On the extensive introduction of industrial methods, improving the quality and reducing the cost of construction
Excerpts from a speech by Nikita Khrushchev at the National Conference of Builders, Architects, Workers in the Construction Materials and Manufacture of Construction and Roads Machinery Industries, and Employees of Design and Research and Development Organisations on December 7, 1954
It is a long time since we last had a National Conference of Builders and there is now great need for such a conference. It is my opinion that the present meeting will be to the great good not just of construction, but of all our work both in industry and in other sectors of our national economy. […]
Urgent issues concerning the industrialisation of construction
[….] At the present time conditions exist for the extensive industrialisation of construction. What are these conditions? First and foremost, we now have a large pool of qualified workers and specialists. Our building organisations and construction-material-manufacturing industry employ many thousands of fine craftsmen and innovators in production. We have factories capable of supplying our builders with modern equipment that makes work easier and improves productivity. We have expanding manufacturing facilities that allow us to supply the construction industry with prefabricated reinforced-concrete struc- tures, parts, and construction materials. […]
Extensive expansion of manufacture of prefabricated reinforced-concrete structures and parts will give enormous economic benefits. Our builders know that until recently there was debate over which of two paths we should take in construction – use of prefabricated structures or monolithic concrete. We shall not name names or reproach those workers who tried to direct our construction industry towards use of monolithic concrete. I believe these comrades now realise themselves that the position they adopted was wrong. Now, though, it’s clear to everyone, it seems, that we must proceed along the more progressive path – the path of using prefabricated reinforced-concrete structures and parts. (Applause.)
What are the consequences of using monolithic concrete in construction? Increased dirt on building sites. The use of moulds of all kinds and shapes. Unnecessary expenditure of iron. Wastage of cement. Losses of inert materials and concrete.
And what are the effects of using prefabricated parts? Use of pre-fabricated reinforced concrete will allow us to manufacture parts as is done in the plant-construction industry – will make it possible to switch to factory construction methods. (Applause.) […]
Wall panels and ceiling/floor sections must be decorated on the factory floor. These products must arrive at the building site already finished, completely ready for installation. Otherwise, what advantage do we get in using prefabrication if we manufacture a part at the factory, install it on the 8th floor, and then start thinking how to go about cleaning or reworking its surface?
Concrete structures must be light, with no superfluous weight. […]
Brick, the main building material, has always been, and continues to be, used in cases where construction is mainly carried out by hand. In such cases great importance attaches to the weight of the material used in the walls, the weight of the brick. In our age – given the availability of concrete, electric motors, cranes, and other mechanisms – we have no excuse for continuing to employ the old methods of working. Everyone knows how much time and labour is need to make brick. Clay has to be dug out of quarries, worked by clay-pounder to produce raw brick. Then this material is dried, loaded into a kiln, baked, and the finished bricks are transferred to the warehouse, transported to the building site, raised onto scaffolding, and laid on the wall. And all this has to be done many times over with each brick being manipulated like the pieces of a mosaic.
Instead of brick, wouldn’t it be better to make concrete wall sections of a size that will be convenient for the lifting mechanisms at our disposal – i.e. weighing two, three, five tonnes? The advantages of using sections are high levels of productivity and high output. It’s no accident that many other countries make extensive use of concrete, not brick, in construction. […]
There can be no serious thought of industrialising construction if we are going to continue to increase the number of building organisations. Everyone surely realises that it is not in the power of small – and, consequently, weak – building organisations to employ industrial methods of working. We must set about decisively strengthening our building organisations. Without this there can be no question of industrialising construction.
Highly instructive in this respect is the reduction of numbers of building organisations in Moscow – where a single organisation, Glavmosstroy has been set up on the basis of the 56 Mossoviet building trusts and various ministries and departments. When the establishment of Glavmosstroy was being discussed, there was much talk of Mossoviet not being able to handle such a large organisation, and there were fears that sidelining the ministries would lead to disruption of the plan for construction of residential buildings. It might have been supposed that during the first year’s of Glavmosstroy’s existence there would be some organisational problems that might prevent fulfilment of the plan. However, all such fears proved groundless. […]
Our country is engaged in building industrial enterprises, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and other structures on a large scale. This construction programme is of vital importance. We have an obligation to significantly speed up, improve the quality of, and reduce the cost of, construction. In order to do so, there is only one path – and that is the path of the most extensive industrialisation of construction.
Eliminating design flaws; improving how architects work
[…] Given the scale on which we are building industrial enterprises, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and cultural and services facilities, any delay in design work is unacceptable. Our entire country is covered in building sites. Every year the Soviet state allocates many billion rubles to construction. Literally each one of us is interested in construction work proceeding smoothly. It is unacceptable that building work often drags on as a result of the slowness of our design organisations and that sometimes design of even simple buildings lasts two years or longer.
The interests of industrialisation of construction dictate the necessity of reorganising how our design organisations work, of making production of standard designs and use of already existing standard designs the main element in their work. […]
Many employees of planning and design organisations underestimate the importance of standard design.
Evidence of this is to be seen in the following facts. Of the 1,100 construction-design organisations in our country, only 152 are partly engaged in producing standard designs. From 1951 to 1953 a maximum of one per cent of resources allocated for design work was spent on production of standard designs. In 1953 only 12% of the total volume of industrial buildings erected were built using standard designs. And this year there has been only a slight improvement in the situation. […]
They [architects] are all agreed that use of standard designs will significantly simplify and improve the quality of construction, but in practice many architects, engineers, and – in industrial construction – technologists too aspire to create only their own one-off designs.
Why does this happen? One of the reasons, evidently, is that there are flaws in the way we train our architects. Led on by the example of the great masters, many young architects hardly wait to cross the threshold of their architecture institutes or find their feet properly before wanting to design nothing but unique buildings and hurrying to erect a monument to themselves. If Pushkin created for himself a monument ‘not made by human hand’, many architects feel they simply must create a ‘handmade’ monument to themselves in the form of a building constructed in accordance with a unique design. (Laughter, applause.) […]
Why are there 38 standard designs of schools in current use? Is this expedient? The reason for this is evidently that many workers approach their jobs in construction with no regard for cost-saving.
We must select a small number of standard designs for residential buildings, schools, hospitals, kindergartens, children’s nurseries, shops, and other buildings and structures and conduct our mass building programmes using only these designs over the course of, say, five years. At the end of which period we shall hold a discussion and, if no better designs turn up, continue in the same fashion for the next five years. What’s wrong in this approach, comrades?
[…] I want to share with you my impressions and comments I have regarding how architects work. Above all, I want to address the President of the Academy of Architecture, comrade Mordvinov. Comrade Mordvinov, we have often met in Moscow on matters of work. I know you as a good organiser: you showed your skills in the high-speed conveyor-belt construction project during development of Bol’shaya Kaluzshkaya ulitsa. High-speed conveyor-belt construction was then being carried out for the first time and comrade Mordvinov was among those taking part. After the war, however, comrade Mordvinov underwent a change. He became a different man. As in the song from the opera ‘The King’s Bride’: ‘This isn’t the Grigory Gryaznov I used to know!’ (Laughter, applause.)
A common feature of construction in this country is wastage of resources, and for this a large part of the blame rests with the many architects who use architectural superfluities to decorate buildings built to one-off designs.
Such architects are a stumbling block in the way of industrialising construction. In order to build quickly and successfully, we must use standard designs in our building, but this is evidently not to the taste of certain architects …
If an architect wants to be in step with life, he must know and be able to employ not only architectural forms, ornaments, and various decorative elements, but also new progressive materials, reinforced-concrete structures and parts, and, above all, must be an expert in cost-saving in construction. And this is what comrade Mordvinov and many of his colleagues have been criticised for at the conference – for forgetting about the main thing, i.e. the cost of a square metre of floor area, when designing a building and for, in their fascination with unnecessary embellishment of facades, allowing a great number of superfluities.
The facades of residential buildings are sometimes hung with a multitude of all kinds of superfluous decoration that point to a lack of taste in the architects. Builders sometimes even have difficulty executing these decorations.
In this matter much influence has been exercised by the construction of high-rise buildings. In designing such buildings, architects have mainly been interested in creating a silhouette and have failed to take thought of what the construction and exploitation of these buildings would cost.
When a wall is given a complex contour simply for purposes of beautification, the consequence is unnecessary expenditure on the building’s use as a result of large heat losses. This is the reason why the annual excess expenditure on fuel for the building on Smolenskaya ploshchad’, for instance, is 250,000 rubles. This is for one building on its own.
Let me give you some figures for the proportions of floor area in high-rise buildings.
Total floor area: 100%.
Building at Krasnye vorota
work rooms 28.1%
subsidiary rooms 23.1%
infrastructure and services 14.9%
Building on Smolenskaya ploshchad’
work rooms 30%
subsidiary rooms 24%
infrastructure and services 11%
These figures clearly show how little space in high-rise buildings is occupied by primary functions and how much is given over to so-called ‘constructional structures’. By ‘constructional structures’ we mean walls and other structures. In high-rise buildings such space far exceeds the norm as a result of the emphasis put on giving buildings an impressive silhouette. This is space that can be looked at only; it’s not for living or working in. (Animated reaction, laughter, applause.) […]
When comrade Mordvinov was speaking, I asked him about the cost of the high-rise Hotel Ukraina, of which he was the architect. It should be said that comrade Mordvinov is no laggard, but is right in step with those who permit superfluity in the architectural decoration of buildings. The cost of one square metre of space occupied by primary functions in Hotel Ukraina is 175 percent of the cost of such space in Hotel Moskva.
Can it really be permissible that in one and the same city – Moscow – the difference in cost of construction of residential buildings designed by different authors is 600-800 rubles for every square metre of living space. […]
Certain architects have a passion for adding spires to the tops of buildings, which gives this architecture an ecclesiastical appearance. Do you like the silhouette of churches? I don’t want to argue about tastes, but for residential buildings such an appearance is unnecessary. It’s wrong to use architectural decoration to turn a modern residential building into something resembling a church or museum. This produces no extra convenience for residents and merely makes exploitation of the building more expensive and puts up its cost. And yet there are architects who fail to take this into account.
Architect Zakharov, for instance, submitted plans for developing Bol’shaya Tul’skaya ulitsa in Moscow with the construction of houses whose contours differ little from those of churches. Asked to explain his reasons for so doing, he replied: ‘Our designs fit in with the high-rise buildings; we have to show buildings’ silhouettes’. So this, it emerges, is what comrade Zakharov is most concerned about: he needs beautiful silhouettes, but what people need is apartments. They don’t have time to gaze admiringly at silhouettes; they need houses to live in! (Applause). In his designs for houses on Lyusinovskaya ulitsa Zakharov decided to put sculptures at the corners of his buildings, from the 8th floor upwards. On the top floor he sliced off the corners, and in these slanting corners put windows, outside which, on the windowsills, sculptures were supposed to stand. A five-wall room with an angled window is inconvenient for living in, not to mention the fact that the residents of this room must spend their entire lives staring at the back of a sculpture. Of course, it’s not particularly pleasant to live in a room like this. It’s good, then, that these houses were never built and that comrade Zakharov was restrained from his art.
And all this is called architectural and artistic decoration of buildings! No, comrades, this is architectural perversion that leads to the spoiling of materials and to unnecessary expenditure of resources. Moscow’s organisations have taken the right decision in dismissing comrade Zakharov from his post as head of an architectural studio. But for the good of all of us this should have been done much earlier. […]
The serious mistakes being made by design organisations and particular individual architects largely have their explanation in the incorrect guidance issuing from the Academy of Architecture and many leading architects. Consider the kind of guidance that has been given until recently:
A.G. Mordvinov, President of the Academy of Architecture, in an article entitled ‘Artistic problems in Soviet architecture’, published in Arkhitektura No.1 (1945), writes:
‘Architecture serves the purpose of satisfying the people’s aesthetic requirements … The creation of important works of architecture calls for constructional volumes not dictated by direct practical need (porticoes, monumental halls, towers) … I doubt whether there is a single city that, if it wants to be beautiful, can do without high-rise compositions.’
Professor A.V. Bunin in his article ‘On the use of the urban legacy in post-war restorational construction’, likewise published in the above collection, asserts:
‘In order to embellish the city there is a need for entire buildings – including with domes and towers – that are not justified by any utilitarian function … The Soviet city is undergoing a crisis of vertical development … City centres with their public buildings, towers, and domed structures must be unique designs without any recourse to standardisation.’
I could give many more examples of such sayings. […]
Certain architects try to justify their incorrect principles and the superfluities in their designs by referring to the necessity of fighting Constructivism. But the fight against Constructivism is a flag that is waved to conceal wastage of state resources.
What is Constructivism? This is how, for instance, the Large Soviet Encyclopaedia defines this tendency: ‘Constructivism …. substitutes for artistic creation ‘the execution of constructions’ (hence the name ‘Constructivism’), i.e. naked technicalism. While calling publicly for functional, constructive ‘expediency’ and ‘rationality’, the Constructivists in fact moved in the direction of aesthetic admiration of form divorced from content … A consequence of this was that anti-artistic, depressing ‘box style’ that is typical of modern bourgeois architecture … Examples of Constructivism have been subjected to harsh criticism in many instructions and resolutions issued by the Party … ‘ (Large Soviet Encyclopaedia, 1953, vol.22, p.437)
This definition of Constructivism is not, of course, exhaustive. But even this characterisation of Constructivism shows the bankruptcy of some architects who, shielding themselves with phrases about fighting Constructivism, in fact sacrifice to facades, i.e. to form, convenience of internal floor plan and building exploitation and thus show contempt for people’s essential needs.
Certain architects who argue for the need to fight Constructivism are guilty of the opposite: they decorate the facades of buildings with superfluous and sometimes utterly unnecessary decorative elements that require expenditure of state resources.
These architects call buildings that have no towers, built-on porticoes, or columns or whose facades are not decorated with bits of stage scenery ‘boxes’; and they accuse them of relapsing into Constructivism. Such architects could perhaps be called ‘inside-out Constructivists’ in as much as they themselves are on the slippery path to ‘aesthetic admiration of form divorced from content’. […]
The fight against Constructivism must be conducted using reasonable means. We must not get carried away with architectural decoration or aesthetic embellishment, nor should we crown our buildings with completely unjustified towers and sculptures. We are not against beauty, but we are against superfluity. The facades of buildings should be of beautiful and attractive appearance, and this should be achieved as a result of the entire edifice having good proportions, well-proportioned window and door apertures, well-positioned balconies, correct use of the texture and colour of facing materials, and a proper presentation of wall parts and structures in buildings made from large sections and panels. […]
In this connection I would like to tell you of the impressions we formed after our conference in the city of Sverdlovsk. Sverdlovsk is a large, fine city where the might of the Soviet Union is plain to see. It has important factories that produce fine machinery. But when it comes to urban construction and improvement, this major centre has some large failings. For example, during reconstruction of the building of the City Executive Committee the main facade was fitted with a tower and spire. Construction of the spire alone cost almost two million rubles and reconstruction of the whole building cost nine million. The larger part of this expenditure was probably due to work involved in readying the facade for the high-rise part of the building and in constructing the tower. Money spent on building the spire would on its own have sufficed to build two schools for 400 pupils each.
On one of Sverdlovsk’s streets there is a large five-storey building.
– ‘This is a mill,’ comrade Kutyrev, Secretary of the Regional Committee, explained to us, and then added: ‘But we want to build a new mill and convert this building into a hotel.’
– ‘Convert it – how?’ we asked him.
– ‘Yes,’ said comrade Kutyrev. ‘Our plan is to convert it into a hotel.’
– ‘But why rebuild a mill as a hotel?’ we said to him. ‘Wouldn’t it be better to build a new hotel?’
Judge for yourselves. Can it really make sense to convert a building currently in use as a mill into a hotel and then build a completely new mill? (Laughter, applause.)
This money could be used to build a good new hotel, which would be better and cheaper. Where’s the common sense, where’s the economic expediency?
Then we continued on our way round Sverdlovsk. The Regional Committee Secretary said:
‘This roadway we’re also thinking of redoing.’
– ‘And what do you want to do with it?’
– ‘Tarmac it over.’
The roadway was made of granite cobblestones. It would outlive our grandsons, while tarmac wouldn’t last more than ten years. Why, we have to ask, the desire to spoil a granite carriageway?
When we drove up to the Party Regional Committee building, the Committee Secretary announced:
– ‘Here’s our committee building. We’re thinking of reconstructing it.’
– ‘What kind of reconstruction? For what purpose?’
– ‘We don’t like the facade. It must be completely changed.’
What is meant by ‘changed’? What will be the cost of modifying a six-storey building? It’s clearly cheaper to put up a new building than to reconstruct an old one.
When you hear proposals of this kind, you can’t help remembering Shchedrin ridiculing the governor who knocked down everything built by his precursor. It turns out that the habits mocked by the great Russian satirist Shchedrin are still alive among us today! (Applause.) […]
Improving quality: the most important task faced by our builders
Comrades, special attention should be paid to improving the quality of construction. We must build not merely quickly, but unfailingly well and sturdily, and we must value our reputation as builders. Buildings should be convenient for living in and convenient in exploitation. Badly built buildings have to be repaired after short periods of time, which means having to spend extra money. This applies to all types of construction.
First and foremost, I would like to talk about quality of construction in residential buildings. Are the walls and ceilings of our buildings well made? I think they are very well made. In our residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and other buildings the walls and ceilings are constructed in such a way that they will perform their functions for hundreds of years. There can be no doubt about this since we use reinforced concrete for construction. But it has to be said that the decoration of buildings is often done badly. What’s more, many workers put up with clearly unconscientious work in decorating buildings. This has been said in full fairness by many comrades at the conference.
Recently comrades Bulganin and Mikoyan and myself had to visit many cities in the Far East, Siberia, and the Urals. We were looked after well. Which is understandable – given that we’re demanding guests and that we have the power to criticise – and in fact do even more than just criticise. So naturally they tried to ensure the best conditions for us. (Laughter, applause.) In the city of Sverdlovsk we lived in a hotel. This hotel was well and sturdily made. It has to be supposed that we were given by no means the worst rooms. (Laughter.) And in this hotel we saw that the bathroom and toilet blocks were very badly built and that the quality of decorative work was poor. We asked for the hotel director and the city leaders and said to them: ‘Look how poor this work is!’
Evidently, there was a failure to require proper standards during construction. The quality of the tiling was poor and it had been carelessly laid. The pipes in the toilets and bathrooms were covered in rust and had been hurriedly painted with some sort of grey paint before our arrival, with more paint being splashed onto the walls at the same time. The way that these pipes had been joined together was very bad and I, as an ex-plumber, was very indignant: even in re-Revolutionary times pipe joints down the mine were done better and more cleanly than in this hotel in Sverdlovsk. […]
Builders must be told about such failings – and there are many of them – and be told to drastically improve the quality of their work. Comrade Yudin, the Minister for the Construction-Materials Industry, and other workers in the construction-materials industry should not give themselves airs, but should learn from our friends in Czechoslovakia, who make fine construction materials and parts. (Applause.) They can also learn from the German Democratic Republic, where they produce fine facing tiles. It has to be said without beating about the bush that some comrades learn too little from others and, what is more to the point, don’t even desire to learn. (Applause.) […]
Special attention should be paid to improving the quality of panels made of wood. In many houses window transoms and doors are badly made. And you know that when someone walks into a house, what he notices first of all is the door – how well it closes, whether there are any chinks in it, how it’s painted. He also looks to see how the windows have been made and what the various fittings are like. We must work constantly and insistently to improve the quality of decorating work. In residential buildings the stairwells must likewise be well decorated.
There is much that must be done to improve the quality of soundproofing in houses. We especially need to work on insulation between apartments; this should be beyond reproach. In this case we need to make sure that walls between apartments and between different floors conform with soundproofing requirements. […]
Production of linoleum must be expanded. Floors covered in linoleum are no worse than parquet floors; they’re more hygienic and smarter. It is easier to look after such floors than after parquet ones. Everyone knows that parquet floors have to be waxed – which is a complicated business and requires extra expenditure. We should value women’s labour and try our best to lighten it. […]
For decorating the external walls of buildings the best material is ceramic tiling. Ceramic facing is long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing, and does not change colour during use. […]
[…] The main thing is, it’s vital that order should be kept: no construction should begin without an architectural design, without an estimate, or without detailed plans. (Applause.) But what currently happens in practice? No sooner has a decision been taken to build something than a report comes back saying that construction has begun. And there isn’t even an architectural plan for the building. It’s well known that before starting construction the site must be well prepared, roads built, supply of water and electricity taken care of, and full architectural plans drawn up […]
We lose a great deal as a result of our building sites not receiving metal and other materials in the right assortment. I’ll give two examples, but builders could produce such examples without end. Wire with a diameter of 5.5 mm is needed for reinforced concrete. There isn’t any The builders are told: take wire that is 1 mm wider in diameter. You might think it hardly makes a difference – just one millimetre, not worth getting into a fight about. And yet in 1953 in the case of building done by the Ministry of Construction this millimetre led to an extra 4800 tonnes of metal being used. That’s the kind of figure that Gosplan goes into battle about – and quite rightly so. So that, comrades, is what this millimetre costs […]!
Increasing the productivity of labour, creating a supply of qualified builders
[…] It’s well known that there is much room in the construction sector for improving productivity of labour and consequently for increasing salaries earned by workers. Such room is to be found in mechanisation of building work; correct use of the powerful equipment we have on our building sites; a switch to industrial methods of construction; improvement of workers’ skills; better use of the advanced experience gained by innovators; and strengthening of production discipline. […]
In order to raise the real wages earned by workers it is necessary to ensure a growth in labour productivity and a growth in the take-home pay earned by each worker.
There are many examples that provide convincing proof of the opportunities available for improving productivity of labour and increasing workers’ wages. Here is one such example. I shall compare two schools of the many built in Moscow in 1954 – one in Tomkmakov pereulok and built out of brick; the other, in Kutuzovskaya sloboda, built from large blocks. Observe the difference in the amount of labour the two schools required. 7,360 man-days were spent on laying the brick walls and building cornices, ceilings and floors, staircases, and partition walls, while the same work in the building made from large blocks required 1,780 man-days – or only 24% of the number of man-days spent on the school made of brick. The average worker’s pay for the above types of work at the school made from brick was 268 rubles per man-day, while in the case of the block-built school the respective figure was 1,432 rubles, i.e. 5.3 times more. If we consider all types of work done at the brick school, pay per man-day was 142 rubles, while for the second school it was 261 rubles, i.e. 1.8 times greater. As for use of cranes, during construction of the first school 314 machine-shifts were used; while for the second 164 – or 54% – were needed. This, comrades, is where there is room for growth in labour productivity and increases in pay! […]
Comrades, I shall bring my speech to a close by expressing my confidence that builders, architects, engineers, workers in the construction-materials industry and in manufacture of machinery for construction and roads, and employees of design and research organisations will carry out with honour the tasks laid upon them by the Party and the Government; will improve still further the level, pace, and quality of construction in our country; will accelerate the bringing in of factories, mines, power stations, and manufactories; and will build residences, schools, and hospitals better and more beautifully. Goodbye until we meet again at the next conference of builders. I wish you continued success, comrades! (Wild, continuous applause. Everyone stands)