The Department of Interior Architecture and Design recently held a speaker event featuring architect, historian, and educator Anna Bokov. The event was presented via Zoom on March 25th and focused on the dynamic history, origins, and pedagogical practices of the Higher Art and Technical Studio, known by its Russian abbreviation, VKhUTEMAS, founded in Moscow. Those in attendance were treated to ideas and excerpts from Bokov’s book, Avant-Garde as Method: VKhUTEMAS and the Pedagogy of Space, 1920-1930.
Throughout the 20th century, VKhUTEMAS revolutionized the modernist paradigm through its marriage of scientific and artistic disciplines. This innovative studio articulated the ideas of the avant-garde into a coherent body of knowledge that could be taught as a design curriculum. While obscure today, VKhUTEMAS acted as a catalyst in shaping the early decades of modernism. The Bauhaus movement has a connection to VKhUTEMAS through shared ideals and educational theories. However, VKhUTEMAS is often overshadowed by the Bauhaus studio. Through Anna Bokov’s insightful lecture, viewers were able to re-examine the mass educational model introduced at VKhUTEMAS on the 100th anniversary of its creation and recast the contributions of this visionary studio in the field of art, architecture, and design.
This was the time when artists and theorists were reimagining everyday life to make it more efficient and purposeful, which led to the sorts of sleek, minimalistic forms that characterize early modernism. At VKhUTEMAS, they designed highly functional and multiuse objects, from folding book displays, to beds that could be transformed into chairs, to storage units that could be converted into tables or kitchen counters, all of which reflected this new, streamlined approach to living. Meaningful design solutions stemmed from real problems—big or small—rooted in the realities of daily living. Resource scarcity can produce groundbreaking designs, which in turn become a means of addressing social and economic inequality.
–Assistant Professor Dr. Yelena McLane
Anna Bokov holds a Ph.D. from Yale University, a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Syracuse University. She is a resident member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and has taught at the Cooper Union, Parsons, Cornell University, Yale School of Architecture, Harvard GSD, and the Moscow Architectural Institute. Bokov has worked as an architect, urban designer, and researcher with OMA, Herzog & de Meuron, NBBJ, Ennead, and the City of Somerville. Her work has been published by The Journal of Architecture, Perspecta, Walker Art Center Primer, MoMA Post, Venice Biennale, Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, and Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Her book Avant-Garde as Method: Vkhutemas and the Pedagogy of Space, 1920–1930 (Park Books, 2020) is dedicated to the Russian counterpart of the Bauhaus.
I found Anna Bokov’s talk on her research andnew book very insightful. I really enjoyed hearing her speak on a topic that she was so passionate about. Not only was her talk a great introduction to her new book, but it was really great to hear about a style of art and design that is less well known and discussed. It was interesting to see parallels between Vhuketmas and Bauhaus drawn, and I was surprised to learn how closely they were connected. Overall, it was a very enjoyable event and I hope to learn more about this topic in the future!
— Elena Fulginti