“Arkhitektura i mnimosti”: The origins of Soviet avant-garde rationalist architecture in the Russian mystical -philosophical and mathematical intellectual tradition

Elizabeth Cooper English, University of Pennsylvania


The title of this dissertation, “Arkhitektura i Mnimosti ”—architecture and imaginariness—derives from the Russian word “mnimosti” as used by Pavel Florenskii in the title of his book, Mnimosti v geometrii, published in Moscow in 1922. Mnimosti means “imaginariness” or “the imaginary”, and carries in its usage in Russian both of the connotations that the word “imaginariness” has in English. In the mathematical sense, mnimosti makes reference to the imaginary, or complex, numbers, based on the square root of negative one, and in the creative sense, it refers to the products of the human imagination, be they visionary, fanciful, thoughtful, intuitive or fictitious. This dissertation investigates the synthesis of these two concepts of the imaginary in the architectural theory of the Russian avant-garde “Rationalists”; describes how that synthesis was the product of an early-twentieth-century intellectual climate in Russia strongly influenced by nineteenth-century Russian mystical-religious philosophy and thus unique to Russia; and demonstrates the significance of that climate to the intellectual production of the Russian architectural avant-garde. More specifically, this dissertation discusses the creation of non-Euclidean geometry by the mathematician Nikolai Lobachevskii (1792–1856) and the systems of thought of the nineteenth-century “Slavophile” philosophers and of the mystical-religious philosophers Vladimir Soloviev (1853–1900), Nikolai Fedorov (1828–1903), Petr Uspenskii (1878–1947) and Pavel Florenskii (1882–1937). It examines the epoch-spanning work of three members of the “generation of transition”—the engineer Vladimir Shukhov (1853–1939) and the architects Ivan Zholtovskii (1867–1959) and Aleksei Shchusev (1873–1949); touches on the impact of these many thinkers and “constructors” on such members of the Russian artistic avant-garde as Vasilii Kandinskii (1866–1944), Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935) and Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953); and assesses their influence on three members of the Rationalist architectural faction, Nikolai Ladovskii (1881–1941), El (Lazar) Lissitzky (1890–1941) and Konstantin Melnikov (1890–1974). Thus, the larger objective of this project is to reframe the theoretical work of the Russian avant-garde Rationalist architects within the interdisciplinary and revolutionary physical, intellectual and cultural continuum of the Russian context out of which it evolved.

Subject Area

Architecture|Art History|Mathematics|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

English, Elizabeth Cooper, "“Arkhitektura i mnimosti”: The origins of Soviet avant-garde rationalist architecture in the Russian mystical -philosophical and mathematical intellectual tradition" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9989589.