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A house that took 28 years to build

The Communal House of the Textile Institute, usually known simply as Nikolaev’s House, is a constructivist architecture landmark in Moscow’s Donskoy District. The structure, designed by Ivan Nikolaev to house 2000 students, was built between 1929 and 1931 and used as a student dormitory until 1996. Parts of the building are leased as office space as of August 2008, but the main residential block is abandoned and gutted on the interior; the current owner, Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys, intends to renovate the decaying edifice into a contemporary campus.
The Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys’ Communal House became the OSA Group’s 28-year-old Ivan Nikolaev’s first solo project; the contract was part of a bigger project that encompassed three student campuses in (then) remote districts of Moscow. The contract specified a low maximum construction cost and building volume (50 cubic meters) per student. Any shared facility, from stairwells to libraries, counted toward the quota and reduced actual living space. While other architects responded to these limits by limiting available living space, Nikolaev’s concept was the most drastic of the bunch. Nikolaev’s main architectural rule was to keep shared study area, public utilities (including a café, showers, and storage rooms), and living space physically separate. As a result, the structure was H-shaped, with a public services block connecting a 200-metre-long, 8-story dormitories to a 3-story study block. Nikolaev confined dormitory rooms to sleeping space only since all of the students’ belongings – from textbooks to day dress – had to be stored in the lockers of the public services block. A conventional sleeping cabin for two initially had a very tiny space, 22 metres, but was 3.2 metres tall. It had no windows and was connected to a lengthy corridor that ran along the outside wall by a door. Nikolaev attempted to compensate for the lack of space by installing an intricate ventilation system. Even for the Soviet avant-garde, this proposal looked too radical, and the cabins were extended to 2,72,3 metres with adequate windows.

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