Paper delivered at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Chicago, 2014. Panel: Science that Materially Changed the World
Founded in 1929, Magnitogorsk quickly became a powerful industrial center for steel production in the Soviet Union. Architecturally it is one of the most important cities of the 20th century. It inspired groundbreaking projects conceived by a number of architects such as Ivan Leonidov and the OSA team, Ernst May and Mart Stam.
A so-far neglected aspect in the history of Magnitogorsk are the investigations of the site by Dimitri Mendeleev the inventor of the Periodic Table, a geologist, engineer and economist.
In the summer of 1899 Mendeleev travelled to the Urals region to survey its industry and geology. Commissioned by the Ministry of Finance, his primary task was to investigate the natural resources of the region and conduct a geological survey. This included ascertaining the causes for the stagnation of the iron and coal industry.
Upon his return to St Petersburg he published his findings in the book “The Urals Iron Industry”. In it he stated that: “The Urals will provide Europe and Asia with huge quantities of iron and steel at a production cost which would be quiet inconceivable in Western Europe”. In his report he emphasizes a specific location in the southern tip of the Urals: the so called Magnetic Mountain with its rich iron ore. At that time called Magnitnaya, the area was just a small settlement. This mountain was constituted by a semicircular group of five low hills; they were a geological anomaly, consisting almost completely of iron.
This essay provides a close reading of the previously untranslated book and connects Mendeleev’s intellectual pursuits and how they affected the growth of the steel industry and the urbanization of Magnitogorsk during the later Soviet Era. By examining the Measures and Maps that Mendeleev produced for the book, I argue that the book and work of Mendeleev as scientific artifacts contributed to Stalin’s urban and industrial vision thirty years later.
Publication / coming soon
Originally presented as a paper delivered at the Society of Architectural Historians Annual Meeting, Detroit, 2012
Panel: Architectural Ecologies
This photo essay examines rocky landscapes of the Americas that engage with architectural typologies of environmental hazard. The writing takes a fictional tour on two rocky sites: The Yucca mountain, the controversial potential site for deep storage of all US nuclear waste and Carlsbad, New Mexico, known locally as WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) one of largest nuclear waste storage facilities with a license of 10,000 years.
Dark Ecology of Magnitogorsk
Mining and industrial production have degraded eleven percent of the earth’s soil. Dark Ecology explores an alternative landscape and architecture for the post-industrial wasteland, a territorial concept that typically conveys the unwanted, exhausted and useless. This project aims to rethink emerging ecologic strategies in remediation, the act of cleaning,and often the attempt (and anxiety) to erase the material traces of production. As a project it relies on the terrain of ambiguity; natural/manmade, clean/dirty, unwanted/desired are rejected polarities. This “messy whole” and its material, chemical and “natural” manifestations is embraced, revealing surprising architectural,urban and landscape potentials.
The testing ground is Magnitogorsk, City of Iron in the Russian Federation; The project engages the extremity of environmental degradation juxtaposed with the architectural promise of this city in the industrial age. Architecture and infrastructure are explored as time-based and chemically-induced operations. The design methodology recognizes potential and programmatic possibilities for cleaning but at the same time it engages with the material by-products as a new way of building.
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More information at the Princeton School of Architecture website
Published by: The Center for Architecture, Urbanism, Infrastructure, Princeton University, 2012. Distributed by: Island Press. Series Editor: Mario Gandelsonas
Building, Material, Program
Paper presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, PA, October 6–8.
This paper explores case studies of buildings characterized by a direct material and formal response to the chemical processes that take place within them.
In 1911, the architect Hans Poelzig wrote an essay on industrial buildings in which he explained the significant connections between production process, architectural form and environment:
11 Versions of a Constructivist City
Published in Pidgin Magazine, Issue 12, Fall 2011
Magnitogorsk is a city that incorporates the mythology of a place, the geology of a landscape, the founding of an industry, the history of a regime, and the aspirations of an artistic movement. As individual moments in place and time, these aspects exist as individual cities, some of which are physically present in Magnitogorsk today, while others only remain in the imagination. Together they create a powerful canon of urbanistic ideas that shed light onto the accomplishments and failures of architectural thought in the Soviet era, and in general onto the city in the industrial age.