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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

A couple of days ago in Moscow I had the chance to meet with Andrey Gnezdilov, who was introduced to me by Andrey Nekrasov at MARCHI. Andrey is a partner at Ostozhenka Architects in Moscow, which was founded shortly after Perestroika, and is thus one of the oldest independant architecture offices in the city. After Andrey showed me around the office, we had a discussion about the current state of architecture in Moscow, and specifically about the role of architects in rethinking many large areas of the post-soviet city, including the microrayons.

Andrey showed me several projects recently completed by Ostozhenka which deal with such large urban-scale areas. A consistent theme of these projects was to return areas of the post-soviet city to pre-soviet conditions, before the revolution and the collectivization of land destroyed the established fabrics of these cities. When asked about this recurring theme in the projects, Andrey told me that this is not necessarily a default position of the firm, but stems from a desire to return the cities to the ways they were originally meant to function. In doing this, the most important element is the reintroduction of land ownership at the scale of the parcel, or lot, which is still lacking in most post-soviet cities. According to Andrey, this lack of ownership has led to a confusion in the city fabric, and a general lack of responsibility for the buildings.

Fig 1. Pre-revolution plan of Samara, featuring rational planned, gridded blocks.

One project in particular, shown here, was a research project in which Ostozhenka proposed introducing a western-style parcel system to a neighborhood in Samara. Like many pre-soviet cities, Samara was originally planned on a grid system, quite similar to many American cities. Within this grid, each block was devided into parcels, which were sold to individual owners who were responsible for building up and maintaining this land. After the revolution, however, the collectivization of land led to a degradation of these blocks, and after Perestroika the lack of an ownership structure created a haphazard situation for further development.

Fig 2. Current condition of confused ownership pattern resulting from haphazard infilling of blocks. Potential hazards or construction disturbances affect all surrounding neighbors.

Fig 3. Proposed reinforcing of traditional property lines, resulting in more controlled development pattern. Construction disturbances or potential hazards do not affect surrounding property owners.

I think that this is a very visionary project for the post-soviet city. The introduction of this kind of ownership structure will be a necessary and crucial step towards the re-introduction of a market-based system for the future development of these cities. This project, however, deals exclusively with pre-soviet cities, which were already planned for a market-based system. Although important, it mainly involves strategies for the return of land to pre-soviet conditions.

Fig 4. Exhibition model of proposed block redevelopment.

However, many areas of post-soviet cities, including the microrayons, were planned and developed during the soviet era, when the govenrment owned and developed entire regions without any structure for individual parcel ownership. Although the governemnt still owns the land in most of these areas, I think developing similar strategies for individual ownership in these microrayons would be a crucial step toward envisioning the development of these areas in the market economy. I agree with Andrey that the reintroduction of ownership is perhaps the most important issue facing the future development of soviet cities. Pursuing similar strategies in the microrayons might be first step in envisioning the future development of these areas.

Note: All images are used with permission of the architect. All rights reserved by Ostozhenka Architects.

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