Chernikhov was born on the 17th of December, 1889, in Pavlograd,
Yekaterinenskav Gubernia, Ukraine (now Dnepropetrovskaya Oblast),
one of the 12 children in the family. In 1904 he left Pavlograd for
Odessa and became a student at the Odessa Art School, a branch of
the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. To earn his living young Chernikhov
worked as a docker, a cardboard factory worker, a passe-partout
maker, a retoucher/ photographer, and an assistant architect employed
to design and construct the Odessa Exhibition, during which he mastered
various aspects of graphical design.
Odessa period in the life of the future architectural master became an important
state in the formation of his creative personality. His teachers
at the Odessa Art School were G. A. Ladyzhenskii and K. K. Kostandi,
both leading artists of the South Russian School.
was in Odessa that the distinctive style of Iakov Chernikhov took
shape. In 1912 he became interested in the art of drawing, in graphics,
and began his work on a course in ornamental drawing, which gave direction
to his subsequent creative searches. That same year he began his pedagogical activity, which he would continue until the end
of his life.
1914, having graduated from the Art School, he moved to St. Petersburg
and entered the Academy of Arts—the faculty of painting, as well
as the Higher Pedagogical Academic Courses. In 1916 Chernikhov transferred
from the painting faculty to the architecture department and graduated
in 1925 (well after the Great October Revolution) as a certified
architect / artist. His professors included such distinguished educators
as V. Beklemishev, D. Kardovsky, I. Fomin, and Academician of Architecture
Leontiy N. Benois, his main “schoolmaster” in Petrograd.
Chernikhov was preoccupied with an extraordinarily wide range of
activities. Studies in geometric ornament and Suprematism; the development
of new methodology to teach graphical and three-dimensional disciplines;
issues related to the theory of Constructivism and shape intermutation
in contemporary architecture; design and civil construction.
graduation from the Academy of Arts in 1925, Chernikhov was occupied
with production and project work in Leningrad throughout the 1920s
and 30s. In 1927 he organized in Leningrad his own Science and Research
Pilot Laboratory for Architectural Shapes and Graphical Studies,
where with a group of students and assistants he became actively
involved, in experimental and design work.
created projects for the leading areas of industrialization—metal
working factories and chemical plants. He produced designs for housing
areas, scientific research institutes, and schools (about 60 projects
created by himself and more than 30 produced under his direct supervision).
best known project in the area of construction was the water tower
of the cable-making workshop for the Krasniy Gvozdilshchik factory
virtue of practical construction activity Chernikhov acquired an
ability to study and analyze specific attributes of all components
of industrial architecture. The actual process of project design
exerted an enormous influence on his creativity and gave
him extensive material for experimental research work.
Chernikhov was an enthusiastic pedagogue. He began to teach drawing
and sketching while a student at the Odessa Arts School. The study at
the Advanced Teachers’ Courses at the Academy of Arts helped him
to systematize his methodological research in the area of establishing
graphic literacy, based on the rich material of his extensive pedagogical
practice in high schools, city schools and commercial schools.
his students not to copy a construction but “compose” it, Chernikhov
achieved startling results: “I was able to prove that graphical literacy,
just as usual literacy, can be taught.” (Iakov Chernikhov, “My Creative
a teacher at the Workers’ Faculties (Rabfak), and then at construction
and architectural faculties, he stove to bring to the students the
accessibility and clarity of the principles of graphic geometry.
He was the creator of a new system of visual teaching aids, in which
considerable meaning was given to graphic assignments that revealed
the essence of a structure through the play of variations. With
this goal in mind, he worked on the creation of the “Encyclopedia
of Geometric Drawing”, Methods of Depiction,” “A Course in Curves,”
courses on “projection sketching” and “projection drawing”. These
researches were accompanied by an enormous quantity of drawings
and compositions aimed at phased individual development and work
by both teachers and students.
Chernikhov taught at the Leningrad Institute of Transportation Engineers
(after 1933 LIIZhT) in the school of architecture (1928-45), at
the Industrial Academy (NKTP) in the course for factory and plant
construction (1930-32), at the Stalin Transportation Academy (NKPC)
(1930-32), and at the Institute of Engineers of Water Transportation
(1929-31). He was the director of diploma projects at the Moscow
Architectural Institute. Over a period of 22 years he directed the
Department of Drawing Geometry at Moscow’s Ordzhonikidze Engineering
and Economics Institute. Chernikhov’s final place of work was the
All Union Correspondence Institute of Industrial and Construction
Materials, where he headed the Department of Drawing Geometry and
joined the Constructivist movement relatively late, after the culmination
of lab research efforts in the late 1920s – early 1930s, Chernikhov
published in Leningrad a series of books of architectural fantasies
that made him famous worldwide and earned him the title of “Soviet
Piranesi”: “Fundamentals of Modern Architecture”
(1929-1930), “Construction of Architectural
and Machine Forms” (1931), and “Architectural
Fantasies. 101 Compositions” (1933). Those books, perfectly
formatted and printed, have since become a source of inspiration
to many generations of architects.
In 1933, at the stipulation of Sergei Kirov, Leningrad’s Anichkov
Palace hosted an exhibit of Chernikhov’s work entitled “2222 Architectural
Fantasies,” which represented the results of his many years of experimental
research in the area of architectural problems and methods in the
visual arts. The exhibition reflected the creative path followed by
the author and carefully acquainted the public with various devices
of graphic sketching, beginning from ornamental images and concluding
with the most complicated architectural compositions.
with explorations in the area of constructivist architecture, Iakov
Chernikhov became fascinated with architectural fantasies on the
theme of architecture of past epochs. An example is his “Cycle of
Picturesque Architecture,” which included “Architectural
Tales”, “Architectural Landscapes”, “The Architecture of Wooden
Buildings”, “Tales of Industry”, “Architectural Romanticism” (1931-44),
1930s was the most productive period in the life of Iakov Chernikhov.
He not only did much project and construction work, he also taught,
worked as a pedagogue and graphic artist, and engaged in publishing
Not long before the Second World War, Chernikhov completed work
on the cycle “The Architecture of Palaces” (1934-41):
“Palaces of Communism”, “Architecture of the Future”, “Architectural
Ensembles”. During the war he created a series of projects and
compositions on the theme “Pantheons
of the Great Patriotic War” (1942-48) and the cycle “Military
various years he also executed a series of works in the area of
architectural theory, proportions, architectural aesthetics, and
the methodology of teaching the graphical disciplines. Among them
are: “Entasis of the Column”, “Methods of Architectural Projection”,
“Geometric Drawing”, “Color and Light”, “The Aesthetics of Architecture”,
and “Beauty in Architecture”.
last work of Iakov Chernikhov, which remained uncompleted, was the
book “An Analysis of the Construction of Classical Typeface”, published
after his death.
Iakov Chernikhov died on May 9, 1951 in Moscow.
he did not attach himself organizationally to leftist art and entered
the movement relatively late, Iakov Chernikhov nonetheless entered
the history of contemporary architecture as one of the brightest
and most romantic of artists, whose work became the classic culmination
of the strivings of the “Soviet 1920s”.