Russian artist El Lissitzky, born this day in 1890, originally trained to be an architect.

[El Lissitzky. Proun 19D. 1920 or 1921. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn]


Once again I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and walked into one of the Royal Academy’s ‘Saturday Social’s’ this weekend. I’m now quite ashamed to say that I had never heard of 'Tatlin’s Tower’ or had any idea of all that it represents (but then the Russian Revolution didn’t quite make the cut into the history syllabus at my school so I’m sure I’m not the only one of my generation with huge knowledge gaps, thank you very much British National Curriculum).

Nevertheless, after forty well spent minutes listening to Lutz Becker (an architect involved in the 1971 construction of the tower at the Hayward) and  Kate Goodwin (one of the exhibition’s curators), I now feel thoroughly informed.

Vladimir Tatlin designed the tower as a monument to the Russian revolutionary Congress in 1920. It was intended to be 400m tall (100m higher than the Eiffel Tower) with three ever rotating levels and entirely made from steel.

The thing is, at the time there wasn’t even enough steel to construct a 10m model and nowhere near enough available money to making the tower a reality.

In 1971 a group of architects and civil engineers came together attempting to construct a 1:50 model of the tower for display at the Hayward Gallery on Southbank - a problematic task considering there are only two of Tatlin’s drawings surviving. Whilst the project was a success, the 1971 model was made from timber and has since disintegrated meaning that the Royal Academy’s 2011 attempt was all the more significant being the first time anyone had tried to build the tower from steel. The result is incredible and stands proudly in the courtyard of the RA.

Tatlin’s Tower was a concept. It is highly unlikely he thought it would ever be built (and indeed there are serious doubts over whether it would be structually practical), yet its image has been reproduced so many times that it remains an icon of constructivist architecture.

That a ninety year old daydream can still inspire, is magnificent.