Field trip: Across Microrayons

11.11.2011, 14:58
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As the Citizens as Customers theme will take the microrayon as an object for research, yesterday the whole day was devoted to exploring 3 different microrayons . The field trip started with one of the first microrayons, Cheremushki, built in the ’50s, then moved on to Belyaevo, built in the ’60s, and finished in Yasenevo, built in the ’70s.

After Nikita Khrushchev’s speech in 1955, when he denounced all the previous architecture of the Stalin period calling it a showcase of excess and foofaraw that neglected people’s comfort, a boom for new architecture started.

Cheremushki was one of the first microrayons to be constructed. It implemented the main idea of the government, which was to develop architecture that was cheap, quick in construction and deprived of any decorative elements. Before the construction started Cheremushki was a village on the outskirts of Moscow.

The first buildings were 5 stories high, without an elevator because it added about 8% to the costs of construction and also because it apparently been medically proven that to climb 5 stories was actually healthy. The new architecture was a whole field for experimentation, with new research institutions being established. Architects had to let go of being artists and instead in a way become scientists that were to calculate the most efficient ways of building mass housing.

Construction of the outer shell of a building was done in a mere 12-14 days! Another month was for finishing internal work. In such a short period of time everyone could get their own small, but individual flat, achieving one of Khrushchev’s desires to stimulate young people to get married and have families. However, such fast construction had quite a few drawbacks, such as thin walls and bad insulation: you could literally hear someone sneezing 2 floors down.

One of the important aspects of building these microrayons was to create an infrastructure encompassing everything necessary for its inhabitants. This way people would have everything the city center had, with the addition of being in proximity to nature.

The new planners and architects constantly tried to improve the conditions of these types of houses. For example, the average number of people in one flat would be one person more than the number of rooms. However, there was no storage for things. Based on the mistakes that came to surface after the construction of the first houses, a storage room was added to flat units. But in most cases it was used as an additional room for a member of the family. Flats were generally cramped spacewise, there was even a joke going around that Khrushchev «had time to connect the bathroom and toilet, but not the ceiling and floor» (the height of the ceilings was 2.40 m).

During this active construction phase that lasted over 10 years, over 54 million people received flats. At the beginning of the housing programme, districts were mostly built according to the regular grid plan. However, as the programme developed, more and more districts were planned with regard to their landscape — like Belyaevo, for example.
Belyaevo is an interesting case from the cultural point of view as well. This is the place where a major part of Moscow’s conceptual art was born at the time when modern art was banned by Khrushchev and realism only was allowed. Here in Belyaevo, the students had an opportunity to see the flat of Dmitry Prigov, one of the most distinguished conceptual artists and poets. Prigov drew inspiration from the microrayon living and in his work expressed its repetitiveness, irony and standartization of people’s lives.

Yasenevo is an example of a more modern and ambitious project of high-rise social housing that was constructed in the 1970s. There, the buildings are 9-17 stories high. This microrayon is considered to have comparatively high standards of living and a good transport system. Therefore, it is attractive for young people.

In the long run, the image of microrayons changed radically. From being considered an ideal place to live in it became thought of as exactly the opposite. What once was a leader’s dream come true, is now a nightmare. The expiration date of most of the buildings has long gone by. So now the question of what to do with the housing that comprises 80% of Moscow arises. The standard and identical quality of the microrayons began to be a hazard for the people who want to be more individual.

Thus, one of the main questions on the agenda is: Should we preserve microrayons? Jardin de Monet in Paris is now protected by law because it was painted by artists. Belyaevo, too, has often been portrayed in art. Is this reason good enough to preserve it?