What is Ukrainian constructivism?

The 1920s–1930s in Ukraine became a period of cataclysms, ups and downs in Ukrainian history. It is the interwar period distinguished by its acute contradictions and a series of tragedies for the Ukrainian people. At the same time, during this period, avant-garde arts, science, and architecture flourished, the national consciousness rose under conditions of a new political paradigm. Therefore, the period of the New Economic Policy, almost excluded from the Soviet historical narrative, has parallels with the international “Roaring Twenties”. Totalitarianism did not stop at banning the progressive Ukrainian avant-garde culture of the 1920s. From 1932, Stalin's campaign of political repression gained momentum, leading to the Holodomor genocide and the Great Terror of 1936–1938, causing emergence of a phenomenon called the "Executed Renaissance".

Ukrainian constructivism is not just a trend of international modernism of the 20th century. Ukrainian constructivism reflects an era with its complex history, experimental economics, and controversial politics. But at the same time, Ukrainian constructivism is the brainchild of the creative impulse of tens and hundreds of Ukrainian and European architects who sincerely sought to create a new architecture for the new Ukrainian society. Ukrainian constructivism combined the functions of the New Economic Policy, national communist slogans, regional materials, progressive constructions and unique features of Ukrainian national identity and philosophy. It was distinguished by an unprecedented variability of forms, movements, and modalities, testifying to the pluralism and creative freedom of the architectural sphere. During the Stalinist totalitarian era, progressive constructivism was banned and forcibly replaced by conservative Stalinist socialist realism. Today a substantial layer of architectural constructivism in Ukrainian cities remains unnoticed and misunderstood, and as a result it is decaying and being destroyed.

What is the problem?

  • Ukrainian constructivist architecture as a holistic phenomenon has never been in the focus of a large-scale national and even more so international project. Despite all attempts by individual researchers to popularize this topic, it remains within the academic community and regional activist initiatives. This fragments its development. There is a shortage of large-scale visionary cross-sectoral projects that would not only document particular buildings, but also comprehensively represent the entire scale and contradictions of the cultural phenomenon of constructivism from different angles. There was also no comprehensive presentation of this strategically important topic for Ukraine's interests in the international cultural arena, such as the Venice Architecture Biennale or Frankfurt Book Fair.
  • Even though the heritage of interwar modernism (constructivism) in Ukraine is one of the brightest and large-scale phenomena in the history of Ukrainian architecture, it remains underrated and is under threat of destruction. The condition and status of such world-famous objects as Derzhprom, Dniprohes, socialist city KhTZ is of concern today. Despite their high value, and significance recognized by the international expert community and popularity among local people, their legal protection status is poorly defined and vulnerable. Ukrainian constructivist heritage requires not only research but also heightened public attention. Our project is aimed at raising the concerns of all stakeholders about the problems of Ukrainian constructivist heritage. We strive to achieve significant progress not only in the inclusion of sites in the UNESCO World Heritage List, but also in understanding the need for their restoration and conservation.
  • In the wake of the popularity of modernist architecture all over the world, the phenomenon of constructivism in common cultural discourse is represented solely as the Russian avant-garde and Russian constructivism, which, of course, does not reflect reality. We promote Ukrainian constructivism as a cultural brand, original and unique element of national identity. Through cultural diplomacy we introduce not only the Ukrainian, but also the world audience to the architectural heritage of Ukrainian constructivism in the language of contemporary art.