Molchat Doma and Constructivism

Like everyone I love listening to music, I really don’t mind the genre at all. I enjoy nearly every type of music, except EDM and country perhaps (I hate those). Like everyone I have a Spotify account, which every week especially creates a playlist for me: Weekly discovery. Well the thing is that two years ago I discovered… Russian post-punk: Soviet Soviet (which are indeed Italian), Human Tetris, Motorama… Among these groups there is one which I have not named that made a great impact on me: Molchat Doma. 

Molchat Doma or Молчат Дома in Russian (“Houses Are Silent”, translated into english) is a Belarusian post-punk band from Minsk, formed in 2017. Their current lineup consists of Egor Shkutko (vocals), Roman Komogortsev (guitar, synthesizer, drum machine), and Pavel Kozlov (bass guitar, synthesizer). Their sound was influenced by 1980s Russian rock music and has been described as post-punk, new wave, synth-pop, and cold wave. Dark yet danceable, and with a heavy dose of goth ethos, their music is reminiscent of the masters that predate them, but make no mistake: Molchat Doma creates a sound and meaning that is immediately recognizable as all their own.

Molchat Doma has not only made me extremely interested in post-soviet music, but in these countries’ past, culture, aesthetic and of course, architecture. Especially, this has been due to Molchat Doma’s 2018 album Этажи, or Etazhi (Floors), cover and 2017 album С крыш наших домов (From the Roofs of Our Houses) cover. Both albums have a persistent mood which is only emphasized by the brutalist architecture in the artwork. Brutalist architecture is the perfect representation of how listening  to Molchat Doma feels like. It is a whole experience. It is as if when listening to it, you transport and picture yourself in soviet Russia, surrounded by those type of buildings on the album covers.  

Constructivism and soviet architecture

Soviet architecture usually refers to either one of two architecture styles emblematic of the Soviet Union: Constructivist architecture, prominent in the 1920s and early 1930s or Stalinist architecture, prominent in the 1930s through 1950s. In my case, I will be talking about Constructivism, which I praise and love partly thanks to Molchat Doma.

With the end of the First World War, a new way of thinking regarding life was developed. To understand the architectural styles resulting from the Soviet Revolution (1917), we must comprehend that the World was moving towards the modern: new design principles and philosophy. On top of that, there were existing rival political ideologies, which influenced design, art and their overall aesthetic. For the Soviet Union, architecture and the fine arts were a way of presenting to the rest of the world. They wanted to clearly express in all forms of expression that they were a communist nation product of the Revolution. Basically, Soviet architecture came from the political climate of the time and location. Besides, it was also determined by the current ideologies in the artistic sphere. Architecture wise, after the Russian Revolution, the USSR became economically insecure and unable to embark on major construction projects. Nevertheless, avant-garde design schools began to encourage and inspire ambitious architects and urban planners, in particular the Association of New Architects (ASNOVA) which was established in 1921.

Constructivist architecture was the one chosen by the URSS before Stalinist architecture. It mainly consisted in expressing the governing ideals through the truth of materials, their capacity and restraints. It was also influenced by cubism, suprematism, futurism and the Bauhaus movement. Constructivists wanted to combine modern technology and engineering methods with the socialist ideology. Basically, the constructivists wanted to move away from traditional art. The insinuated technical analysis of materials was seen for the benefit of possible mass production that ultimately led to the advancement of the modern communist society. The insistence of materials capabilities with little reference to the aesthetic led architects and designers alike on a search for a new plausible means to expressing workable ideas. It was about bringing together space, place and its construction. Basically, the Constructivist architecture goal was to link the economic reality of the USSR with its ambition to develop changes in society and to adapt the avant-garde in everyday life.

Constructivism was about abstracting. The style incorporated straight lines, cylinders, cubes and rectangles; and merged elements of the modern age such as radio antennae, tension cables, concrete frames and steel girders. The possibilities of modern materials were also explored, such as steel frames The style aimed to explore the opposition between different forms as well as the contrast between different surfaces, predominantly between solid walls and windows, which often gave the structures their characteristic sense of scale and presence.

As I said before, architectural language had to conform with the political direction. Everything was designed under the figure of the government, which caused tensions between architects and the government. Some even say that bureaucracy killed the achievements of architects. Even if there was great experimentation with forms, the latter was slowed down or confronted by the own Soviet Union. On the other hand, “planning and building in the former Soviet Union was neither centralized nor uniform, but a very diverse, complex and regionally specific phenomenon” (Marboe, 2012).

Despite there being few realised projects before the movement became outdated in the mid-1930s, it has had a definite influence on many subsequent architectural movements, such as Brutalism. After the constructivist movement there was Stalinism, which focused on the attempt to establish in the Western world and which isn’t as interesting for me. 

Panorama hotel

Panorama hotel is the actual building that appears in Molchat Doma’s second album  Этажи. In my opinion, it is an example of constructivism. Due to this we can appreciate some main characteristics of the style. For instance, its form, which emphasizes in geometric shapes. Also, it is important the repetition and precise placement of the different levels, which are scaled like a stair or as a Toblerone (how the building is known by the people of the area). Besides, it is also important the contrast between the solid concrete walls and the glass windows, which gives a certain tension to the whole composition.

Final thoughts

I am so glad I found this band, because it has completely changed my vision of soviet society and of course its architecture. I just find it so intriguing and mesmerizing. There is something in the form and the brutality of the spaces that obsesses me. It is simple in materials and in cut. They don’t seem real in a way, they are too perfect, too clean and austere. At the same time, there is something timeless in the concrete walls, but also nostalgic.  I would really love to contemplate one of these. 


Bibliography and image sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molchat_Doma#Musical_style_and_lyrics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_architecture#:~:text=Soviet%20architecture%20usually%20refers%20to,in%20the%201930s%20through%201950s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivist_architecture

https://www.archdaily.com/tag/soviet-architecture

https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Constructivist_architecture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etazhi

https://www.archdaily.com/942248/eastern-bloc-architecture-futuristic-hotels-and-avant-garde-resorts