Architecture | Merry VKhUTEMAS

I Leonidov
Lenin Institute, Vorobyovy Gory, Moscow, 1928
Thesis project, a
rchitectural model
Metal, plastic, plywood, thread
Reconstruction, 1981, I Kuzmin




VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity
Architecture designs 1920 > 1930
Martin-Gropius-Bau
Berlin | Germany
5th December 2014 > 6th April 2015




VKhUTEMAS, often referred to as the ‘Russian Bauhaus’, was a legendary modernist art school established in post-revolution Moskow. It was a hot-house for the creation of designs for the new world that the revolution had opened up for its students to explore and help to build. Their many architectural schemes would not look out of place in 21st century cities.

VKhUTEMAS, or Вхутемас, isn’t an actual Russian word, but is apparently an acronym for Высшие художественно-технические мастерские / Vysshiye Khudozhestvenno-Tekhnicheskiye Masterskiye, which roughly translated, means Higher Art and Technical Studios. Alexander Kudryavtsev, head of the Moskow Architecture Institute – a direct descendant of VKhUTEMAS – has described the school as the ‘boiler where the new art was smelted.’

Having deposed the Tsar and Russia’s wealthy overlords and landowners, and taken over power in 1917, the new Bolshevik government had expressed a desire to divert art training away from the classically-based fine arts toward applied art in industry and manufacturing, with the intention of transforming it into a far more valuable and productive asset to the new communist state. Set up as the result of a decree from Lenin himself, VKhUTEMAS’s brief was ‘to prepare master artists of the highest qualifications for industry, and builders and managers for professional-technical education.’ To this end, the faculties of architecture, painting, and sculpture became art workshops, and were united with the wood- and metalworking, printing, textiles, and ceramics production workshops, as a single autonomous university department.

V Krinsky
Skyscraper VSNKh. Moscow, Lubyanskaya square, 1922 > 1923
Tracing paper, pencil and coloured pencil
Remade, 1966




VKhUTEMAS class, school year 1927 > 1928
Exhibition of student‘s work on ‘Evidence and expression of mass and weight’




V Krinsky
Composition in space, 1921
Experimental-methodic study work in colour and spatial composition
Paper, pencil and gouache




A new curriculum was drawn up, based upon teaching the disciplines: colour, volume, space, and graphic design. The student body, by all accounts, numbered ’several thousands,’ and the 100- strong staff included many who were already revered as leading figures of the Russian avant-garde, as well as others whose names would, on an international level, become synonymous with it. They included El Lissitzky, Naum Gabo, Konstantin Melnikov, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Vladimir Tatlin and Wassily Kandinsky, who would later become a Bauhaus master. Under their tutelage the school quickly developed into a centre for experiments in constructivism, rationalism, and suprematism.

A major achievement of VKhUTEMAS was the three-tiered basic course, in which all students, after first developing their art techniques, went on to incorporate them into vocational, specialised industrial or professional education. Augmenting this basic course were chemistry, physics, mathematics, geometry, scientific colour theory, foreign language studies, art history, as well as classes in the Theory of shadows,’ and military training.

A Rodchenko
Spatial construction No 5, 1918
Reconstruction, 1982, A Lavrentiev
Producers: I Terenin, Y Orlov, L Alekseeva,
N Kapustin




M Korzhev
Abstractive exercise to detect the mass and weight, 1921
Paper, ink, watercolour




In 1925 VKhUTEMAS students, alongside their teachers, Melnikov and Rodchenko, exhibited at the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris. However, in 1927, as a result of a desire amongst the authorities to steer the school away from the fine art direction it was veering off in, and back towards industrial design and manufacturing, it was renamed VKhUTEIN (Higher Artistic-Technical Institute). That same year a group of students was despatched on a visit to the Bauhaus – founded in 1919 in Dessau, and by now relocated to Weimar – and in 1928 Bauhaus students made a return visit to Moskow.

Plagued by bitter internal disputes and disagreements with the authorities, VKhUTEMAS never achieved the prominence of the Bauhaus and in 1930, the Russian avant-garde side-lined in favour of social realism and empire-style architecture, it was closed down. Nevertheless, as the 250 works on show in VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, Architecture designs 1920 – 1930 at Martin-Gropius-Bau, the school played an important role in the early development of European modernism.

The exhibition was organised by Moscow’s Shchusev State Museum of Architecture

All images © The Shchusev State Museum of Architecture Moscow




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