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Galina Balashova, born in 1931, began her career as an architect by stripping off the decorations from Stalinist buildings that had fallen foul of the Khrushchev reforms. The classical language of socialist realism was firmly out by the mid-1950s when she started, but the designs still had to get built. Just a bit less frilly. She finished her career in the early 1990s as the pre-eminent architect of space exploration.
It is quite a trajectory. Balashova began working for OKB-1, the Soviet space agency, designing residential buildings for the scientists and engineers working on the space programme. As the only architect in the team, she was then poached by the boss, Sergei Korolev, to work on the interiors of the manned spacecraft that came in the wake of Yuri Gagarin’s first brief space flight in 1961. This book compiles Balashova’s watercolours of space-capsule interiors, furniture, control panels, ergonomic studies and the vast paraphernalia of the space programme, which embraced everything from badges and logos to stationery and satellites. Balashova did it all.
There are some striking insights into design for zero gravity. It was thought, for instance, that in zero-gravity conditions, cosmonauts wouldn’t bother about orientation in the spacecraft, but Balashova realised it mattered and, in a semiotic coding, introduced colour schemes that ensured floors were always dark coloured and ceilings light so cosmonauts could get their bearings. Furniture was designed to look domestic rather than space age. While production designers were playing with tin-foil and moulded plastics, Balashova designed glass-fronted sideboards, check-blanketed built-in beds that looked like they would belong on a river barge, and radiogram-style control panels. The domesticity, however, is deceptive: these were stripped, high-tech machines that trampled over their flashier American counterparts. The complex interiors of the first Mir space station – launched in 1986 to serve as mankind’s first permanent presence in space – with their ingenious vertical sleeping capsules, were, for instance, meticulously planned by Balashova. […]