Art Into Life: Constructivism for Social Purposes

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1.1Economical Demand

1.2Globe Environment Concern


2.2 Ring of Life (The design intention is for aesthetically-pleasing decorative effect.)

2.3 Tatlin’s Tower (The design intention is to achieve the unity of the artistic and utilitarian).

2.4 The Helix Bridge (The design intention is to achieve the unity of the artistic and utilitarian).



5.List of Illustrations


Everyone in this country plays a role of himself (students, workers, bankers, drivers. etc.) hence everyone could have an impact to this social. Hence the social responsibility of designers is to hold his confidence on architecture that it will create the value for a development and it shouldn’t be scarified to just satisfy the basic requirement.

In 1920s, Russia exhausted by war and hunger and tightly sealed off from the rest of the world. The pressing social needs makes the constructivism happened in Russian and the concept of the revolution is to achieve a synthesis between artistic and technical. As artist, had its valuable insights and skills to offer the industrial word. It has an elevated concern to art as the product of close involvement in daily life.’ Not the old, not the new, but the necessary.’ (Tatlin, V. Moscow, 1920) .The role of designer is on longer on abstract artistic ideology but also response to the needs of the real world.

Thesis statement: The basis of the arts must be ‘respect for real life’. It is a synthesis relationship between artistic and society. It cannot neither focus on artistic nor function of social needs, both element contribute to the value of design.


“Art belongs to the people. With its deepest roots it should penetrate into the very thick of the toiling masses. It should be understood by these masses and loved by them.” (Said by Vladimir Lenin 1870-1924).

From my understanding of this sentence, it’s telling us the Art is serving the people, helping people, providing the convenience to our people. Not just do a simple show case with scarifying some fundamental designs for his person career life.

So, let’s take a review of current industry utilitarian needs first, then after that we will analysis some case studies to investigate whether these needs have been captured in their architecture design

  1. Economical Demand

Accompanies the development of today’s economic performance, more and more high-quality architecture designs of building are required. For example at Singapore’s CBD area, buildings are built higher and higher, this is due to the major environment of CBD area is attracting businessman go there for business. So integrated and compacted design concepts are adopted to utilize the value of land space (the land price in CBD area could be very high). These are the challenges designers are facing. How to use limited space to allocate all functional room in? How to design a room with least footprint without causing crowd feeling? Innovative design is the key desired feature a client would like to see in their building, he or she will be very proud if his guests are impressed by his office design, this could help a company win much more additional profits.

If all architects are just want deliver the basic functions to the building without concerning aesthetic design, will Singapore still be attractive to investors/tourists? I don’t think so.

  1. Globe Environment Concern

‘Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it is common sense.” (Said by Ronald Reagan.1984)

Nowadays our earth is getting hotter and hotter, increased pollution has made many disasters (i.e. hazes, global warming etc.). In building industry, the energy used for construction is very high, and the manufacturing process of construction material emitted abundant pollution to our environment as well. How to improve the construction quality with fewer penalties to our environment will be the key challenge to the designers as well. Singapore’s government is controlling resources used for construction nowadays (i.e. BCA’s constructability requirement, compulsory Green Labeled products, green Concretes with recycling contents etc.). It is helping to reduce the pollutions and impact to our environment, allowing us living in the better Singapore.


2.1 Singapore Housing & Development Board (The design intention is to serve the public and universal.)

‘’In the future it will be necessary on the one hand to establish a balance between the intimate and individualistic demands for housing , are on the other to take full account of general social conditions.’’ (Lissitzky, E. 1984, p.36)

The HDB was established in 1960, a period that housing shortages was a serious problem. So at that time Singapore’s government need a solution to change the situation. We know at 1960 Singapore was still a state in Malaysia, leader of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew still kept the confidence of central government of Malaysia who can provide the funding for large scale of house construction. However, accompanies the confliction between Singapore and Malaysia government getting serious, Singapore had no choice but independent from Malaysia union. So at that point of time, Mr Lee Kuan Yew needed to lead Singaporean to survive with such a small Singapore island. First issue to be solved was Singaporean’s living environment. So the best solution to change it was to build a type of public house with fastest construction speed and lowest cost. This is the reason why the most of HDB flats look similar even exactly same. I will discuss characteristics of HDB flats nowadays below.

Fig.1 HDB blocks at Bishan

Looking from outside, it maybe just look like a square box. But for Singaporean, looking from inside towards outside, it is the precious home for them. The reason the HDB flats can be constructed in such a large scale of quantity and short period, majorly is because the simplified design of room layout. You can hardly find any space in these HDB flats is useless, it doesn’t have long corridor connecting bedrooms, every residential unit share the common corridor, open kitchen design etc. Picture besides shows the construction site of HDB, all the components (façade, partitions, toilet, lift core etc.) are pre-casted in the factory instead of casting onsite. This saves abundant working human resource and construction period. As the manufacturing is in the factory, less energy wasted during construction. so building a flat can just like to build a LEGO toy.

However, what is the negative impression the HDB flats giving to people? Standardize, lack of creativity of design, less privacy giving to residents, and sometime you will feel like living in the jail.

Positive example of HDB flats

The Pinnacle @ Duxton

‘’The task was clear- it consisted in elevating architecture in terms of its artistic and pragmatic values to a level consistent with the values of our own age.’ (El Lissitzky 1984, p. 30).

If in 1960, Singapore society needs is to solve housing shortages. While with the progress of the times, what about today’s housing problem? Let take a review about The pinnacle at Duxton Singapore, which is the world’s tallest public housing buildings. does HDB change so much to design and build such a building with so many considerations of artistic design? I think this is due to a few reason stated below:

  1. Change the image of HDB, enhance the confidence from people on HDB.

‘Under the influence of the conditions of life , of the importance of contemporary economics, of technology and all their consequences, our aesthetic emotion has been changed-the very nature of it …’ (Lodder,C 1983.p174)

  1. Accompanies so many standard HDB flats are built, most of Singaporeans becomes tired about such blocky HDB house, people expected to have something new about their living environment. Hence HDB needs to re-thinking and re-designing about public housing and to re-build the confidence from people, make them believe the HDB flats will be getting better and better.
  1. Competition from private development.

Accompanies Singaporeans are getting richer and richer, private development such as condominium and landed housing properties become affordable. In this case means less and less people will consider HDB flat as their prior choose when they need a house. Hence, if HDB want to enhance the market share, more efforts need to be put in design to attract buyers.

2.2 Ring of Life (The design intention is for aesthetically-pleasing decorative effect.)

The gigantic steel loop, known as the Ring of Life, pictured, is being built in Fushun city in ChinaTheRing of Lifeis a 157 meter tall construction project in Fushun, China. landmark built in the city ofFushun, China. This project costs 3,000 tons of steel and about 16 million dollar (USD) with no function at all.

Yes, it looks so giant, and has appealing design but it loose the utilitarian purpose. Except the function as an exhibition to public, what are the functions else it can serve? No, it doesn’t have any other functions. 3,000 tons of steel just for a useless “Ring” which is going to use 1,545 tonnage of coking coal which can produce about 630,000 kWh electricity (this amount of electricity can power up 175 no.s of 3-room HDB flats for one year). Meanwhile, the emission of Carbon dioxide is about 315 tons, this takes 14,000 no.s of trees to absorb for one year.

‘Every objective created by a contemporary artist must enter life as an active force, organizing man’s consciousness, influencing him psychologically, arousing in him an upsurge of energetic activity.’’ (Vesnin, A. 1922 cited in PapadakeÌ„s, A. 1991 .p.27) So, when the architects design this development, he should have these figures in mind, and try to minimize the environment penalty.

2.3 Tatlin’s Tower (The design intention is to achieve the unity of the artistic and utilitarian).

This is an incredible project designed by the Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin at 1917. It is desired to serve as the headquarter of monument of theComintern, however, due to some reasons it was never built.

The basic functions of building (lectures, meetings, seminars, even a penthouse at top of building) are properly designed. And at same time, the artistic of building was maximized (the building structures can rotate with a rate of speed, one cycle takes one year and various of mechanical systems were designed to transport the visitors from ground level to roof).

Tatlin explained his project: ‘The results of this are models which stimulate us to inventions in our work of creating a new world, and which call upon the producers to exercise control over the forms encountered in our new everyday life' (John E. Bowlt. 1988. p.207)

So, this is the good example to explain how to integrate the functions and artistic in the design. Even through due to political environment didn’t allow it to be built, we should learn the spirit of its architectural design.

2.4 The Helix Bridge (The design intention is to achieve the unity of the artistic and utilitarian).

Another example to demonstrate this design spirit is the Helix Bridge linking the Marina Bay to Marina Centre. ‘The development of new artistic forms must come from technological and industrial considerations, untrammeled by aesthetics and taste.’ (Lynton, N. 2009. p.163)

It acts as a bridge connecting Marina Bay to Marina Centre, it is alongside the vehicular Bayfront Bridge. This 280-metre pedestrian linkway – the longest in Singapore – features a world’s first ‘double-helix’ structure, designed by a gourp of architects in Singapore. ‘The artist is best placed to lead the public to a higher understanding of life.’(Lynton N. 2009 p.161)

The Helix Bridge is an engineering feat assembled with great precision. Its curved design is created by two opposing spiral steel members, held together by a series of connecting struts, symbolizing “life and continuity”, “renewal”, “everlasting abundance” and “growth”, and resembles the structure of DNA. Besides being a connection, the new Bridge will be an attraction in its own right as it provides pedestrians and visitors a unique and memorable crossing experience, offering a panoramic view of the city skyline. There will be four viewing “pods” which overhang the water where you can stop to rest and watch events happening within the Bay.

Helix Bridge has becomes the most attractive place for tourist to visit, simply is due to well consideration of the aesthetic design and basic function. At the same time, fusing artistic forms with utilitarian goals became a possibility.

  1. Conclusion

After I studied constructivism, I have deeper understanding of how design should be respond to our environment. Constructivism had the clear political motivation of “putting art to the service of constructing a new society.” (Julier, 1993)

As design student, we want to believe that our work affects the quality of life. I hope constructivism could be revived today, because there is no distinction between art and life. Whether you believe that or not, one thing is true: As members of society, we can affect the quality of life in our communities through involvement beyond our practice. As citizens of our society, we can influence social conditions; we can even be the cause of positive social change. Its task is to comprehend the new conditions of life, so that by the creation of responsive building design it can actively participate in the full realization of the new world.

  1. Bibliography

Lissitzky, E. (1984), ‘Russia : An Architecture for world revolution’. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press

Lodder, C. (1983). ‘Russian Constructivism’. New Haven: Yale University Press,

PapadakeÌ„s, A, (1991). ‘The Avant-Garde: Russian Architecture in the Twenties’, London: Architectural Design

Lynton, N (2009). ‘Tatlin's Tower:Monument to Revolution’. New Haven: Yale University Press

John, E. Bowlt(1988). ‘Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism 1902-1934’, London: Thames & Hudson

Julier, G.. (1993). ‘The Thames and Hudson encyclopedia of 20th Century Design and Designers’. London: Thames and Hudson.

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