The Great Factory Civilization of the East European Plain

Promoting the industrial ruins of the ‘Russian Manchester.’

The former Ivanovo-Voznesensk Textile Manufacture Society Factory (known as the Balashov Factory from 1925 through its bankruptcy in 1988)

Dubbed the ‘Red Manchester,’ Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the largest textile center of Russia, was considered to be the USSR’s third proletarian capital during the 1920s. The city gained its revolutionary reputation when a Workers’ Council was established there in 1905. The council was created during a 72 day strike as a tool for the workers in negotiations with factory owners. Once an unremarkable industrial town, in 1918 Ivanovo became the center of the USSR’s new ‘red province’. Some 10 years later it grew to become the center of a giant industrial district. At the beginning of the 1930s Ivanovo-Voznesensk turned into a testing ground for experiments run by Moscow and local Сonstructivists. Architects brought their bold conceptual designs to life there, filling the central street with red-brick buildings in the shape of ships, bullets, and birds. Many streets were renamed after the local heroes of the recent revolution. Strelka Magazine talked to Ivanovo historian and author of the guidebook Ivanovo: City of the Red Dawn Mikhail Timofeev and discussed the industrial architecture of a provincial post-Soviet town and the future fate of the Soviet past.



Mikhail Timofeev: The Ivanovo guide is more than just a walk-through for a few city landmarks – although it does contain a large segment dedicated to constructivism – it’s a presentation of various historical periods that left a lasting mark on the face of the city. The guide is divided into four chapters. The first section describes the historical events that shaped the modern look of the city. I see Ivanovo as the heart of a unique factory civilization of the Eastern European Plain, created in the 19th century in the areas comprising the northern parts of Vladimir Province and the southern lands of Kostroma Province. This ‘civilization’ is distinguished by extensive factory complexes, formidable mansions owned by entrepreneurs, andfin de siècle eclectic modernist architecture.

The second part of the guide describes the transformation the city went through during the 1920s and 1930s, a period when buildings designed by Moscow and Ivanovo architects were being constructed in Ivanovo. Today these buildings comprise a significant part of Ivanovo’s constructivist heritage. The third chapter explains how the story of the first Workers’ Council was interwoven into the fabric of the city landscape. Starting with the 1960s, numerous memorials and monuments appeared in the city. Today, some of them appear rather ridiculous. At Revolution Square, the men depicted in the Lifting the Fallen Standard monument are barefoot. The monument was originally to be installed in the southern city of Odessa. In the colder climate of Ivanovo, factory workers usually wore high boots.

The fourth chapter of the guide talks about the folk wisdom of the ‘most Soviet city’ and the textile capital of the USSR. The city museums have collections of images depicting the work of the female seamstresses of the era. Some of these images made their appearance in the guide. Additionally, the guide features photos of cloth types from different time periods provided by the Ivanovo Calico Museum. The late Soviet period also left its mark on the city: Brezhnev modernism, mosaic art, and other typical and not-quite-typical elements of the era can be found here.



The City of Red Dawn. Ivanovo: an Uncanonical Guide by Mikhail Timofeev. Ivanovo, 2017.

I coined the term ‘factory civilization of the East European Plain’ as a counterpart to the mining industry civilization of the Ural Mountains. The Ural has plants, and Ivanovo has factories. The Ural has mountains – Ivanovo is in the middle of a vast flatland. Compared to other textile centers of the Russian empire (Lodz, Tampere, and even Bonyachki – now Vichuga – in the Kostroma Region) the Ivanovo Region fell short when it came to the social benefits offered by factory owners to their workers. Although they built hospitals, schools, a club for managers, a local administration office, and other socially important institutions, housing remained a grave and largely unresolved issue. Construction of new worker settlements was not being carried out at a fast enough pace. In Vichuga, a hospital, a club, kindergartens, the Sashino and Seryozhino worker settlements, and houses for engineers and technical personnel still stand today, a testament to the astute, socially-oriented care that the Konovalovs, a family of local factory owners, showed toward their employees.

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Thermal Power Station-2, Ivanovo, 1937

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Ivanovo Central Inn, 1930s

The factory complexes in Ivanovo still look formidable today. The buildings next to the rivers dominate the city landscape, forming a local Kremlin of sorts. The owners’ mansions, on the contrary, can barely be recognized among the neighbouring houses. The mansions, mostly two-story buildings, can still be found in quieter parts of the city center in the midst of higher buildings. During the Soviet era, a third floor was added to some of them.



Ivanovo-Voznesensk was not granted the status of an administrative center until 1918, which meant that the city saw limited funding from district and province budgets. Local factory owners were also hesitant to invest in improving the city environment. Ivanovo-Voznesensk did not have centralized plumbing, and only the city center was lit at night – worker’s houses did not have access to electricity until after the revolution. During the Soviet era, plumbing and canalization were introduced to the city, yet the housing issue remained largely unresolved. In Vichuga flats which used to accommodate one family were turned into communal apartments. No wonder that Vichuga experienced some of the strongest protests against the new Soviet regime. Official statements that “life has improved” were far from reality.

In the mid-20s large-scale construction began in the city. Local historians sometimes quote the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: “…Moscow and Ivanovo both have been rebuilt anew. Three hundred buildings in Ivanovo alone.” Construction of the Light and Air, and Red Chemistry Worker worker settlements began during that period. The First Worker Settlement was the largest project of the era with 144 2, 4, 8, and 10-flat apartment blocks. By the end of the 1920s the garden city model was recognized as unsustainable, and construction of multi-story settlements commenced. A 400-apartment communal house designed by Ilya Golosov’s team was one of the flagships of the new development wave. After art and architecture magazines entered the discussion on the future of socialist cities during the 1930s, a decision was made to abandon the concept of communal houses as too ahead of its time. The Proletarian Textile Worker community and a microdistrict for workers of the melange factory were constructed during that period. In the late 1920s the construction of the melange factory, as well as the Dzerzhinsky and Red Talka textile factories was completed.

The design of the Red Talka building created by Vesnin’s pupil Ivan Nikolaev was showcased at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. The architect proposed a new ideology for industrial construction: the multi-story factory designs popular before the revolution should be replaced with two-story buildings with additional basement space. The Red Talka building featured the most recent engineering innovations of the time: the glass roof helped decrease electricity consumption, and the natural updraft was employed to remove cotton lint. The dynamic silhouette of the building with its imposing tower is as impressive today as it was a century ago.



Narpit №2 factory kitchen, 1933. Architect: A. Zhuravlev.

Between 1927 and 1935 numerous constructivist and post-constructivist buildings appeared along Lenin Avenue and its adjacent streets and squares. The buildings formed a tourist route known as the Red Thread. The route started at the train station, passed through the Second Worker Settlement towards the bird-shaped school, and ran along two Fridman-designed Ship Houses to the USSR’s first factory kitchen, Narpit №2. The route then continued to the Joint State Political Directorate – the administrative Bullet House and the residential Horseshoe House – as well as the 102-apartment City Council house, a building for Ivanovo udarniks (super-productive workers) designed by the Leningrad architect Gruzenberg, the now-defunct Grand Drama Theatre (the third largest theatre in the USSR), and Viktor Vesnin’s Ivselbank Building.

The route also passed by the Main Post Office, the Soyuzkino Cinema, and the House for Engineering and Technical Personnel, all of which, together with the factory kitchen, underwent renovation during the Soviet period. However, Ivanovo’s most ambitious project, the Council Palace designed by Vladimir Galperin, never saw the light of day. According to the design, the main eight-story concrete and glass building together with two four-story red brick wings would have formed an H-shaped structure. The building would have been located on a square with 12 streets radiating in different directions. However, only the southern building was destined to be constructed before the complete reorganization of the Ivanovo Industrial Region. In the late 1960s a quote from Vladimir Lenin, “the Moscow, Petrograd and Ivanovo-Voznesensk proletariat proved that nothing would ever sway them towards giving up the achievements of revolution,” adorned the Palace exterior. After the first edition of the Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union omitted any mention of Ivanovo-Voznesensk as the Home of the First Council, local Bolsheviks fell prey to Stalin’s Purges and the golden age of Ivanovo’s history came to a conclusion.



In 2011 my colleagues and I started organizing conferences to promote the discussion of Ivanovo’s Soviet heritage and its modern image, which shapes the city’s brand. At one of these conferences, I met Professor Arja Rosenholm from Tampere, the third largest city in Finland. If Ivanovo is the Russian edition of Manchester, then Tampere is the Finnish one. And Ivanovo’s sister city of Lodz is Manchester’s Polish incarnation.

France, Ukraine, and Belgium have their own versions of Manchester, too. My colleagues and I decided to discuss the fate of industrial cities both in the USSR and outside of it. In Lodz, some factory spaces have been revitalized, yet large areas of the city center remain abandoned. In Tampere the transition from an industrial to postindustrial model occurred rapidly. The city turned into Finland’s museum capital. The Tampere Lenin Museum is the only museum outside of Russia with a permanent Lenin exhibition. The Tammerfors Conference, where Lenin met Stalin for the first time, took place in the city. When I was there, I was very impressed by the Werstas Labour Museum, where the living conditions of Finnish workers of various eras were recreated. The museum even has a working model of a worker club with actual performances by local art groups, and features a textile production exhibition with factory machines in working condition and fabric samples. Ivanovo and Lodz share a similar fate: in both cities giant industrial areas in the city center have been neglected.

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A 3000-seat wooden circus (demolished in 1977) / photo provided by the Museum of Industry and Art

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The only constructivist-style train station building in the USSR (design by Kaverinsky, 1934)



One of the presentations given during the ‘Avant-garde Experiences: From Utopia to Everyday Practices’ conference in Yekaterinburg stated that monuments do not have to be in prime condition in order for tourists to enjoy them – if presented right, ruins and wreckage can be just as interesting. We held ‘Project Manchester: the Past, Present and Future of Industrial Cities in 2011, 2013 and 2015’. The first conference attracted literature scholars and local historians; the second saw an influx of geography and social studies scholars. The third conference was a place for a discussion on preserving industrial heritage. A creative approach to positioning industrial heritage was one of the topics discussed at the event. The Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art was brought up as an example.

In autumn of 2018 we plan to hold the First Avant-Garde Factory Festival of Contemporary Art. We intend to show how modern art practices, especially visual art practices, help connect the history of the avant-garde and urban space. During the lecture part of the festival, both theorists and practitioners from Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Perm, and other cities will talk about various ways of incorporating contemporary art into the lives of industrial and post-industrial cities.

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