Aleksandr Brodsky and Ilya Utkin have today become known in the Russian art world for their intriguing works of architecture, ranging from everything such as a sculpture to a artistically repurposed building or shed, but what they are probably most known for are several copper plate etchings they created displaying fantastical archictectural designs, a product of their lives and experiences as architects in a time when reform was present and ideas were ever-changing. Their story and the inspiration behind the drawings is probably best said in the book written on these drawings:
“In 1957 Kruschev declared socialist realist architecture the “over-decorated” style and abolished the Academy of Architecture. the notion of a critically assimilated cultural heritage (i.e. the reuse of classical forms to serve modern ideological ends) was replaced by a doctrine of unadorned utilitarianism. modern technology, especially prefabrication, was exploited to produce the urgently needed mass housing and aesthetic discourse of any kind was considered unnecessary and immoral. faceless functionalism continued to dominate throughout the Brezhnev years as economic constraints, a hopelessly tangled bureaucratic procedure, a dearth of building materials, and a shrinking body of skilled laborers exacerbated unimaginative planning. this scenario confronted Brodsky and Utkin and their classmates at the moscow institute of architecture in the mid-seventies.
many of the more creative young Soviet designers abandoned the exasperating professional situation they found themselves in while others like Brodsky and Utkin began using international competitions as a creative outlet.
as Brodsky and Utkin and a dozen or so other friends began to produce such projects in evenings and weekends over the next few years, the group assumed the title of “paper architects” – a derogatory epithet applied to avant-garde architects still producing radical work after the socialist realist clampdown of the thirties.
Brodsky, Utkin, and the others began producing visionary schemes in response to a bleak professional scene in which only artless and ill-conceived buildings, diluted through numerous bureaucratic strata and constructed out of poor materials by unskilled laborers, were being erected – if anything. as such their work constitutes a graphic form of architectural criticism, an escape into the realm of imagination that ended as a visual commentary on what was wrong with social and physical reality and how its ills might be remedied.”
If anything, these drawings had been originally made to criticize Soviet architecture at the time and no doubt a way to express frustration at the challenges architects and workers in other fields were forced to endure as a result of sudden reforms and decisions from the government.
Because of paper shortages and lack of proper materials, the Paper Architects created etchings on plates of copper, yet one may still notice the careful attention to detail in every drawing, probably one of the reasons for their popularity. The drawings themselves depict everything from bleak cityscapes to unwise decisions in design, and are most likely metaphors understandable only from the perspective of a Soviet architect or perhaps just someone who has lived in the USSR (as one does not need an education in design to understand the all-too-common flaws of industrialized Soviet construction).
Today, the two have pursued their own interests, choosing to split up in 1993 and while Brodsky is generally the more active of the two, their work among the Paper Architects is nonetheless a profound example of their ingenuity, which ultimately turned their misfortunes as architects into success as artists. Below are several of these famous etchings, presented in great size and detail (If I am correct, these are scans and had originally come from the book published on the Paper Architect’s etchings).