You cannot deconstruct unless you know how to construct. - Alexander McQueen

The Paper Architects (Real and Fictional) permalink

I meant to write about Lois Nesbitt’s Brodsky & Utkin: The Complete Works sooner, but until recently it was buried in one of my “to be processed” stacks of reading material (easily confused with my “to sit and collect dust” stacks, but I know the difference). Russian paper architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin formed a partnership in the late Seventies that lasted roughly a decade. Their fantastic work, according to Nesbitt, “constitutes a graphic form of architectural criticism” of the dehumanizing effects of Soviet utilitarian architecture.

BrodskyandUtkin Dolls House resized.jpg
Doll’s House 1982
from Nesbitt’s Brodsky & Utkin: The Complete Works (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003)

Nesbitt describes Brodsky and Utkin’s work as having, “A whimsical cartoonishness somewhere between Paul Klee and Saul Steinberg [that] evokes a somber urban world reminiscent of both Piranesi’s oppressive interiors and the increasingly industrialized, rapidly deteriorating cities of Dickens’ England.” What sets Brodsky and Utkin’s designs apart from earlier Soviet theoretical architecture is the inclusion of text (the examples below are as they appear in the images except for Nesbitt’s editing, which appears in brackets):

BrodskyandUtkin Dwelling House of Winnie the Pooh text detail resized.jpg
detail of Dwelling House of Winnie-the-Pooh 1983

The house is for people who enjoy living in a big
modern city but are not entirely happy because of
three problems: 1. Nostalgia for a house of one’s
own. A person living in a big city means by “my
home” no more than a few windows lost in an oce-
an of the same windows on the huge facade of an
apartment building. 2. People always want to deco-
rate their houses distinctively, to make them different
from all the others. In [a] large city today this creative
desire is frustrated. 3. Everyone in big cities has
especially dear places close to which he would
like to live. Houses do not always completely satis-
fy this desire. This house is almost independent. In-
stead of being linked with the city system of Com-
munication (ex[c]ept for electricity) it has a Very
Modern Machine that supplies it with everythi-
ng necessary and takes away everything su-
perfluous. The machine must be replaced from

time to time by the company that
produces the houses. The dweller
may select the sight for his house
in accordance with his own tast-
es and with the kind of free-
dom possible in fields and fore-
sts. Numbers of dwellings of
this kind scattered through-
out a large city are virtually
an independent country. Their
owners live under a system of
measurements of their own and
are happy.

BrodskyandUtkin Dwelling House of Winnie the Pooh detail resized.jpg
detail of Dwelling House of Winnie-the-Pooh 1983

Interestingly, Nesbitt sees a relationship between Brodsky and Utkin’s Villa Claustrophobia and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison:

BrodskyandUtkin Villa Claustrophobia resized.jpg
Villa Claustrophobia 1985

The nightingale so sings
As if he does not see
The rods of cage in front

A House with an Atrium is similar to a
reserved Man wholly plunged into the end-
less space of his Inner World - of his Inner
Court. The Inner Court is the whole Universe
for those who cannot or [do] not want to
get out. Our Atrium is the mirror funnel
set into a windowless brick-house. The fun-
nel is [a] mirror from [the] inner court but trans-
parent to look from within the house.
All rooms of the house [around] the pe-
rimeter - called…either ro-
oms, or cells, or wards, or apartments
- look into the funnel. Each room has
one glass wall. The inhabitants of the
house look out from their rooms on each
other but they see endlessness.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison blueprint, 1791

Brodsky and Utkin both have a reverence for past architecture, preferring the use of quality materials for buildings aimed at permanence. Addressing the monumental failure of the Soviet Union’s urban planning, Brodsky and Utkin, “diagnose the modern city as a sick, possibly dying organism”. This resonates today in our love affair with the dizzying raze-and-rebuild cycle that characterized the last housing bubble.

BrodskyandUtkin Wandering Turtle resized detail.jpg
detail of Wandering Turtle 1984 (dedicated to Federico Fellini)

BrodskyandUtkin Dome resized.jpg
Dome 1989

An insightful post that discusses The Complete Works in connection with the Belgian graphic novel series The Obscure Cities by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters can be found here.

Which segues into a mention of my favorite fictional paper architect (really, are there others?), Asterios Polyp. David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp is an inspired graphic novel well worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

David Mazzucchelli Asterios Polyp .jpg
a page from Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009)

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2 Responses to “The Paper Architects (Real and Fictional)” 

  1. Jan Coleman Says:

    I have their written descriptions from their show in the Pacific Northwest: Dwelling House of Winnie the Pooh, Bridge, Crystal Palace, Villa Claustrophobia, Island of Stability, Glass Tower, A Hill with a Hole, Combarium Habitabile, Glass Tower II, Nameless River, Intelligent Market, Electronic Donjon, Ship of Fools or a Wooden Skyscraper for the Jolly Company, Forum De Mille Veritatis, Stageless Theater or a 198-Seat Wandering Hall, Villa Nautilus, Wandering Turtle, Doll’s House, and Diomede I. I have always regretted that there were no images available for blown-away visitors to take home from the gallery - it feels like a true loss of some sort.

  2. Martie Says:

    I saw the collection at the Tate Modern in London in August 2014.

    We were so taken by them. Could anyone please tell me if there are prints or posters available?

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