Modern master, unknown in the West

You’ve never heard of this modern master. That is because he is not British, American, Italian, French, German, Austrian or Swiss. He is Russian. He built his masterpieces towards the end of the Soviet Union. The iron curtain was lifted in politics, for a while, but not in architecture. I was not taught about his work at architecture school, and I attended four of them and mostly after the fall of the USSR. Then in 2011 the German publisher Taschen issued a coffee table book consisting of the photos of a French photographer. The book was called CCCP, Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, the photographer is called Frederic Chaubin. Of all the modern architectural works in the biggest country in the world and the mainly very large countries surrounding it, the master’s work was chosen as the cover. But you’ve probably still never heard of Igor Vasilevsky.

I saw the building before I met the man. I was in Crimea, I could see it from my window, a light looking flying saucer docked by the seashore in the distance. I observed it and learnt from it. Then when I built in Crimea I realised I had borrowed from it. Then when I talked about what I borrowed the master came to listen, and we met. Two years later I went back to the master and asked him to tell me everything about his masterpiece, as there is still very little in English written about it. The master spoke about his work for 2 hours straight. I am now working on getting this interview from a Russian recording into an English text. But before I do that, I want to explain what he means to Russian culture, by using an article written about him in Russia on the occasion of his 80th birthday. This is the translation of an article that appeared on the Journal of the Union of Russian Architects in March 2015

Sports centre for all-seasons, electrolyte travel. Illustration: Igor Vasilevsky

CA No 3 (48) 2015

Congratulations to honored architect Igor Vasilevsky for his 80th birthday!

In Soviet times of standard constructions there still remained an opportunity for creativity – though it was mostly only in resort towns that buildings of inexpressible beauty and lightness appeared, concrete flowers blossomed with unconventional structural-techniques.
The architect of the legendary Crimean “flying saucer” sanatorium “Druzhba” Igor Vasilevsky, who on March 21 turns 80, was able to create masterpieces of architecture  even in this difficult time for art.
Igor Alexandrovich was born in Moscow, however the larger part of his iconic works appeared in warm resort areas: Crimea, Tuapse and Yessentuki. Repeated winner of the festivals “Architecture” and “Golden Section”, master for more than 30 years, he was chief architect of the association “Soyuzkurortproekt” and the “Kurortproekt” Institute. Under the direction of Igor Vasilevsky 28 buildings and 29 large-scale projects saw the light and in all the buildings a surprising lightness of forms and a spectacular mesmerizing work on volume and texture is bewitching.
The mere enumeration of the main projects of the architect already sound like a classic example of Soviet Modernism: boarding house Gosplan “Raven”, drinking gallery for 5000 people in Yessentuki, international sanatorium “Druzhba” in Yalta, which entered in an anthology of European architecture of the end of the XXth century and was exhibited at the Museum of  Contemporary Art in the German city of Karlsruhe.
This interest in the “Druzhba” is not surprising, because of the structural and aesthetic solutions to this unique project – the building is placed on a steep slope on the shore of the Black Sea without intervention in the natural terrain as a response to the difficulties of high seismicity and possible landslides . The project is raised above the ground on three tower-pillars hiding lifts, stairs and communications. The equivalent of a five-storey residential block takes the form of a 76-meter two-part ring as if ‘hanging’ in space. Of monolithic design, resembling a honeycomb or a flower, always suffused by the sun through the well lit glazed atrium.
But it’s not only the sanatorium “Druzhba” in the warm Black Sea coast that Igor Vasilevsky can be proud of. In the cold, hard, north of the country, he built the “Bridge-torch” to his design, which has become the entrance gate of the city. This bridge uses unusual slanted pillars, so that the upper level of the structure hangs over the water. Indeed, the architect Vasilevsky knows how to surprise.
Igor Vasilevsky – the architect of unexpected shapes and volumes, thoughtful constructive solutions and monumental elegance, is awarded the V.I.Bazhenov medal “For architectural high skill ” on his birthday. From all your colleagues at the Union of Architects of Russia we congratulate you master, and wish you health, inspiration and long life!

Translation by Robin Monotti Graziadei

Druzhba Sanatorium

CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed



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