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Stalin's Architect

Power and Survival in Moscow

Deyan Sudjic


The first biography to trace the remarkable life and career of Ukrainian-born Boris Iofan, beautifully illustrated with many of Iofan’s previously unseen sketchbooks and photographs from private collections

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What would an architect do for the chance to build the tallest building in the world? What would he sacrifice to stay alive in the midst of Stalin’s murderous purges?

This is the first major publication on the remarkable life and career of Boris Iofan (1891–1976), state architect to Joseph Stalin. Iofan’s story is an insight into the troubled relationship of all successful architects with power. A gifted designer and a committed Communist, Iofan became the Soviet Union’s most celebrated architect after Alexei Rykov, Lenin’s successor, persuaded him to return to Moscow from Rome with his aristocratic wife, Olga Sasso-Ruffo. Iofan was at the heart of political life in the Soviet Union and his work is key to understanding its official culture. When Stalin’s henchmen crushed the architectural avant-garde, it was Iofan who created the new national style, from the grand projects he realized, including the House on the Embankment, a megastructure of 505 homes for the Soviet elite, to even more ambitious unbuilt projects, in particular the Palace of the Soviets, a baroque Stalinist dream whose image was reproduced throughout the Soviet Union. His career took him to New York and Paris, and to the destroyed city of Stalingrad. He was a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright; a rival of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Erich Mendelsohn; and an enemy of Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, whose Nazi pavilion faced Iofan’s Soviet one at the Paris Expo in 1937.

He kept silent when Stalin executed his friends, including Rykov; he also sacrificed his own talent by following the dictator’s instructions to the letter in creating the regime’s landmarks. Generously illustrated, with a wide range of unpublished material, this book is an exploration of architecture as an instrument of statecraft. It is an insight into the key moments of 20th-century politics and culture from a unique perspective, and the personal story of a remarkable individual who witnessed many of the most dramatic turning points of modern history.

Shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2022

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'Gorgeous pencil sketches … a breezy and readable text accessible to a broader, non-specialist audience … [Sudjic] deals with the cascade of names and denunciations, political shifts and relationships with agility and ease'
Edwin Heathcote, The Art Newspaper

'Deyan Sudjic conveys Iofan’s story in captivating fashion. The 100 photographs and drawings that accompany Sudjic’s text evoke something of the nature of the Stalinist era and the oppressive atmosphere in which Iofan lived and worked. Reading this cultural biography, you learn as much about Jewish life in Odessa in the late-19th and early-20th century, and the later strictures of Stalinist Russia, as you do about Iofan’s architectural prowess, so the book certainly has a broader interest too'
Beth Williamson, Art Studio international

'A fine biography of Boris Iofan'
Jonathan Meades, The Critic

'A forensic examination of Iofan’s work and private communications'
Literary Review

'Sudjic tells [Iofan's] story with brio'
Financial Times

'Sudjic’s book is a useful introduction to Iofan’s life and work … As Sudjic writes, the second half of Iofan’s career is “a cautionary tale of how damaging it can be to come close to political power, especially for an architect negotiating an accommodation with tyranny”'
New English Review

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 100

Publication date: 28 April 2022

ISBN: 9780500343555

About the Author

Deyan Sudjic is former Director of the Design Museum in London and architecture critic for the Observer. He has published many books on architecture and design for a popular audience, including The Edifice Complex: The Architecture of Power.

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