"A monument made from steel, glass, and revolution."-- Viktor Shklovsky
Conceived as as towering symbol of modernity, Vladimir Tatlin's constructivist "Monument to the Third International" was designed in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution to embody the aspirations of the fledgling Soviet state. Indeed, it was seen as a challenge to the France’s Eiffel Tower. Only problem: It was never built.
Commissioned by the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment in 1919 as the design for the headquarters for, and monument to the Comintern, or Third International, the tower's main feature was a twin helix spiraling some 1,300 feet, around which visitors would be transported with the aid of various mechanical devices. If all went as Tatlin planned, the main framework would contain four large suspended geometric structures that would rotate at different rates of speed. At the base of the structure would be a cube designed as a venue for lectures, conferences, and meetings that would complete a rotation in the span of one year. Above the cube, a smaller pyramid, which would complete a rotation once a month, was planned for executive activities. Further up would be a cylinder housing an information center from which to issue news bulletins and manifestos via telegraph, radio, and loudspeaker. It would complete a rotation once a day. At the top, there would be a hemisphere for radio equipment. There were also plans to install a gigantic open-air screen on the cylinder, and a projector to cast messages across the clouds on overcast day. (While totally unrelated, I can’t help but think of the work of Russian painter Erik Bulatov, 50 odd years later.)
According to the acclaimed art historian and critic Nikolai Punin (also known as the husband of the great poet Anna Akhmatova): “The main idea of the monument is based on an organic synthesis of the principles of architecture, sculpture and painting, and was intended to produce a new type of monumental structure, uniting in itself a purely creative form with a utilitarian form.”
Why wasn’t it built? The design proved too expensive and complex to realize in Tatlin’s day, and he only managed to complete a few wooden scale models. However, there’s some evidence that a group called Tatlin’s Tower and the World is planning to build a full-scale version of the monument. Unfortunately, they only plan to build it in separate sections, which will be housed in different venues. But not much is known about the group or the project at this point, so who knows?
Nonetheless, nearly a hundred years after its design--despite never actually being built, mind you--the Tower remains one of the most striking and controversial pieces of work associated with Russian Constructivism and a symbol of the epoch, and surely deserves to appear on a postage stamp.