khrushchevka, planning vs reality

This week’s materials covered the housing boom in the Soviet Union in the fifties and sixties, as well as communal living experiences and public/private spaces. I am most interested in discussing two takeaways from the Harris reading Communism on Tomorrow Street– the concurrent presence and absence of order in the placement of khrushchevka buildings, as well as the ability for Soviet citizens (and not the Party) to transform public spaces as they saw fit.

Following the death of Stalin, Khrushchev launched his housing transformation in the late 1950s, as a counter to the American postwar boom. I think it is an interesting shift in policy from the communal apartments to a plan where nuclear families could have their own space, and with it luxurious items like vacuums! The housing program reminded me somewhat of Magnitogorsk, it was a very large undertaking for the Soviet Union but the housing plan also came down to individual people and families. With prefabricated building materials, the structures could quickly come together, but many very not adequately integrated into existing urban spaces. The diagrams for the microdistricts did not always align with the final product of the buildings.

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In this example above, the building blocks are very orderly arranged, adequate spaces look reserved for other structures, and there is also clearly a very large organized sports area. This diagram reminded me of the utopian layouts for socialist cities, with clean green bands and uncluttered urban spaces that would differentiate the Soviet Union from the clutter and mess of 19th century capitalism.


No thanks, heard enough about this from Engels…

            Indeed, the high-level rhetoric and the renewed drive to improve housing (and subsequently fashion the New Soviet Man) did not line up with the final product. The results of the insufficient planning was evident with the tall buildings in Tashkent, as well as the lack of planning to tie in new housing developments with the infrastructure. I do not mean to completely discredit the construction of the khrushchevka housing, but I do want to emphasize how some of the microdistricts were so far on the outskirts that citizens finally had a place to call their own, but their homes were not integrated into public transportation or nearby stores. My personal takeaway is that there was simply a push to create living spaces and demonstrate how quickly the Soviet Union can overtake the West and give more autonomy to the Soviet people…it is just evident that other details would need to be worked out later on.

One such detail pertains to some unallocated tracts of land nearby newly built apartment blocks. Soviet Citizens molded these spaces, instead of the top-down delegation of space like monuments, war memorials, and other public projects. What to do with this land? Make it a small park? A sports arena? A garden? A “casino” of sorts?

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Housing unit, with space for soccer

            Given the blank slate for these open spaces, one can easily imagine disputes between sports areas, social squares, or any number of other uses. I see these empty lots as a very rare opportunity for small-scale civil society actors to have input on urban planning. Such a committee and transformative space was unheard of only a few years before. These “shared activities” were not provided for by the state, which must have been an exciting opportunity for Soviet people in the wake of the housing boom.

k building 1

Have to show one in the snow!

Picture references

Photo 1:

“Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe”

Photo 2:

“Municipal Dreams”

Photo 3:

“Soviet Housing in Post-Soviet Europe”

Photo 4:

“Wandering Camera, notes about St. Petersburg”

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