Constructing Residential Architecture in the Late Soviet Union: Five-Year Plans, Architects, and Precast Panels

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Kateryna Malaia 

School of Architecture, Portland State University

July 23, 2019 / 4.00 pm

Library, Center for Urban History

How did the Soviet regime affect the practice of residential design and the architectural qualities of the resulting buildings? The ideological premise behind the late Soviet residential architecture was clear—equal, even if modest, housing for all. However, how did this ideological principle translate into built form and architectural practice? Rather than looking at general, and often deceptive ideological postulate, this project suggests reading late Soviet residential architecture through institutional bureaucracies and the peculiarities of a planned economy. This is done by focusing on the iconic material unit of Soviet mass housing architecture—a prefabricated concrete panel.

Soviet industry first started mass producing precast concrete panels in the 1950s as part of the massive Khrushchev-era campaign to mitigate the housing shortage that plagued Soviet cities since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Not unlike other endeavours in cheap prefabrication around the world, it was at first an experimental and innovative effort that fit particularly well with Soviet economic planning, however, within the context of the Soviet mode of production over the next couple of decades the prefabrication industry quickly turned into an impeding system of perpetual reproduction and limitations. At the end of the Soviet rule, the housebuilding industry experienced a drop in construction rates, resulting in an aggravation of the never fully solved housing deficit.

Through an object-centred history of a Soviet precast concrete panel, Kateryna Malaia will question the role of the planned economy in the rise and fall of prefabricated housing construction, investigate the impact of a house-building industry on the architectural qualities of late-Soviet housing, and reconsider the role of architects in Soviet residential design.

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Kateryna Malaia 

is an architectural historian working on the evolution of quotidian architecture, particularly housing, in the times of socio-political change. She holds a PhD in Architecture from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2019), B.Arch (2009) and M.Arch (2011) degrees from the National Academy of Arts and Architecture, Kyiv, Ukraine. Kateryna is currently an Adjunct Professor at the School of Architecture, Portland State University. Her dissertation “Domestic Space in the Times of Change: The Collapse of the USSR,” concentrated on the transformations that took place in urban apartment housing in the years before and after the collapse of Soviet state-socialism in 1991.

The event has a format of a workshop, with the guest researchers to discuss academic projects and research works on different stages of progress, and of the completed projects prepared for print.

Participation in the Urban Seminar implies reading and discussing the researcher’s text. If you wish to join the workshop, please, send an email to Nataliia Otrishchenko ([email protected]) to receive the materials in advance.