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Housing / Brezhnevki

Rapid transition from a rural to an urban population coupled with war destruction called for Herculean efforts to "build it now" — and the Soviets had done just that. The USSR "built it now" in great quantity. People who lived in cabins or dilapidated buildings without electricity or water in the 1940's moved into apartments sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other families in the 1950's.

In the 1960's these same families moved up to their own new private quarters. This astonishing pace of Soviet production has not been achieved without sacrifice in construction quality, esthetics, and well-planned community development.

Finally came the Brezhnevki, named after the next leader, Leonid Brezhnev, which were high-rise blocks of nine to 17 storys. The quality of construction was a little better but they were essentially a magnified version of an uncomfortable living space and turned cities into faceless uniform expanses. Although these building conventions were swept aside with the Soviet Union, it would seem that today’s architects, while given more freedom, are not ready to abandon the characterless apartment block just yet.

Also, since the time of Brezhnev's rule was another type of houses, apartments with a so-called "hotel" type. Basically, these houses were built in the nine floors of apartments in the area have made 12 or 18 square meters. Then these apartments were allocated to citizens as a temporary shelter, but as usuall, it remained as a constant.

All of the republics concentrated on rapid construction methods; time in the USSR was a competitive commodity. The Ukrainian SSR reported some of its project experiences of this kind for 1968-69 in "Rapid Construction of Apartment Houses in the Ukrainian SSR", published by the Scientific-Research Institute of the Construction Industry, Kiev, 1969. This report is in two sections, the first describing the construction of Bereznyaki No. 18, a large panel apartment house in Kiev, and the second comparing four apartment projects in Donetsk oblast. All of these projects were experimental, but only in the methods and organization for erection and finishing; each is a standard USSR apartment design.

The Kiev apartment house was nine stories, the Donetsk oblast houses were five stories. As a general overview of the record, the above ground part of the nine story 144 apartment house was completed in 45 working days or 60 calendar days, four times faster than the USSR standard and twice as fast as an earlier record by the same builder for this apartment type. Erection of the floor structures was done in 18 working days, erection of the roof in 4 days, and finishing work was completed in 23 days. For the above ground part of the five story buildings, the one with 60 units took 64 working days, one with 58 units 54 days, one with 45 units 50 days, and the final one with 120 units 45 working days.

The materials for the Kiev house are typical. The outer walls are 35 and 40 cm thick claydite concrete produced in 20 standard sizes—the claydite is a light weight expanded clay that improves thermal insulation properties of the concrete. The outer surfaces are faced with ceramic tile. Inner loadbearing walls are hollow reinforced concrete panels, produced in six standard sizes. The floors are cross ribbed reinforced concrete panels which come in 6 standard room sizes. Partitions are room sized rolled gypsum concrete panels. Roof decks are finished with three-layered roll roofing; roof drains are internal. Apartment floor slabs are covered with parquet boards in living and bed rooms, vinyl in kitchen and entrance halls, and ceramic tile in bathrooms.

The report on "Rapid Construction of Apartnnent Houses in the Ukrainian SSR" was an interesting treatise on how rapidly buildings can be erected with every production asset concentrated on single projects. It is admittedly apparent however that normal construction takes much longer. One evidence for this conclusion was the vast number of semi-erected or erected-but-unfinished buildings in each of the four largest cities of the USSR: Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and Tashkent — and with two or three idle tower cranes standing alongside each. Delays in construction in the early 1970s were clearly attributable to shortages in the supply of panels, products, and fixtures from' the factories, and shortages in labor. The Soviet construction industry was apparently pushed, or pushes itself, somewhat faster than it can produce, as something of a modus operandi and a stimulus for growth.

The "brezhnevki" were compulsorily equipped with an elevator and garbage disposal. Apartments were located in the so-called "pockets" in each of these "pocket" was usually two apartments. The original name of "brezhnevok" was "apartments with improved design." Of course, compared to "Khrushchev" these apartments actually had a better plan, but if you compare them with a "Stalinka", it would rather call them "degraded option." The size of the kitchen in the apartment of seven to nine square meters, far below the ceiling "Stalin", number of rooms may be from one to five. The total area of 20 to 80 square meters.

A disproportionately large numbers of panels had rough or pocked surfaces. The ceramic tile veneer was a fine first step in giving life to standardized facades, but after banging around at the factory, enroute or on the job site many panels, perhaps most, had broken or missing tiles. Patching at the site was just not satisfactory. In apparent desperation many tile walls were painted, negating totally the good effects of a material supposedly maintenance free.

A few factories did an excellent job of in-plant spray paint finishing, but most on-site painting was consistently bad. Wall paper, the usual interior surface is also poorly applied "Apparently the finish crew came on at midnight and there were no lights."

Quality is a relative term. It is a fair conclusion that if the US were building with as low a ratio of skilled craftsmen to million square feet of housing as is the USSR, there would be a serious lapse of quality in the US as well. Admiration for the success of the Soviet venture in building industrialization, in the face of tremendous difficulties, must nonetheless be tempered with difficult questions of quality.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 12:04:59 ZULU