Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, October 29, 2010

Samara: the lost treasure of wooden Art Nouveau

Samara 2010. Picture by Rowan Moore
¨The centre of Samara is a varied but harmonious ensemble made up of thousands of decorated wooden houses, of a unique and graceful variant of art nouveau and of brave and hopeful buildings from the early revolutionary years. The setting is magnificent, above a broad sweep in the Volga, one of the great rivers of the world. Much of it has gone already, burnt, bulldozed, blighted or left to rot. Pustular new towers erupt from the waterfront and skyline. Almost everything that's left could go too, thanks to local government that could most charitably be described as supine. With its wooden streets and waterside setting Samara could – still, just – be a Russian San Francisco. But it is heading rapidly towards being an assembly of developers' junk, like very many cities in very many parts of the world.
Samara. From
You probably haven't heard of Samara, even if it is the sixth largest city in Russia, and architecturally unique. This spot, more than 500 miles east and south from Moscow, doesn't impinge much on western European minds. Great battles were not fought there, although in 1941 the Russian government evacuated to Samara, which was called Kuybyshev in Soviet times. After the war it became a centre of the rocket-building industry, and a closed city. Such foreign visitors as were permitted were transported in vehicles with curtained windows. A cluster of masts still stands on the outskirts, erected to jam transmissions from the BBC World Service and Voice of America. Samara hasn't fully recovered the habit of reaching out to the world.
Samara's greatest period, about a century ago, was cut short by war and revolution, giving little time for its identity to be shaped by art and literature. For a few decades people compared its growth rate to Chicago's, and its newly wealthy merchants built lavish houses designed with bravura and skill. These include the Kurlina House, which cost three or four times the going rate for luxury houses, and the Dacha with Elephants, a landmark famous for its sculptures of the beasts, built for the artist and entrepreneur Konstantin Golovkin. He, like others of his kind, only got to enjoy his property for a few years before the communist government forced it into collective ownership¨
Samara old house. Picture from
Another destroyed house. From
Detail of a neglected wooden house. From
Excerpt from the article by Rowan Moore, published at
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