Landscapes of Communism: A History Through Buildings
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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?
experiment; yet their decorative extravagance and exquisite, if worn craftsmanship, in marbles and metals, are outside any otherwise known architectural canon, comparable only to the Futurist Baroque of the 1970s public buildings we found in Vilnius. The lot of them could form the basis of an exhibition at the V&A, ‘the baffling lamps of the Soviet 1970s’, or suchlike. Even here, though, this confidence and freakish individuality eventually go neoclassical – at the mid-1980s Pushkinskaya station,
attempt at planning and modernity: the ‘Architecture of Stalinism’, as the right-wing architectural historian David Watkin called it. Except, and here is where the story gets complicated, these ‘totalitarian’ spaces with their endless blocks on blocks weren’t the architecture of Stalinism at all.5 Architecture in the Soviet Union (and, later, its Central/Eastern European client states) followed a strange zigzag over the course of its existence. After 1917, for around fifteen years Modernist
spurned Modernist roots, and created sparkling, light spaces, here the heaviness remained, as if architects had forgotten there was any other way of designing. Stripped of the eye-fascinating proliferation of details, sculptures, mosaics and applied columns, all there was left was a reductive, thuggish power and scale.15 At the end of Kreschatyk, the Hotel Dnipro, another of these stripped Stalinist buildings, faces the later Ukrainian House, the former Lenin Museum. This, our friends here told
swimming pools and marinas, he’s obviously supposed to be a diver; but looked at from behind, it seems as if he’s trying to draw the recklessly cantilevered building’s attention – ‘Look out or you’ll fall!’ From there, a much wider beach, one that looks like a relatively normal seaside resort, lined by an arc of hotels and restaurants, ends in a glazed viewing platform – the buildings mostly, it transpires, late Soviet, though so over-restored that they look like typical examples of contemporary
exactly that of El Lissitzky in 1926, for his anti-hierarchical, non-religious-reminiscent Cloud Iron – the placement of ‘gateway’ buildings all the way along the Garden Ring.8 And this planning of a ring of skyscrapers is not the only break with capitalist urban practice. Orthodox spires, Stalinist spires, Moscow In his Metropolis of Tomorrow, Ferriss imagines the planning of the skyscraper. The Beaux Arts designs of the New York golden age could only do this in individual structures – for