The Lasting Significance of Eastern Bloc Architecture, According to Its Inhabitants

The monolithic high-rise complexes constructed across the former Eastern Bloc after World War II go by totally different names throughout Central and Eastern Europe, together with panelák (Czech Republic and Slovakia), wielka płyta (Poland), panelki (Bulgaria), panelky (Ukraine), plattenbau (Germany), and panel’niy dom (Russia). Rapidly assembled and cheaply constructed to supply mass housing for increasing metropolis populations in postwar socialist nations, the prefabricated, prestressed concrete towers expressed a primary side of Soviet ideology that emphasised egalitarianism, collectivism, uniformity, and performance—however they typically featured structural weaknesses similar to dangerous insulation and leaky home windows as the results of monetary points and rushed development. The prefab panel blocks have confronted additional degradation on account of lack of preservation and gradual put on and tear because the fall of Soviet communism. Still, the unadorned residential complexes—which home a largely growing older inhabitants—function towering relics of a poignant period.

A brand new pictures ebook from David Navarro and Martyna Sobecka of Zupagrafika, an unbiased writer and graphic design studio in Poland, paperwork 40 of those concrete-slab housing tasks in 37 totally different cities of the previous Eastern Bloc and ex-Yugoslavia, from Berlin to Kyiv and Tallinn. The Tenants portrays the inhabitants of those complexes holding cut-and-fold paper fashions of the prefab panel blocks the place they reside. (The pictures had been taken by Navarro, Sobecka, and quite a few contributing photographers between 2012 and 2022.) Dwell spoke to Navarro and Sobecka about their takeaways from the decade-long mission, together with what we stand to lose if these prefab panel blocks deteriorate, whether or not by neglect to repairs them or destruction in warfare.

Barbara, a resident of the Plac Grunwaldzki property in Wrocław, Poland, is one in all many inhabitants of the postwar prefabricated panel blocks featured in The Tenants. “I was one of the first tenants here,” she says. “I absolutely love my flat on the fourth floor. I have three spacious rooms with a small kitchen. The only disadvantage are the pigeons, oh dear! The renovation looks pretty and clean on the outside but they didn’t lay ceramics on the balcony floors, as they promised.”

Dwell: How did you discover the residents you photographed and featured for The Tenants?

David Navarro and Martyna Sobecka: In 2012, throughout our first shoot with the paper mannequin of the Orła Białego Estate in Poznań, Poland, one of many residents approached us and shared the story of the life she had lived there. She kindly agreed to be photographed holding our paper mannequin in entrance of her flat. Since then, we continued to take portraits of the inhabitants of those buildings. We’d strategy them in entrance of their homes whereas taking pictures on-site and ask for his or her story. In current years, we additionally invited native photographers to contribute to The Tenants. They made it attainable for the ebook to incorporate some areas that may’ve been out of attain for us in any other case, particularly through the pandemic.

“These panelak houses were built very quickly so that people had places to live,” says Josef, a resident of the Jižní Město property in Prague, Czech Republic, featured in The Tenants. “Everybody liked it here. Then the Velvet Revolution came and they wanted to tear them down; if they had demolished them, we would not have homes today.”

What had been your impressions of the prefabricated panel blocks you visited and photographed for the ebook?

We reside and work in Poland, subsequently, the structure of the socialist period, or the ‘PRL’ (Polish People’s Republic), remains to be current in our on a regular basis lives. The cities in Poland are surrounded by big prefabricated panel block estates which are house to a whole bunch of hundreds of individuals. Martyna was born within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, and, like many of us from this technology, was raised in a wielka płyta property. We see the buildings featured in our books because the antiheroes of recent structure—these postwar housing estates would possibly typically be considered as homogeneous, grey lots of concrete, however wealthy range will be discovered of their design and concrete planning. 

Oksana, a resident of the Obolon housing property in Kyiv, Ukraine, holds a duplicate of the high-rise advanced in The Tenants. The residential buildings, often known as The Chamomiles and Corn Cobs, had been designed in 1981 and constructed within the northern Obolonskyi District utilizing monolithic framework expertise. The towers are 17 and 22 flooring excessive and supply greater than 200 residences in complete. 

What did you study by talking with the residents of those mass housing complexes?

We realized quite a bit from the individuals whose on a regular basis lives revolve across the ‘sleeping districts’ [a nickname for urban micro-districts built during the Soviet era]. It was gripping to find how uniform their emotions had been in regards to the estates they inhabit. From the previous East Germany to Siberia, and all over Kazakhstan to the Baltic states, the residents would unanimously reward the massive inexperienced areas, youngsters’s playgrounds, and public transport, and ceaselessly complain in regards to the technical state of the buildings, similar to poor thermal insulation or upkeep.

Sykhiv resident Nadya stands in entrance of the housing advanced the place she lives in Chervonoyi Kalyny Ave, which is a part of the southern Sykhivskyi District, the most important residential space in Lviv, Ukraine. The district was constructed between the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties to deal with native business employees and their households. It was constructed from symmetrical rows of L-shaped prefabricated panel blocks clad with distinct blue tiles.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine places the nation’s remaining panelky liable to destruction. Do you recognize the standing of the featured buildings and residents in Lviv and Kyiv?

The postwar modernist structure in Ukraine is especially in peril, particularly in residential areas which are targets of Russian bombing. Ironically, lots of the prefab housing estates that are actually being destroyed had been in-built response to an enormous housing scarcity after World War II. We stay in contact with the contributing photographer in Kyiv named Tatiana who took a photograph of Oksana, a resident of the high-rise tower block within the Obolon district. Although, the streets of Obolon had been raided on the onset of the Russian invasion on Ukraine, as of now, we all know the towers that seem within the ebook are nonetheless standing, and Oksana and Tatiana are secure and stay in Kyiv. The residential areas in Lviv which are featured within the ebook haven’t been shelled.  

“These buildings are old and well constructed,” says Divna, a resident of the Eastern City Gate advanced in Belgrade, Serbia, who seems within the ebook. “They are the statues of Belgrade.”

Christin, a resident of the Berliner Querplatte in Berlin, Germany, stands in entrance of the advanced the place she lives with a cut-and-fold reproduction. The Tenants paperwork 40 prefabricated panel blocks in 37 totally different cities of the previous Eastern Bloc and ex-Yugoslavia, from Berlin to Kyiv and Tallinn.

What do you hope audiences take away from the ebook? 

We began publishing illustrated, interactive books on postwar modernism in response to a speedy disappearance of this sort of structure that has been both demolished or thoughtlessly renovated. Many of these constructions replicate the desires and beliefs of a controversial period. With The Tenants, we wish the readers to see the human faces behind the concrete facades. As we write within the ebook: ‘The modernist estates erected in Central and Eastern Europe to provide quick and cheap housing after World War II are now over 60 years old and their future is uncertain. While some are being renovated and others have been prematurely demolished, their tenants remain undaunted. They have lived through their golden years and darker times; they are the estates.’

The Tenants: Concrete Portraits of the Former Eastern Bloc

For the final decade, Zupagrafika has documented the housing estates erected in Central and Eastern Europe, nonetheless perceived by many as ‘eyesores,’ by pictures and illustrated paper fashions.



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