The Narkomfin House 1928-1930. Architect Moisei GinzburgThe Narkomfin House 1928-1930. Architect Moisei Ginzburg
Description of the House
Moisei Ginzburg wrote that a building should “exactly and with restraint satisfy the various demands and spiritual needs of man and to the utmost liberate him and be conducive to productive and creative work, and bold and joyous leisure time.”1 The Narkomfin communal house is an attempt to implement this ideal.
The Narkomfin building was conceived as a pilot project, to be the basis for the planning of socialist cities. The best conditions possible were provided for Narkomfin, nevertheless, its construction was limited by financial restrictions and materials were in short supply, and it was never completed.
The initial project envisaged the construction of 4 buildings, set in a park on Novinsky Boulevard. The extensive 6-floor residential building is linked on the 2nd floor by an enclosed walkway to a cubic utilities building standing at right angles to it, which contains a kitchen, dining-room, sports hall, library and recreation rooms. Set back slightly from Garden Ring, running parallel to the main building was a narrow, two-storey building with a garage on the ground floor and mechanized laundry on the second floor. The fourth building, planned on the right-hand boundary of the site, was to have housed the kindergarten, but it was never built, and many of the rooms in the communal building were taken over for this function.
A second design for the site, proposing yet another residential block and additional service facilities, was buried at the planning stage. A product of Constructivism, the building’s architecture fuses together social, technical and artistic factors into a single whole. The residential block embodies the “five points” formulated by Le Corbusier for new architecture: the building is raised on pilotis (reinforced concrete stilts), has a roof garden, an open floor plan, a free façade and ribbon windows. And Ginzburg rationalised each decision: for example, by raising the building up, the green plot of land on which the building was situated was hardly broken up, and it also meant that no apartments were on the ground floor where anyone could look in through the windows. The communal building was originally a 10m x 10m cube. It has four storeys, but most of the space is taken up by two two-storey rooms with a glazed wall: on the ground floor a sports hall, and above it a refectory. The staircase on the side of the residential block led to the flat roof, where, in warm weather, there was to have been a café. The north wall at the front of the building is almost entirely glazed: natural light was important for Ginzburg, and issues of temperature control would need to be resolved with the aid of adequate heating in winter and heat insulation blinds in summer.
The internal layout of the residential building was based on a “transitional type of communal living” programme, the very architecture of which was intended to ease the transition of residents to fully collectivised life. Replacing the staircase, around which traditionally apartments are constructed, with two horizontal corridors, played a key role in this process. The wide corridors, illuminated by natural light, were intended to become a place where residents would meet, as was the balcony running along the lower corridor and the roof terrace. The ends of the corridors give out on to stairways, of which, in this fairly elongated building, there are only two, making for essential space-saving. The apartments were duplex and contain rooms of equal height allowing the communal corridors to run the entire length of the building, running over the top of the bedrooms and service rooms. These have fairly low ceilings of 2.3m, thus allowing for a fairly ample corridor to run over them.
The flats themselves, which Ginzburg referred to as “living units”, are divided into several types. “K-type” living units with a separate, albeit small (4.5m²) kitchen, adjoining the entrance hall on the lower floor, were built along the lower corridor, two bedrooms and a bathroom and lavatory on the top level, into which a narrow staircase led from the hallway, and a large living room, 5m high. These flats were intended for families still adhering to the traditional way of life. Single people and young couples were to occupy “F-type” living units, looking out onto the upper corridor, where a large 3.6m high room was supplemented by a single bedroom. Here, instead of a kitchen there was a “kitchen element”, and a curtained-off shower recess replacing a bathroom.
To assemble this spatial puzzle into one block, flats with staircases leading down (the top landing was very small with a toilet leading off it) and flats with a staircase leading up, were arranged alternately along the corridor. It was proposed that the residents of these smaller flats would mainly eat in the communal refectory, but communal kitchens where they could prepare meals more comfortably than in the “kitchen niche” at home were nonetheless installed at the end of the corridor. “F-2” duplex units, one of which was occupied by Moisei Ginzburg and his family, were concentrated around the staircases.
In addition, on the roof, was a series of rooms for one or two persons with a shower for every two rooms. And, at the last moment, a non-standard flat appeared on the roof where Nikolai Milyutin designed a penthouse for his family. At 53m² it was fairly small but spacious inside: it was approximately the same size as a chamber for the ventilation system that was planned for the roof but was never built due to insufficient funds.
The duplex system allowed the creation of fully functional and aesthetically pleasing “living units”, which appeared roomy thanks to the combination of the split-level design, and a well-conceived colour scheme. All the flats have windows on two sides, providing them with through ventilation. The building is oriented on a north-south axis, so the bedrooms with a high ribbon window face the east, and the high living rooms one wall of which is made almost entirely of glass, face the west, allowing residents to watch the sunset. The low ceiling of the bedrooms and kitchens (in those flats that have them) cause no psychological discomfort thanks to the contiguity to a higher and well-lit room.
The colour scheme for the paintwork of the flats was developed under the guidance of Hinnerk Scheper, the Bauhaus professor. The entire colour gamut was used to enrich the perception of space in the interior – warm shades (ochre and yellow) were combined with cold shades (light-blue and grey). The ceiling was painted the most intense tone, so as not to tire the eyes, whilst the colour of the walls was so subtle as to be barely perceptible. The ceilings and walls in the corridors and stairwells were painted different colours, from orange to cobalt blue, helping with orientation within the building. The colour of the doors on the top corridor served the same purpose: white doors lead to flats on the lower floor and black ones to flats on the top floor.
Anna Bronovitskaya, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Moscow Institute of Architecture