The contest between the United States and the Soviet Union was never a steel-eyed race between evenly matched rivals. You could find reciprocal levels of fear, but not of aspiration or envy. Russians often wanted their country to be a more equitable America; even Gus Hall, leader of the Communist Party USA, didn’t want the United States to be Russia.
Jean-Louis Cohen’s Building a New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture is a luxuriantly comprehensive and engrossing examination of one aspect of this relationship, taking in everyone from Catherine the Great to Henry Ford and Buckminster Fuller. Its publication coincides with that of a more focused monograph, Katherine Zubovich’s Moscow Monumental, which documents the very Stalinist processes that left a quite American set of towers around central Moscow.
‘Amerikanizm’ is a carefully chosen term, signifying American modernity seen through Soviet eyes, particularly as it was reflected in the great mirror of Hollywood cinema. It implies an enthusiasm for the new, for the fresh start, for mechanism, Taylorism and Fordism, and for casting off neoclassical fripperies of the Old