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Published onApr 23, 2021

Shortly after Arthur Sprague’s death in 1968, his friends and academic associates at Columbia University decided that at least a portion of the work in which he had been engaged should be made available through publication. This work was primarily in the field of Russian architecture and town planning between the two World Wars, which is perhaps the aspect of the modern movement that is least accessible to western scholars; Arthur Sprague’s contribution to our understanding of this period would have been considerable. He had almost finished the draft of his doctoral dissertation on Soviet Constructivist Architecture 1917–34, working on it as a Fellow of Columbia’s Russian Institute, when, in the early summer of 1968, he was killed in an automobile accident.

Sprague had earned his M.A. at Columbia in 1967 with a thesis on N. A. Miliutin and Linear Planning in the USSR and had earlier prepared in connection with his work on that subject the translation of Miliutin’s book which forms the core of the present volume.

He received his A.B. from Columbia College in 1953 and then began graduate studies at the University’s Department of Slavic Languages under the guidance of Rufus W. Mathewson, Jr.; later he became a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, working mainly with Professor George Collins. He was fluent in Russian and spent a year and a half at Moscow State University as an exchange student and Fellow of the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants. He also received grants and fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others. During the period 1964–67, as an Assistant Professor at Waynesburg College, he taught courses in modern art and architecture and studio painting: he was active as a painter and had devoted a year to that interest in Mexico during the 1950s.

Before his career ended he began a series of articles that showed great promise. He wrote “Chernikhov and Constructivism,” for the London Survey (Winter, 1961); he furnished a number of entries, including those on Russian and Soviet Architecture, for the Encyclopedia of Modern Architecture (Abrams, 1964); he contributed the chapter “Modernizing Architecture, Art and Town Plans in Soviet Central Asia,” in Central Asia: A Century of Russian Rule (Edward Allworth, Editor, Columbia University Press, 1967). And he wrote book reviews for the Slavic Review. He was also preparing a portfolio of architectural drawings of the work of the Russian architect Konstantin Melnikov (a project that has been taken over for completion by Professor S. Frederick Starr of Princeton University).

The original draft translation of Miliutin’s Sotsgorod has been carefully corrected and refined with the assistance of Tanya Page of Columbia’s Department of Slavic Languages. The search for exactness of meaning and the most appropriate English equivalents were often the subject of long consideration before Miss Page, an accomplished linguist, would be satisfied.

Miliutin’s prose is not easy to translate. It appears to have been written hastily with little polishing, so that it is somewhat loose, rambling, and repetitive in places. It is inflated with the rhetoric of the times, and some words obviously carried special contemporary meanings that are now lost to us. Also, Miliutin tends to marshal his arguments in numbered sequences that give a misleading appearance of order to the points he makes. The numbered categories are not always of a correspondence or symmetry and are not always of the same weight and importance. The result is sometimes difficult to follow so far as logic is concerned, but the effect—the enthusiasm—is perhaps the more human for this, and, in the end, more convincing. His use of bold-face type for emphasis also seems erratic at times, but we have followed him scrupulously in this respect. However, we have not carried over the letterspacing common to Russian typography.

Some of his quotations from non-Russian Marxist authors vary somewhat from the accepted English versions. In all cases we have translated the quotations as Miliutin printed them and have added a note if our understanding of the passage is different.

The design of the book is, of course, one of its strengths. It was published at the very peak of Constructivist-Suprematist enthusiasm at the Government Printing Office in Moscow. Many of its page-layouts are as striking as posters by El Lissitzky or as pages in the avant-garde magazine SA. Unfortunately the quality of reproduction of pictures was not up to the graphic design. They are rather grey in the original; Boris Martens, who reviewed and summarized the book in 1932, already complained about this.

In setting up the translated text we have tried to adhere to the original placement and design so that our translation achieves a facsimile effect as closely as possible. We lose, of course, the rectangular effect of the original Russian letters, as can be seen by comparing the pages of the present translation to those pages of the original that we have reproduced in this Preface.

The responsibilities of the undersigned for the present volume were roughly as follows: George Collins worked with Miss Page on the reviewing of the translation and also assembled the various supporting materials—the notes to the translation, the Introduction and its notes, the Glossary, Bibliography, plates, etc. William Alex, a close friend of Arthur Sprague, participated in the original planning of the publication, in the final stages of the translation work with Miss Page, and in general matters of design.

In composing the Introduction, the intention has been to incorporate as much as possible of Arthur Sprague’s M.A. essay on Miliutin. The following passages in the Introduction have been taken more or less bodily from that essay: Soviet planning prior to 1930; details of Ginzburg and his Domnarkomfm building; Miliutin’s biography; Fordization in the USSR; most of the data about Magnitogorsk, Stalingrad, and Avtostroi; the circumstances of Miliutin’s recantation and the content of his later publications in Sovetskaia Arkhitektura; most of the four concluding paragraphs. The materials in this volume not specifically listed as Sprague’s here, here or here were contributed by George Collins, who wrote the Introduction in its final form and edited the entire book.

We have been very much assisted by the numerous publications in the field that have appeared since the present translation was started in the early 1960s, in particular Anatole Kopp’s Town and Revolution, the new augmented MIT Press edition of El Lissitzky’s Russland, and Paolo Ceccarelli’s recent collection of documents of the period. This indebtedness is made clear throughout our notes. We have added about 30 items to the Bibliography as it appeared in Arthur Sprague’s M.A. essay, and eliminated about a dozen of his citations that were sufficiently listed in one or another of his notes. Our General Bibliography is not intended to be a comprehensive listing for the field of Soviet architecture and urbanism. Rather, it contains titles of works used by Arthur Sprague and ourselves in translating and situating Miliutin’s book.

We are grateful for the direct assistance in this project of Professor Edward Allworth of Columbia University, Professor S. Frederick Starr of Princeton University, and the reference staff of the Columbia University Library, in particular Eugene P. Sheehy, Rita G. Keckeissen, and Nancy E. Schroeder. We were assisted in the final stages of preparation for publication by the Collins sons—David in translating, Nicolas in proofreading, and Lucas in proofreading and photography. Yael Harussi also helped with translating.

We wish to thank for permission to quote from their works, as cited, the following: the New York Times, Random House Inc., Simon & Schuster Inc., Paul L. Willen. We are indebted to the Library of the University of Chicago for lending us its copy of Miliutin’s Russian original several times in the course of preparation of this book.




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