Stalin used architecture as a political and ideological tool to reflect the modernity, ambition and triumph of the Soviet Union. After crushing avant-garde architecture (along with other experimental art forms) Stalin sought a new style that would express the image of the Soviet state: Stalinist Empire. It was spearheaded by the architect Boris Iofan – the remarkable subject of Deyan Sudjic’s biography Stalin’s Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow, shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2022.
A gifted designer and committed communist, Iofan rapidly rose to fame as the Soviet Union’s most celebrated architect. He was instrumental in developing the new national style, moving from his earlier Constructivist designs to elaborate Stalinist Empire projects. He developed grand designs such as the House on the Embankment, the official residence of the Soviet elite (a third of whom disappeared from this very house during Stalin’s purges); early sketches for Moscow State University on Sparrow Hills; and the unrealised but iconic Palace of Soviets, which led to the dynamiting of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Iofan’s work took him to the Paris World Exhibition in 1937, where his Soviet pavilion faced Albert Speer’s Nazi one; and to Stalingrad to develop a rebuilding strategy for the desecrated city.
Yet architecture and politics came hand in hand, and Iofan found himself at the centre of Soviet political life. His success depended not just on his technical excellence, but on his ability to navigate and survive the treacherous, conspiratorial and murderous state of affairs in the upper echelons of the state. How did Iofan have to sacrifice his integrity and talent to stay alive in the midst of Stalin’s purges?
Join Professor Deyan Sudjic and Dr Michał Murawski for a discussion on the architect, an exploration of architecture as an instrument of statecraft, and the personal story of one man who witnessed many of modern history’s most pivotal moments.