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The changes in the urban tissue and in the national form caused by the Soviet lines Beijing vs. Bucharest Totoianu Alexandra

Politecnico di Milano Jun 2014


Keywords: national form, social pattern, urban tissue, utopian socialism, architectural meaning, socialist realism, urban identity

How did the strongest form of political ideology of state socialism influence the national form of architecture and the urban tissue of other socialist states? In order to try to solve this enigma, we will go back in time, in the Post-war period, analysing the influence of the Soviet context upon two socialist states with distinct stories: China and Romania, considering the effect of massive social, cultural, economic, ideological changes beholding in the search for a new identity. In order to see the point of intersection between the Soviets and China, respectively Romania, succinctly, we will make a short digging in the history. The tangential point between URSS-Republic of China Xinhai Revolution in 1911 which overthrew China’s last dynasty (Qing), lead to the genesis of China’s Republican Era in 1912. The western philosophy among leftist Chinese intellectuals led to more radical lines of thoughts inspired by The Russian Revolution. The First Five year plan (1953-1957) was the recipient of the most comprehensive technology in modern industrial technology, where the Chinese government opted to follow the Soviet model of economic development (Sino-Soviet relations) which emphasized the development in heavy industry (mining, iron manufacturing, steel). This is the turning point where the use of the traditional architectural vocabulary responds to economy and ideology. Mao’s image of “New China” is represented throughout The 10 Great Buildings built in Beijing in 1959 for the tenth anniversary of the People’s republic of China. The contact between the Soviets and the Republic of Romania After the Treaty from 1944, Romania was under Soviet occupation until 1958, which lead to the formation of Romanian-soviet societies called “Sov-Rom”). The consequences were not only in the reorganisation of the Army, but also in the political and military organisation, which has certainly influenced the redefinition of the national identity, as well as the upcoming architectural language. In order to have a glimpse upon the two contexts and to find the similarities caused by the Soviet influences, I will stress the importance of the monumental street in the socialist planning and the new sense of form which took precedence over the essence. I will shortly analyse the main axes from Beijing,


Bucharest, and Moscow, Berlin. This methodology will serve as a tool for finding a monumental street prototype.

Monumental street prototype Beijing case: Chang’an Avenue (Arch.Chen Gan and Liang Sicheng, 1950)

Fig. 1. The urban setting of Chang’An Avenue lining the major buildings with Tianmen Square in the middle

The strategy of the axe’s planning was based upon the blueprints for the expansion of Moscow in order to make it representative as a national, political, cultural centre, as well as a symbol for New China. Getting inspired after Engels’s “Dialectics of Nature”, the architects, have chosen the so called “zeropoint” the Forbidden City, consequently distributing the new buildings on a symmetrical pattern on the two sides and roads. The new administrative centre was located in the middle, along the west-east of the historic city, Chang'an bordering the front south of the "Forbidden City". Built in order to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, The Ten Great Buildings, brought dramatic change to Beijing, by eliminating the city walls- and leaving behind its history, since the old city became the centre of the new government. Most of them were built on the axes and facing the new administrative centre. They should celebrate the socialist architecture approach and to express the “modern” Chinese architecture. They do not have a particular style, each of them has different influences (Chinese, neoclassical, soviet) but in the same time, each has a particular expression. They represent the metamorphosis from Chinese tradition trying to focus on the cultural essences embodied with the influence of socialism realism.


Fig.2. Some of the Ten Great buildings on lined on the Avenue

Fig.3. The Great Hall of The People (A)

Fig.4. The National Museum of China (B)

Fig.5. The military Museum


Fig. 6. Aerial view of Chang’an Avenue

Fig.7. Beijing Central Station- Chinese influences Fig.8. Tsingua University-socialist syle

Moscow case: Leninskyj Prospekt Moscow (Arch. A. Mordvinov, G.Gol, 1940-1950 ) The expansion of Moscow was planned towards SW through new arteries: Leninskij Prospekt which constitutes the main axe for the new neighbourhood. Along it there were many research centres, therefore it was called the “science street”. It will become one of the most important centres of the city.


Fig.9. Leninskyj Prospekt connecting Kalvzhskay and Gagarin square

Fig.10. Aerial view of the Avenue emphasized by the horizontal, austere language of the buildings

Berlin Case: Karl- Marx Allee (Arch. Herman Hanselmann, 1952)


Fig.11 The ex. “Stalinallee” connecting the monumental “wedding cake” style buildings connecting Frankfurter Tor and Strausberger Platz

Bucharest case: Union Boulevard The Union Boulevard (before called “Victoria Socialismului” Boulevard, 3.5 km long, which has managed to represent the grand statements of ambitions of the head of state, Nicolae Ceausescu, represents the longitudinal axe which leads to the new Civic Centre: “Casa Poporului” (the actual Romanian Parliament). Its aim was to surpass Champs-Élysées. The area the head of state demolished in order to build the new civic centre is almost as the Venice area and it was built on the historic centre of the city, being a generator of social boundaries. Today, it represents the survival of the country. The boulevard connects two important squares (Alba Iulia Square and Constitution Square) and runs also through Unification square. In its centre, there is the National Library, facing the Court.


Fig 12. The National Library

Fig.13 The massive structure covering about sixth of the city’s total size from seen from a aerial perspective- a showpiece of socialism.


Essence (ti) and application (tong) In both of the cases, the sense and form were brought to a higher degree with a upper level of governance. The use and the outward form (yong) were uppermost in the reformers mind and begin to take precedence over the essence, body or inner structure (ti). One representative example in Beijing which reveals this is the Military Museum of the Chinese people. Located in the East part of Chang’An Avenue, The Military Museum of the Chinese People is one of the Ten Great Buildings. Terminated in the axis of the major street, in the “wedding cake” style, its austere shape reflects the Soviet influence saying that the form should take shape over the essence. The symmetrical plan is essential in this case, which characterises the new architectural language and which should represent the power of the new society.

Fig 14. Plan of the Military Museum


Fig 14. Perspective of the Military Museum

By looking at the Moscow State University prototype, we can clearly see the resemblance with the the Press House from Bucharest, as well as the symmetrical layout, the monumentality, the formalism. The 2 courtyards are arranged symmetrically around the central element which is the tallest part. The strong vertical expressions are emphasised by the spire, the characteristic of the socialist architecture. The new architectural form reveals the national pride through the new architecture: simple geometric shape devoid of decorative effects. The trademark of the stalinist style embodied in both of the buildings are the so called „wedding cake�. The new implemented construction technique is using the steel frames with concrete walls upon concrete slab, which allowed them their huge heights.


Fig. 9. Casa Presei Libere, Bucharest terminated also in a major street


 Fig. 10. Moscow State University


In both cases, the Soviet influences pressed the essence of the national form and of its application. The major changes are manifestations of the reconfiguration of the new meaning of history, space and city, making the cultural form to be increasingly complex, leaving room for a more articulated sense of identity, since its essential meaning has evolved over time, changing depending on ideological, social, cultural factors. I think that the footprint of socialism left immense scars not only in the urban memory, but also in each individual. In spite of this, it is ubiquitous in the memory of the Chinese and Romanian individuals and. In my opinion, it makes us more aware of the past and it makes us think about possible solutions for the future cities, for the form, for space, for the social life.


Bibliography: ◦

Beijing Record, A Physical and Political History of Planning Modern Beijing, WANG Jun

Architectural encounters with essence and form in modern China. Peter G.Rowe, Seng Kuan

Essenza e forma, L’architettura in Cina dal 1840 a oggi, Peter G.Rowe and Seng Kuan

Contemporary Chinese architecture, Tradition and transformation, Yung Ho Chang, Wang Shu, Liu Jakun, Zhang Lei

Guida all’architettura moderna, Mosca, 1890-1991, Alessandra Latour

L’architettura delle citta che cambiano, Berlino, gli anni ’80 tra modernita e tradizione, Testo di Annegret Burg e Maria Antonietta Crippa, oct 1991, editorial Jaca Book spa, Milano

Pioneers of Soviet architecture, Catherine Cooke

L’architettura delle citta che cambiano, Berlino, gli anni ’80 tra modernita e tradizione, Testo di Annegret Burg e Maria Antonietta Crippa, oct 1991, editorial Jaca Book spa, Milano

The spatial imprint of the soviets in the national form and urban tissue - Beijing vs. Bucharest  
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