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Goodbye, Khrushchevki

Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe

Category Archives: site visit

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.