‘Space, not Stones – Nikolai Ladovski's Psychotechnical
Laboratory for Architecture, Moscow 1926’
In post-revolutionary Russia, life became an experiment. The Russian Avant-garde
regarded the new communist society as a quasi-artistic event and followed
the formalist idea of “Art as a method“ for visualization,
trying to free the automated perception of the suppressed worker by way
of artistic alienation in order to produce an “enlightened Proletarian“.
Within this experimental set-up, the Fine Arts were assisted by the life-sciences
of the time: psychology, physiology, psychophysics and in the 1920s predominantly,
psychotechnics. All these disciplines were to be synchronized in a single
central vision: to build a new world for a new, revolutionized human being
– which first of all meant to produce new preconditions for visual
My paper will introduce the “Psychoanalytical Method" and the
"Psychotechnical Laboratory" of Nikolai Ladovski, an architect
at the VChUTEMAS (Higher Artistic-Technical Laboratories) in Moscow. In
order to study the visual perception of architecture via lines, angles,
volume and space, Ladovski in 1926 installed a series of instruments in
a room painted completely black, the so-called "Glasometry"
(eye-meter). The reports on his experiments included the measurement factors
"attention", "memory", "perception measurements"
and "spacial and motorical abilities" - that is, physiological
as well as psychological criteria. I will compare Ladovski's experiments
on human perception to contemporary experimental practices and thereby
contextualize them with the Russian Avant-garde and Applied Sciences.
In doing so, I question anew both the objects and agents of the arts and
sciences in Soviet Russia and the density of their disciplinary borders.
The complicity of psychotechnics with the arts will shed a new light on
the latter's function as a means for communication beyond language –
and in Ladovski’s case via the perception of space.