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Ryzhov B. N., Tarasova А. А. Emotional Perception of Architectural Objects of 1920–1930s by Moscow Students (with Translation into English by L. A. Mashkova)

Kondratyev V. M. The Problem of Balance between Morality and Law in Human Education (with a Translation into English)

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Journal_eng » Journal 33 : B. N. Ryzhov, A. A. Tarasova, EMOTIONAL PERCEPTION OF ARCHITECTURAL OBJECTS OF 1920-1930s BY MOSCOW STUDENTS
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UDC 159.9

DOI 10.25688/2223-6872.2020.33.1.02




B. N. Ryzhov,

MCU, Moscow, RyzhovBN@mgpu.ru

A. A. Tarasova,

MCU, Moscow, tarasova-a9@yandex.ru


The article is devoted to Moscow students' emotional perception of the buildings pertaining to the construc-tivist style of the 1920s - the beginning of the 1930s, followed in mid-1930s by the big style, or the magna style (from the Latin "magna" — big). The change in style resulted from essential social and political processes taking place in the USSR at that time; the processes were related to the rejection of the utopian notion of the world revolution and its replacement for the patriotic ideology of the socialist state. In architecture this led to transition from constructivism to the new style which was supposed to combine the ideas of grandeur and power of the empire with the laconic strictness of socialist morality.

The research was held in 2019 on the basis of Moscow City University, with 60 university students ta­king part. Test subjects were offered two series of slides depicting architectural objects of the 1920-1930s. After viewing each image the participants carried out self-appraisal of their emotional state using SETA tech­nique (self-appraisal of emotional tone and activity). After viewing each series of slides the dominating emotio­nal state was diagnosed with the help of Carroll Izard's "Differential emotional scale".

The research showed that the architectural forms pertaining to "magna style" had a stronger appeal to test subjects. This result can be explained by the fact that a considerable part of educated young people suffer from the accumulated mental fatigue evoked by constructions made of glass and concrete; these impersonal constructions have been generated, for many decades, by modern architecture being under the tremendous pres­sure of minimalist traditions that can be traced back to the principles of constructivism of the 1920s. Against that background monumental imperial tectonics of the second half of the 1930s which used the elements of classical decor, expensive surfacing materials and other expressive means characteristic of traditional architectural styles clearly turned out to be in an advantageous position. The data obtained during the research serve as grounds for more close study and preservation of the constructions dating back to monumental imperial tectonics of the second half of the 1930s constituting unique architectural legacy.


Keywords: systems psychology; large-in-size-style in architecture; constructivism; emotions; emotional impact of architecture; art; perception of architectural objects.

For citation: Ryzhov B. N., Tarasova A. A. Emotional Perception of Architectural Objects of 1920-1930s by Moscow Students // Systems Psychology and Sociology. 2020. № 1 (33). P. 22-37. DOI: 10.25688/2223­6872.2020.33.1.02


Ryzhov Boris Nikolayevich, Doctor of Psychological Sciences, Professor, Head of the Department of Pe­dagogical, Developmental and Social Psychology at the Institute of Psychology, Sociology and Social Relations of the Moscow City University, Moscow, Russia.

E-mail: RyzhovBN@mgpu.ru.


Tarasova Anastasiya Aleksandrovna, a postgraduate student at the Department of Pedagogical, Develop­mental and Social Psychology at the Institute of Psychology, Sociology and Social Relations of the Moscow City University, Moscow, Russia.

E-mail: tarasova-a9@yandex.ru




Urban environment is one of the major fac­tors of a modern man's personality development. An essential role here belongs to the architecture of buildings and constructions which surround a human being. Indeed, architecture is a pow­erful means of conveying aesthetic, cultural and ideological symbols, it depicts world outlook and psychological archetypes generated by this or that historical epoch. At the same time, archi­tecture — of all other arts — holds the largest audience and is the most effective and accessible channel for the psychological impact on people, its influence being most powerful in the periods of childhood and adolescence when an indivi­dual's personality is being formed. It is common knowledge that in many respects town dwellers and rural inhabitants look at the world differently. Moreover, the value orientations of a person who grew up in the historical part of the city not in­frequently differ from those of his peer who was born and grew up among the standard, faceless structures of some bedroom community.

Nevertheless, when erecting new buildings for the young generation, such as schools, uni­versities and students' campuses, the above-men­tioned fact is practically never taken into account. The famous Roman architect Vitruvius estab­lished the classical triad of principles for archi­tecture — "strength, utility, and beauty" (La­tin "firmitas, utilitas, and venustas"); however, the creators of modern high-tech and eco-tech buildings consider only the first two of them. The principle of beauty traditionally understood as a harmonious perfection of form bringing aesthetic pleasure is either sacrificed for the sa­ke of "economic usefulness", or substituted for an extremely subjective view when the place of the beautiful is taken up by its antithesis — the ugly.

At the same time, it is generally understood in the psychoanalytical tradition that this kind of substitution also opens up new avenues for re­ceiving aesthetic pleasure since it allows to re­lease negative emotional impulses. However, at this stage two questions are bound to arise: to what extent can renouncing familiar beauty canons be justified for wider society, and to what extent do the architectural objects, embodying all classical principles of Vitruvius, appeal to our contemporaries emotionally?

To answer these questions, the current work presents the empirical data of the 2019 compara­tive assessment of the way modern young people perceive architectural objects created in Russia in the second quarter of XX century. All of these objects were built practically at the same time, but reflected two conflicting tendencies. One ten­dency found its embodiment in the style known as "constructivism" striving to achieve maximal functionality and proletarian austerity of design, and with revolutionary ruthlessness banishing any hint of the glory of former styles. The other tendency was realised in the so-called "big style" of the second half of the 1930s which brought back into the architecture — if only for a short time — monumental grandeur and harsh beauty of ancient constructions.


Two Views on the Beauty of Architecture of the 1920-1930s


A century-long debate about ways of deve­lopment of architecture and art in the late mo­dern period continues unabated both in the ar­tistic world and in academic setting. Is the utter rejection of realistic art and architectural canons of the earlier time just the next stage in the de­velopment of culture during the globalization period and accelerating technological progress, or do these processes testify to the deep overall crisis of culture and civilization? The opinion of the majority of art historians and artistic milieu representatives is leaning towards the first answer. However, corporate bias contradicting the pre­vailing view cannot be excluded [1; 10]. The rela­tively small number of the visitors of modern art galleries (including such famous ones as Centre Pompidou in Paris) serves as an example of dif­ferent estimates of artistic values among both artistic elite and public at large. By contrast, art collections of classical art enjoy such great popu­larity that this creates serious difficulties for those willing to visit the Louvre Museum, the Uffizi Gallery, the Vatican Museums, or the State Hermitage Museum.

Here an apparent contradiction of the world views, aesthetic and psychological conventions of the artistic elite and the bulk of the society becomes clearly visible. For the elite, for a long time now (almost a century), the objective rea­lity has grown into subjective reality existing only as an effect of the simulation process, as its speculative element [4: p. 413]. Considering its opinion right a priori, the elite prescribes (and sometimes — simply imposes on society) its own ideal of art which in essence is utter­ly devoid of any ideal. In her extremely tho­rough research paper devoted to the stylistic features of architecture Tatiana Davidich points to the phenomenon of the "flickering of senses'' in the cultural directive of the modern artistic elite. As she puts it, "In the present world there exists a somewhat mixed picture of various short-lived and simultaneously present stylistic trends... The invention of the numerous new mind-blowing forms and techniques has gained popularity" [Ibid.: p. 414].

All this stands in stark contrast to the cul­tural attitudes of the vast majority of the public, with far more conservative aesthetic predilections, while being at the same time highly sensitive to the emerging changes in social consciousness.

Thus, the deep substantive connection between an individual's value orientations and the charac­teristics of his or her life environment can become either an impulse for transforming this environment, or — in other cases — a reason for professional deformation of a person's values [7; 13; 14; 16].

It is the First World War that became a his­toric milestone followed by a large-scale crisis of the spiritual development of European civili­sation. Many erstwhile values had been discar­ded. The new technologies emerged widely and imperiously. Marginal forces that threate­ned to destroy the old social order were gaining strength on the political scene. Under these con­ditions the former architectural traditions gave way to the new style which could be called ar­chitectural only notionally since it did not con­tain any decor elements, nor did it display any expressive solutions in the sphere of plastici­ty aimed at achieving a special psychological and aesthetic effect — the one that architects of the old time had strived to achieve. The em­bodiment in stone of the idea of beauty and har­mony, the social ideals or whimsical individuali­ty of natural forms — all of this was sacrificed for the requirements of rationalism and functio­nal justification in the purely material, practical sense. This style was named constructivism. It is exactly the demonstrative emphasis on cer­tain design elements that allowed to view this trend within the framework of architecture, and not exclusively in the context of building

technologies [5: p. 284-391].

Soviet constructivism became widely spread from mid-1920s up to the beginning of the 1930s turning into one of the brightest manifestations of the new style development. The style became dominant at the dawn of the Soviet era consi­dering historical realities of the post-revolutio­nary time characterised by a sharply negative reaction to the numerous features of the former, so-called "bourgeois", culture which obvious­ly included the architecture of the previous period. Various public constructions — clubs, exhibition pavilions, educational institutions, administrative buildings, specialists' dormi­tories — were erected in this style. For a short time the USSR became one of the world leaders in the development of the new architectural trends [11: p. 335-483; 6].

At the same time, there arose other archi­tectural tendencies united by the general notion of imperial monumental tectonics [2]. In mo­dern Russian literature this specific style which emerged in the mid-1930s is known as the "big" style. Considering the possibility of collision of the term's meanings (thus, it is not quite clear what is meant — an adjective or a proper noun), it is more appropriate to use its Latinised equi­valent for the name of this style — the "magna" style (from the Latin "magna" — big). Howe­ver, the term "big style" is not commonly used for a number of historical reasons. The most im­portant among these reasons seems to be the fact that one of the trends of this style became wide­spread in Nazi Germany. As a result, the German architecture of this period is often viewed within the context of political propaganda of the Third Reich [2: p. 4-6]. Not infrequently, Soviet architecture of the second half of the 1930s re­ceives a similar evaluation since it is also seen as an instrument of political propaganda devoid of the signs of apparent artistic independence.

All this led to the fact that the architec­ture of this period is often classified as art-deco or post-constructivism [12: p. 10-11; 9]. Howe­ver, none of these definitions seems successful. Art Deco is traditionally understood as an eclectic mix of elements of modernism and neoclassi-cism. The term "post-constructivism" is even less suitable as it only points to the time of the style emergence leaving the essence untouched1.

In this regard, apparent architectural and ar­tistic peculiarities of the new style and its expli­cit reference to the so-called "imperial" periods in the history of several nations allow to single the monumental imperial "big" style, or magna style, out of concomitant styles of world architec­ture and view it as a specific architectural trend of the first half of XX century.

The USA was the first country where this style emerged, and the first constructions were the skyscrapers Met Life Tower (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower) and Wool-worth Building, erected just before World War I. On the one hand, the style of these buildings was somewhat eclectic echoing the numerous elements of constructions pertaining to va­rious preceding epochs. Thus, Met Life Tower resembles a mediaeval Italian campanile whereas Woolworth Building has many details of gothic architecture and, in part, the Empire elements. However, the main thing is not the details, but the overall impression of power and imperial grandeur of the country which they symbolised in the pre-war and post-war era.

The undisputed economic leadership of the United States following World War I was embodied in even more grandiose buil­dings, the crowning glory being the 320-meter Chrysler building and the famous Empire State Building, 381-meter high, erected in New York in 1930-1931. While resembling the gigantic models of Gothic towers, these buildings carry within them certain features of art deco architec­ture, but above all they serve as visible evidence of American power.

Meanwhile, in mid-1930s, two power­ful empires enter the world stage, the USSR and Germany, in which constructivist tendencies in architecture, being typical for most European countries at the time, were sacrificed for the sake of monumental imperial tectonics. Also, while the majority of German constructions designed in the new style did not last long and were dest­royed either as a result of World War II or during the following reconstructions, the best examples of the Soviet "big" style have survived to this day practically unaltered.

Moreover, they represent the purest models of this style. The US culture combines tradi­tions of liberty and democracy in domestic life and imperial ambitions in relations with the rest of the world. This contradiction inevitably blurs the imperial features in American architectu­re making it more eclectic. On the contrary,

the USSR of the second half of the 1930s -

the beginning of the 1940s was a classic empire with all its attributes: a huge territory, military and economic strength, the sole ruler with un­limited authority. After the denial of the utopi­an idea of the world revolution in mid-1930s and its replacement with patriotic ideology of the socialist state, the USSR witnessed to­tal rejection of all innovative art forms inspi­red by the revolution. In architecture this led to transition from constructivism to a new style, which had to combine the ideas of the greatness and power of the empire with the laconic strictness of socialist morality.

Not infrequently the architects who just a short while before were considered the lea­ders of Soviet constructivism (Ilya Golosov, Vladimir Munts and others) became the foun­ders of the new style in the USSR. It is not surp­rising therefore that certain elements of the new "big" style "inherit" some distinctive features of constructivism, as it were. Thus, we may note a certain similarity between the cubic element on the facade of the M. V. Frunze MilitaryAcade-my — Moscow, 1937 (Fig. 2) and the voluminous elements on the facade of the Rusakov Workers' Club — Moscow, 1929 (Fig. 1). However, as dis­tinct from constructivist buildings, constructions in the magno style are decorated with colums, bas-reliefs, attics and eaves, but, most impoantly, they emanate power and harmony and impress us with their impeccable symmetry.

What is the reaction of our young contem­poraries today to these two successive styles? Which of them do they prefer? The answer to this question allows not only to choose the most

desirable architectural forms of public buildings [15; 17], but also to get an idea of the intrinsic merits and life values of young people [3].




The study of particularities of emotional per­ception of the samples belonging to the two archi­tectural styles was conducted in 2019 on the basis of Moscow City University with 60 university students taking part. A group of respondents was in turn presented with two series of slides depic­ting architectural objects pertaining to the style of "constructivism" (the 1st series of slides) and the "big style" (the 2nd series of slides).

Each series included 4 main slides with ima­ges of individual architectural objects. For the first series, these were images of the Zuyev Workers' Club, Moscow, the Rusakov Workers' Club, Moscow (Fig. 1) and others.

For the second series of slides the choice fell on the building of the M. V. Frunze MilitaryAca-demy, Moscow (Fig. 2), the building of the Dy­namo Sports Society, Moscow etc. The exposure time of each slide was 30 seconds.

After viewing each slide, participants recor­ded their emotional reaction to the presented object using the blank version of SETA tech­nique — self-appraisal of emotional tone and ac­tivity (see the detailed description: [8]). To visuali­se his or her condition, the tested subject was offered a flat matrix formed by two scales: Y (pleasure - displeasure) and X (excitement -calmness). Estimates of the state on each scale could vary from +4 to -4. In this case, a score of +4 on the Y-scale corresponds to the most expressed pleasure, and on the X-scale — to the maximal degree of excitement. Accor­dingly, a rating of -4 on the Y-scale corresponds to the maximal degree of displeasure, whereas on the X-scale it indicates maximum calm­ness. As a background state, before the beginning of the exposure, a point was selected in the cen­ter of the matrix with coordinates 0.00 on both scales; a separate matrix was proposed for each architectural object.

After viewing each series of slides the domi­nating emotional state of test subjects was diag­nosed with the help of Carroll Izard's "Differen­tial emotional scale" (DES). During the process two indices were determined: the index of posi­tive emotions characterising the total degree of positive emotional attitude of test subjects to the style in question — and the index of nega­tive emotions reflecting the overall level of nega­tive attitude to the style under consideration.




The Results of the Study


The study revealed a higher attractiveness for the surveyed of architectural forms pertaining to the "big style". As it can be seen from Table 1, the mid-range (for the tested group) index of the indicator "pleasure" in the self-appraisal of emotional tone during the exposure of archi­tectural objects in the big (magna) style equaled 0.87 points, statistically significantly (p < 0.01) exceeding the corresponding indicator during the exposure of architectural objects in the const­ructivism style equalling 0.03 points. At the same time, the group-averaged activity index in the case of magno-styled objects practically did not differ from the background level, while for constructi­vism-styled objects, it showed a slight drift to­wards "calmness" (-0.26 points), which could be the indicator of the lack of interest and indifference to the presented objects.

Similar tendencies may be noted while ana­lysing the data of the test "Differential emotional scale". Table 2 displays results of determining indices of positive and negative emotions, accor­ding to Carroll Izard, after viewing the tested series of "constructivism" and "magno".

In demonstrating the objects in the magno style the index of positive emotional experience of test subjects, ranging from 20 to 28 points, had a moderate degree of intensity. At the same time, the index of negative experience, not ex­ceeding 14 points, was poorly expressed. While viewing the objects in the constructivism style the opposite tendency was observed: the index of positive emotional experience was less than 19 points, and therefore was poorly manifested, whereas the index of negative experience, ranging from 15 to 24 points, had a moderate degree of intensity statistically significantly (p < 0.01) exceeding the corresponding indicator during the exposure of architectural objects in the magno style.

This result can be explained by the accu­mulated mental fatigue from standard projects and depersonalized, featureless constructions made of glass and concrete — the phenome­non characterising a considerable part of mo­dern society. The satiety of minimalist traditions in architecture dating back to the principles of constructivism of the 1920s was apparent. Today developers of residential quarters, being sensitive to the zeitgeist, are eager to attract clients offering high ceilings, the individual de­sign of the space, and — at times — architectural decorations that might seem to have been "chased out of use", the latter included decorative cupola, solemn flights of stairs not playing any particular functional role — and even realistic sculpture. Against this background the big style characte­ristic of the second half of the 1930s apparent­ly turned out to be in the advantageous position since it used classic decor, expensive surfacing materials and other expressive means typical of traditional architectural styles. At the same time a part of tested subjects did not disregard the underlying ideological factor either. In this respect opinions were polarised: the smaller part of the surveyed expressed their preference for the cosmopolitan concept of constructivism, whereas the bigger part opted for the core idea of the magno style, namely — the powerful state authority.





Thus, at present we can witness all the fea­tures of the contradiction between the established practice of the choice of architectural decisions when erecting new educational buildings and other youth-oriented constructions, on the one hand — and the psychological perception of such archi­tectural solutions by young people, on the other. The conducted research allows to acknowledge the greater emotional attractiveness for mo­dern students of architectural forms pertaining to the monumental imperial "big style" of the end of the 1930s, in contrast to the constructi-vist buildings of the previous period crea­ted in the minimalistic tradition. However, it is the constructivist heritage of the 1920s — the beginning of the 1930s, given the ability to use modern technologies that served as the ba­sis for designing most of the buildings intended for the young. This contradiction might seem imperceptible at first sight, but in actual fact it poses a significant impediment to the harmonious development of a young person's personality.

There is another aspect of the problem. Although the best samples of the big style adorn Moscow and some other Russian cities, the idea of their outstanding value for the nation has not yet ripened either in the professional archi­tectural community, or in the psychology of art. Even now many people regard the big style of the end of the 1930s not as a unique contribu­tion of Russia to the world architecture, but only as "an architectural whim of the totalitarian re­gime". In this connection the data obtained in the research serve as the basis for more scrupu­lous study, and for locating and preserving archi­tectural monuments of the second half of the 1930s which not infrequently continue to be destroyed nowadays. The results of the survey also make it possible to recommend the use of stylistic specifi­cities of the "big style" while creating learning spaces as a preferable alternative to the present-day architectural forms and solutions.




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