Architect-artist Iakov Chernikhov

Iakov Chernikhov was born on the 17th of December, 1889, in Pavlograd, Yekaterinenskav Gubernia, Ukraine (now Dnepropetrovskaya Oblast), one of the 12 children in the family. In 1904 he left Pavlograd for Odessa and became a student at the Odessa Art School, a branch of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. To earn his living young Chernikhov worked as a docker, a cardboard factory worker, a passe-partout maker, a retoucher/ photographer, and an assistant architect employed to design and construct the Odessa Exhibition, during which he mastered various aspects of graphical design.

The Odessa period in the life of the future architectural master became an important state in the formation of his creative personality. His teachers at the Odessa Art School were G. A. Ladyzhenskii and K. K. Kostandi, both leading artists of the South Russian School.

It was in Odessa that the distinctive style of Iakov Chernikhov took shape. In 1912 he became interested in the art of drawing, in graphics, and began his work on a course in ornamental drawing, which gave direction to his subsequent creative searches. That same year he began his pedagogical activity, which he would continue until the end of his life.

In 1914, having graduated from the Art School, he moved to St. Petersburg and entered the Academy of Arts—the faculty of painting, as well as the Higher Pedagogical Academic Courses. In 1916 Chernikhov transferred from the painting faculty to the architecture department and graduated in 1925 (well after the Great October Revolution) as a certified architect / artist. His professors included such distinguished educators as V. Beklemishev, D. Kardovsky, I. Fomin, and Academician of Architecture Leontiy N. Benois, his main “schoolmaster” in Petrograd.

Iakov Chernikhov was preoccupied with an extraordinarily wide range of activities. Studies in geometric ornament and Suprematism; the development of new methodology to teach graphical and three-dimensional disciplines; issues related to the theory of Constructivism and shape intermutation in contemporary architecture; design and civil construction.

After graduation from the Academy of Arts in 1925, Chernikhov was occupied with production and project work in Leningrad throughout the 1920s and 30s. In 1927 he organized in Leningrad his own Science and Research Pilot Laboratory for Architectural Shapes and Graphical Studies, where with a group of students and assistants he became actively involved, in experimental and design work.

He created projects for the leading areas of industrialization—metal working factories and chemical plants. He produced designs for housing areas, scientific research institutes, and schools (about 60 projects created by himself and more than 30 produced under his direct supervision).

Chernikhov’s best known project in the area of construction was the water tower of the cable-making workshop for the Krasniy Gvozdilshchik factory (1930-31).

By virtue of practical construction activity Chernikhov acquired an ability to study and analyze specific attributes of all components of industrial architecture. The actual process of project design exerted an enormous influence on his creativity and gave him extensive material for experimental research work.

Iakov Chernikhov was an enthusiastic pedagogue. He began to teach drawing and sketching while a student at the Odessa Arts School. The study at the Advanced Teachers’ Courses at the Academy of Arts helped him to systematize his methodological research in the area of establishing graphic literacy, based on the rich material of his extensive pedagogical practice in high schools, city schools and commercial schools.

Asking his students not to copy a construction but “compose” it, Chernikhov achieved startling results: “I was able to prove that graphical literacy, just as usual literacy, can be taught.” (Iakov Chernikhov, “My Creative Path”)

As a teacher at the Workers’ Faculties (Rabfak), and then at construction and architectural faculties, he stove to bring to the students the accessibility and clarity of the principles of graphic geometry. He was the creator of a new system of visual teaching aids, in which considerable meaning was given to graphic assignments that revealed the essence of a structure through the play of variations. With this goal in mind, he worked on the creation of the “Encyclopedia of Geometric Drawing”, Methods of Depiction,” “A Course in Curves,” courses on “projection sketching” and “projection drawing”. These researches were accompanied by an enormous quantity of drawings and compositions aimed at phased individual development and work by both teachers and students.

Iakov Chernikhov taught at the Leningrad Institute of Transportation Engineers (after 1933 LIIZhT) in the school of architecture (1928-45), at the Industrial Academy (NKTP) in the course for factory and plant construction (1930-32), at the Stalin Transportation Academy (NKPC) (1930-32), and at the Institute of Engineers of Water Transportation (1929-31). He was the director of diploma projects at the Moscow Architectural Institute. Over a period of 22 years he directed the Department of Drawing Geometry at Moscow’s Ordzhonikidze Engineering and Economics Institute. Chernikhov’s final place of work was the All Union Correspondence Institute of Industrial and Construction Materials, where he headed the Department of Drawing Geometry and Graphics.

Having joined the Constructivist movement relatively late, after the culmination of lab research efforts in the late 1920s – early 1930s, Chernikhov published in Leningrad a series of books of architectural fantasies that made him famous worldwide and earned him the title of “Soviet Piranesi”: “Fundamentals of Modern Architecture” (1929-1930), “Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms” (1931), and “Architectural Fantasies. 101 Compositions” (1933). Those books, perfectly formatted and printed, have since become a source of inspiration to many generations of architects.

In 1933, at the stipulation of Sergei Kirov, Leningrad’s Anichkov Palace hosted an exhibit of Chernikhov’s work entitled “2222 Architectural Fantasies,” which represented the results of his many years of experimental research in the area of architectural problems and methods in the visual arts. The exhibition reflected the creative path followed by the author and carefully acquainted the public with various devices of graphic sketching, beginning from ornamental images and concluding with the most complicated architectural compositions.

Simultaneously with explorations in the area of constructivist architecture, Iakov Chernikhov became fascinated with architectural fantasies on the theme of architecture of past epochs. An example is his “Cycle of Picturesque Architecture,” which included “Architectural Tales”, “Architectural Landscapes”, “The Architecture of Wooden Buildings”, “Tales of Industry”, “Architectural Romanticism” (1931-44), and others.

The 1930s was the most productive period in the life of Iakov Chernikhov. He not only did much project and construction work, he also taught, worked as a pedagogue and graphic artist, and engaged in publishing activity.
Not long before the Second World War, Chernikhov completed work on the cycle “The Architecture of Palaces” (1934-41): “Palaces of Communism”, “Architecture of the Future”, “Architectural Ensembles”. During the war he created a series of projects and compositions on the theme “Pantheons of the Great Patriotic War” (1942-48) and the cycle “Military Camouflage”.

In various years he also executed a series of works in the area of architectural theory, proportions, architectural aesthetics, and the methodology of teaching the graphical disciplines. Among them are: “Entasis of the Column”, “Methods of Architectural Projection”, “Geometric Drawing”, “Color and Light”, “The Aesthetics of Architecture”, and “Beauty in Architecture”.

The last work of Iakov Chernikhov, which remained uncompleted, was the book “An Analysis of the Construction of Classical Typeface”, published after his death.

Iakov Chernikhov died on May 9, 1951 in Moscow.

Although he did not attach himself organizationally to leftist art and entered the movement relatively late, Iakov Chernikhov nonetheless entered the history of contemporary architecture as one of the brightest and most romantic of artists, whose work became the classic culmination of the strivings of the “Soviet 1920s”.


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