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constructivism, Russian art movement founded c.1913 by Vladimir Tatlin, related to the movement known as suprematism. After 1916 the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner gave new impetus to Tatlin's art of purely abstract (although politically intended) constructions. Their sculptural works derived from cubism and futurism, but had a more architectonic and machinelike emphasis related to the technology of the society in which they were created. The Soviet regime at first encouraged this new style. However, beginning in 1921, constructivism (and all modern art movements) were officially disparaged as unsuitable for mass propaganda purposes. Gabo and Pevsner went into exile, while Tatlin remained in Russia. In theatrical scene design constructivism spread beyond Russia through the efforts of Vsevolod Meyerhold. A movement known as British constructivism was founded in the early 1950s by Victor Pasmore that lasted until 1975 and included such artists as Gillian Wise. The group advocated a return to the geometric art of prewar Europe, rejecting the then fashionable American abstraction.


See G. Rickey, Constructivism (1967).

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A movement originating in Moscow based on order, logic, structure, abstraction and geometry, primarily in sculpture but with broad applications to architecture. An expression of construction was the base for all building design with emphasis on functional machine parts. Vladimir Tatlin’s monument is the most notable example of this style. The industrial fantasies of Jacob Tchernikhov, published in 1933, show buildings perched on cantilevered structures, suggesting construction for construction’s sake. The movement can be regarded as part of the broader movement of functionalism, with an accent on constructional expression. All traditional accessories, such as ornamental details, were discarded in favor of mass and space in relation to the new sculptural forms.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a movement in Soviet art during the 1920’s (in architecture, stage design, poster art, book illustration, artistic design, and literature). The first group of constructivists, which included A. M. Gan, A. M. Rodchenko, V. F. Stepanova, and the brothers V. A. Stenberg and G. A. Stenberg, arose in 1921 at Inkhuk (Institute of Artistic Culture). The constructivists advocated the construction of an environment that actively guided life’s processes. They sought to interpret the aesthetic qualities of such materials as metal, wood, and glass and the formal possibilities of the new technology and of its logical, rational constructions.

The slogans of production art were partially realized in constructivist works. The constructivists contrasted the simplicity and the underlying utilitarianism of new forms, which personified to them democracy and the new relationships among people, with the ostentatious splendor of bourgeois life.

In architecture, constructivist principles were developed in theoretical statements by A. A. Vesnin and M. la. Ginzburg. These principles were implemented in the Palace of Labor project in Moscow, which was designed in 1923 by the brothers A. A. Vesnin, V. A. Vesnin, and L. A. Vesnin. The basis of this building’s construction—the reinforced-concrete frame—is revealed in the new exterior appearance; the building was constructed according to a precise, rational plan.

In 1925 a creative organization of constructivists, the OSA (Association of Contemporary Architects), was founded. Its organ of publication was the journal Sovremennaia arkhitektura (Contemporary Architecture; 1926–30). In this journal the constructivist architects set forth their creed, the so-called functional method, which required that architects take into account the particular purpose of buildings, structures, and architectural complexes when creating their rational designs and providing their equipment.

Along with other groups of Soviet architects, the constructivists (the Vesnin brothers, M. la. Ginzburg, I. I. Leonidov, A. S. Nikol’skii, M. O. Barshch, V. N. Vladimirov, and others) sought new methods and principles of urban design and planning, suggested projects for the restructuring of the conditions of life, and created new types of public buildings (Palace of Labor, House of the Soviets, workers’ clubs, and factory-kitchens). However, in both theory and practice the constructivists made a number of mistakes (the labeling of the apartment as “a material form of petit bourgeois ideology,” the regimentation of life in several communal housing projects, the failure to take geographical and climatic conditions into account, and the underestimation of the role of large cities that resulted from ideas of deurbanization).

To a certain degree, the aesthetics of constructivism facilitated the establishment of Soviet artistic design. On the basis of work done by constructivists, such as A. M. Rodchenko and A. M. Gan, new types of dishes, hardware, and furniture were designed that were convenient and could be mass-produced. The artists created designs for fabrics (V. F. Stepanova and L. S. Popova) and designed practical working clothes (V. F. Stepanova and V. E. Tatlin). New ways of mounting exhibits were also devised (El Lissitzky).

Constructivism also played an important role in the development of poster art (the photomontage of the Stenberg brothers, G. G. Klutsis, and A. M. Rodchenko) and typographical design (new ways of using the expressive possibilities of type and type-setting materials appeared in the work of A. A. Gan and El Lissitzky).

In theater, instead of a traditional set, the constructivists designed “scaffoldings” for the work of the actors, who were dressed in overalls. The design of these “scaffoldings” was governed by the stage action (L. S. Popova, A. A. Vesnin, and others—for the productions of V. E. Meyerhold and A. la. Tairov).

The usage of the term constructivism in the plastic arts outside of the USSR is rather arbitrary. In architecture it designates a tendency in functionalism that seeks to accentuate the expressiveness of contemporary constructions. In painting and sculpture, constructivism is one of the avant-garde movements which uses several of the formal experiments of early Soviet constructivism (the sculptors N. Gabo and A. Pevsner).

In literature, constructivist tendencies, answering the “leftist” demands for a “revolution of form” (transformation of language, poetry, and genres), was given impetus by the slogans of Lef, or the Left Front of the Arts (emphasis on the “construction of materials” instead of the artist’s intuitive style; on the montage style, or cinematic style, in prose; on propaganda poetry; and on journalistic language). In 1923, K. L. Zelinskii, I. L. Sel’vinskii, and A. N. Chicherin advanced constructivism as an independent movement primarily in poetry. Their manifesto appeared in 1924 in their collection Mena vsekh (Exchange of Everything). In that same year the Literary Center of Constructivists (LTsK) was formed. The group’s theorist was K. L. Zelinskii; its members included I. L. Sel’vinskii, V. A. Lugovskoi, V. M. Inber, B. N. Agapov, and A. P. Kviatkovskii. E. G. Bagritskii was also associated with LTsK.

The theoretical tenets of constructivism, unlike those of Lef, recognized the sovereign rights of poetry; however, the regularity of its development as a phenomenon of spiritual culture was replaced in many cases by the focus on the “technical rigging” of culture. An example is the principle of the “loading” of a word, or the design distribution of material—“the maximum required load of the indispensible per unit of the material, that is, brief, compact, saying much in a small space and everything in a point” (Mena vsekh [collection], 1924, p. 8)—which in its extreme form led to the style of the slogan and advertisement (experiments of A. N. Chicherin).

On the other hand, a topical principle became an expression of constructive organization. This principle was the construction of a theme from words and rhythms most closely related to it. In I. L. Sel’vinskii’s poetry laboratory the author’s language was transformed into that of the character or environment being described. For example, the poem The Thief (1922) was written entirely in the vernacular of the thief. Sel’vinskii used phonetic transcription with the designation of tone to convey the rhythmic correspondences of pronunciation (for example, song and dance rhythms).

The constructivists incorporated into poetry various devices of prose (inflation of prose) and distinctive lexical strata (professional terminology and jargon). They rejected lyrical emotions, preferring clearly organized narrative poetry and epic genres. However, the constructivists did not create a “style of the epoch” as they had intended. In 1930 the Literary Center of Constructivists disbanded. The role of LTsK in Soviet poetry was deter-mined not by its erroneous theoretical aims but by the creative work of its talented poets, who left behind them a rich legacy of poetry.


Gan, A. Konstruktivizm. Tver’, 1922.
Kino-fot. 1922–23.
Sovremennaia arkhitektura. 1926–30.
Literaturnye manifesty (ot simvolizma k Oktiabriu). Moscow, 1929.
Iz istorii sovetskoi arkhitektury, 1917–1925, gg: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1963.
Sovetskoe literaturovedenie i kritika. Moscow, 1966. (Bibliographical index.)
Iz istorii sovetskoi arkhitektury, 1926–1932 gg.: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1970.

S. O. KHAN-MAGOMEDOV (introduction, architecture), V. I. RAKITIN (artistic construction, graphics, stage design), and A. A. MOROZOV (literature)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Constructivism: Tatlin’s project
A movement which originated in Moscow after 1917, primarily in sculpture, but with broad applications to architecture. The expression of construction was to be the basis for all building design, with emphasis on functional machine parts. Tatlin’s project of a monument to the Third International in Moscow (1920) is the most famous example.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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