Utopian Dreams

Behind the Narkomfin Dom Kommuna’s austere bands of double-height windows unfolds a six-story blueprint for communal living that is as ingenious as it is humane. Built between 1928 and 1930 by a team of architects and engineers led by Moisei Ginzburg, a member of the post-revolutionary Union of Contemporary Architects, the building, erected to house employees of the Ministry of Finance, consists not only of private quarters with built-in furniture but communal facilities—an open terrace on the second floor, and a garden and solarium atop the roof. A four-story annex housed a fitness center, kitchen, public restaurant, library, recreation room, and a nursery. Close by, a two story provided laundry and repair services. These facilities made the building a successful house-commune intended to dissolve social barriers though the division of household chores between inhabitants while preserving privacy. With its innovative approach to living, the structure was seen as an important step in the transformation of Soviet society for revolutionary housing types that were to be adopted by the entire Russian Republic. A Constructivist masterpiece, the Narkomfin building realized an important goal of European Modernist architecture, that of achieving the most minimal and rational support of modern life, the existenz minimum, and in the process fomenting social reform through architecture. Nowhere is this more evident than in the building’s F-units with their innovative Frankfurt style kitchens, which influenced Le Corbusier’s design for his iconic Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles.

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