Famous Unbuilt Buildings Become Charming, Real-Life Models

Many of these icons of the constructivist movement–which influenced Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas–used to only exist in sketches or photographs.

Contemporary architecture owes more to the Soviet Constructivists than probably any other school (feel free to tear apart that statement in the comments, by the way). The fingerprint of the failed movement–which blossomed in the ’20s and foundered against the rocks of Stalin’s historicism in the ’30s–is evident in every generation that came after: the shattered volumes of Lebbeus Woods and Daniel Libeskind, the aggressive orthogonality of Peter Eisenman, and even the unironic literalism of Bjarke Ingels.


Fifth years at University of Western Australia’s School of Architecture were tasked with creating models of the movement’s touchstone buildings in a history and criticism course offered by professor Charles Mann back in 2010. Mann asked his students to pick a building, and build a scale model to accompany a written investigation of its conceptual underpinnings. The resulting models are impossibly perfect, and a joy to look at: at best, most of these buildings exist only in grainy photos or hand-drawn renderings. Seeing them in 3-D is, well, pretty fun.

There’s Konstantin Melnikov’s stridently industrial USSR pavilion, a building that introduced the rest of Europe to the movement at the Paris Exposition of 1925. El Lissitzky’s horizontal housing blocks, which he called “Cloud Irons,” are here too. There are plenty of models based on structures that exist only as sketches, including several based on drawings from Yakov Chernikhov’s 101 Architectural Fantasies, his book of color illustrations that marked the end of the era.

We’re used to thinking of Constructivism in terms of failure and decay, knowing what we know about the fate of their utopian schemes. But in its own time, the movement was about expressing the optimism of the time, and pushing Modernism forward through groundbreaking formal experimentation. What’s so exciting about these student models, of course, is that we’re seeing these buildings as they were meant to be seen: full of color, heroic flourishes, and unabashed optimism. Check out the full set, in much more detail, over on Ross Wolfe’s blog.

[H/t Architizer; Images courtesy of University of Western Australia ALVA and Matthew Galligan]


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.