Across The Plaza: The Public Voids Of The Post-Soviet City by Owen Hatherley

By Owen Hatherley

The tremendous, proverbially windswept plazas outfitted lower than “really present socialism” from the Nineteen Twenties to the Eighties are commonly thought of to be dead areas, designed to intimidate or at the very least provoke. but in the event that they are just of use to these in energy, why is it they've been used so effectively in protest? From Petrograd in 1917 to Independence sq. in Kiev in the course of the Orange Revolution, those areas became focuses for mass protest. starting in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, and taking in Warsaw, Ljubljana, Kharkov and Moscow, Owen Hatherley heads looking for insurrection, architectural glory and horror. alongside the way in which he encounters the extra civic squares that changed their authoritarian predecessors and unearths that, ironically, the previous centres of energy are extra conducive to dissent than those new, ostensibly democratic plazas.

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The buildings around are a similar bricolage. On one side is an apartment block that is in the space between Stalinist monumentalism and post-1953 simplicity, typically dilapidated and typically with the balconies filled in by many of the residents. Ten storeys, thirty bays, vast in any other context but humble-looking here. Facing it, in line with the cooling towers, is an extremely shabby modernist high-rise. Opposite that is the relatively new Gagarinskii Shopping Mall, unusually zippy and high-tech-looking for contemporary Moscow, perhaps in tribute to the space age which its location references.

Lybidska Square, as it now is, is the location of the former Ukrainian Institute of Scientific and Technological Research and Development, designed by I. Novikov and F. Turiev in 1971. We saw it on our way elsewhere, getting off one stop early because we’d caught sight of a gigantic flying saucer cast in concrete. The ‘saucer’ hangs rather precipitously over the street, with the rough concrete of its underside providing shade for elderly Ukrainian women doing their shopping. Its ribbon-windows, running the circumference of the spaceship, form the swooping pivot to an approximation of a public square, one in a clearly very grim and dilapidated state.

In Kharkov, cab drivers protested against tax rises and young people camped out against corruption; at Plac Defilad, the owners of market stalls rioted when they were forced out for a mooted Museum of Modern Art. Their grievances are very probably just, but there’s something telling there. The protesters are small businessmen asking to be given a proper chance in a capitalism that is dominated by multinational corporations and/or local oligarchs, or they are protesting against corrupt neoliberal politicians, with the implicit promise that less corrupt neoliberals will be tolerated.

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