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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moved gradually towards a new national style, as one of the most widely publicized and technically innovative systems, built in 1975, was strongly modern in its aesthetic, while still being visibly in the tradition begun in 1935. But, again, that’s not the first thing we noticed about the Kharkiv Metro. Like the earlier systems, the portals on the street lead down to short passageways with kiosks selling essentials, themselves clad in so much marble that they look richer than most actual stations

a collection, in English, of L. Ron Hubbard’s fictional works). The most interesting of its architects, like Eižens Laube, Ernests Pole and Aleksandrs Vanags, were masters of creating street space – corner towers, turrets, bays, archways, arcades, all of which serve to give character and direction to the arteries and sidestreets. As these architects were ‘National Romantics’ one might assume a hoary conservatism here, but, as with the baronial borrowings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, they seem to

in the way of nationalist agitation before 1917, and forebears have to be found. So although this was in fact a revolution in which Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Lithuanians all fought on the same side against a common enemy – and a revolution in which class, with worker set against boss, was paramount – it can be remembered as a revolution against Russian imperialism and absolute monarchy, which it was too. In short, it can be remembered as a national revolution, which is the only

1936–8. The Riflemen, made up of divisions which had gone over to the Bolsheviks during the collapse of the Eastern Front in the First World War, were not alone in Latvia in their enthusiasm for communism. In the Constituent Assembly elections of late 1917, the Bolsheviks took 72 per cent of the vote. Latvia, as one of the most industrially developed areas of the Russian Empire, had been one of their strongholds since 1905. A brief Soviet Republic was set up here in 1919, and defeated only by

solved this, but it is an unknowable possibility. The fact remains that the very mass production which the ‘socialist countries’ should in theory have been best at was the very thing they most conspicuously failed in. But only individual commodities were mass-produced, things you could consume – food, records, clothes, cars and the industrialized housing. Conversely, the most impressive permanent spaces – the Metros, the public buildings – relied on qualities of craft and an enjoyment of surfaces

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