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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

Fig 1. Early rendering of microrayon construction.

It has been a busy couple of days, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and post. Yesterday I visited with Alessandra Latour and Andrey Nekrasov at the Moscow Institute of Architecture (МАРХИ). This is the pre-eminent architecture school in the city. It was founded in 1933 and has been around throughout many of the political changes in Russia. Therefore, their faculty are experts on the unique architectural history of Moscow and the challenges that have faced their architects.

Andrey Nekrasov is a distinguished professor at МАРХИ. I contacted him through Alessandra Latour, who is currently working with МАРХИ and Columbia GSAPP to set up a one year, 3 semester post-graduate program called Global Metropolis that would explore Moscow and New York City, spending two semesters at GSAPP and one semester in Moscow. I think this would be an extremely exciting program, especially because Moscow is not currently on the radar of most American architects. This program would also be somehow affiliated with GSAPP’s Global Studio initiative, which I believe is looking to open a Studio-X location in Moscow.

Fig 2. Sculpture and drawings at MARHI Institute.

Our talk began with a discussion of Moscow’s microrayons, and the strategy the city is taking towards the soviet buildings. Although there have been periods in which Moscow’s architects actively addressed the reuse and rehabilitation of the khrushchevka buildings, most notably in the 1970’s and during Perestroika, the current strategy is one of replacement. Basically, the Moscow government’s official plan is to tear down all of these old buildings, and replace them with taller, higher density towers. I think Moscow’s strategy is quite unique compared to the rest of Russia and other post-Soviet cities. Even with the crisis, there is a huge amount of investment capital in Moscow, which supports the rebuilding of these residential areas with new construction. As far as I know, other cities such as Riga are still considering retrofitting these old structures, as a large majority of the population still lives in them, and replacing all of them would be impossible. I hope to investigate this further when I go to Riga in a few days.

The conversation then shifted to a more general discussion of Russia and Moscow’s current political climate as it affects architecture and construction. Alessandra made the point that the major problem in Moscow is that in the decade following Perestroika, there was very little regulation in the city (of the kind that planners and city government is responsible for in the states), which led to alot of haphazard development which was ultimately destructive to the city. According to her, however, this has changed somewhat with Putin and Medyedev, who are trying to introduce more regulation and reign in some of the excesses of Moscow’s new rich. An extended discussion of Russia’s politics is somewhat beyond the realm of this project, but needless to say these issues have a huge effect on Moscow’s policies toward their soviet urban history. More than anything, however, the discussion reaffirmed my belief that Moscow views itself as a separate entity, a city undergoing a desparate modernization and globalization, in the process distancing itself further and further from the rest of Russia.

Fig 3. Pre-fabricated panel system construction photos.

After our discussion, Andrey let me use the school’s library, which has a large collection of architectural publications from the soviet era. I found alot of good information in the journal Aрхитектурa СССР (Architecture of the USSR). I looked at the years from 1950-1960, at the time when many soviet architects were working on cost-efficient housing models to answer Khrushchev’s mandate for a practical solution to the USSR’s staggering housing crisis. Many of the articles revolved around discussions of pre-fabricated concrete panel systems, including technical drawings of panels and assembly systems. Although my time was limited, I scanned many of the articles that looked relevant, and hope to have a closer look when I return back to New York. For now, I have included several images of both the panel systems and early visions for laying out the microrayons.

Fig 4. Proposed layout for early microrayon.

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