Feeding the 5000
The ‘factory kitchen’ was a new type of building devised in the second half of the 1920s as part of a system intended to accommodate the lifestyle of a new species of man, homo Sovieticus. This way of living was to be based on de-individualization, collectivization, rationalization, mechanization, and industrialization.
Leningrad’s four kitchen factories were the result of a design competition held in 1928 and won by a team led by Armen Barutchev. They are positioned at a distance from the old city centre, in areas which, following the Revolution, formed the frontline of the city’s development, i.e. in industrial districts inhabited by the working masses. Built in the Constructivist style, the three surviving buildings share clean lines; simple, geometrical volumes; large expanses of smooth undecorated plaster and glazing; and flat roofs (possibly intended for open-air eating).
The factory kitchen on Vasilievsky Island is a pleasing puzzle of interlocking geometrical shapes. Two horizontal two-storey volumes are interrupted by four vertical projections which reach back to a three-storey central core, forming terraces top of the two-storey bases. The vertical projections, which contain stairwells, are all different. On one a single balcony floats in an unrippling sea of glass. A porthole window and rounded single-storey projection at the west end offset the rectilinearity of the rest of the building. After continuing to provide mass-manufactured food almost to the end of the 1980s, the building has recently been successfully converted to a shopping centre.
The Vyborgskaya factory kitchen stands on the intersection of Bolshoy Sampsonievsky prospekt and Grenadierskaya ulitsa. It has two tower-like structures facing Grenadierskaya. Of these the more important is the corner tower, which, in recognition of its emphatic position, has been given the lion’s share of the building’s architectural features – a vast screen window, semicircular balcony, and an overhanging canopy which literally takes off into flight over the intersection, vying for control of the air with nearby Sampsonievsky Cathedral.
The supermarket and factory kitchen at the Narva Gate is the largest and most impressive of the city’s surviving factory kitchens – an aerodynamically sleek, confidently asymmetrical configuration of glazed and solid surfaces, complex interlocking geometrical forms, horizontal and vertical elements, and straight and curved edges that seems almost to be in motion, gliding smoothly into the future. This was Leningrad’s first supermarket. The kitchen could produce up to 60,000 meals a day. The deck and canopy on the flat roof of the supermarket (the front part of the building), originally a venue for summer eating en plein air, have since been filled in, stripping the structure of some of its sure-handed lightness.