserved. And they are still the centers of political, economic and cultural life. The closer to the center the higher are the housing costs. And most importantly, nothing can be demolished there. For example, all historical centers, monuments and older buildings destroyed during the World War II were carefully restored. No one piece of modern architecture would be restored like that, since it’s never perceived as real architecture.

So true. Yet I suspect that Filippov’s description of which buildings survive in most historic city centers, especially on this side of the Atlantic, is on the optimistic side – but we’ll let that go for now. He is describing the ideal.

At 18:30 of the video, it starts showing his completed works, supplemented by his drawings. Roman House (2006), a “multifunctional residential complex” (the terminology undercuts its elegance), was Filippov’s first major project in Moscow. “The urban regulations allowed not higher than four-story buildings facing Kazachy Lane and seven-story buildings behind. I reflected this height change in a round courtyard with a colonnade stepping up.” The next built project fills the site of a former factory in Moscow and is even more imposing, and the next one, a social-housing project for military officers, picks up on the rondurous quality of his first Moscow project and is even more imposing still.

The video also has Filippov describing some of his techniques of fabrication and construction. Some say the result is on the thin side, insufficiently articulated, but what they are seeing in some of the photographs is, I think, not a lack of depth in the detail and fenestration but the effect on surfaces of the lack of time and weather. Unlike modern architecture, traditional architecture ages gracefully.

Watch the video and then visit the website for a more extensive set of both the drawings and photographs of the completed projects in Moscow and elsewhere. Without a doubt, Mikhail Filippov has managed to turn his artistic talent into a series of architectural masterpieces.

Roman House (2006), the firsr major project in Moscow by Mikhail Filippov. (YouTube)

Mikhail Filippov / Nadezhda Bronzova – “Monument to the XXI century,” 1987

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Russia’s artful classicist – Da!

  1. LazyReader says:

    Don’t put too much clout into it. Russia builds; 4 out of every 5 dollars end up in the hand of a kleptocrat. These projects often built at huge public expense are follies by any othername.
    People recall Moscow’s majestic and classical subway stations which resemble palaces….Built in the 1930’s of the Holodomor where Russia starved 5-10 million people thru geopolitical democide to force them to capitulate. 2014 Russia lost 50 billion dollars it blew on the Olympics.

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  2. John the First says:

    In addition to the architectural scene, those in opposition to brutalism, there is a hidden unorganized diluted culture of opposition in the music scene, against pop music brutalism.

    The reasons why the music scene cannot form an organized opposition are probably diverse and complex of nature. The fraud which is more or less committed by the architectural scene (those against modernist brutalism ) is the typical democratic fraud of appeal to the opinion of the people, claiming that ‘most people dislike modernist architecture’. The architecture which is promoted by ‘neo-classicists, traditionalists’? is actually elite culture though, has always been elite culture. So somehow it appears that the traditionalists have the support of the people, but I think this rests on a complex of misunderstandings, though there might be a sufficient essence of truth in it. And who cares about how much this is true anyway…
    Another reason is that architecture is physical art, things can be factually measured, and since the spending of tax money comes into play, this can also be measured. Another factor is that much of the architecture discussed is public architecture, so the public is automatically involved.
    For music, such measuring is not possible, and such public interests cannot be measured.

    In short, music is non physical in essence, so the architectural scene, because architecture of all arts is the one mostly rooted in the physical, and since public interests are involved, has an enormous advantage. If the architectural scene cannot manage to turn the tide, having this enormous advantage, it spells the doom of all the other arts.

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    • I must disagree on two counts. First, pop music – and I assume you refer to offensively loud metal, screechy jazz and socially violent rap – is physical. You cannot see it but you can hear it, and that is a physical reaction. It can be measured in ways similar to the characteristics of architecture.

      Second, your reference to “the typical democratic fraud of appeal to the opinion of the people” is silly. People do prefer traditional architecture. Yes, only rich people can afford to have others design and build their own buildings, so that is, as you say, “elitist” whether it is trad or mod. But the preference among the public for the familiar over the experimental (to use a more generous term) is natural, not elitist, and not the least bit fraudulent. I have no idea what you are talking about.

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  3. John the First says:

    Awesome drawings, always better than reality, but the completed projects are gorgeous too.
    Another thing to tackle, to get rid of the crude modern car aesthetics, cars can be designed to look charming and in place too. Less focus on aerodynamics, neo-classicism and slower ways of living go hand in hand. More to come, the art of fashion, etc.

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    • I don’t think that modern (not modernist, per se, but sleek as opposed to ornamental) car design undermines traditional architecture, John, although I personally prefer the aesthetic of past cars in a number of previous iterations. Only the larger SUVs and Humvees are offensive. They block the view ahead when you are driving behind them. I oppose them also because they approach the scale where, unlike sedans, they do begin to impinge on the architecture of the streetscape. Most offensively, for cafe denizens they block the view of people walking across the street, which regular cars do not do. If I were king, the first thing I’d do is to ban SUVS except for those who can show a real need, or at any rate ban them from street parking near outdoor cafes.

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