Stalin’s Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow by Deyan Sudjic - review by Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta

People’s Palaces in the Air

Stalin’s Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow


Thames & Hudson 320pp £30

Architects inevitably serve those with power and wealth in any society, we are often reminded. There are normal levels of grubby client, and then there’s Stalin. Boris Iofan, favourite of the Soviet dictator, best known for his twenty-five years’ work on the communist cathedral, the Palace of the Soviets, had about as evil a client as you could possibly imagine. When you’re runner-up to Albert Speer in any contest, you’ve made some poor decisions.

Iofan’s career, Deyan Sudjic explains, ‘is a precise reflection of all the compromises that architects must make with power’. That’s putting it mildly. Speer, however unconvincingly, sought to distance himself from Hitler later in life; Iofan did not give Stalin the same treatment. Iofan wasn’t even selling his soul to realise a pristine artistic vision: his Palace of the Soviets scheme was repeatedly overhauled and degraded by others. Yet he went along without complaint. In Stalin’s final decade he fell from favour and was then left, in the last thirty years of his life, to create buildings that were largely confined to the page.

Sudjic grew fascinated with Iofan after a visit to his apartment in Moscow’s House on the Embankment, a landmark of Russian constructivism that Iofan completed in 1931. There he encountered the debris of Iofan’s life: a letter signed by Molotov sending him to Stalingrad; a photo of him

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