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‘How do you live?’: experiments in revolutionary living after 1917

Willimott, A. (2017) ‘How do you live?’: experiments in revolutionary living after 1917. The Journal of Architecture, 22 (3). pp. 437-457. ISSN 1466-4410

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/13602365.2017.1307870


This article places the idea of the social condenser in its historical and revolutionary context. It reveals the broader discourse from which this architectural theory was born, drawing on examples of activist experimental living and attempts to put Marxist visions of philosophical materialism (or material determinism) into practice. It puts forth the urban communes—collective cohabitative arrangements between youthful enthusiasts, usually based in student dormitories, requisitioned apartments, or worker barracks—as the human (non-architectural) equivalent or precursor to the social condenser. Like the social condenser, it is argued, these groupings attempted to mould their material and social setting. They tried to remake everyday life, and recreate human consciousness in the process. In this sense, they offered a steppingstone to socialism: a means of instilling the requisite habits, morals, and customs in the first generation of Soviets. By presenting the example of the urban communes as part of a wider ecosystem of experiments in revolutionary living, this article suggests that the social condenser was not designed to determine behaviours that had not yet been witnessed, but rather sought to enhance and extend collective and communal ideals already taking root in the world’s first socialist state. Indeed, while the social condenser can be seen as a shining beacon of Soviet attempts to refashion life, the importance of this wider ecosystem is highlighted by the fact that contemporary attempts to fashion new architectural designs often remained isolated affairs. Beset with financial restrictions—the Soviet state coming into existence off the back of seven years of war, revolution, and civil war between 1914 and 1921—such grand visions were never likely to become standardized creations. And yet, as this article makes clear, collective and communal experimentation would not be bound by these limitations.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Modern European Histories and Cultures
ID Code:69568
Additional Information:Article also available at this link:
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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