Ivan Zholtovsky

Ivan Vladislavovich Zholtovsky
Born 27 November 1867
Died 16 July 1959(1959-07-16) (aged 91)
Nationality Russian
Occupation Architect
Awards Stalin prize, 1951

Own practice, 1898-1932
Mossovet Workshop No.1, 1932-1945
Zholtovsky School and Workshop, 1945-1959

Head of Moscow Architectural Institute, 1940-1948

Kaluzhskaya St. apartments (1950) Mokhovaya St. apartments (1934)

Tarasov House (1912)

New Moscow master plan (1918-1923), with Alexey Shchusev

Palace of Soviets (1932), one of three winning entries

Ivan Vladislavovich Zholtovsky (Russian: Иван Владиславович Жолтовский Belarusian: Іван Уладзіслававіч Жалтоўскі, 1867–1959) was a Russian-Soviet architect and educator. He worked primarily in Moscow from 1898 until his death. An accomplished master of Renaissance Revival before the Russian Revolution of 1917, later he became a key figure of Stalinist architecture.

Early years

Ivan Zholtovsky was born in Pinsk, Minsk Governorate (in present-day Belarus) November 27, 1867. He joined Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg at the age of 20. Degree studies took 11 years till 1898 – strapped for cash, Ivan used to take long leaves working as apprentice for the Saint Petersburg architectural firms. By the time of graduation, Zholtovsky had a first-rate practical experience in design, technology and project management. He retained this hands-on approach for the rest of his career, being a construction manager in the original sense of architectural profession. Zholtovsky planned to relocate to Tomsk after graduation, but eventually received and accepted a quick job offer from Stroganov Art School in Moscow. He became a tutor in architecture just weeks after earning his own diploma – a part-time job that allowed plenty of time for professional practice.

The Renaissance Man, 1900-1917

Tarasov House (Spiridonovka Street), 1912

From the very start, he joined the "traditionists" revival group (ретроспективисты, lit. retrospectivists), placing himself against then-dominant Art Nouveau (Russky Modern). His search for classic excellence took some time, as he was equally affected to Russian classicism and Italian Renaissance. While Neoclassical revival [1] was at this time the second largest school in Russia (in high demand in Saint Petersburg, less so in Moscow), the Renaissance influence was unique to Zholtovsky, and will remain his trademark style until his death.

He travelled to Italy frequently, recording its architectural legacy. Zholtovsky’s Italian collection is still frequently exhibited, including rare photographs of Venetian St Mark's Campanile prior to collapse on July 14, 1902 [2] He spoke fluent Italian, translated Palladio’s Four Books in Russian (and eventually published them in 1938). Notable works of this period:

Practice, educator’s work and outspoken public activity in artistic world earned him the Academic title as soon as 1909. By the time of 1917 Revolution, when he was reaching the age of 50, Zholtovsky was already considered a master builder, an elder in his profession.

Advisor to Bolsheviks, 1917-1926

Zholtovsky stayed in Moscow throughout the course of World War I, Revolution of 1917 and Civil War. In 1918, he and Alexey Shchusev led Moscow’s only state architectural firm, hiring and training young men like Ilya Golosov, Panteleimon Golosov, Konstantin Melnikov, Nikolai Ladovsky and Nikolai Kolli (the 12 disciples, split evenly between constructivism and traditional art). There were few orders, mostly for repairs or additions of old properties, and very few actually materialized. As construction halted, he concentrated on education and urban planning studies.

Zholtovsky continued teaching at VKhUTEMAS. Whether the architectural college in Leningrad (VKhuTEIN) was led by traditionalists, Moscow college (VKhUTEMAS) became a harbor for modernists. Zholtovsky was spared from revolutionary new-vs-old rhetoric: after all, he was the employer to many modernist architects, giving them whatever jobs he could secure (like the pavilions of 1923 All-Russian Agricultural Exhibition, a project managed jointly by Zholtovsky and Shchusev).

Together with Shchusev, and relying on his juniors, Zholtovsky supervised the first master plan for redevelopment of Moscow. This work earned him a credit with the Bolshevik administration. He met with Vladimir Lenin and was very well received; according to Zholtovsky’s own memoirs (as approved for print in the USSR), Master Plan was commissioned by Lenin himself, who wasn’t exactly competent in architecture and couldn’t recall any past projects of his contractor.[6] Zholtovsky’s plan, as reported to Lenin, relied on shifting urban development into greenfield land to the south-west of the city. Later, he and Shchusev settled on a less radical growth model [7] with only minor attempt to break away from circular layout by cutting two major avenues through the city core. This plan was discarded by Stalin in 1932.[8]

Works of this period (none survived to date)

Practice again, 1926-1932

MOGES-1 Powerplant Expansion. Third-floor wall is a fake curtain

When he came back from a long trip to Italy in 1923-1926, New Economic Policy (NEP) brought considerable relief to architects. Seasoned professionals were in demand again, mostly from state or semi-state companies. For a brief period, architects worked the old fashioned way, with their firms and apprentices. Some of Zholtovsky’s students operated their own projects, some joined the firm. Zholtovsky’s three better-known works of the time are:

Workshop No.1, 1932-1941

Mokhovaya Street Building, 1931-1934

In 1931-1932, the State consolidated once mosaic architectural profession. In June, 1931, Central Committee authorized three megaprojects – reconstruction of Moscow, Moscow Canal and Moscow Metro, creating thousands of architectural and engineering jobs under tight state control.[10] A fourth megaproject, Palace of Soviets, was already in design contest stage. Zholtovsky shared contest prize with Boris Iofan and Hector Hamilton; Iofan's draft was later selected.[11][12] Zholtovsky, however, refused to work for Metro, believing that the lowly underground job is not worth his time.[13]

After the carrot came the stick: in April 1932 another Party ruling outlawed all independent artistic unions; they were replaced with state-controlled Union of Soviet architects (July 1932) and Academy of Architecture (1933).[10]

Independent architects had to join state projects, switch to bureaucratic jobs (Victor Vesnin[14]) or quit (like Melnikov did). Reconstruction of Moscow project was set up as 10 state architectural workshops,[15] roughly corresponding to the radial sectors of the city. Zholtovsky was invited to lead Workshop No.1; like other old architects (Shchusev, Vladimir Shchuko, Ivan Fomin), he fitted perfectly in Stalin’s system. His educational work was in high esteem: in 1935 and 1937 Politbureau appointed him to speak on education at the forthcoming Congress of Architects (this Congress was delayed twice, and each time list of speakers was approved at the very top).[10]

His pre-war works range from seaside resorts to industrial freezers,[16] although his actual personal input to each project, with a few exceptions, is not clear. His most influential, undisputed work, highly praised by officials,[17] was completed in 1934, right across the Kremlin. An apartment house at Mokhovaya Street, originally House of Engineers and Technicians (Дом ИТР) [8] is still known as Zholtovsky House.

War and postwar years, 1945-1959

House of Lions, 1945, Patriarshy Ponds, Moscow
House of Lions, 1945, grand entrance Patriarshy Ponds, Moscow

In 1940, already 73 years old, Zholtovsky accepts the chair of Moscow Architectural Institute (MArchI). Zholtovsky stayed in Moscow throughout World War II, managing MArchI and engaged in various consultancies; when time came to repair the damage of war, he was too old to take serious out-of-town jobs. He bid for expansion of Mossovet headquarters, making 18 proposals (1939–1945,[18]); all failed, and the job was awarded to Dmitry Chechulin.[19] In summer 1945, the state instituted Zholtovsky School and Workshop, where he would work till his death.

In the same 1945, Zholtovsky workshop [20] completed a controversial House of Lions, in Yermolayevsky lane - a luxurious downtown residence for Red Army Marshals, styled as an early 19th-century estate. Reverence to top brass backfired very soon. Zholtovsky issued his students an exercise to design Country residence of a Marshal of Soviet Union. Immediately, political accusations poured in; November 2, 1945 Zholtovsky received a formal order to discard completed student projects, reverse their grades, and issue a new, politically correct, assignment.[19]

After 1945, Zholtovsky personally designed only three apartment houses in Moscow (including an expansion of his 1935 NKVD building on Smolenskaya Square). The best known, a 1949 Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya building is an interesting illustration of Zholtovsky’s shift from elite to the masses, an attempt to bring mass construction to the levels of quality expected of Stalinist architecture and his own Renaissance style. All apartments in this building are relatively small, with two rooms yet with plenty storage space. Floor plans deliberately discouraged conversion of small-family units to overcrowded multi-family kommunalki (kitchen is accessible only through the family rooms).[21] Zholtovsky's favorite flat walls (no bay windows, no setbacks) and modest application of Florentine canon fit the purpose quite well.

In 1948, 80-year-old Zholtovsky became the subject of a witch-hunt once again. With no apparent reason, small-time critics slammed his works and his role in education. Zholtovsky lost the chair of MArchI. In February 1949, a "professional round table" branded his Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya House as formalist, condemned Zholtovsky’s educational efforts, and virtually excommunicated him from practice for a year. Suddenly, fortune turned around, and in March, 1950 Zholtovsky was awarded Stalin Prize, second class – for the same building that was ostracized a year before.[19][22] By 1952, critics praised it as the way to build.[21]

Death and legacy

Zholtovsky was married twice and left no children. Since 1920 he lived in a 19th-century Stankevich House in Voznesensky lane.[23][24] He died of pneumonia at the age of 92.[23] As soon as he died, his widow, pianist Olga Arenskaya, was evicted from the house (in 48 hours,[24]) his art and antiques collection was dispersed. His widow survived Zholtovsky one year.[24]

Zholtovsky's creed was that architecture and construction process are indivisible; separation of architect from construction management reduces art to draftsmanship. Yet at the same time his work on reducing construction costs and evaluating new technologies in 1950s spelled the demise of profession in the USSR. This work, pushed forward in January 1951 by Nikita Khrushchev (then City of Moscow party boss),[25] paved the road for a switch from masonry to prefab concrete in later 1950s. Zholtovsky workshop proposed various prefab concrete drafts, mixing new technologies with stalinist exterior; this line of architecture never materialized: Khruschev announced his war with "architectural excesses" in November 1955, just when the concrete industry acquired enough capacity for mass construction. Zholtovsky's last apartment block (Prospect Mira, 184) was stripped of "redundancies", and in ten years that followed, architecture separated from construction management and folded down to city planning and engineering.

Memorable quotes


  1. In Russian cultural tradition Neoclassicism refers to the Revival trend of 1900-1917, not the early 19th-century style as defined in English Wikipedia article (which, in Russian, is simply classicism).
  2. State Museum of Architecture owns and exhibits the Italian collection.
  3. Bertrand M. Patenaude, The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2002, p. 207
  4. Russian: НИИ детской онкологии. Историческая справка, at www.doctor.ru)
  5. Konovalov project photography at www.all-photo.ru
  6. Russian: "Воспоминания о В.И.Ленине", в пяти томах, т.3., М., Политиздат, 1984
  7. Novaya Moskva map at www.in.msk.ru,
  8. 1 2 Russian: Хмельницкий, Д., "Сталин и архитектура", гл.6 (Khmelnizky, Dmitry, "Stalin and Architecture", 2004, ch.6) www.archi.ru
  9. 1 2 Year referenced as in Russian: Глазычев, В.А., "Россия в петле модернизации", гл.10, Glazychev, V. A., "Strangled by Modernization", ch.10, www.glazychev.ru
  10. 1 2 3 Khmelnizky, ch.6
  11. Khmelnizky, ch.2
  12. "Hamilton's Palace", Time, Mar.14, 1932 CNN Time Archive
  13. Russian: "70 лет московскому метро", World Architecture Magazine, No.14, 2005, WAM
  14. Victor Vesnin, since 1932 to his death, held the highest ranks in Soviet architecture: Head of the Union of Soviet Architects, Head of the Academy, NKTP Chief Architect. Moisei Ginzburg also remained a scorned yet safely established Academic till his death. Both died of natural causes.
  15. 1 2 Russian: Фирсова, А.В., "Учитель", "Архитектура и строительство Москвы", at www.asm.ru
  16. Russian: Микоян, А.И., "Так было", Вагриус, 1999, гл.20 (Anastas Mikoyan, "And so it was", сh.20) ISBN 5-264-00032-8;
    English translation: Memoirs of Anastas Mikoyan: The Path of Struggle, Vol 1, 1988, Sphinx Press, by Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan (Sergo Mikoyan, ed.), ISBN 0-943071-04-6
  17. Khmelnizky, analyzing letters of Lazar Kaganovich to Stalin (Russian:«Сталин и Каганович. Переписка. 1931–1936».Москва, 2001, с.253), makes a conclusion that the unnamed house, praised by Kaganovich in 1932 as a model in quality and style, is none other than House on Mokhovaya. Stalin upheld Kaganovich's view. But this conclusion is superficial, there's no direct reference.
  18. Russian: Жолтовский И.В., "Проекты и постройки", М, Госстройиздат, 1955 (Zholtovsky, Drafts and Completed Buildings, 1955)
  19. 1 2 3 Khmelnizky, ch.9
  20. Actual design was done by M. Dzisko and N. Gaygarov. Zholtovsky promoted and authorized this project Russian:www.pravaya.ru
  21. 1 2 Russian: Цапенко, М.П., "О реалистических основах советской архитектуры", М., Госстройиздат, 1952, стр.250-254
  22. Khmelnizky and Belutin suggest that Zholtovsky was supported by Khruschev, but do not provide any evidence to this
  23. 1 2 Russian: Емельянова, О.Л., "Воспоминания о Жолтовском", "Архитектура и строительство Москвы", N4, 2003 at www.asm.ru
  24. 1 2 3 Russian: Белютин, Э.М., "Мастер. Иван Владиславович Жолтовский" at www.tonnel.ru
  25. Need to make housing cheaper and the quest for new technologies is evident in Soviet public documents since 1948. 1951 Moscow Conference was the turning point when the Party and Academy of Architecture agreed on the main strategy: prefab concrete. See Stalinist architecture for more detail.
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