September 15, 2009


When Russia took over its neighbours in the 1930 it created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); Союз Советских Социалистических Республик​ – CCCP in Russian.

SOVIET was the only way forwards after that and uniformity in ALL things was very much the order of the day. This can be seen most clearly in architecture and in town planning; it is the SAME wherever you go from the Baltic Sea to the Japan Sea. Everything is built in series, mass produced, monotonous, monolithic, mono.

I have photos from both Latvia and Russia, and you would find it hard to differentiate between them. In both places, decay and lack of repair is evident to the buildings, the roads, the paths. It is crumbling, dishevelled, stark, cheerless and depressed.

In Russia my fellow travellers remarked as to how the Government had forgotten its people and was investing in other things; living conditions deteriorated, roads ruined. In former Soviet Satellites such as Latvia the bankruptcy of the state means that there is no money for maintenance or improvement.

For me, one of the conspicuous aspects of Sovietness is the way that “utility” usurps all. If there is a requirement to build a factory, an industrial farm, or a housing district, then it is built without sensitivity for surroundings, history or culture. The delightful historic sites of Suzdal, Yaroslavl or Alexandrov lived cheek by jowl with Soviet Industry or Housing. Bland blocks next door to Millennium Monuments.

In Europe, the historic is often an entire district, not just a single building or site. The Castle, Cathedral or Museum are likely to be “gloved” by medieval streets of equal age to the thing that you went to see. Not so in the Soviet world, Stalinist abuts Ivanist and even Peterist. In the countryside, pristine landscapes can be shockingly attacked by concrete tower blocks standing out of place and without sympathy.

There are no planning laws here to stop such assaults on the landscape, no requirements to blend or to integrate, If there is a requirement to build something then that utility is fulfilled by the meanest means, and everything is demeaned by it.

There is beauty in The Bear, but there is a lot grizzly stuff surrounding it.

Wooden bungalows (and some houses) exist all over the old Soviet Union. Quite individual if rather basic and rotten now.

Alexandrov (Александров). A busy crossroads showing the potholes and puddles at the junction

Common and Community. Wooden homes for the common folk, and behind the more modern community towers for the Soviets at Alexandrov (Александров)

Soviet Storeys. Concrete tower blocks in Alexandrov (Александров)

Soviet Style. The Soviets built all tower blocks uniform and monotonous. These flats have been 'styled' by their owners who have infilled the previously open balconies with windows. The Yellow 'Transit' Van is actually a Russian GAZ Gazelle
From Russia [a PICASA album by RedSimon]

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