Splitting Away

Splitting Away

Lirong Tan and Stanislav Nedzelskyi
All diagrams and media were created by the authors


After researching recent self-immolations in Tibet, our group decided to delve deeper into the idea of “split”, or architectural break, from an existing authority [https://globalhistory.expressions.syr.edu/tibet_self_immolations/]. Tibetan monks were forced to drastic measures in protesting because of closed venues for such action and a political tension with the communist Chinese government. We therefore look into successful politico-religious “splits” in the given timeframes, such as those of Protestantism from Catholicism, the French Revolution, and the Red-White Civil War. All these have a common trend in the new group at power (either instead or parallel to the previous sovereign power) attempting to postulate their beliefs and ‘make themselves separate’ through architecture. We therefore look into architecture being an explicit or implicit statement of splitting away both politically and religiously from the existing government or authority.

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Architecture changed drastically when the Protestant Church split with the Catholic – we look into specific German Lutheran churches (Hamburg and Bremen) that best show these changes. Next, we find Ledoux’s work to be representative of the architectural changes brought about by the French Revolution (new architecture stating the ideas and underlining the differences that the New Republic had to offer in contrast to the former monarchy). With the Soviet Union, we look into Moisei Ginzberg’s Narkomfin, comparing it to the architecture of the empire.

Protestantism – 1517: From papal grandeur to pastoral humbleness

Various Churches in Germany and the Netherlands, 1519-1700s.

In 1517, Martin Luther crafted his famous 95 theses. After the Diet of worms in 1521, Luther was exiled to the Northern parts of Europe, where his ideas quickly became supported by nobles and princes tired of papal control. By 1522 the movement had taken hold and the Reformation, with all its branches (both structured and wild) and its wars, took hold of Europe. Protestants claim that Christianity is defined by belief and not by good works – thereby removing everything unnecessary to the faith. Specifically, it denied the existence of indulgences, purgatory, and transubstantiation. Moreover, it denounced the need for richness and lavishness in the interiors of churches. This exploration will trace differences caused by the break in Catholic cathedrals and German Protestant churches and chapels.

The Protestant split resulted in two urban-driving changes. One was the inheritance of some Catholic cathedrals that the Protestants then revised to follow their rules. Another was the creation of Protestant churches and chapels. We begin with the former, looking into cathedrals in Germany such as the Berliner Dom, Ulmer Munster, Marienkirsche in Lubeck, and Thomaskirsche in Liepzig. All these have a common design based trend in removing almost all imagery from the inside of the church and simplifying its interiors. The Ulmer Munster, moreover,
Another radical change was the creation of specifically Protestant churches. The Catholic practice of church building focused primarily on cities – a church had to be instituted through the papacy to be considered Catholic. Protestant ministers, however, both because of exile and because of new teachings, preached regardless of location [citations needed]. Therefore, Protestantism led to the creation of chapels in the countryside and churches that no longer needed to be formally “instituted”. Some of the ones we look into are St. Michaelis’ Church in Hamburg and the Braunschweig Dom. Of chapels, we mostly focus in the Netherlands – Hervormde Kerk in Wierum, Tsjerkebuorren in Dronrijp, and the Hirschhorn in Germany. All these have a common trend in differentiation from Catholic churches in the south Holy Roman Empire. Where, as seen in diagram, the Catholic churches are grand and reinforce the plan of the cross, surrounded with numerous capellas and side chambers, the Protestant chapels are much smaller, more direct to the priest, have a small transverse, and are devoid of capellas. Protestants no longer required the latter, believing worship in the saints to be idolatry. Another striking comparison is made by Mandelshtam in his poem “Bach”, where a Lutheran church is described as boarded, small, and utterly devoid of decoration. On the other hand, Catholic churches are known for their grandeur and splendor, and their sheer amount of decoration.

Thus Protestant churches make a distinct statement in being different from their forerunners. This is an architectural move specific to a split in governing ideas.

French Revolution – 1789: From monarchy and control to liberty, equality, and fraternity

Theater of Besancon, Besancon, 1784, Claude Nicolas Ledoux

The Theater of Besancon designed in 1784 by Claude Nicolas Ledoux draws the foreshadowing of the subsequent 1789 French Revolution. Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was one of the forerunners of neoclassical architecture in France. While Ledoux was funded by the monarchy, his work challenged the existing hierarchy of social classes by embedding the idea of egalitarianism.

Ledoux was selected to design theater of Besancon in 1784. Though his execution of the exterior façade, a Palladian cube, with a neoclassical portico of six Ionic columns, seemed generic during his time, the interior was regarded as a revolution. First, the venues which are public spaces for entertainment are rare in French provinces. Even at the places where they did exist, they are conventional and only provided seats for nobles. In contrast, Ledoux designed the seating in an egalitarian way which had seats for both nobles and the common people. Ledoux’s reforming plan was supported by an intendant of Franche-Comte, an enlightened man, but most aristocracy refused to be seated alongside the common people. Eventually, both sides compromised. Social classes would still be segregated by floors. The ground floor amphitheater was furnished with seats for the ordinary paying public. There was a balcony above them for state employers. The aristocracy reserved first tier boxes were directly above and above this there were a tier of smaller boxes for middle classes. Nevertheless, according to the “all-seeing-eye” diagram by Ledoux, the architect still creates a unique visual relationship between stage and audience. In the auditorium in Besancon Theater, the members of the audience are equal before the show and each of them have a view over the entire stage and the entire room. Thus Ledoux achieved his ambition to create a space of social communion and equally shared entertainment while hierarchy of social classes still remained [Claude Nicolas Ledoux].


The theater in Besancon challenged the social structure in a smart way. It benefited the common people without offending the arrogance of aristocracy. The revolutionary auditorium in the theater of Besancon reflects, indeed, the spirit of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. Furthermore, the “all-seeing-eye” diagram symbolizes a break from a totalitarian regime – Ledoux proposes the center of a building to be equal to all its members (stage to audience member, regardless of rank or social status), rather than be a centrifugal, all-powerful person. Hence a transition is visible from monarchy to democratic state. This is a statement of the French Revolution (or its roots) of a split from the old, shown through architecture.

Soviet Union – 1917: from White to Red.

Narkomfin Building, Moscow, 1928, Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis

The communal housing in communist USSR is another example for architecture to split from the past. In the year 1917, two revolutions changed Russia completely. The February Revolution abdicated Czar Nicholas II and overthrew Russian Monarchy. The former Duma members who represented the middle and upper classes established a Provisional Government. The Provisional Government abrogated the death penalty, ended religious and ethnic discriminations and granted civil liberties. However, the Provisional Government didn’t deal with the land form nor a better life of Russian people. This caused the dissatisfaction of Petrogent Soviet who represented workers and soldiers. Soon in October, a second revolution took place and gave the power to the local soviets dominated by Bolsheviks.

The February Revolution marked the end of Romanov Dynasty while the October Revolution transforms Russia from Capitalism to Communism. After the Civil War from 1918 to 1920, Soviet Union was found in 1922 as the first communist country in the world. The ideology was to establish a communal State without wealth inequality or social class. According to them, Private property along with class stratification should be abolished and wealth would belong to. [Soviet Union]
With intensive industrialization and urbanization led by ruling Party of USSR, people were driven from countryside to city and it put enormous pressure on existing urban housing accommodations [Communal Apartment] Under this circumstance, the communal apartments emerged as “new collective vision of the future” which responses housing crisis. One typical communal apartment is the Narkomfin Building in Moscow, Russia, designed by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis in 1928. This apartment was designed for workers at the Commissariat of Finance. It was made out of reinforced concrete and it consisted of a long block of apartments with a penthouse and roof garden supported by pilotis. [Communal Apartment] In accordance to the communist idea, the apartment offered communal facilities such as kitchens and laundry as encouragement for tenants to engage in a more socialist life.

The Utopian and revolutionary idea of communal living behind this building was embraced by government and people almost as soon as the Narkomfin Building was finished in 1932. Not only because it provides a solution for housing, but more significantly, such invention broke the barrier of social classes in Russia by putting them in one physical space.

The role of communal housing is a clear demonstration on splitting away from the past. In the previous age, Russian aristocracy occupied luxury palaces, while the other people are peasants who had to buy their freedom and they inhabited in wooden houses in country. However, under the ruling of communism government, the estates which used to belong to aristocracy were confiscated, either spontaneously by the workers, or officially sanctioned by the state. The peasants and workers finally gain freedom and the land. They immigrated to the city and everybody live in the same apartment.



Above all, the architecture symbolizes the transformation of society, religiously or politically. The layout of church, the program of “all-seeing-eye” and the function of communal apartments all have revolutionary ideas behind. They made people forget the past and start to accept the new way of living.



Link to Project 1: https://globalhistory.expressions.syr.edu/tibet_self_immolations/

1500-1600 – Protestant split from Catholicism

Wikipedia, “St. Peter und Paul,” last edited 20 May 2013: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter_und_Paul,_Weimar>

Monumente Online, “Bach Goethe, Herder,” last edited 2009 (translated by Google translate): <http://www.monumente-online.de/05/02/streiflichter/101100100000001721.php>


St. Peter und Paul, interior: http://www.monumente-online.de/script/zoom.php?ch=1114779843411&img=/05/02/images/th_weimar_herderkirche_innen.jpg&mode=auto&w=800&h=800&bu=Blick+auf+die+reiche+Ausstattung+von+St.+Peter+und+Paul&c=+%28c%29+ML+Preiss

Little chapel in the Teutoburg Forest near Detmold, North Rhine-Westphalia:


Осип Мандельштам, “Бах”. http://slova.org.ru/mandelshtam/bakhzdes/


1750-1900 – French Revolution

Emil Kaufmann, “Three Revolutionary Architects, Boullée, Ledoux, and Lequeu,”  American Philosophical Society 42, 3 (1952). Accessed 6 October 2013.

Luc Gruson, “Claude Nicolas Ledoux, visionary architecture et social utopia,” Citizens 5, 8.2.2 (2004). Accessed 6 October 2013


Wikipedia, “Claude Nicholas Ledoux” Last modified 22 July 2013. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Nicolas_Ledoux]

Hanneke Grootenboer, “Treasuring the Gaze: Intimate Vision in Late Eighteenth-Century Eye Miniatures,” University of Chicago Press (2013). Accessed 7 October 2013. <http://books.google.com/books?id=EN2gYp92OT0C&dq=the+all+seeing+eye+ledoux&source=gbs_navlinks_s>

George L. Hersey, “Architecture and Geometry in the age of the Baroque,” University of Chicago Press (2000). http://books.google.com/books?id=F1Tl9ok-7_IC&dq=the+all+seeing+eye+ledoux&source=gbs_navlinks_s

CRDP, “Le théâtre de Besançon,” YouTube video (2010), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Yqj81ii1pQ


Ledoux, theater of Besancon


Section of theater of Besancon http://1.bp.blogspot.com/__ivflLU_D2U/S0iOsiJESGI/AAAAAAAAAiI/POkA2Fh_74M/s1600-h/Copie+du+Coupe+perspective+avec+plafond.jpg

Maquette du Théâtre de Besançon (1778-1784), Musée Nicolas Ledoux, Arc-et-Senans (25)

1900-1989 – Soviet Union Formation


Wikipedia, “Soviet Union” Last modified 22 July 2013. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_ideology_of_the_Soviet Union]

Wikipedia, “Communal Apartment” Last modified 20
May 2013. [http://en.wikipedia.org

Plan, Second Floor of Narkomfin Building







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