Archival Research

The problem for the researcher attempting to trace previously unpublished and undocumented assignment drawings and photographs on VKhUTEMAS Space teaching is ever more acute. To attempt to refine and produce a clear account of the teaching of Space through archival material is possible, but difficult. On occasions, some material has been published; however, due to the lack of referencing and sourcing, the photographs and material from separate archives have remained separate and never portrayed as one complete collection.

The VKhUTEMAS collections have survived because of various individuals, institutions, family members and collectors; some for their own family history, others for institutional history. After disbanding in 1930, the school’s original photographs lost methodological value and were just thrown away. Ladovskii’s archives disappeared in the turmoil of World War II. The true extent of Ladovskii’s archive is unknown, although some accounts reveal that many of his works were stored in his flat in Moscow until his death. The provenance of the collections prior to 1950 has been difficult to ascertain as all photographs were removed from Russia (illegally) with no legal documentation of legitimacy. This has made it difficult for private owners to sell their collections as many institutions require legal proof before purchase. One example is the Tate Gallery in London, which considered purchasing a large selection of photographs from one of the private collections, but with no documentation of provenance available, the purchase was not made. Many of the photographs were stored in the private family archives of VKhUTEMAS graduates, and it was here that some were discovered by the prominent Soviet scholar, Khan-Magomedov, during his research between 1960–1970. 

Identifying the Archives, Institutions and Private Collections

The archives, institutions, and private collections have become the home of the Space collections, so to speak; the collection’s first assets are its photographs a large number of which are still intact and are a vital part of the archival collections, contributing more than anything else to its fragmented reception in history. Through a broad approach to archival research, it was important from the beginning to identify where all the archives, institutions and private collections (if any), were located, and what had been stored. The true understanding of where the collections originated before being sourced by the Soviet scholar Selim Khan-Magomedov (1928-2011) is very difficult to portray as so little information exists. Very little information exists on where or what the archives, institutions, and private collections contained or how they were sourced, making identification of locations important for the success of the research.


The three archives in Moscow are (1) Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, (2) Moscow School of Architecture Museum and (3) Archive of A. V. Shchusev State Museum of Architecture. The reason for choosing these three archives was based on limited information in past publications about the location and content of the archival materials; however, the approach to each remained blind. The approach to the visits remained one of chance, as neither of the collections was digitised or available online, and no information was available regarding their contents. It must be stated that sourcing and gaining access to the archives in Moscow remained the most difficult, with no understanding of what was to be sourced in each and with no guarantee access would be granted. The following section covers the archives in Moscow that were accessed and one private collection in Berlin. In relation to some of the photographs published in the literature of Khan-Magomedov, it is not known if he had his own archive and where it may have been located (one assumes in Moscow), as throughout the research nothing has been sourced by the author.

Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (Fond 681 RGALI, Moscow): The Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI) contains  a vast trove of material on VKhUTEMAS with a large amount of student works sourced in the collection (Fond 681), which contained archival material on VKhUTEMAS. The vast majority of the material was on the Graphic course taught within the Basic Preliminary Course, with very little in terms of photographic evidence on Space in assignment drawings, system of visual materials, models, workshop and exhibition photographs.

Moscow School of Architecture Museum (VKhUTEMAS Collection MARKhI, Moscow): The second archive is the Moscow School of Architecture MARKhI which, to this day, is Russia’s most famous school of architecture and has been in existence for more than 250 years. The systemised collection is positioned under ‘educational’ in the VKhUTEMAS Collection and is housed within the original VKhUTEMAS building. The collection, stored in a paper archive, is organised in the way the assignment drawings and photographs had been preserved in earlier years, within individual paper folders containing single or sometimes numerous photographs, with brief descriptions attached to the verso and written by hand (by the author or teacher.The museum contains a well-maintained collection of two hundred and forty-four original photographs of student demonstrations, all portraying a wide selection of differently-sized models photographs along with numerous assignment drawings.

Archive of A. V. Shchusev State Museum of Architecture (MUAR, Moscow): The final archive in Moscow was the Archive of А. V. Shchusev State Museum of Architecture (MUAR). At the time of the visit, the MAUR archive was under refurbishment. The author stopped by on a number of occasions and discovered by chance there was an exhibition on VKhUTEMAS Space drawings and photographs. This small collection of Space photographs was of considerable importance to the research as they depicted pedagogy taking place as opposed to the individual student model photographs.

Kiecken Gallery (Berlin, Private Collector): A smaller collection of Space photographs (60 in total) is located in the Kiecken Gallery in Berlin with whom contact was made. The collection of photographs was purchased from MARKhI.


Archival research in America and Canada was selected for this research. The following section covers two institutions: (1) the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA, Canada) and (2) Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles).

Canadian Centre for Architecture (VKhUTEMAS Collection, Canada CCA): The Canadian Centre for Architecture, home to some of the most important architectural publications, contains a large collection of Space photographs. The VKhUTEMAS collection at the CCA can be portrayed as an incomplete series of photographs, gifted by Howard Schickler and David Lafaille (both collectors of vintage photography). The collection has been largely catalogued through 5 separate collections, each under the name VKhUTEMAS Collection. Contained within the collections are individual models, group models, exhibitions, pedagogy, and panel boards used for didactic purposes by the professors on the Basic Preliminary Course. The collection comprises a plethora of model photographs ranging from passport size too much larger ones. The material was photographed by the author  making the visit important for continuing the research collection. Renetta Guttmann (Head, Collection Reference at the CCA) advised that the CCA had hired a translator to translate the descriptions attached behind the photographs when they first arrived, so little further translation was required. The descriptions attached to the archival photographs provided more details than those in the Moscow collections.

Getty Research Institute – (Series (I) School and Student Documentation, 1920–1929, VKhUTEMAS Collection, Los Angeles): The small collection at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, VKhUTEMAS Collection was gifted by Viktor Kholodkov (collection of twentieth-century Russian art and design), who left the Soviet Union in 1989, having purchased the unnamed collection directly from the artists or their families (Attempts to identify previous owners of the collection before Kholodkov has been very difficult to source). The small collection (Series (I) School and student documentation, 1920–1929) consists of 15 pieces of student’s material, from identification cards to group photographs.

United Kingdom

Two collections of Space photographs in the UK are owned by one institution and three private collections housed at Cambridge University Library, the Catherine Cooke Archive (Flat Box no. 26 Cambridge) and a Private Collection (London).

The Slavonic Collections at Cambridge University Library the Catherine Cooke Archive (Flat Box no 26): The first archive visited during the final year of archival research was the Catherine Cooke Collection at Cambridge University. This special collection – Flat Box 26 (Krinskii, Ladovskii Lissitzkii, and ASNOVA) – contained seven photographs depicting Space models. Unfortunately, although relevant to the research, the photographs were not original but had been photographed during Cooke’s numerous journeys behind the Iron Curtain, where she gained unprecedented access to previously unreachable material.

Private Collector I (VKhUTEMAS Collection, London): The important and well-maintained collection housed within an unspecified private collection in London comprised a collection of 77 photographs. Most of the photographs came from two important private archives in Moscow, which the author did not know about when visiting Moscow: those of Nikolai Travin and Mikhail Korzhev, both VKhUTEMAS graduates who participated actively in the development of Space. The collection comprised model photographs ranging from passport size too much larger photographs not previously seen in the archives of the institutions visited.