Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Architectural Digest #1: Soviet Redux

A weary traveler could easily be confused into thinking they landed on the wrong side of the Bering Strait if they strolled far enough along Nome's Front Street. Witness the excellent example of high soviet architectural style embodied by the state building. Or maybe its more evocative of a correction facility or a bunker.

Either way, one has to get up close and personal to appreciate the fine architectural detailing, such as the dumpster strategically parked by the side, the 1950s- era ventilation units, and the rusted window frames. Possibly most appealing is the building's backside, which is entirely encased in foam - not exactly the beachfront facade typically encountered when strolling the Corniche.

Which leads this author to ponder the following two points : is Nome where failed architects go and what was the state thinking when it commissioned these building plans? A local wag calls it the school of Brutalism, which really cracked me up when I first heard it, but as it turns out, the laugh is on us.

A little research reveals there really is an architectural style called Brutalist, and it's not, as one might expect, the archetype of the Soviet or Stalin years (Stalin rates his own eponymous style).

No, it actually arose out of the work of Le Corbusier; the term is coined from the French for raw concrete (b├ęton brut), which Le Corbusier favored as a building material.

According to architectural references, the style is characterised by its rough, blocky appearance and the lack of effort to disguise or conceal the building materials used in construction. Although concrete is the material most commonly used in brutalist design, wood, steel, brick, glass, and iron may also be used. No word on the incorporation of foam, however.

Brutalist architecture never really caught on, as it too closely resembled the natural products of urban decay.

Except, apparently, in Nome.


Phil said...

I've lived here over 10 yrs and never noticed the front or back (depending on the view) of that building was foam. I've even kayaked passed it countless times. Interesting.

KCB said...

That is the strangest, saddest building I think I've ever seen. Maybe because the bright yellow panels utterly fail to make it look cheerful.

Ishmael said...

What a great post. I cracked up at "Brutalism," too, so thanks for the description.

I had a motorcycle that color once, a 1974 Kawasaki G4TRE 100. On the title it was described as "Mustard."

CabinDweller said...

It looks like they are maintaining appearances on the street side.

Of course, here in Squarebanks, folks aren't exactly hesitant to apply foam; I've seen entire trailers encased in a cocoon of it, said cocoon then being painted over.

And some day, when we have our own "Arctic Woman" competition, I want to have a spray foam sculpture competition.