Submitted Design for Palace of Soviets: Plan of Main Hall and Section
In 1931, towards the end of his decade in Germany, Gabo produced architectural plans for a government competition to create a new building in Moscow, commemorating the founding of the USSR. The Palace of the Soviets, according to the brief, was to consist of two auditoria holding 20,000 people in total, and would serve as a venue for mass meetings, demonstrations, and cultural events. Gabo's proposal was his first attempt at a fully realized architectural plan, and was a logical extrapolation of the aesthetics and techniques of his earlier, abstract sculptural works.
Gabo's plans, on which he worked feverishly for several months, consisted of two vast auditoria constructed from reinforced concrete, protruding from a towering central service block. The auditoria would be hollow, curvilinear, shell-like forms, absorbing stress evenly across their entire surfaces. This was an adventurous approach to the concept of load-bearing in architecture, a job that would generally be performed by distinct components such as beams or ribs. At the same time, the dynamic curves of the design represented a departure from the geometric aesthetics of the "International Style" then prevalent in modernist architecture, which Gabo had studied, and emulated in previous architectural sketches. In a sense, his approach to the project had developed out his earlier interest, as a sculptor, in the difference between mass and volume: how a space could be articulated without being filled with solid elements. The designs also bespoke Gabo's ongoing commitment, in spite of his awareness of the realities of Stalinism, to the Soviet project of constructing a new social realm. Indeed, he felt that the combination of his Russian roots and his recent experience with Western architectural and scientific principles would stand him in good stead in the competition. It is a sign of how much Russia had changed since Gabo's departure nine years previously that neither his proposal nor those of the other modernist architects who had entered were rewarded by the judges. The ultimate winner was the pompous, neo-classical design of architect Boris Iofan. Ultimately, construction on the Palace of the Soviets was aborted by the German invasion of Russia in 1941, and never resumed.
Gabo's striking designs for the Palace constitute one of his most important creative works, and are a remarkable achievement given his lack of architectural training. Moving away from the geometrical precision typical of 1920s modernist architecture - the work of Le Corbusier, for example - Gabo's work predicts later developments in the style, such as the curvilinear forms of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer's designs for Brasília in the 1950s.
Pencil and india ink on paper - Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow