U.S.S.R. and communism historical discussion.
[ Login ] [ Active ]

Tall skyscrapers not important?

Log-in to remove advertisement.
Post 18 Oct 2013, 09:01
Certain Asia (Tiger) countries and oil-rich Middle-East Gulf States are leading ultra-high skyscraper building. And USA and certain European countries (UK, Germany) seem to also "prioritize" tall building prowess. The Gulf oil states want to mostly show off their wealth (status symbol), and overpopulated major cities in Asia (Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Shanghai, HK, etc.) really may need to build tall because they have nowhere else to grow their cites.

Certainly Russia has the $$ and technological prowess to build these structures ... so why don't we see them in the Soviet Empire? Not practical? ... i.e., lots of space so no need to build tall ... or don't need to show architecture? (i.e., not important for Russian culture to show off via superficial architecture ... space technology and science/math are what really count)? But Russia should have more art -- ARchiTecture -- as that was somewhat suppressed in old Soviet days.

So when the average Russian sees modern tall skyscrapers being shown in Taipei or New York, how do they REALLY feel?
(The Gulf States skyscraper boom is not even worth discussion and that is clearly mostly about wealth and status show off).
Post 18 Oct 2013, 10:37
First off, the USSR did have tall buildings, the famous Stalinist towers, Ostankino, the COMECON building, etc. Admittedly, in the USSR very few skyscrapers with more than a few dozen stories were built. There are several reasons for this:

1. Skyscrapers are very often a practical, space-saving consideration as much as a prestige project. Ignoring the sheikdoms in the Gulf, where projects are based on the madness of material excess, in most cases (Manhattan, Tokyo, Shanghai) buildings are tall because the land on which they're built is super expensive. In the USSR land was publicly owned, and hence planners, not developers, had free reign as to what was to be built in the center of town.

2. There were a few cases (Leningrad perhaps being the best of them) where land was truly limited; in an effort to preserve old cities' historical heritage, planners were very careful in their deliberations about what kinds of new buildings could and could not be placed within these cities. Hence in a case like Leningrad, they would preserve cramped conditions rather than ruining the city's heritage with a block of skyscrapers. This conservative building mentality, seemingly applying across the Eastern Bloc for some reason, is why Eastern Europe seems to have preserved much more of its old historical buildings than Western Europe (although in the last 20 years hyper-crooked capitalism has allowed them to catch up pretty quick).

3. A factor of somewhat lesser importance is the impact of the war on construction. Up until about 1960 (!) the country's architects and builders were focused more on rebuilding from the devastation caused by the war, which destroyed or heavily damaged about 1/3 of the country's cities and infrastructure, than on prestige projects. It's partly for this reason that the Palace of the Soviets, the best known 'never to be' project, was never completed.

4. Finally, another factor, considered mainly in Khrushchev's time when the country's political and scientific leadership still considered very seriously the potential for rebuilding after a nuclear war, was that of the impact of atomic weapons detonating in the atmosphere on city infrastructure. It was considered that low-rise buildings would stand a better chance of surviving in such a situation than high rise buildings. Silly reasoning, I know, but it's the same reasoning that saw the USSR continue to use vacuum tubes in computers long after they became considered obsolete in the West.
Post 18 Oct 2013, 13:15
Socialist city planning generally led to very different results from what happened in the west. When I visit cities such as Dresden or Leipzig, I'm always amazed at how the design of the city actually makes sense and it's not just a chaotic bunch of buildings like a western city.
Post 18 Oct 2013, 14:45
It's important to realise that most of the multi-storey developments as part of either "Post-War Consensus" Western Europe or across the Comecon states were part of programmes that prioritised the building of decent living space. You might not consider it a skyscraper, but a bunch of ten-twenty storey buildings closely grouped together, as on Michelangelostrasse in Dresden:


were simply not built with the intention of being imposing, it just makes a lot more sense to house people in decent quality apartments rather than having the cost of maintaining 50 separate households; like having separate gas/oil heating boilers over 50 households, it could be handled with just one in an apartment block. It just makes sense to me to organise things like this. In my opinion, there's a greater amount of social prestige to be had in housing everyone in comfortable and well maintained housing than just an international penis contest that leads to masses of space and resource wastage.

This is not to say that these massive structure aren't impressive, they are impressive, but not much else if they don't really have a utility other than showing others "yeah, you can build something this big on the soil and geological conditions we find ourselves in here." Not every building design could exactly benefit from this, except maybe how to brace against the wind. Which reminds me that geologically speaking, Berlin is a marshy, damp city, as are Leningrad and London. Try building a ginormous complex of structures like those on Manhattan Island in any of these cities and they will sink and crumble with damp. Manhattan is a lump of rock at the mouth of the Hudson. Not every city has the benefit of this.
Post 20 Oct 2013, 16:48
Skyscrapers are a result of shit town planning. Moscow's General Plan did well enough in distributing services evenly to prevent the need for skyscrapers. The skyscrapers of "Moskva City", which contains the tallest buildings in Europe, are a state-sponsored showpiece and probably a phallic tribute to Putin
Post 22 Oct 2013, 10:28
Thx for all the replies.

Erichs_Pastry_Chef: I like the Communist-style "tower blocks" (apartment housing) -- a very efficient approach to housing and energy efficiency. Here in the U.S. they began some of those Projects (they were literally called Projects and were a political tool for many things such as race division, etc.) but many quickly fell into disrepair ... --Pruitt-Igoe

...unlike Europe and Asia, even in these regions more more capitalist regimes like UK, Singapore and HK.

As far as New York and the new WTC skyscraper ... it's way overkill (overbuilt) and mostly symbolic. All that $$ used on it could've built much more and much better and much safer office space, via a few less-tall buildings. Maybe that's what the Soviet solution has been.
Post 22 Oct 2013, 10:34
sans-culotte wrote:
Skyscrapers are a result of shit town planning. Moscow's General Plan did well enough in distributing services evenly to prevent the need for skyscrapers. The skyscrapers of "Moskva City", which contains the tallest buildings in Europe, are a state-sponsored showpiece and probably a phallic tribute to Putin

If that's not your cup of tea, you may like the future even less...


Post 22 Oct 2013, 19:03
A search for Kazakhstan skyscrapers will show you some of the wildest designs ever conceived by architects.
Post 04 Jan 2014, 12:34
Here's a good essay by some chap in the London Review of Books about housing how housing policy has shifted through the post-war era to the here and now.
Some bits are enlightening, the first section is obviously important and can really leave you to read it to take what stats and info you need, but there are bits elsewhere that I am drawn do, it deals wth the Cranbrook Estate in East London:

None of the things tenants found repellent about life on some council estates in the 1970s – the crime and anti-social behaviour, the damp, the powerlessness in the face of council bureaucracy, the noise, the distance from children’s playgrounds, the difficulty of imposing personal style on a habitat you didn’t own, the penny-pinching bodgery of council repairs, the obstacles to moving – is inherent to municipal tenure; they’re the result of incompetence, carelessness and unreasonable economies.

Councils made some terrible mistakes in their postwar housebuilding programme, partly because of pre-Thatcherite Conservative populism. The Tories started a race with Labour over who could build more houses, abandoning Bevan’s conviction that numbers weren’t enough, that the homes had to be spacious and well built, too. The worst blunder involved the use of a Danish system of prefabricated concrete panels to build tower blocks three times higher than they were designed to be, assembled by badly supervised, badly trained workers and engineers. Hence the Ronan Point disaster in 1968, when a 22-storey block in East London partly collapsed after a gas explosion, killing four people. The block was finally demolished the year before the great storm of 1987, which might literally have blown it down. Ronan Point was designed to withstand winds of up to 63 miles per hour; some of the gusts during the storm reached 94 mph.

As the decades pass and the council homes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s grow into the urban landscape, as their brick and concrete weathers, as they benefit from comparison with the mean little boxes being built by private housebuilders, as a mix of new management, new investment and funds from the last Labour government have dealt with some of the backlog of repairs and design flaws, as the original intentions of architects become unexpectedly visible to a new generation, they are beginning to look like more attractive places to live. Too late for the less well-off; just in time for the hipsters. Rural peers now snap them up for their London pieds-à-terre. Wealthy parents buy them for their children. Buy-to-let investors cram them with students. I might have bought one myself, to live in; friends have done so. Once privatised there was no chance of the councils getting them back. I was shown plenty by estate agents in Tower Hamlets when I was looking for a place to buy – the agents call them ‘ex-local’, as in ‘ex-local authority’. They were among the few places of any size I could afford, and they still sell for slightly less than homes built for the market. This is unlikely to last. In the capital, council houses have gone vintage; council houses in inner London are the new lofts, to be boasted about and refitted with salvaged Bakelite and Formica by the trendiest of their new inhabitants. In addition to all the other indignities the poorest of the poor in London suffer, they now have an extra one: the implication that they never saw the potential.

With their discount and an inheritance, the Kendalls were able to buy their flat in 1984. Rents had been going up and they thought they’d have a more powerful voice in dealings with the council if they became leaseholders. On the estate as a whole, about a third of the flats are in private hands. Kendall was astonished when I told her that councils had been forced to use the money they got from Right to Buy to pay down their share of the government’s general debt. ‘I thought it was in a pot, waiting to be used again,’ she said. ‘I thought there was a housing account that everything went into and they were just waiting for the government to release it.’

One by one, the original Right to Buyers are checking out of Cranbrook. ‘There’s about 15 that have bought and they’ve died off and the flats’ve been sold. Arthur downstairs died over Christmas, and his flat’s for sale. Sonny over in Offenbach, he died just before Christmas and his flat’s up for sale. They’ll be bought by people to be relet on short tenancies. You get to know people, they’re very nice, then all of a sudden they’re gone.’


The standard left-progressive history of what happened in Bethnal Green is that democratically elected, enlightened municipal authorities rescued the poor citizens of the borough from insanitary, crowded slums and gave them modern, healthy places to live at a reasonable rent, places that often delighted their new tenants, before institutional neglect, competitive consumerism and budget cuts took the shine off estate life. But there’s an alternative, subversive account, which suggests that at some point – perhaps the 1950s, perhaps even earlier – ‘slum clearance’ began to merge into something else, the needless destruction of fundamentally sound old terraced houses which councils could have bought and modernised.

Kendall, who happens to be secretary of the East London Historical Society, subscribes to both versions of events. She and her husband adored the old two-room private flat they rented in St Peter’s Avenue, and fought a long, bitter and unsuccessful battle with the council to prevent it and the neighbouring homes being knocked down. ‘It was a lovely house,’ she said. ‘These days they would have done them up because when you go down Columbia Road the houses aren’t as nice.​3 It had a huge old garden. The toilet was just outside the back door. It didn’t worry us. It had shutters and brass fittings – it wasn’t a slum. We were absolutely heartbroken when they cleared the houses from there.’

Rather than seeing the move from St Peter’s Avenue to the Cranbrook Estate as an expulsion from Victorian East End Eden to concrete council tower block hell, however, Kendall embraced her new home with the same fervour. ‘I loved it,’ she said. ‘I absolutely adored it. We had central heating so we didn’t need to light a fire any more. My husband thought we’d moved into a ship. All the walls were painted grey, battleship grey. Everything was grey except the wall where my books are and the bathroom, which was red, a dusty red.’ The Kendalls avoided the alienation from the familiar rhythms of the city experienced by other East Enders who moved out to suburban council estates. ‘You knew everybody anyway because you’d moved in with them. It wasn’t a case of making new friends.’

Kendall pointed to the armchair where I was sitting and told me Lubetkin had sat in that very place, asking how she liked her new digs. I was sceptical: perhaps it was Skinner, or Bailey? But Kendall insisted it had been the old man himself, strong Russian accent and all. ‘I always had the impression that he was the boss. We all used to come, all the mums, and meet him and he’d say: “How’s things working?” He’d come in and have a biscuit and a cup of tea and he’d say that no matter what flat he went into, his décor went with the furniture. He was very proud that everything went together.’

The argument is that councils treated their tenants like factory-farmed livestock, stacking them on top of one another in concrete boxes in defiance of their traditional British desire for two-up, two-down homes with a patch of garden; that they left them prey to the visions of egotistical architects, who thought only of the grandiose shapes they would carve in concrete, shapes they would never imagine themselves inhabiting, or their children, or anyone they knew.


I also recently got a 2 volume book/collection of essays which in part address the housing policies of the post-war Labour government, there should be something of use in there that I can scan (buggered if I'm typing shitloads of stuff up).
Post 13 Jan 2015, 05:21
imo Tall skyscrapers usually mean 1 thing, there is a lack of room forcing the price of land up and making it cheaper to build a tall building rather than a row of smaller buildings (Hong Kong, Japan etc.) Russia is the largest country on the planet and has no lack of space.
Post 13 Jan 2015, 07:27
Russia is the largest country on the planet and has no lack of space.

Most Russians live in blocks not houses.
Post 13 Jan 2015, 07:59
It really depends on the part of the country - up north in places such as Moscow and St Petersburg apartments make more sense because of the heating advantage, whereas down south in places like Rostov, Belgorod, Krasnodar, etc. people prefer to live in sprawling suburbs that are comprised primarily of private homes. Although apartment dwellers do like to buy dachas, small suburban estates on which they undertake overly ambitious building projects and stuff like gardening, but standing in traffic for 4 hours on Friday night or spending an hour in an overcrowded commuter train full of people with gardening and construction equipment on Saturday morning to do some gardening/construction, go to the sauna you have possibly already built and possibly get drunk is a hobby I don't really understand.
More Forums: The History Forum. The UK Politics Forum.
© 2000- Privacy.
[ Top ]