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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

Category Archives: microrayon

Today, on my last day in Riga, I went with Artis to visit Ziepniekkalns, Riga’s most recently built microrayon. The area is located on the southern periphery of the city. A major road divides it into two main sections, East and West.

The Eastern development is defined by a courtyard typology, where sets of three and sometimes four buildings are grouped to define an interior courtyard. All buildings are of a single, 9-story typology.

Fig 1. Typical 9-story building in Eastern Ziepniekkalns, featuring new experimental retail space typologies in front.

In the western portion, the buildings are grouped in long rows. Instead of clearly defined interior courtyards, the interstitial space is badly defined, and is dominated by parking. Although there are a few young trees, the public space here is very poor, compared to other microrayons in Riga. The buildings here are of a more recent typology, with larger flats than earlier versions. They are also arranged in much longer blocks, with up to 11 sets of flats (podyesdy) in each building. This is most notable in the building furthest south (Fig. 2), which according to Artis is the longest (residential) building in Riga.

Fig 2. Longest building in Riga – 11 podyesdy.

Another interesting fact is that since this microrayon was planned and built only in the 1980’s, many buildings were still under construction when the Soviet Union fell apart and Latvia regained its independence. Many of these buildings were left unfinished for the next decade, and were finally finished during Riga’s economic boom of the middle 2000’s. This construction was handled by one construction firm that included not only architects and builders but also environmental engineers. While they inherited the same structure as the other buildings in the microrayon, they did a considerable amount of research into how to improve the buildings for occupation, including better insulation and exterior finishes. One of their buildings is pictured in Fig. 3, and is discernible by its plastered exterior finish and modern window systems. While it is yet unclear whether these buildings will survive longer than their soviet counter-parts, they provide an interesting case study into the possible retrofit of the old structures.

Fig 3. Completion of old building structure with modern materials and upgrades, completed in mid-2000’s.


My first site visit in Riga was to a microrayon situated in a part of town known as Maskavas Forštate, or Moscow Suburb. The area is one of the oldest parts of Riga, dating back to at least the 14th century (Wikipedia). As the name suggests, the area is dominated by Russian speaking people from Russia and Belarus.

The microrayon, situated right on the bank of the Daugava River, was constructed there in the 1960’s, and was also one of Riga’s first microrayons. The development consists of 7 groups of 7 buildings each. The buildings are all of the 5 story Khurshchevka typology, and constructed out of prefabricated panels. The arrangement of the buildings defines two interior courtyards in each group. This space is occupied by public buildings such as kindergardens and also fields for playing sports.

Fig 1. Typical arrangement of 5-story Khrushchevka.

Fig 2. Public courtyard with sport equipment.

Fig 3. Housing block facing river with bike/pedestrian promenade.

My last site visit in Moscow was to the Ивановское (Ivanovskoe) microrayon on the far east edge of the city. Built mostly between 1972-1974, the area houses mostly working class families and is considered to be one of the most criminal districts of the city.

The development contains some interesting variations on the typical housing block typology which became more prominent in later periods of construction. As opposed to the straight housing slabs of the earlier period, many buildings here utilize an elongated, curving plan. This creates a more strongly-defined interior space and separates the private courtyard realm from the public street outside. Some of these interior spaces are filled in with taller housing towers, while others are developed as schools, kindergardens, and open public spaces. Although the planning of this microrayon is quite developed, the construction quality of the buildings is considerably worse than other areas.

Fig 1. Brick and panel 12-story building on edge of microrayon.

Fig 2. 12-story panel building with private garages in foreground.

Fig 3. 5-story Khrushchevka infill between larger housing blocks.

Just got back from a day of rest at my uncle’s dacha on the outskirts of Moscow. Nothing like ending a grueling 4 days of running around Moscow under 37°C heat by swimming in the Moscow river and taking a traditional Russian bath. Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Moscow. I did most of what I wanted to do, and even some things that weren’t in my plans. I have a few posts from the last few days’ activities currently in the works, but thought I would post something from several days ago before departing for my train to Riga. Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’m a bit behind on the posts, but hopefully I will catch up on the train.

For now, I wanted to post about my second site visit, which I took a few days ago to the Тушино-Северное (Tushino-North) microrayon on the north-west outskirts of Moscow. According to Future Faculty: Post-Socialist Russian City Project, this microrayon was built between the mid-60’s and early 70’s, with some buildings added in 1980. Because of its early construction, this district possesses characteristics of an earlier era than other Moscow microrayons. Instead of the bending and breaking patterns that characterize later developments (see my upcoming post about my third site visit), here the urban fabric consists mainly of straight strokes of block segments.

Fig 1. Newer panel-block construction near the metro station.

Fig 2. Older, 1960’s era Khrushevka buildings toward the center of the microrayon.

Fig 3. Later 1970’s 12 story buildings along the edge of the microrayon.

As you notice from the map, this microrayon, like Novye Cheryomushki, is located extremely close to a metro station, located at the last stop of one of Moscow Metro’s radial lines. Although I mentioned it before, the importance of the metro in the planning of these microrayons cannot be overstated. Because individual car ownership was quite low during the soviet era, the metro was the only way to connect these neighborhoods to the city. Infact, because both trains and housing were built by the the central government, the location of a new microrayon often became the basis for further extending a metro line. Because of this close connection to the city, the microrayons remain attractive places to live, despite the mostly run-down building fabric. These attractive benefits should also be a further impetus for the city to reconsider the future redevelopment and rehabilitation of these neighborhoods.

Wish me luck on the train, will post again when I arrive.

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.

This morning I woke up super early because of jetleg and headed out to my first Microrayon site visit, the Cheryomushki area south west of city center. After getting off the train, I walked around the microrayon called Орехово-Борисово (Orekhovo-Borisovo), which is a huge residential area containing examples of several era of soviet housing.

map of Орехово-Борисово (Orekhovo-Borisovo) microrayon in Новые Черёмушки (Novye Cheryomushki) area

Among the developments were what looked like early 60’s brick 5 storey houses, the first typology of the Khrushchev era. These are much older than the other buildings judging from the brick construction and the fully grown trees and foliage completely covering them. Further in there were later examples of concrete panel 12 and 14 storey houses, most likely from the 1980’s. There was even new construction going up that was curvier than the old type of apartments, but honestly not that much more inventive. This development is one of the biggest microrayons in Moscow, and was the testbed of many housing typologies, which were then implemented throughout the soviet union. I will put up more pictures as I edit them, but here is one for now:

Image 1. Newer construction residential highrises on the edge of Орехово-Борисово (Orekhovo-Borisovo) microrayon.

Image 2. Older 5-story brick construction.

Image 3 & 4. Newer 12 and 17 story construction. (Note the amount of wires strung between the roofs. These carry internet and other modern digital amenities)

I hope to discuss this area with Katya and Varvara tonight to get a better idea of the time period and construction typologies represented in this microrayon.

1. Орехово-Борисово (Orekhovo-Borisovo)

Орехово-Борисово (Orekhovo-Borisovo) in the South-East of Moscow is a huge residential district (actually several conflated in one), remarkable for its temporal unity. It was built between 1974 and 1977 and contains many of the popular series of the 70’s, including 11-49,1-515/9, 11-68.

Metro station: Орехово – Домодедово, Green line

Framed by: ул. Шипиловская, Каширское шоссе, Ореховый бульва, Шипиловский проезд

2. Тропарево-Никулино (Troparevo-Nikulino)

Тропарево-Никулино (Troparevo-Nikulino) is a district in the outer South-West of Moscow and is considered one of the most prestigious outskirts of the city. It used to be a test ground for new housing developments in the 70’s; therefore this is an example on how it should be. On the other hand, you can find mass series 11-49 and 11-57, repeated all over Moscow.

Metro station: Юго-Запад, Red line

Framed by: Ленинский пр., пр. Вернадского, р. Самородинка

3. Коньково (Konkovo)

Коньково (Konkovo) is a neutral district on the Orange line in the south. It has a characteristic 70’s structure with long bending 9-storeys-high (11-49 in this case), some 12-storeys-high (11-57) buildings, and 2 wide pedestrian fields perpendicular to the main artery – Профсоюзная улица.

Metro station: Коньково – Теплый Стан, Orange line

Framed by: ул. Островитянова from the North, ул. Профсоюзная from the East, ул. Теплый Стан from the south, and the forest from the west.

4. Ивановское (Ivanovskoe)

Ивановское (Ivanovskoe) is a worker’s estate in the east of Moscow. It is considered to be one of the most criminal districts of the city. Built for the most part in 1972-1974, it has a clear division in public part along roads and almost completely closed courtyards with schools. Many of the same typologies exist here, but the quality of construction is considerably worse.

Metro station: Новогиреево, Yellow Line

Framed by: Свободный пр. from the West, Шоссе Энтузиастов from the North, МКАД from the East, ул. Прокатная, ул. Молостовых, Напольный проезд from the South.

5. Тушино-Северное (Tushino-North)

Тушино-Северное (Tushino-North) in North-West corner of Moscow was built up from mid-60’s to early 70’s, with some buildings added in 1980. This is a district possessing characteristics of earlier era than the other districts here – you won’t find bending or breaking patterns, the whole urban structure consists of strokes – yet due to its growth over time, variety of building types. The The part built between 1967 and 1969) with 9-storey-high buildings (again 11-49) is along Planernaya street.

metro station: Планерная, Purple line

framed by: ул. Свободы, ул. Фомичевой, ул. Планерная, Алешкинский пр.

(Microrayon locations and information from: Future Faculty: Post-Socialist Russian City Project)