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Modernization within the Confines of Stagnation
Marija Drėmaitė
The 1970s in the Soviet Union began with yet another ceremonious occasion: the hundredth anniversary of Lenin's birth in 1870. The country prepared for the celebration with beautification, improvement, and construction projects. A wave of architectural competitions for new Lenin museums and their construction swept across the country. Lithuanian architect Vytautas Edmundas Čekanauskas successfully took part in one such museum design competition in Moscow.
In their own unique way, these museums came to symbolize the widening gap between content and form across all of Soviet-era artistic culture. Because of the vagueness of their content (what should be displayed: Lenin-era relics or images of revolutionary battles?), the museums were essentially sites for the demonstration of falsified Soviet history. The complex forms being taken on by these museums were a testament to changes taking place in Soviet architecture. After a period of optimistic modernism dominated by glass boxes and clear lines, there began a time of "confusion" about which way to turn next. To be sure, Soviet architects saw changing forms on display in foreign architectural journals, but only a few were capable of understanding the intellectual foundation of these forms and trends and their socio-cultural roots. 
New phenomena were emerging in Western architecture as early as the late 1950s, founded on a critical view of modernism. Architects of the brutalist school BrutalismBrutalism (originally known as New Brutalism) is an architectural movement that spanned the 1950s to 1970s, whose name derives from the French term béton brut (raw concrete, unplastered concrete).

The movement's style was characterized by massive scale, large but compact volumes, repetitive modular forms, and unadorned concrete surfaces (leaving casting indentations exposed). In the 1950s, this movement emerged as "honest" and efficient architecture that could provide a diverse flexibility of form and serve as a means of opposition to bourgeois tastes.

The movement first gained a footing in administrative and educational construction (on new university campuses, for example) and in the architecture of new residential complexes. In the 1970s, the new style also gained popularity in the administrative and public building architecture of the Socialist bloc.
 pursued an "honest" use of the defining characteristics of a given material, such as concrete, and opposed bourgeois tastes. The critical regionalist approach Critical regionlismCritical regionalism is an architectural theory that holds that architecture must be contemporary but also anchored in its own geographic and cultural context. In other words, the identity of architecture is important.

The theory was critical of the cosmopolitanism of the International Style and the discounting of local and cultural context, but it also took issue with excessive architectural ornamentation and the use of ethnographic details or the overuse of references to historical styles that characterized postmodernism.

The theory of critical regionalism was advanced by architecture historian Kenneth Frampton in his 1983 article "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six points for an architecture of resistance," but the critical point of view that modern architecture must express its own sense of the local spirit has its roots in the 1930s, in the designs of Alvar Aalto, for example.
 ountered the cosmopolitanism of modernism, while postmodernism  PostmodernismPostmodernism is a broad movement in philosophy and cultural theory that questions and criticizes such modernist ideals as rationality, objectivity, and progress.

In architecture, the movement began emerging as early as the 1960s (influenced by Robert Venturi's book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966), and was discussed and identified by Charles Jencks in 1977 in his book The Language of Postmodern Architecture, effectively marking the start of the movement's worldwide popularity.

Diversity, a sophistication of composition, ornamentation, and references to color and historic styles, as expressions of opposition to the formalism of modern architecture, became the most distinct traits of postmodern architecture.
emerged as a direct critique of the inflexible modernist canon. Compared with the West, 1970s Soviet architecture was growing ever more formalist, oriented only toward a change in different forms without adapting or comprehending the changes taking place in architecture overall, not to mention the evolution of social urban criticism. Thus, speaking about Soviet architecture using the same terms employed to discuss late Western modernism is a difficult endeavor – the two phenomena are nothing alike.
In the changing forms of Soviet Lithuanian architecture in the 1970s we can also discern an effort to liberate designs from the prevailing modernist canon: strict cubic forms, straight lines, flat roofs, and an abundance of plate glass windows. Designers began to distort the functionalist box, introducing a sculptural plasticity of form. Continuous cubic volumes were broken up and divided. A new diversity of material (red brick, course finishing plaster, textural relief molding, metalwork) was employed to "override" the almighty reinforced concrete plate. Though concrete still prevailed in new construction, since nearly every structure was built using standardized pre-fabricated parts, architects attempted to mask these concrete slabs with various types of ornamentation.
A bookstore in Palanga designed in 1967 by architect Ramūnas Kraniauskas is one example of a structure featuring both early brutalist and late modernist elements: an expressively shaped building showcasing concrete and red brick surfaces. A resurgence of folklore trends was also evident, newly interpreting so-called folk architecture inspired by ethnographic ornamentation and detail, with one example being a souvenir shop, also in Palanga, designed in 1965 by architects Eduardas Budreika and Petras Lapė.
Many large administrative complexes and public cultural facilities were designed in the 1960s, but their construction only truly got underway in the 1970s, ushering in a period of urban change. Two large theatres arose in Vilnius in this period: the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Academic Drama Theatre. On the right bank of the Neris River, the Revolution Museum was completed as part of a new city center. A new Art Gallery opened its doors in Kaunas. In the provinces, meanwhile, increasingly prosperous collective farms spurred a wave of new administrative buildings and cultural halls. The number and size of new suburbs (known as "mikrorajonai," or microdistricts) and shopping centers also continued to increase.
Growth also impacted resort architecture. The Guboja vacation complex (architect: Rimantas Buivydas, 1976) is perhaps the best representation in Lithuanian architecture of increasingly complex form and the observation of global trends (and is compared to Moshe Safdie's designs for the Habitat 67 complex built for the World's Fair in Montreal).
Two trends in Lithuanian architecture can be distinguished in the 1970s: the sculptural plasticity and geometric form characteristic of late modernism as a general trend of the latter half of the 20th century, and a combination of folk art symbolism and mass architecture reflecting the era's search for regional specificity and an expression of "spirituality." This abundance of architectural expression can partly be defined as possessing elements of postmodernism (opposition to modernist functionalism; an interpretation of historical architecture and the architectural heritage), but it was still too early to speak of any conscious purity of style.
The stagnation that marked the late Soviet period must also not be forgotten. Leonid Brezhnev, who replaced Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 as Soviet leader, became the symbol of a stagnant Soviet economy and the painful consequences that resulted from it in the 1970s. Modernist optimism evaporated as construction became plagued by what came to be known as "dolgostroi" (literally "long construction" in Russian) – long-term building projects lasting decades instead of years. In Vilnius, dolgostroi found its embodiment in the Lietuva Hotel, meant to house foreign tourists. Designed in 1964, this local "skyscraper" (at 24 stories it was the city's tallest building for many years) was completed only in 1984. The hotel inspired many jokes and ironic tales about the pace of Soviet construction:
A tour guide escorts a group of foreign tourists around Vilnius, who look up at the unfinished construction of the Lietuva Hotel and ask: what are they building over there? The guide responds with surprise: Over there? Why, there was nothing there last night!


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Sources and links


Lithuanian Central State Archives
Kaunas Technical University Architecture and Construction Institute Archives

Online Sources

Полеты над Москвой, 2015 12 15

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Personal archives of Marija Drėmaitė


Architektūra SSSR
1974, Nr. 2
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