The CCA presents Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture

Boris Mikhailovich Iofan, perspective drawing for the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry, Moscow, 1938. Graphite and watercolour on paper, 43 × 37.5 cm. DR1995:0003, Canadian Centre for Architecture

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture, an exhibition that investigates how architectural practices in the USA influenced those in Russia, bracketed broadly by the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

According to the CCA, few studies have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of “Amerikanizm” in Russian architecture. Existing research has mostly been limited to the high-rise buildings constructed in the late Stalinist era.

Through this first major study of Amerikanizm in the architecture of Russia, curator Jean-Louis Cohen provides a timely contribution to our understanding of modern architecture and its broader geopolitics by analyzing discourse, designs, and buildings, as well as politics, art, literature, cinema, and technology.

On display from November 13, 2019 until April 5, 2020, the exhibition will highlight decades of dedicated research through which Cohen illustrates how Amerikanizm spanned all Russian political regimes through the 20th century.

“Through the CCA’s critical curatorial framework and calculated exhibition design, Cohen interprets Amerikanizm as a multifaceted phantasmagoria—borrowing Walter Benjamin’s term for the stimulating and ominous spectacle of the commodity—that helped shape not only the built form but also the consciousness of one of the greatest global powers,” says Mirko Zardini, CCA Director.

On view within Building a new New World is a wide-ranging succession of images and objects including photographs, books, maps, drawings, magazines, portraits, models, postcards, and film excerpts.

Throughout the exhibition and an accompanying  book, which will be published in early 2020, manifold networks are explored: recurring investigative journeys undertaken by Russian explorers, political leaders, and architects; the multitude of Russian publications devoted to the United States, from technical reports to poetry and novels; and imagined forms and buildings inspired by American sources.

“The bilateral relationship between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America was paradoxical. Americans never aspired to turn their nation into a ‘new Russia,’ neither from a political nor a cultural standpoint, while generations of Russian politicians, intellectuals, and engineers envisioned modeling their country after the United States, hoping to cast it as a new America,” says Cohen.

By analyzing buildings, factories, industrial infrastructure, urban planning and product design, Building a new New World rewrites the history of Russian architecture and urban design in light of this enduring Amerikanizm.