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18Apr

Stalin’s Architect by Deyan Sudjic review – a momumental life

His work helped define the grand style of Soviet buildings, but was Boris Iofan a stooge, a propagandist or a victim of circumstance? His story makes for fascinating reading

In March 1976, when doing the rounds of the Barvikha sanatorium outside Moscow, a doctor found the once-celebrated architect Boris Iofan unconscious in his armchair. He was holding a drawing of a statue, Worker and Kolkhoz Woman by Vera Mukhina, that had surmounted Iofan’s most famous built work, the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. He had been working up proposals, obsessively perhaps, for a less ignominious setting than the one where this sculpture had ended up, on an undersized plinth in a Moscow exhibition ground.

It was amazing that Iofan was still (just) alive. Born to a Jewish family in Odesa in 1891, he lived through pogroms, revolutions, world wars and times of famine. As the architect of Stalin’s most prominent projects, he spent years close to the murderous and capricious dictator. Those around him – patrons, friends, colleagues, associates, fellow members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee – were murdered in large numbers, sometimes after torture. Iofan not only survived, but also created some of the most memorable designs of 20th-century architecture.

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