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Konstantin Melnikov

     
     

One of buildings designed by Melnikov

One of buildings designed by Melnikov

Konstantin Stepanovitch Melnikov (Russian 'Константин Степанович Мельников'; July 22 (August 3) 1890, Moscow - November 28, 1974, Moscow) was a Russian architect and major figure in the early 20th century's Constructivist avant-garde.

Melnikov was born into a working-class family in Hay Lodge, a suburban slum close to Moscow. From 1910 to 1914 he studied painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. From 1914 to 1917 he was an architecture trainee at the school in which he had obtained his degree in architecture. His early work, for instance at the AMO Auto Factory in Moscow, where he was working during the October revolution, is classical, conservative, and academic in nature.

After attending the Moscow State School in 1923 Melnikov's style changed radically. Beginning with a 1923 pavilion for the All-Russian Agriculture and Handicraft Exhibition, Melnikov embarked on a string of innovative and high-profile commissions: the sarcophagus at Lenin's Mausoleum in 1924 and the Soviet pavilion at the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925). The Paris building attracted international attention, and was regarded as being one of the most progressive buildings at the fair.

Melnikov House near Arbat Street in Moscow.
Melnikov House near Arbat Street in Moscow.

Melinkov's style is difficult to categorize. In its experimental use of materials and form plus its attention to functionality, it has something in common with the so-called Expressionist pre-World War I architecture of the Germans Erich Mendelsohn and Bruno Taut, both of whom worked briefly in Russia at the time. It is frequently referred to as Constructivist because of the influence on Melnikov of Vladimir Tatlin, and because of Melnikov's desire that his buildings should express revolutionary Soviet social values.

The finest existing specimen of Melnikov's work is his own residence in Moscow, dating from 1929, which consists of two cylindrical towers decorated with a pattern of hexagonal windows. The architect fell out of political favor in 1937, survived the Stalinist purges, and lived in seclusion in this house, where he worked as a commission portrait painter until his death in 1974. This long silence was only broken by a single pavilion for the 1967 Montreal Expo. Melnikov's son Viktor, who, like his father, was a painter, also lived and worked in this landmark, and fought to have it preserved as a museum until he died in February 2006. The house also contains a significant portion of Konstantin S. Melnikov's archive.