‘Soviet Design – Red Wealth’ at the ADAM in Brussels

At Soviet Design – Red Wealth at the Brussels Design Museum, the ADAM, visitors can marvel at over 600 iconic exhibits illustrating Soviet lifestyle, examples of graphic and industrial design, technical drawings and prototypes by Soviet designers.

ADAM’s Arnaud Bozzini: “The exhibition was created by the Moscow Design Museum with items from its own and private collections. It’s only the second time it is seen in Europe. Some of the designs are so rare, they were never ever produced and only exist on paper. “

Russian design sustained a considerable blow as industrial production slumped following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today a new Russian design is being established. Still, the Moscow Design Museum believes it’s important to look back at the achievements and designers of the past who shaped the lifestyle of the Soviet people. The exhibition looks at a series of fields in which design played an important role.

In 1962 the All Union Scientific Research Institute for Technical Aesthetics, the VNIITE, was established signalling the start of Soviet state design. It was headed by the talented designer Yuri Soloviev, who formed his own school of scientific thought adapting western design principles to the socialist ideology.

In the 1960’s the Soviet state started a large scale resettlement programme to move families from communal to individual apartments in the new standardised five or nine storey concrete panel buildings. In 1962 the ALL Union Institute of Furniture Design was created charged with developing compact and functional furniture to accommodate the new small-sized apartments.

Unfortunately this furniture was somewhat less luxurious than this custom-made sofa from 1960 produced in Latvia.

The Soviet automobile industry prioritised the production of trucks, buses and specialised industrial vehicles over light motorised vehicles. Automotive design projects were mostly based on foreign equivalents and involved purchasing foreign licences. Vehicles had to be produced at an affordable price and often provided high off road performance.

International popularity of Soviet photographic equipment designs can be traced back to the 1958 Brussels World Fair where Soviet designers were awarded a number of medals. In subsequent years photographic equipment became an important Soviet export product. The first photo of the far side of the moon was taken using Yenisei equipment in 1959.

The Soviet Union produced high quality radio equipment and reel to reel tape recorders as the technology was used by the military. The quality of record players for home use didn’t stand up to these standards. During the Fifties and Sixties Soviet audio equipment design developed in line with global trends: massive wood cabinet tube radios and record players were replaced by compact transistor radios and cassette tape recorders in metal and plastic cases.

The space race, the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit earth in 1957, Yuri Gagarin’s first manned fight and other Soviet achievements in space influenced the visual appearance of industrial and graphic design. The space age style of the late Fifties and early Sixties included aerodynamic forms, glossy metallic surfaces and images of rockets, planets and astronauts on household appliances.

Most Soviet posters from the Sixties were dedicated to social and political topics rather than the advertisement of goods. Movie and film posters formed an exception to this and the genre gave designers greater freedom to express themselves.

In the Soviet Union many food products were sold by weight and wrapped into rough packaging paper or newspaper. Liquids like milk, beer and kvass were poured into the buyers’ own canisters, glass jars and bottles that they brought to the store. Wrapping designs reflected the ideals of the Soviet state.

During the thaw that accompanied the Khrushchev era international fashion trends started to filter through to the Soviet Union and in 1959 Christian Dior even gave a show in Moscow. Still, a lot of clothing was tailor-made at small dress studios. Practically all Soviet women knew at least the basics of sewing and knitting and could create any article of clothing with the help of patterns found in Soviet fashion magazines.

Design also played an important role in sports. Being in shape was seen as one of the essential attributes of those building the ‘bright Communist future’. Designers developed new corporate identities and merchandise for sports teams. The achievements of Soviet sportsmen and women were supposed to show the superiority of the Soviet system. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow offered an important opportunity. The Games had their own logo, mascot and even own official type face, Futura. The logo with lines reminiscent of the athletics tracks and tower similar to the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin was selected from 26,000 submissions.

Soviet Design – Red Wealth runs at the ADAM, the Brussels Design Museum, at the Heizel Exhibition Park until 21 May 2018. The ADAM is open daily from 10AM till 6PM.