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?
were then and they are now. At worst, they are a cheap holiday in someone else’s luxury; at best, a glimpse of the practice of everyday life being completely transformed and transcended, with mundane tasks transfigured into a dream of egalitarian space. The Metro systems of the Soviet Union and its satellites are its most convincing microcosms of a communist future you can walk through, smell and touch. ‘Our Palaces are for the People’: the Temple of Karnak, Kropotkinskaya station, Moscow 6
Cottonopolis. The twentieth-century architecture that dominates the centre, bar a small complex of weary-looking Miesian office towers near the closed Łódź Fabryczna railway station, is much more small-scale than either. Dozens and dozens of tiny structures, roughly seven feet by two by four, are placed around the city seemingly at random – sometimes in rows, as if to form a ‘street’, and often in ones and twos at street corners and junctions. The basic type appears to be prefabricated out of
so uneasy is that sense of special pleading, the attempt to at once conflate the two ‘totalitarianisms’ while exonerating their local auxiliaries. The rhetoric is always in terms of ‘Well, you may have heard that we all collaborated with the Nazis’ – (while, of course, most foreign visitors have no idea) – ‘but in fact, we only did so because of the Soviets.’ Obviously there’s less of this touchiness in Warsaw, capital of the country that proudly didn’t collaborate with either of the two
Lubetkin, ‘The Russian Scene: The Development of Town Planning’, Architectural Review, May 1932. 6. Václav Havel, ‘Stories and Totalitarianism’, in Open Letters (Vintage, 1992), p. 343. 7. Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (Norton, 1977), p. 85. 8. Antanas Papšys, Vilnius: A Guide (Progress, 1981), p. 142. 9. Ibid., p. 145. 10. Ibid., p. 146. 11. Jerzy S. Majewski, Landmarks of People’s Poland in Warsaw: A Book of Walks (Gazeta, 2011), p. 102. 12. ‘Meduna
self-management’, in Simona Vidmar (ed.), Unfinished Modernisations: Between Utopia and Pragmatism (Umetnostna Galerija Maribor, 2012), p. 39. 24. Vidmar (ed.), Unfinished Modernisations, p. 39. 8. MEMORIAL 1. Octavio Paz, ‘The Other Mexico’, in The Labyrinth of Solitude (Penguin, 2005), p. 229 2. Quoted in Norbert Lynton, Tatlin’s Tower (Thames and Hudson, 2009), p. 90. 3. There are penetrating studies of all of these and others in Gwendolyn Leick’s Tombs of the Great Leaders