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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

Category Archives: Riga

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.

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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.

This morning I went to check out an exhibition about recent large-scale architectural and infrastructural projects throughout Riga. Hilariously, the exhibit (which was quite nice) took place in a mall, while the official Architectural Museum in the Old City contained only some old drawings. Anyway, it was definitely worth the walk over the bridge.

Fig 1. Entrance to Exhibit.

The projects in the exhibition mostly addressed recent schemes to redevelop Riga’s extensive industrial infrastructure. During soviet times, Riga was the Soviet Union’s main port, and served as its main connection to Western Europe. Thus, during the 1970’s Riga was the site of extensive and fast-paced industrial development, as a result of which the city grew extensively and nearly doubled in population. Most of the city’s microrayons were also built during this time, mainly to house the factory workers, a majority of which were immigrants from other parts of the Soviet Union.

Fig 2. Riga city model with Old City shown.

As much of industry has moved out in the last two decades, Riga now faces a similar problem to many Western European and American post industrial cities. Namely, an obsolete industrial infrastructure. While many of these projects seem interesting, to my knowledge they were all developed during the boom years prior to the economic crisis, and have now been put on hold indefinitely.

One project that I thought was particularly important was the redevelopment of the railroad ring that surrounds the city into a new multi-modal transportation corridor. I think that such infrastructural visions are crucial in re-imagining the future development of the city, and will provide the necessary ground for other development in the future. While it is easy to propose higher density urban development in many of these old industrial sites, pursuing such development without a transportation network that can support it would only add to the escalating traffic problems in the city.

Fig 3. Large scale redevelopment project for the west bank of the Dauguva River.

While I think the show was successful overall, almost all the projects dealt with Riga’s industrial belt, and not one of the projects dealt with the microrayons located just outside of the belt. Although considering the redevelopment of the microrayons is a more complex issue than its industrial heritage, I think that investigating potentials for such redevelopment is crucial to the city’s future.

I arrived in Riga, Latvia a few days ago by train from Moscow. The trip was 14 hours long, and was generally pleasant. The compartment was no more cramped than the hostels I have been staying at, and the nice train sounds and motions ensured a better sleep.

Fig 1. Stopover in Russia.

My days in Riga so far have been extremely busy. I have been meeting with many people, including a professor from Riga Technical University, and several students that are pursuing research projects similar to mine. I have also explored the city’s pre-war central district with Artis Zvirgzdiņš and taken a bike trip through many of the city’s microrayons with Aleksandrs Feltins. Aleksandrs is a student at the university, and Artis is a former student and now editor of http://www.a4d.lv. They have both been extremely helpful and accommodating during my stay in Riga.

I am currently working on several future posts that will cover some of the topics raised during my conversations in Riga, documentation of the city’s microrayons, and some initial comparisons between what I have discovered in Moscow and Riga.

July 20th – Arrive Moscow Domodedovo, RU (DME) 3:45 pm
July 25th – Train to Riga, Latvia
July 30th – Train to Minsk, Belarus
August 3rd – Train to Kiev, Ukraine
August 7th – Train to Bucharest, Romania
August 11th – Train to Oradia, Romania
August 15th – Train to Budapest, Hungary
August 18th – Depart Budapest, HU (BUD) 8:40 am