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Ivan Leonidov

Commisariat for Heavy Industry in Red Square, Moscow 

Ivan Leonidov lived from 1902 to 1959. He was a constructivist architect, but also a painter, urban planner and a dreamer. From all of his works he only was able to build this staircase on a hillside in Kislovodsk.

“It is sad that the vast majority of sketchbook plans and competition entries reproduced in this album were never built. Ivan Leonidov was surely one of the most innovative and humanistic architects to come out of early Russian modernism. His Constructivist-inspired projects embody the same revolutionary spirit as Vladimir Tatlin’s celebrated 1919 tower. In his later buildings, medieval Russian motifs mingle with pyramids, amphitheaters, pagodas, to reflect his love of Eastern and classical cultures. Many of his visions were quixotichis United Nations headquarters, for example, or the Island of Flowers park in the Dnepr Riverbut all are inspirational. Vilified in the 1930s, Leonidov has lately undergone a “rehabilitation” in the Soviet Union.”

From the review of the book Ivan Leonidov

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Ivan Iljitsch Leonidov – from painter’s apprentice to leading protagonist of constructivism

Ivan Iljitsch Leonidov was born in 1902 on the Vlassicha farmstead in Gouvernement Tver,as the son of a woodsman. He spent his childhood in the village and worked as apprentice to a painter of icons. In 1920, he entered the “Freien künstlerischen Werkstätten“ (independent art workshops) in Tver. In 1921, he went to the art faculty of Moscow’s WChUTEMAS (Higher State Artistic and Technical Institute). He later switched to Alexander Wesnin’s atelier in the faculty of architecture.

From 1925 to 1927, Leonidov took part in numerous competitions and submitted the following pieces: the residential housing in Ivanovo-Vosnessensk (3rd prize), the Belorussian university in Minsk (credit), clubs of the new social type for workers, accommodating 500 and 1,000 persons (credit). He attained publication of his diploma dissertation for the headquarters of Isvestija, the daily newspaper.

Whilst still a student, he decided to join the association of constructivists, the OSA group, and the “SA” newspaper (present day architecture). His diploma dissertation – the Lenin Institute and Library in 1927 – became a milestone in the development of constructivism. After his diploma, he worked at the WChUTEMAS, firstly as assistant in the Alexander Wesin atelier. He was soon to be running his own atelier.
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Lenin Institute and Library

Leonidov carried out his most active and fruitful work between 1927 and 1930. He participated in the work of the OSA, appeared in discussions and worked on experimental and competition designs (many of which were in behalf of the OSA), such as the film factory in Moscow, workers’ clubs of the new social type (1928), government seat in Alma Ata (1928), the Central Association for Consumer Cooperatives building in UdSSR (Centrosojus) in Moscow (1928), House of Industry in Moscow (1929), the Columbus memorial in Santo Domingo (1929), socialist settlement methods in the Magnitogorsk combine (1930) and the Palace of Culture in Moscow (1930).
At the beginning of the 1930s, a campaign was introduced at the initiative of WOPRA (association of proletarian architects) concerning “Leonidovism”, in which Leonodiv’s experimental projects were the target of subjective criticism. As a result, he was forced to give up his teaching activities.
In the first half of the thirties, he worked in various organisations on the planning and construction of the Siberian town of Igarka, on designs for Serpuchov Square in Moscow, for the reconstruction of Moscow, for the “Pravda“ newspaper club and others. One of his best designs, for the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry (Narkomtjashprom) in Moscow, was produced in 1934.

In the second half of the thirties, Leonidov created designs for the “Kljutschiki” residential complex in Nishni Tagil in the central Urals, for the “Artek” Pioneer Camp and for the Ussolje settlement in the Urals.
In the post-war years, he managed to overcome the crisis that had inhibited his creative imagination for a number of years. There were a series of design studies that are testament to a new creative upturn: for the city of the future – the “Sun city”, designs for the UN building, for the Palace of the Soviets, for the World Exhibition in Moscow, for the Arts Forum and more.

Ivan Iljitsch Leonidov died on 6th November 1959 in Moscow.

(Biography: extract from S.O. Chan-Magomedov, Pioneers of Soviet Architecture, Vienna, Löcker Publishers, 1983)

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