This page was created by Kevin Maurice Gordon. 

The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

A National Affair - the Architectural Innovations of the 1896 Nizhnii Novgorod Exhibition

In 1896, due to its prominent position as a trade and commercial center, Nizhnii Novgorod was host to an All-Russian Exhibition which demonstrated the cutting-edge technologies and innovations at the end of the 19th century. It was at the fair that modernist architecture made its most pronounced early appearance, led by the modernist architect Vladimir Shukhov. As a leading mathematician and engineer, Shukhov was at the forefront of futuristic constructions which made use of new geometric configurations.

            Shukhov's fame derives primarily from his construction of "webbed" towers, the first of which was a 37-meter water tower built at the Nizhnii Novgorod’s 1896 national exhibition. His more famed construction was the 1922 160-meter radio, which remains a famous architectural feature of Russia and a regional, if not national, landmark (Brumfield 25). The “webbed” design is more accurately referred to as a hyperboloid  structure, which allows tall structures to be built with minimal metal, strong integrity, and perhaps most important, with lattices of straight pieces of metal that combine to create what appears to be a curved surface. Two pavilions constructed by Shukhov made similar use of minimalist designs, which were “the most advanced use of metal-frame construction for their time” (Blumfield 26). The hyperboloid style has become an influence for structures around the world, and there are at least thirty towers built throughout Imperial Russia, and thousands more around the world, leading the moniker “the Russian Eiffel” to be bestowed on Shukhov (Ritchie). By extension of the innovative style embodied in the hyperboloid tower, “the origin of ‘diagonal’ structures is surely the Russian genius Vladimir Shukhov” (Ritchie).

Some of the more notable building which show inspiration from Shukhovs original water tower in Nizhnii Novgorod include parts of the Sagrada Familia, which include hyperboloid structures designed by Antonin Gaudi, who was inspired by Shukov’s design.
The United Steel Workers’ Building in Pittsburgh, completed in 1963, was the first exterior diagonal-grid load-bearing steel frame building constructed, which drew direct inspiration from the designs of Shukhov.

Other notable building include the 354 foot Kobe Port Tower in Japan, as well as the John Hancock building in Chicago, which make use of hyperboloid structures and diagonal-grid construction.


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