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Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

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images Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are known for sketching out ideas that will never happen, most famously in their sprawling Palace of Projects. But now they’ve proposed a project that they wish could be more than an artwork.

The celebrated artists, who swapped the Soviet Union for Long Island in the 1980s, were so upset when they saw the plans to convert one of Konstantin Melnikov’s only surviving buildings that they decided to submit their own design. The drawings on the following pages are their reconfiguration of the interior of Melnikov’s Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage in Moscow, which was built in 1926 to house a fleet of London buses that somehow disappeared along the way.

“It’s a utopian project for a utopian architect,” says Emilia Kabakov. Melnikov was a hugely influential figure in the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s, yet very few of his buildings made it off the page. The bus garage, which has been empty for 80 years, is currently being restored and transformed into a contemporary art centre under the aegis of socialite Daria Zhukova.

“She sent us some architects’ plans that we hated,” says Kabakov. “They looked like Melnikov but were not because they were disrupting the ideas of Melnikov.” The artists’ own scheme, which she was says was born overnight, tries to do justice to the social dimension that the legendary architect gave to his spaces. There’s an amphitheatre and a grand stairway from which to look out over the 9,000sq m space.

“Melnikov is the best architect Russia ever had. He was a visionary in the 1920s and he still is today – we simply love him,” says Kabakov. “We know this will never be built but maybe that’s good. Utopia is for artists not for realisation – like the Soviet Union, a utopia that was realised and so no good.”

The Kabakovs will be housing part of their Moscow-wide retrospective in the garage
in September.


Forum of the architect Konstantin Melnikov

The scheme
I The scheme will bring together in the Garage a memorial and an architectural design centre, provisionally named the Melnikov Forum.
II Thanks to its unusual structure, the centre can accommodate multiple functions – see below.
III The great name of Melnikov alone is sufficient to impart energy and meaning to the future work of the Forum, and all the more so because the Forum will be housed in one of the most significant creations of this renowned Russian architect, a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture.

Design of the entrance to the Garage. The front elevation of the Garage is so important to the overall aesthetic impression of the building that on no account should the fence (which is indispensable) obscure its view from the street. The proposed design of the fence envisages an openwork structure, and its form echoes the lines of the front elevation of the building.

The fence is angled forward into a point, reflecting the internal dynamic of the Garage.

Inside the fence a bus – of the kind which would have been found in the 1926 building – is set on a plinth: for it was just such buses, according to Melnikov’s writings, which filled his Garage.

The Melnikov memorial. The first structure in the internal space of the Forum is a building commemorating the work of the architect. For its exterior (and those of the other structures of the Forum), elements are used which are often to be found in the architectural works of Melnikov. The memorial consists of two areas. There is a circular central room, in the middle of which stands a model of Moscow showing Melnikov’s buildings, both those which were actually constructed and the schemes which were never realised. (The model was constructed by the architects A Shadrin, E Goncharova, A Pankratova and A Romanov.) The other part is a circular gallery around the central room, in which are located models of architectural structures, plans, sketches and photographs.

The open area behind the memorial. This is a very large empty space intended for large exhibits in the case of exhibitions or for large popular “happenings” (festivals, carnivals, circus productions and so on). Benches for spectators, placed in a semicircle, hint at the possibility of undertaking such entertainments.

At the other side of the open area, a flight of steps can be seen, leading straight upwards (this is a reference to Melnikov’s Soviet pavilion at the 1925 Paris Exhibition), which divides the two large architectural blocks to its left and right.

The structure to the left of the steps, a quadrant in plan, is organised, visually, on three levels, the first being the ground floor and the second and third levels actually the first floor. It is designed to be multi-functional. On the ground floor there are a cafe and toilets on the outside of the quadrant, and on the inside, on the same floor, are sections for children’s entertainment and educational programmes and exhibitions of children’s work. The first floor is given over to design workshops, demonstrations and masterclasses.

The Forum’s main auditorium. At the top of the steps a view is suddenly revealed down on to the main auditorium of the Forum. (This can also be entered via other routes.) Laid out diagonally, the amphitheatre has 800 seats and a stage with a screen. Like the open area (No 3), the auditorium is also multi-functional. It can accommodate lectures, film and video screenings and much more.

The structure to the right of the steps is destined for different uses. All the units are single-storey, the full height of the Garage, and all receive daylight via the Garage windows. Most of them are designed for exhibitions of various kinds – of paintings, sculptures and installations. The large exhibition area could accommodate an art or architecture biennale. It is here that the enormous spatial possibilities of the Melnikov Forum reveal themselves. The units at the rear of this section are intended for more intimate meetings, symposia and discussions. This part of the building will house a library, videotheque and a large area for computer work.

The museum section. The rear part of the Forum is devoted to museum exhibition. Here, in four interconnected, fifty-metre halls, any historical material can be exhibited, from classical exhibitions of traditional art to displays of “old” design. The atmosphere will be highly appropriate for such events: the interior of all the rooms is to be maintained in the style of a traditional museum. These rooms, including all the necessary accessories (lamps etc) are to be preserved after the exhibition of September 2008.


The final section, located at the very end of the Garage, behind the museum part, can be used for the storage of exhibits and essential building materials. The wide doors in this part of the Garage are very practical for the delivery of any loads or containers.

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