Country Skyscrapes

The authorities are bewildered: having thrown a rather crude general idea into public, they defined it as a national project and allocated quite decent, albeit insufficient, funds to its implementation. The melancholic comment uttered by Marquis de Custine 150 years ago proves just again: «They always begin with performance in Russia.» Drawn by lucre, Moscow-based construction corporations are pushing their model throug h Rosstroi: the apartment house, preferably a panel one — and they hope to secure financial injections to restore DSC (house-building combines) all over the country.

Yet there are other influential forces with their own spokesmen who brought their ideas home even to Chairman of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov who stated: «We? ll not be able to provide our people with housing without shifting a settlement pattern — from inner cities to suburbs.» Mr. Gryzlov suggested that suburban lands formally defined as ‘agricultural? be converted to settlement lands. Many journalists, including Alexander Krivov and myself, have been raising an outcry over the existing practice in media, but they would make a laughing-stock of us or wouldn? t listen at all. Why this change in attitudes? Could it be a belated response to media and public appeals?

However distressing it may seem, the architectural community now faces the same challenge it had to meet in the middle of the previous century — the time of great resettlement from communal flats and basements. In those days the famous panel five-storey house by Vitaly Lagutenko, a symbol of the new era, helped the architects out of their predicament. It took the architects two decades to somewhat improve the plan of those flats and slightly decorate them, overcoming the resistance of ‘house-building combines?. However, they failed to change the house-building philosophy that resulted in appalling monotony of the entire urban environment. When turbulent commercial housing development started in the mid nineties and individual design for the needs of private investors came to the fore, the architectural guild relaxed and enjoyed the piece-work, having almost forgotten how to design large residential estates.

Today the guild is unable to respond in any sensible way to a new social order again. Now another engineer is about to fill the vacant leadership position — a stronger businessman engineer, good at establishing cooperative ties with the new stronger bureaucracy. The Ural Association of Builders decided to raise satellite towns in Chelyabinsk suburbs at the initiative of Chelyabinsk entrepreneur Arthur Nikitin. Wonderful! The model is based on the «closed courtyard» principle. A courtyard encircled with two П-shaped houses is an enclosed and guarded ground. Turnpikes block all entryways while the parking space is brought out beyond the housing estate. Construction works won? t take more than two or three years. Builders believe that the selling price of 1 sq. m. in such a satellite town won? t exceed RUR 15,000. Administrative buildings, a cinema, stores and a clinic are clustered in the core of a town.

By Vyacheslav Glazychev.

Published on "ARX", №3, 2006

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