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Housing / Khrushcheby

Thousands of Moscow residents protested this month against plans to move more than a million people if their apartments, built during the 1950s era of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, are torn down. Russian authorities say some 8,000 short-story buildings are in disrepair, and promise to find or build the residents better apartments. While some living in crumbling buildings celebrate, many Muscovites are skeptical and suspect corruption.

Only in the late 1950s, new revolution in Soviet daily life began with the resettlement of the communal apartments in the "microdistricts" in the urban outskirts, where many for the first time in their life were able to have a state-owned separate apartment. Extensive construction of low-quality five-story concrete-block buildings, dubbed "Khrushchevki," (or "Khrushcheby," which rhymes with the Russian word "trushchoby" meaning slums), mitigated the situation to some degree.

In everyday life the Stalinka and Khrushchyovka have become bywords for a luxury lifestyle for the elite and a cheap, uncomfortable one for others. Khrushchev's reforms moved about 30% of Soviet urban dwellers into separate apartments on the cities' outskirts. Until 1990, about 40% of the population in the urban centers like Leningrad lived in communal apartments. As a form of living, the communal apartment combined futuristic designs and premodern ways of living.

A decision by President Vladimir Putin in early 2017 marked the beginning of the end in Russia for the "temporary" Soviet-era apartments -- the khrushchyovki -- which still house millions. On February 21, Putin backed a plan to demolish and replace all such apartments remaining in Moscow by the end of 2018. An estimated 1.6 million Muscovites live in the boxy, five-story apartments named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Decades after their planned lifespan of 25 years expired, the apartment blocks stand as a bleak reminder of a very different time.

Between the 1920s and 1958 the urban population of the Soviet Union jumped from around 18 percent to more than 50 percent and housing was in short supply. With his citizens squeezed into communal apartments and the urban population continuing its rapid increase, the housing crisis in Khrushchev's Soviet Union was urgent.

With free housing promised to Soviet citizens, a primary concern in the design of housing was the cost. The first designs featured brick and slate roofs but were later given plain bitumen roofs with a very small loft space to save money. Later apartment blocks were made in sections in a factory and assembled on site without taking the surrounding architecture and landscape into consideration.

Prefabricated khrushchyovki were to be a temporary solution, designed to last only until "full communism" was reached. For financial reasons, the apartment blocks did without "architectural excesses." The apartments usually feature a gas stove and central heating. Khrushchyovki are also known for their poor sound insulation -- it's not uncommon for a sleepy resident to tap a coin on the heating pipes in an attempt to hush a noisy neighbor.

The squat design was a result of a Soviet requirement for all buildings above five storys to be fitted with a lift. Foregoing an elevator meant the design was simplified and significantly cheaper to build. As a result of the ubiquitous design, even the farthest flung corners of the Soviet Union came to look the same by the end of Khrushchev's reign. One reason for the decision to raze Moscow's remaining khrushchyovki is likely for safety reasons: in recent years Russia has seen a spate of Soviet-era apartments collapsing or exploding as a result of a gas leak.

Despite their many drawbacks, these apartments represented the most desirable accommodation in Soviet times. People moved there from the kommunalka and the small kitchens, low ceilings, and poor sound-proofing were accepted because one family lived in each apartment.

The first district built entirely of these structures was Cheremushki in Moscow, and the exercise was repeated across the country. These apartments were so alike that, even today, if you are in one of these districts it is difficult to tell which city you are in. These apartment blocks continued to be built in Russia until 1985.

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Page last modified: 25-05-2017 13:53:36 ZULU