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 Post subject: Сollective Housing in the USSR
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 18 Jan 2012 14:11 
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Collective Housing in the USSR

The Soviet Union was occupying one-sixth of the earth’s land surface, and had plenty of space to build family detached houses, unlike other countries. How­ever, the over­all run­down of the coun­try after the WWII forced the gov­ern­ment to commence mass con­struc­tion of col­lec­tive blocks of flats in order to accom­mo­date hoards of peo­ple who had no roof over their heads.

New build­ings with small pri­vate apart­ments replaced mis­er­able wooden cot­tages where peo­ple lived in awful con­di­tions with­out show­ers or indoor toilets. Since early 1920-s, while the ordi­nary peo­ple lived in the poky wooden huts or nes­tled together in the shared col­lec­tive apart­ments, the rul­ing elite ten­anted in the state-of-the-art houses. Because of the mass con­struc­tion of the apart­ment blocks by the mid­dle of 1970-s all Soviet cities looked very sim­i­lar to each other.

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Build­ing a block of apart­ment/flats in 1964

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A block of apartments for the Soviet elite

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Typ­i­cal Soviet suburb in 1975

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Run down USSR apartments

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Run down USSR apartments

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Apartments build end of the USSR era, probably around the end of 90's

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Run down apartments build during the end of the USSR period.

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 Post subject: Re: Сollective Housing in the USSR
Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 18 Jan 2012 17:08 
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Сollective Housing in the USSR

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The apartment doorbells packed without a plan on the door of the old bourgeois flat, all completely different, but slowly assimilated to each other by the layers of time, faithfully reflect the nature of the kommunalki kvartira (communal flats). The коммунальная квартира, (the communal flat) was a fruit of the revolution of 1917, called to life by the new collective vision of the future private property on the one hand, and by the pressure of the huge masses of population flowing from the countryside to the cities during the artificially induced urbanization on the other.

Between the first and the last years of the Soviet Union the proportion of 20%:80% between urban and rural population turned almost exactly to the reverse, but the mass construction of housing estates – the so-called khrushchevki, or even khrushchoby, “Khrushchev-slums” – started only in the 1960s.

As a solution of the urgent housing problem, the former large bourgeois flats were divided into several – five to ten – one-room apartments, each for one family, while hallways, kitchen, bathroom and telephone were shared among all the residents.

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I go and call him

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Get acquainted, 1938

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Don’t knock off anything on the corridor!

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This is the kitchen. Just do not touch the other’s tables!

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On the communal and more ...

“I had two childhood friends, whom I still meet from time to time. In the flat of one of them there lived seven families, in the other eight or nine ones, I guess. They lived at the two ends of the same street, and I often visited them. The microclimate of these human beehives was quite different. In one of them there lived very friendly bees. Aunt Lena always served us cakes, Uncle Victor repaired our bikes, and the little sister of my friend could be always thrown in for a couple of hours to Aunt Nadia in the next room.

But the other was rather like a disturbed nest of hornets, with constant quarrels and swearing because of the cleaning order of the common areas, soap and hair in the soup and other charms plaguing common life. When coming to visit here, I always tried to sneak into my friend’s room as soon as possible, and to settle peeing, sorry for the intimate details, well ahead in time, even in the bushes near the house.”


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Take your shoes off......

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Door is open .... come in!

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“It’s better to live in a communal apartment, a large one, in this kind of, in a historic district, a historic Petersburg district, than in a housing complex. There’s some kind of disconnection, life is more boring. I don’t know, it seems to me that people there are completely different. Everybody is on their own. And here we’re like one big family. If someone is in trouble, it gets shared. Or a joy, you share that too. Today one person will be in a bad mood, and tomorrow it will be a different person. We somehow neutralize each other, and it works out very well.”
Communal Living in Russia

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 Post subject: Re: Сollective Housing in the USSR
Post Number:#3  PostPosted: 18 Jan 2012 19:03 
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How Khrushchev Killed Stalin’s Empire building style.

In 1955 the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a decree “About elimination of unnecessary extravagance in architecture”, so a large scale building programme started in Soviet Russia. The pre-war architecture style that has been approved by Stalin was notable for its monumental columns, high-stud ceilings and indispensable stucco mouldings. This was a Soviet version of an Empire style and it was about to fade away.

Nikita Khrushchev who replaced Josef Stalin made a decision to build cheap houses at mass volumes. At the time the residential accommodations in the USSR was in a totally disastrous condition and only 10%–15% of urban population had private apartments. The majority of this group was part of the governing elite. The ordinary Soviet people lived mostly in DIY wooden sheds and that amounted to around 30% out of all urban accommodation (and possibly even more in some regions, like Siberia). It is hard now to imagine those sheds; however, there are still remnants of those sheds in some remote places. Toilets, bathrooms, and even water supply were often missing.

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A survivor. This one is up and still going. You’d hope to live upstairs, wouldn’t you?

So the mass construction of houses without unnecessary extravagances had commenced. To understand the scale of those developments, simply compare the following figures. From 1917 (the year of the Russian Revolution) to 1941 (when the War began) 200 million of square metres of accommodation were built. From that, 70 million was destroyed during the War but about 50 million was restored in the late 1940s. During the seven-year period from 1959 to 1965 more than 300 million of sq metres of accommodation were built and hundreds of new flats got occupied right away. The first wave was the brick houses (those are still highly valued on the modern secondary house market). Despite the tiny kitchens and quite pokey layouts, those flats had balconies and (sic!) separate toilets and bathrooms as well as soundproof walls! Really, those brick apartment blocks were a good deed of the Soviet system.


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House on the bank of Moscow River

As it turned out in 1957, the population growth exceeded the speed of the construction. The change of power from Stalin to Khrushchev gave optimistic hopes to Soviet people, which in turn resulted in the Soviet baby boom. So, after two years from the announcement of the first resolution, the Communist Party issued a second one “About residential accommodation development”.

This resolution stated that constructors did not pay enough attention to panel and block-based construction and, hence, made a start to a new type of buildings. They were five storeyed panel blocks without rubbish chute or elevators and were assembled in less than a month.

This manic construction of the 1950s, was one of the most popular themes of the Soviet art. Mass demolitions of wooden sheds and, at the same time, demolition of antique buildings of tsarist Russia, were celebrated in a number of the Soviet movies. The typical movie showed a close-knit family moved into a separate flat where the typical urban landscape was studded with building cranes. That was an end of the era of shared households where people tenanted in huge communal flats with public kitchens and shared facilities.

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Typical urban view, early 1950s

Certainly the difference from those wooden sheds was tremendous. Still, it is interesting to see what a typical Soviet flat looked like. The main distinguishing feature was a toilet of an incredibly small size. It was personally set by Nikita Khrushchev who tried the model of the toilet and said “If I fit into this toilet, they would also fit”. As the result, the toilets designs were based on the Khrushchev’s dimensions.

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Khrushchev announcing the commencement of housing development, mid 1950s

As for the kitchen, it was often small enough to fit only one person of average size, whereas somebody bigger (let alone obese) may not have fitted at all. It is believed that the tiny size of the kitchen originated from the communist ideology. It was supposed for the people of this society to have lunch in a workplace and dinner at a cafeteria. It was also assumed that would be no need for the pantry as everything would be available from a local food shop. This approach resulted in the lack of space for the fridge. Instead, these flats were equipped with a so called “Khrushchev’s Fridge”. It was a small closet under the window approximately 1 x 1 metre in size where people could store some food only in the winter time, as it had an actual hole in the wall.

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Literally apartment blocks.

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New suburbs, early 60s

Interesting to note how these apartments were allocated to people. One had to file a formal request for an apartment, and then wait for an approval. Importantly, the wait was never longer than a number of years and usually those who needed their own dwelling like, young couples were granted one. The queue might have been sped up in some extraordinary circumstances like, for academics, sportsmen, high achievers on the production line etc.

The scheme of allocation usually worked as follows. The couples with no kids were given a studio, a living room with a separate kitchen. A family with a child were entitled to a one bedroom apartment. Two kids family would get a two bedroom flat. Three bedrooms was the biggest apartment you would get, no matter how many kids you had, they all would have to be accommodated in three measly bedrooms. Oh well, with an average of 2.1 kids per Soviet family, and an overall scarcity of accommodation, this never seemed insufficient.

These five storeyed buildings were being built until 1985 and they spread across the whole country. In 1985 the massive construction stopped. It was replaced by convenient individual construction of apartment buildings, but the new apartments were not available for the majority of ordinary people any more.

As turned out Khrushchev’s massive construction of tiny and inconvenient flats was not, after all, a bad thing but rather an act of humane care. Actually was one out of a small number of positive things that happen during that time.

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A well-to-do Soviet family having dinner in their relatively luxurious Moscow apartment.
They are among the few in the city who have a new, modern apartment and elegant furnishings.
Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

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