How the Soviet Union’s utopian ideals turned into an architectural nightmare

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How the Soviet Union's utopian ideals turned into an architectural nightmare
Owen Hatherley notes the recent flurry of new books that depict the "monolithic landscapes" left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he wanted to show it differently...

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How the Soviet Union's utopian ideals turned into an architectural nightmare
Owen Hatherley notes the recent flurry of new books that depict the “monolithic landscapes” left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he wanted to show it differently…

One of the most common ways of dismissing “communism” is to point to its monolithic modern architecture, and one of the most common ways of dismissing modern architecture is to point to its association with Soviet communism.

In the UK, for instance, blocks are habitually described as “Soviet” if they are repetitious and use reinforced concrete. Meanwhile, in the USSR beautiful historic cities like Tallinn were surrounded by what are now “museums to the mistreatment of the proletariat” (as the historian Norman Davies recently put it); and it is probably these blocks, seen on the way from the airport en route to a holiday in Prague, Kraków or Riga, that people mean when they talk about “commieblocks.”

Nothing is seen to discredit the entire project of building a non-capitalist collective society more than those featureless monoliths stretching for miles in every direction, and their contrast with the irregular and picturesque centres bequeathed by feudal burghers or the grand classical prospects of the bourgeois city.

This, it is implied, is what people were fleeing from when they pulled down the Berlin Wall.

It is ironic that these “inhuman” structures, barely even recognizable as “architecture,” are usually the result of what was one of the Soviet empire’s most humane policies — the provision of decent housing at such a subsidy that it was virtually free — rents for this housing was usually pegged at between 3 and 5 per cent of income.

They begin to be built en masse in the second half of the 1950s. Reformers like [Soviet Union Premier Nikita] Khrushchev promised they would create — for literally the first time in nearly all of these cities — decent housing for all workers, where they wouldn’t have to share rooms or flats with other families, where they would have central heating, electricity, warm water and other then-unusual mod cons. []

Continue Reading – Source: CNN

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