Landscapes of Communism: A History Through Buildings

Landscapes of Communism: A History Through Buildings

Language: English

Pages: 624

ISBN: 1620971887

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

When communism took power in Eastern Europe it remade cities in its own image, transforming everyday life and creating sweeping boulevards and vast, epic housing estates in an emphatic declaration of a noncapitalist idea. The regimes that built them are now dead and long gone, but from Warsaw to Berlin, Moscow to postrevolutionary Kiev, the buildings remain, often populated by people whose lives were scattered by the collapse of communism.

Landscapes of Communism is a journey of historical discovery, plunging us into the lost world of socialist architecture. Owen Hatherley, a brilliant, witty, young urban critic shows how power was wielded in these societies by tracing the sharp, sudden zigzags of official communist architectural style: the superstitious despotic rococo of high Stalinism, with its jingoistic memorials, palaces, and secret policemen’s castles; East Germany’s obsession with prefabricated concrete panels; and the metro systems of Moscow and Prague, a spectacular vindication of public space that went further than any avant-garde ever dared. Throughout his journeys across the former Soviet empire, Hatherley asks what, if anything, can be reclaimed from the ruins of Communism—what residue can inform our contemporary ideas of urban life?

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into a whole. On either side of you are large bronzes of women carrying offerings to the soldiers. Although hardly Modernist, the temple-obelisk has a quality of stern abstraction, a funereal lack of fussiness, that might please an Adolf Loos. Flanking it, reached as always by several flights of polished steps, are soldiers carrying their wounded; on the temple, the names of the battles the Soviets fought in Slovakia, and, on its doors, tiny high-relief figures peculiarly similar to the jolly

compromise, trying to plough a path between the Scylla of the Prince Charles tendency and the Charybdis of an extremist, history-is-bunk Modernism. For all its crafted and sculpted masonry, it aspires to lightness – white walls, placidity, a sense of metaphorical and literal ‘enlightenment’. Fijałkowski’s building, by contrast, is sombre, murky, deliberately maze-like – knowledge as a puzzle to solve, not as an open book. You can’t gather that entirely from the façade, which is a clipped and

results sparked off in his febrile imagination the prospect of hotels, offices, residences and hospitals designed as ziggurats, connected in their lower levels to progressively larger/smaller towers, placed as focal points across the entire city, giving the modern urban silhouette the same ‘representational’ function as that of the medieval city. Much as the skyline of, say, Bruges declared the power of the church and the guilds (and the actual New York skyline the power of big business), the

been, in recent years, consciously emulated – but we must not get ahead of ourselves. Clockwise from left: The Barrikadnaya Apartments, Moscow (1955 postcard); The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow (1956 postcard); Moscow State University on the Lenin Hills (1959 postcard); The Hotel Ukrainia, Moscow (1966 postcard) There are reasons for these towers’ strange popularity other than a general imperial-nostalgic neo-Stalinism, local mostly, if not entirely, to the Russian Federation. The Seven

stations which feature large quantities of gold in their underground fittings, details and dressings. At Komsomolskaya Koltsevaya, opened in 1952 to the designs of Alexey Shchusev, there are gold chandeliers and gold mosaics; in Novoslobodskaya there are niches with stained glass ringed by gilded leaves and swags; in Aviamotornaya, the ceiling of the hall is dressed with golden triangles arranged in an abstract pattern, with the electric lights set into them. ‘More marble,’ noted one historian,

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