El Lissitzky // Arch222

[Sections from the presentation]
Hi there !

With the course of Arch222 / History of Architecture II, we tried to analyse historical process through the enlightenment, industrial age and the 20th century. El Lissitzky and his work on ”Element and Invention” was the presentation topic which I prepared both paper and lantern slides.

Paper //

Through history, in order to understand artistic style’s background, the first module is to analyse socio-economic structure of society and that period’s circumstances such as war, movements and development of technology. Since El Lissitzky directly affected 20th century- graphic design, art movements, architectural ideas and individualistic style of artists, should dwelling on some notions such as Constructivism, Suprematism, Bauhaus and De Stijl movement, social structure of that period and his Proun’s. His publishment’s Element and Invention which was published in 1924 was affected as well in terms of all those notions.

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky who is better known as El Lissitzky was an photographer- architect, typographer, designer, artist and quite important figure for Russian avant-garde art. The term of Avant-Garde stems from French military terminology, pioneer soldier. Therefore, the word was used to imply innovative works in terms of art, social and cultural concepts. Moreover, those years was known as war period between Russian- Germany. By regarding war circumstances, El Lissitzky designed plenty of propaganda art-works, posters and exhibition for Soviet Union. His posters were used in order to rally against Nazi Germany. During this period, his style directly influenced 20th century graphic design and art movements. [1]

Second issue related with El Lissitzky is the term of Suprematism. It was an art movement which regards basic geometrical forms with limited dial plate of colors. Additionally, founded and designed by Kazimir Malevich. The definition of Suprematism refers to the domination of artistic feeling. Malevich clearly explained the concept of suprematism by saying

‘’ Under suprematism, I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the suprematist the visual phemomena of the objective world are, , in themselves, meaningless ; the sign thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called farth. ‘’[2]

Under the leadings of Malevich, Lissitzky contributed to develop the movement of Suprematism. Thus, he worked on transition between 2D to 3D Suprematism in his works of art, in other word volumetric suprematism. He supported the uniqueness and individuality of style for the artistic purpose and artist. According to him, every piece of work should carry original and unique style. Therefore, he originated spesific style by interpreting dimensions of elements and its forms. Also, he tried to expand suprematism by playing with axis of elements of composition and applying perspective on them. Lissitzky’s new approach was called Proun after the development process.
His Prouns were considered Lissitzky’s self-discovery in order to construct a visual language for suprematism by shifting axis and various perspective which were applied on the previous 2D compositions. Since he wanted to enrich the visual characteristic of suprematism, he focused on the development of artistic style with the same purpose for Prouns. Basic fundamental elements of architecture such as volume, space, repetition, rhythm were reconsidered after the new suprematist ideas. [3]With the parallel purpose of suprematism, architects or artists demanded to design social issues in art and architecture. Obtaining the purest form in design was integrated with the socially characterised purpose due to the effect of Constructivism.

Constructivism also arctistic philosophy which involves architectural theory about social terms, was originated in 1919, after the October Revolution. That movement aims to use the developed technology and architectural style with the commune ideology and social dependence. Constructivist architects were keen to use contemporary meterials and demanded to make use of structural development. Even if both suprematist and constructivist support the utilitarianism of art, there were some discrepancy between them[4]. Constructrivists take a stand for individualism as differentiation compared to the suprematists. The movement aims to generate a profile of artist who has free-will and free expression for his/her individual style art work besides their business/academic career.

In terms of social structure of that period, Second World War and especially tension between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia affected the artistic works, influnced and was influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl movement. Designed posters and exhibitions about War implies the period’s condition. Those posters also have the feature of historical documents about social context and socio-economical structure. One of the most popular suprematist poster had a meaning behind the geometrical figures. Each element has different role in the whole composition. In that poster ( Picture 1.0) , Red triangle not only symbolises pure form but also represent Red Army of Soviet Union. Moreover, Red triangle which gets into the white circle symbolises Red Army who defused white European people.

Lissitzky’s posters were easily differenciated because of it’s individualistic style. Composition with geometrical element forms, typography without serif, bands which was called bar are the characteristics of constructivist graphic design. That style took turn the new graphic approach and Bauhaus and De Stijl graphics.

The other major approach affecting and be affected El Lissitzky’s approach are Bauhaus and De Stijl movement. It was considered as development in art, graphic design , interior design , industrial design and typography. Virtual compositions with horizontal and vertical directions were the characteristics of that movement in terms of individual style. They effectively use the primary colors in their artistic approach and works besides the black and white. The main purpose is to unify art, craft , and technology under the schedule of Bauhaus. Therefore, education of forms and elements which directly affect essentials was the primart issue in Bauhaus.

In terms of Lissitzky’s impact on Bauhaus, he focused on the pedagogy of Bauhaus and affected it. Lissitzky’s distinctive composition and poster style incooperated with the unfiltered political messages. As his invention geometrical constructions in typography dominate the 20th century graphic art.

In 1924, El Lissitzky published his ‘’Element and Invention’’ . The modern designer analysed the functions of geometric elements to give characteristic on them. Three main core which states Plastic Elements, The Elements for the Material, and The Elements for the Color, objectives were defined for their function. By examining functions of element such as Cube, Cone and Sphere, he tried to obtain fundamentals of plastic elements. According to him, plastic elements give opportunity to be open and closed. Also, element’s static/dynamic conditions could be observed with it’s location on the ground. If the one side of the geometric shape stands on the surfaces it is considered as static element. However, when the surface placed on the corner, it has axis-settlement. Therefore, it is considered as hexagonal-dynamic. Lissitzky also defined his element and invention associations with ‘’ We believe that the elements in the chemical formula of our creative work, problem, invention and art, correspond to the challanges of our age. ‘’[5]

Material qualifications are the other objectives to analyse the fundamental functions. Preparation process to roll and pour, resistance to manage compression and tension forces, demanding of load and demarcation were the other objectives for material issues.

For matter of colors, Lissitzky did not consider the tone qualifications of color, he focused on the direct effects of colors on human physiology. According to him, colours are defined for their function and purpose such that white implies hygiene and spatial quality, black implies denies volume and such. Moreover, color could affect the organization of space by regarding its function. For instance, the same walls which represent the similar meaning and purpose could have the same color of them. Therefore, color effect of elements yield aesthetical purpose and effects on human.


As the general approach of constructivists, invention is one of the integrated concern to relate function of elements. Lissitzky explains the importance of invention by saying given function the simplest ‘’self-evident’’ composition of appropriate elements and self-evident quality is considered as invention. With the development of technology, it started to appear new demands on elements and new materials. Inventor placed their own style and develop the materials, the colors etc. The general idea argues and supports that technology is the powerful tool for element-invention relation by regarding it universal force.
With the light of ASNOVA ( Review of the Association of New Architect) Union, period’s popular constructivist architects brought together. Lissitzky led to publish ASNOVA News by being coeditor with Ladovsky , then they also published manifesto for architectural new targets. They also supported to apply advanced technology and science on their construction to create a new way of life. That concerning ASNOVA New’s post, the union also tried to deal with skyscrapers.

El Lissitzky proposed an identical horizontal skyscrapers with speculative cantilevers which is called a pretty much later cloud-iron. (Picture 2.0) Lissitzky supports that human can not fly, that’s why moving horizontally is natural and suitable, however moving vertically is not. He clearly expressed his new development by regarding context, axis, and such.

‘’ We live in the cities born long before us. Cities unfit for the rhythm and needs of today. We cannot shave them off and build from scrap in a day. It is impossible to change their typle and structure at once. Moscow belongs to Medievalconcentric type, like Paris and Vienna. Its structure is : Kremlin in the centre, two transprt rings and radial streets. The critical points are the crossing between main radial streets and circular boulevards. Here the squares have grown and they need development. And development cannot affect the traffic which is especially dense in these points. Here is the place for central offices. Here is the proposal was born. ‘’[6]

Since we concern all those generation which affect El Lissitzky’s invention such as movements and social circumstances, we could observe how the ideas manage the social construction and generation. The movements and social terms which he was influenced in them directly affected art movements and graphic design of his and next period.


ASNOWA News, 1926, n.12, pp. 2-3.

Picture 2.0 Retrieved from, http://www.dieselpunks.org/profiles/blogs/horizontal-skyscrapers)

Perloff, N. L., Reed, B., & Lissitzky, E. (Eds.). (2003). Situating El Lissitzky: Vitebsk, Berlin, Moscow (Vol. 12). Getty Publications.

Picture 1.0 Retrieved from dieselpunks.org)

Nisbet, P. (1890). An Introduction to El Lissitzky. El Lissitzky, 1941, 28.

Hemken, K. U. (1990). El Lissitzky: Revolution und Avantgarde (Vol. 248). Dumont Buchverlag.

Mayakovsky,Vladimir,El Lissitzky (2008). For the Voice.The MIT Press.

[1] Mayakovsky,Vladimir,El Lissitzky (2008). For the Voice.The MIT Press.

[2] Hemken, K. U. (1990). El Lissitzky: Revolution und Avantgarde (Vol. 248). Dumont Buchverlag.

[3] Nisbet, P. (1890). An Introduction to El Lissitzky. El Lissitzky1941, 28.

[4] Duffy, Thomas M., and David H. Jonassen, eds. Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation. Routledge, 2013.

[5] Perloff, N. L., Reed, B., & Lissitzky, E. (Eds.). (2003). Situating El Lissitzky: Vitebsk, Berlin, Moscow (Vol. 12). Getty Publications.

[6] ASNOWA News, 1926, n.12, pp. 2-3.

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