The Narkomfin Building is an institutional and research project of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. The Museum team is studying both the architectural significance of the building and the life stories of its creators and inhabitants over a period of 100 years. The knowledge generated will form the basis of tour itineraries, publications, and various public and education projects constructed around this legendary building. In addition, residents of the building, Museum patrons, and GARAGE cardholders have access to Narkomfin Café, and a book shop has opened on the first floor of the residential block.
The history of the building’s construction is closely connected with social processes taking place in the first decades of the USSR’s existence. Representatives of various professions were tasked with educating the new Soviet citizen, who would speak a new language, live according to the precepts of communism, and, as a result, become a true champion of its ideas. In architecture this led to the creation of house-communes and “transitional type” projects such as the Narkomfin Building. Laundry, childcare, and even residents’ leisure activities were all designed to take place in shared spaces and meals were to be served in a communal dining room.
However, the Narkomfin Building was famous not so much for its social concept as its unusual architectural solution.
The Narkomfin Building was based on designs for apartments developed by staff of the section for typifying residential accommodation of the Construction Committee (STROIKOM) of the RSFSR, headed by Moisei Ginzburg. The architect Alexander Pasternak, brother of the poet Boris Pasternak, became the lead staff member and a close associate of Ginzburg. He was the author of a series of projects for living cells, as compact apartments designed for various types of family were then called.
As a result of the section’s work, a decree was issued that recommended various versions of living cells for mass construction and the rest for experimental buildings. The design provided economical but comfortable living accommodation for the time, and natural lighting was also preferred.
The few remaining design drawings for the Narkomfin Building—working drawings and blueprint copies—do not entirely match the building as constructed. (In 1934, Ginzburg published the drawings submitted for approval and not the final version.) In particular, in some apartments additional rooms were created and other elements were included that did not feature in the design. However, from the beginning the Narkomfin Building consisted of three blocks: the housekeeping block, the communal block, and the residential block (the unbuilt second project included another housekeeping block and a second residential block).
The Narkomfin Building’s residential block is situated deep within the site and is oriented almost exactly from north to south, parallel with the part of the Garden Ring known as Novinsky Bulvar. The sun entered the building from the east facade in the morning (into the bedrooms, the glazed gallery, the corridor, and kitchens) and from the west facade, in which direction the main spaces consisting of combined dining and living rooms faced, in the evening.
All of the apartments are incorporated within the dimensions of the axes of the framework and columns. The small, two-level F-type cells occupied one section of the framework and the K-type two-level cells occupied two (16 pairs of F-type cells were arranged over eight K-type cells). Unlike the F-type cells, the K-type cells were designed in two mirror image versions to simplify the paired grouping of engineering communications—ventilation channels, extractor fans, water pipes, etc.
Leading engineer Sergei Prokhorov was responsible for engineering solutions during construction. He was one of the first people to use kamyshit (cane fiber), a light but non-durable material with excellent insulating qualities. The building was also constructed using “peasant” cement blocks, which were made on site, and spiral reinforcement for the round, loadbearing columns.
The color scheme of the apartments was also non-standard. From 1929 to 1931, a group of senior Bauhaus students worked in Moscow, led by Professor Hinnerk Scheper. Employed by the Malyarstroi Trust, the German specialists worked on several projects for painting the facades and interiors of new buildings, but the only residential building to have color interiors was the Narkomfin Building.
The building was commissioned by the People’s Commissariat for Finance (Narkomfin) of the RSFSR, which was headed by Nikolai Milyutin. He personally supervised the construction of the residential part of the building and, it appears, agreed with Moisei Ginzburg that he would design his own apartment, a penthouse on the roof. An important element of Milyutin’s concept was the direct link between the kitchen and the dining room, which was created using a suspended counter in the form of a flat “wall” with a window through which dishes could be served from the kitchen on to a long dinner table at which all of the residents and their guests would gather in the two-story dining room.
The first residents moved into the Narkomfin Building in 1931, but by 1936 alterations and redesigns had already begun to take place. For a while, Ginzburg’s studio was located in the communal block. Then it was home to the kindergarten, which had not been allocated a separate building. Starting in 1947, the building was redesigned. The first floor of the communal block was reorganized to create two low floors and six windows along the façade instead of continuous glazing. The columns in the club were supplemented with plaster capitals and “historical” Ionic cornices, and the terrace was built on. The dining room ceased to exist, having practically not even begun to operate, since prepared dishes were given to residents to take away. Instead, a communal kitchen was built on the fifth floor of the residential block, with rows of stovetops and washtubs. The kindergarten was closed, and the communal block became a printing house. The laundry remained, but eventually stopped serving residents. In the end, the building was transferred to the local housing department, and they gradually stopped repairing it.
At various times, as well as architect Moisei Ginzburg and Nikolai Milyutin, residents of the building included Nikolai Krylenko, People’s Commissar for Justice of the USSR, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, People’s Commissar for Justice of the USSR, Nikolai Sokolov, Chair of the Board of Gosbank of the USSR, Sergei Karp, Chair of Gosplan of the RSFSR, Nikolai Lisitsyn, People’s Commissar of Agriculture of the RSFSR, Daniil Sulimov, Chair of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, and his deputy, Turar Ryskulov, Nikolai Semashko, former People’s Commissar of Health of the RSFSR and his family, Soviet painter Alexander Deineka, Bolshoi Theater soloist Olga Insarova (Okorokova), actress Olga Bgan, chief surgeon of the Soviet Army Alexander Vishnevsky, and others. In the 1930s, the residents of the building did not avoid the fate of the rest of the country. Many of them were subject to repressions.
A detailed study of the Narkomfin Building, although not the first such research project, was undertaken by Moscow Architectural Institute (MARKHI) in 1990, with the participation of students led by Elena Ovsyannikova (MARKHI), Jean-Claude Ludi (University of Geneva), architectural historian Alexei Tarkhanov, and designer Mark Konik. At that point it became clear that during construction there were significant changes to the previously approved design drawings, and no fewer than eleven types of apartment were identified within the Narkomfin Building. Until the mid-2000s, there was no major work on the building, and as a result by that time it was in dangerous condition. Notwithstanding constant rumors about the demolition of the Narkomfin Building and attempts to turn it into a boutique hotel, in 2017 Vladimir Ginzburg, the son of Moisei Ginzburg, approved the restoration of the building, led by Alexey Ginzburg, the grandson of Moisei Ginzburg. By the time of this major restoration project, almost everything inside the apartments and in the corridor of the residential block had been broken and disposed of, including the unique oak woodwork with the bronze rollers of the sliding windows and the cast-iron radiators.
The restoration and partial reconstruction of the apartments, the aim of which was to re-establish the original external and internal design of the building, ribbon glazing, color schemes, and individual architectural elements, was completed in 2020. Of the surviving postwar alterations, it was decided to retain the lift shaft, which is now the main difference with the external appearance of the building in the early 1930s.
“It would probably be more accurate to call this work an audio installation. With the help of music and voice we tell the story of the Narkomfin Building. It is not a logical narrative, more of an attempt to express the horrors of the 1930s in a building that was considered a model for the future. What happens when the future erases everything in its path? We would like to give the listener a feeling of how dreams are destroyed, how the state pulverizes those it lauded yesterday, how the future comes to an end.
The work uses materials prepared by Oksana Polyakova and Darya Bobrenko (Garage Field Research).
Samoe Bolshoe Prostoe Chislo (SBPCh) has long been on the Russian-language indie scene. In its 17-year history, the group has changed line-up many times and recorded 16 albums, overcoming an incredible labyrinth of genres: post hip hop, ambient, IDM, indie pop, and much more. Today, SBPCh is frontman and author of lyrics and music Kirill Ivanov, vocalist and co-author of lyrics actress Evgenia Borzykh, and sound producer and bassist Stanislav Astakhov.
In the reminiscences of its residents, the Narkomfin Building is like a spaceship floating in the air. After the war, communal apartments appeared in the building and over time it fell into ruin. Some of the cells were sealed and the windows painted over.
Architectural mutations reflect social transformations. Brodyachaya Sobaka explores what happened to the dream of collective living and the «new man».
Is collective living good for people? Does the unification of accommodation lead to the unification of spirit? Do common values and self-identification appear as a result of living together? Was the attempt by the Soviet authorities to re-educate people by managing their routine successful? The authors of the play seek answers to these questions in the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Osip Mandelstam, in reminiscences, and in archives. The dramaturgy of the play, which recreates the semantic and object content of the spaces of the Narkomfin Building, was suggested by its history, and the building’s architecture helped with the sound solutions, ranging from harmony to sound design.
Brodyachaya Sobaka is a psychedelic electroacoustic duet of Vladimir Sidorov and Ilya Sheiman, which researches sound forms of the absurd and chaos. The collective’s arsenal includes saxophone, electric guitars, synthesizers, and ethnic instruments. They have played at the clubs Mutabor (Moscow), Pole (Moscow), Blanc (Moscow), and Red Eyes (Moscow)and at the festivals Gate, AHOLA, and Kruzhok Summer Camp and have provided sound for silent movies at Illuzion Cinema (Moscow). Their debut cassette was issued on the TESTFM label and was followed by several singles and live recordings. Recently, the musicians formed the extended instrumental collective Brodyachaya Sobaka+, which includes clarinet, vocals, two saxophones, percussion, electronica, and rhymes.
You are listening to traces of aborigen’s presence within the walls of the Narkomfin Building. With aluminum guitar and snarling amplifier at the ready he wandered barefoot through the space on the first floor of the communal block and the aerial balcony linking the residential and communal blocks, dropping into a bathroom in one of the cells, from where he could hear the corridor (from where the cell could also be heard). Each space has its own phonation: in some places, sounds drown and vanish and in others they come together in an invisible picture that is hermetic and detailed. The work is recorded and mixed to take into account the acoustics of the building, absorbing the echo of the walls and the reflection of timbres.
aborigen’s audio-walk through the Narkomfin Building is a meeting between a cultural zero and an important cultural unit that reveals disrupted norms of noise and neighborly mimicry. When everyone can hear your every move, you tend to tiptoe.
Recording: Ivan Radzievsky
Mixing: Lev Zhitsky
Photo: Ildar Iksanov
Video: Pavel Kling
aborigen is a rough and ready acid rocker. Any stage or space where aborigen plays becomes the droning belly of an unexplored cave, and being inside it is both a nightmare and a meditation. aborigen has performed at the clubs Mutabor (Moscow), Ugly (St. Petersburg), and Pole (Moscow) and also at House of Radio (St. Petersburg) and GES-2 House of Culture (Moscow).
Kedr Livansky and Flati, the members of the musical project Kosaya Gora, have created a collage from films found in family archives, their own field research, and new music recorded after visiting the Narkomfin Building. The melancholic soundscape brings together voices from the past with an uneasy sound fabric of the present, coinciding with a sense of dissonance and non-linearity of time in a building that preserves the traces of its complex history. There, where the historical and cultural layers coexist simultaneously (like old wiring alongside contemporary decoration), the past comes back to life. It also comes to life on the level of combining audio recording techniques. Here you can find recording on old reels and using a smart phone dictaphone.
paperwall story is a dream, a reverse dark fantasy of the avant-garde artist and poet Velimir Khlebnikov about the «radio of the future,» which spreads «flocks of news from the life of the spirit,» human speech, and the unearthly singing of «lightning birds,» but which has an enchanting force.
Kosaya Gora is an indie project by electronic producer and singer Kedra Levansky and experimental producer and visual artist Flati. For both participants, the project presents new directions for artistic practice. The project’s debut album, Kosogor, is guitar folk combined with ghostly dream pop and hypnotic vocals.
The Narkomfin Building was conceived as a machine for the «new man» to live in. Ignaty Milinis and Moisei Ginzburg’s ambitious design was called upon to change both the image of the city and the everyday life of each individual family. While Le Corbusier described his approach as «architecture or revolution,» the constructivists went further and proclaimed every square meter to be «architecture as revolution.»
In the 1920s, this radical constructivist approach defined music as well as architecture. In 1920, to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution, the theoretician, musician, and inventor Arseny Avraamov produced the Symphony of Sirens in Baku. This grandiose show involved the entire city: naval artillery formed the percussion, machine guns were small drums, and factory sirens played «The Internationale.» This collective performance expressed the revolutionary rejection of individualism. Avraamov’s co-authors were factories and ships.
In 1930, Dziga Vertov filmed his first sound movie, Enthusiasm: The Symphony of Donbas, in the factories and mines of that region. He used Alexander Shorin’s system, which enabled him to record sound on the film during the shoot. Vertov built his method on sound-facts as well as image-facts, taking sound recording out of the studio to encounter demonstrations and the din of factory machinery and creating a new music from this noise.
The Association for Contemporary Music appeared, bringing together Dmitry Shostakovich, Nikolai Roslavets, Nikolai Myaskovsky, and others in search of new symphonic sounds. Ivan Wyschnegradsky wrote microtonal compositions. Alexander Mosolov depicted the work of a factory in a symphony for the ballet Steel, which was never produced.
The boundaries of authorship became blurred. Engineers and the machines they created wrote music alongside composers. Evgeny Sholpo’s variophone, Arseny Avraamov’s ornamental sound, and Nikolai Voinov’s nivotone did not require an orchestra, revealing new systems of notation and reproduction of sound and being used to arrange classical music and to create soundtracks for film and animation.
Influenced by these ideas, Evgeny Murzin invented the ANS synthesizer, which could translate drawings into spectral music. Thanks to the ANS, constructivist architecture found a sound dimension: Daniil Anisimov ran the design drawings of the Narkomfin Building through a digital emulation of the synthesizer.
This audio work is made up of compositions created in the 1920s and 1930s: avant-garde symphonic works, excerpts from the first sound movies and animations, demo recordings of new instruments. The only exception is linked to the subject of architecture, which is closely connected to the Narkomfin Building. Another machine for living, the Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis (USA), which were built in the 1950s and designed for collective life, quickly turned into a ghetto and were demolished in 1974 using a controlled explosion witnessed by dozens of film cameras. The footage, with sound by Philip Glass, was used by Godfrey Reggio in his film Koyaanisqatsi.
The period during which the interests of the Soviet musical avant-garde and state ideology coincided was short. The avant-garde composers were forced either to reject the avant-garde, like Dmitry Shostakovich, or to emigrate, like Ivan Wyschnegradsky, or were persecuted and repressed, like Alexander Mosolov, Nikolai Roslavets, and Leon Theremin. The industrial-artistic utopia failed. Many innovators were rejected by the Soviet authorities and destined to be forgotten for decades.
The author thanks Nadezhda Chernyakevich for assistance with this text.
Daniil Anisimov is an experimental physicist who performs as a DJ using the pseudonym standard model and is co-organizer of the raves year of the dog. His sets combine contrasting musical genres and practices. His was introduced to the Soviet musical avant-garde and electro-acoustic music through Andrei Smirnov’s course at Rodchenko Art School (Moscow).
The Narkomfin Building should have been a manifesto for a new life. The idea was that residents of this «experimental building» would be in collective heaven, dealing with domestic issues together. But the social utopia did not work out: the common spaces—the dining room, kindergarten, and laundry—were only briefly used as intended and soon changed their functions. At various times the building was home to a printing works, artists’ studios, and editorial offices that produced «content.» Today «content» is created by bloggers and tiktokkers, who attract people to the restored building like a magnet.
Comparing the eclectic «windows» of the cells with digital interfaces, tima ishet svet puts together from the infoglut via the monitor of an imaginary resident of one of the Narkomfin Building cells an absurd pseudo-manifesto in which phrases interrupt each other and become meaningless. YouTube memes get mixed up with chanson, and adverts, and politicians’ speeches alternate with popular hits and music from Disney animations.
tima ishet svet is a multi-genre artist and producer. He became famous thanks to the LP slaughterhouse, which was conceived as a theatrical production. His next album, mirror, was one of the main Russian releases of 2021. In December 2022, he released the single «integrity,» part of the promo for which was a digital confession by a Telegram bot called anton.
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Participants of the third season worked with archive documents and reminiscences of residents of the Narkomfin Building, interacting with its real and imagined spaces and addressing the sound experiments of the Soviet avant-garde. The result of their research was six audio works in harmony with the architecture of the building and reacting to its history that are performed in various genres, from an electro-acoustic play to a sound walk.
Acid rocker aborigen fills the building with the sound of an electric guitar; DJ and experimental physicist standard model passes the design drawings through the digital emulator of the ANS synthesizer; the indie project Kosaya Gora dedicates its soundscape, created from family archives and field recordings, to the Narkomfin Building; tima ishet svet is a mixtape; and the psychedelic duet Brodyachaya Sobaka create a play about the Soviet utopian dream and its failure.
In the special edition of the radio show, Samoe Bolshoe Prostoe Chislo (SBPCh, The Largest Prime Number) explore archive testimony and criminal cases connected to the building at 25 Novinsky Bulvar.
You can listen to the all seasons of Station Radio on the Garage website.
Open daily, 10:00–22:00
The bookshop on the first floor of the residential block is open to all, daily, 11:00–22:00. To enter, please press “i” on the black stand to the right of the door and wait for the member of staff.
We recommend walking to the Narkomfin Buildingfrom Barrikadnaya metro station (Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya line). Afterleaving the station, turn right and walk to Barrikadnaya Street. Withoutcrossing the road, turn left and walk to the Garden Ring. At the trafficlights, cross Barrikadnaya Street (toward the square) and walk in the directionof Novy Arbat. After the VEB.RF business center, turn right into MalyKonyushkovsky Pereulok, walk to the end of the building and then cross the roadvia the pedestrian crossing. Turn right and walk ahead a little. You will see atraffic barrier. This is the entry to the Narkomfin Building.
Walk underneath the residential block to theend. You will see the communal block behind it, with its glazed wall.
There is paid parking on Kudrinskaya Square andNovinsky Bulvar. Please note that the number of spaces is limited, and parkingmay be full at weekends and on holidays.
The nearest bus stop on the Garden Ring is “Chaliapin House” (buses B, 239, c369, 379).
When planning your visit, please see the rules for visiting the communalblock of the Narkomfin Building.
In the communal block of the Narkomfin Building it is not permitted to:
Unfortunately, the communal block of the Narkomfin Building does not have a ramp and is not accessible for wheelchair users.
When using mobile phones, please consider the people around you.
Personal photography and videography is permitted. Prior permission is necessary to take photographs or film using professional equipment. Please write to email@example.com no less than three working days before the shoot.
If you would like to use the Narkomfin Building for an event, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org no less than two weeks before the planned date.
GARAGE card is the loyalty program of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which manages the communal block of the Narkomfin Building.
GARAGE cardholders can access the communal block of the Narkomfin Building and Narkomfin Café, together with up to two friends. They also receive:
Find out more about the loyalty program here.
Students can buy a card for 2,000 rubles. You can purchase a student card at the information desks at Garage and in the communal block of the Narkomfin Building.
Private patrons of Garage Museum of Contemporary Artare directly involved in the life and strategic development of the institution.One of the opportunities provided by this status is the possibility toorganize meetings and events in the communal block of the NarkomfinBuilding, at Garage, and in the Education Center in Gorky Park.
Chef Alexey Bagreev’s menu is based around snacks and salads made from seasonal produce. The bar menu includes rare Russian wines. Narkomfin Café also offers specially designed cocktails, teas, and desserts by confectioner Lena Nabiullina that pay homage to the Narkomfin Building.
Дизайн «Серии объектов № 1» отталкивается от оригинальных решений архитектора Моисея Гинзбурга и облика здания после реконструкции, которая прошла под руководством его внука Алексея Гинзбурга.
В серию вошли открытки и плакаты, канцелярские товары из латуни, кружки и брелоки с логотипом Дома Наркомфина, а также берет, созданный мастерской головных уборов «Гарин».
Книжный магазин открыт для всех желающих на первом этаже жилого корпуса с 11:00 до 22:00 ежедневно. Для входа в него необходимо нажать «i» на черной стойке справа от двери и дождаться сотрудника.
They will have the opportunity to evaluate the original architectural design and see the results of the restoration of the building, which was completed according to the original drawings. The tour also includes a visit to the Narkomfin café, which is located on the third floor of the communal block.
This tour was created by Garage guide Zhanna Sevostyanova in collaboration with the grandson of Moisei Ginzburg, Alexey Ginzburg.