21: Unbuildable Tatlin


Not the old, not the new but the necessary - Vladimir Tatlin
Nonetheless, the tower marks a caesura in Vladimir Tatlin's artistic work and was also to divide the era of the avant-garde into two periods, that is "before " and "after" the monument - Florian Medicus

Unbuildable Tatlin is the book form of a seminar held in 2009 at the University of Applied Arts, Angewandte Vienna and it is a beautiful publication about one of the most iconic projects of post-revolutionary Soviet architecture: Vladimir Tatlin’s monument for the third international (1919-1925). 
The book title is perhaps suggestive of being merely an analysis of Tatlin's tower feasibility and constructability, yet it quickly provides much more in a close-up story of the mythical biography of Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin. This book does not linger in futile attempts at speculating about the tower’s iconicity and influence on current thinking, as proved by providing passing comments on contemporary artists that have done reverential work such as: Ai Wei Wei’s Fountain of light or Dan Flavin’s Monument to V. Tatlin, but rather delving into the genealogy of Constructivism, which was the artistic-intellectual foundation for the project itself.

The use of parametric software enables one to design and also describe a process of generation in addition to the final object, thus offering a parametric spectrum of possible solutions - Klaus Bollinger

Klaus Bollinger starts with an introduction to the idea of the modern parametric utopia and structural versatility explained through work from his office Bollinger + Grohmann and its involvement with projects by architectural luminaries such as Dominique Perrault, Coop Himmelblau, Zaha Hadid and Mario Bellini.

However, it is Rolf Werner with his 'Miscellanea of Ingenious Architecture in the Soviet Avant-Garde' that delivers the most insightful text by studying and correlating a lineage of key moments and figures within Russian avant-garde movements and their interplay of material innovation, advanced engineering and artistic vision. 
It is noted early on in the book by Werner that despite the fact that the end of the suppression of artistic work in the Soviet Union is long past, the work of the Constructivists is perhaps poorly chronicled, having Selim O. Khan-Magomedov deliver a comprehensive academic study of post-revolutionary buildings  almost five decades later (1983). No doubt that it is the unfortunate lack of documentation for Tatlin's Tower (structural or architectural plans) and the late academic / archival documents that make deducing the tower’s feasibility nothing but a speculative task.
Werner dives wonderfuly in what he calls the soviet ‘adventure of ideas’ by explaining diverse ideas such as the relevance of Vladimir Shukov's Shabolovka tower,  Nikolai Ladovsky’s influence in a generation of Russian architects at the Vkhutemas school (the Russian Bauhaus), and the brilliance of Ivan Leonidov’s project Lenin Institute in portaying the constructivist dogma.

Another notable piece of art theory is Gabriele Werner's 'The curved line as for, metaphor and policy'. By describing 'Monument to the Third International' as an utopia of material culture, this analytic text weaves together Rodchenko's Spatial constructions, Boccioni's Development of a Bottle in Space and Brueghel the Elder Tower of Babel and Anish Kapoor's Olympic Park.

However, one quickly finds that in Unbuildable Tatlin is not only composed of academic texts but geometrical and graphic studies as well; Scientist Franz Gruber attempts to have a reconstruction in 3D of the tower through the analysis of vanishing points in pictures with a derivative from the 'Measuring point method' in a passage called: ‘Geometric reconstruction with poor quality photos’. Georg Glaeser follows with his ‘Theory of spirals’ in which he analyses the types of mathematical variations of spiral geometry in terms to their classification according to how they are described mathematically.


A minimum of material, a maximum of constructiveness - this is the building law of the proletariat - Strigalyov

Ultimately, Unbuildable Tatlin is a great discussion of artistic movements and their figures: Constructivism, Suprematism, Cubo-futurism in a time in which architecture and the productive arts were clearly more embedded in ideology and politics (i.e. Lenin and Lunacharsky's Monumental propaganda, Trotsky's Literature and Revolution). Within the dividing line between Suprematism (lead by El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich), and Constructivism (lead by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko) artistic differences provided productive outcomes, despite their opposed understanding of what post-revolutionary art had to be.
Tatlin himself was an enigmatic figure yet his ambitions were clearly not, he spent years of his life perfecting his monument, diligently developing its spiral geometry and its material utopias, developing meticulously its epic rotating volumes. His understanding of architecture was always filtered through a tectonic (constructivist) understanding of material systems, and this is perhaps the most marked difference, not only to Suprematists where form was principal, but also to all the contemporary attempts of avant-gardisms affirmed by sensuous renderings that seem to make anything plausible with no material evidence whatsoever.




ISBN 10-3211992014