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It's all a facade...

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

House of Soviets, Kaliningrad, Russia 2012: Image is everything in this photo

Credit: Nicolas Grospierre

With an online archive of architectural images – first from the former Eastern Bloc, then Europe, the Middle East, Iran, the USA and Brazil – you might be surprised that Pole Nicolas Grospierre’s specialisation is not in photography but political science – he even has an MSc from the LSE. Perhaps that explains his need to audit his hundreds of images of lauded, strange or unsung architecture, amassed since he threw in the day job at a Polish TV station in 2003 to pursue his true interest. Even the economics was a means to an end – to better understand the architecture as a function of its political and ideological context – and his images of these decaying buildings have a palpable sense of failed ideals. It’s epitomised in this shot, set in the former east Prussian city of Königsberg. With every trace of its pre-WWII German inhabitants eradicated, the 1960s communist regime even cleared the remains of the city’s bombed-out medieval castle to build its House of Soviets. But the schloss had its revenge when new foundations subsided so much that construction was abandoned in the 1980s. Vladimir Putin’s visit to the city in 2006 drove the city powers to some extreme cosmetic surgery, cladding its ailing concrete bones in an imposing new skin. This behemoth, never to be occupied, is a ghost structure, a modern ‘Potemkin village’, literally and metaphorically.

‘Modern Forms – A Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Architecture’ is on show at the AA Gallery in London from 30 April-28 May.
A book accompanies the show

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