Belyayevo Forever:
Preserving the Generic

Kuba Snopek

Preservation is ordinarily reserved for architecture that is unique. So how would we go about preserving buildings that are utterly generic?

Such is the case with Belyayevo, an ordinary residential district in Moscow. Belyayevo is a classic microrayon, the standardised neighbourhood system that successive Soviet regimes laid out across the USSR in what was the most expansive programme of industrialised construction the world has ever seen. Belyayevo’s buildings, and the desolate spaces between them, are identical to thousands of others, but is it different? Kuba Snopek argues that is. Home to many of the artists of the Moscow Conceptualism school, the place was written into the character of their art. Snopek argues that this intangible heritage is the key to saving a neighbourhood many feel has had its day. But as Russia comes to terms with its Soviet legacy, will such arguments fall on deaf ears?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kuba Snopek is a Polish architect and researcher. Based in Moscow, he is a graduate of the Strelka Institute, where he now teaches. Prior to that he worked on city planning projects for Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen. His research specialism is late-modernist and contemporary architecture and architectural heritage.

A quick review of the urban development of this particular part of the city gave me a hypothesis. In Belyayevo, daily life has an extra component, which made this particular neighbourhood different from the typical “sleeping districts”. It was designed by the architect Yakov Belapolski and built as part of a huge construction project in the southwest of Moscow between 1952 and 1966). It’s a development that is particularly interesting because of its social dimension. One of its most important objectives was to move science and education out of the city centre. New scientific institutes and educational units were being built alongside residential areas. But the inclination to decentralise science had appeared before Khrushchev came into power – the Stalinist skyscraper of the Moscow University, southwest of the city centre, had already started that development trend. It is also worth mentioning another of Khrushchev’s ideas – to decentralise the administration as well, building a new government district in the southwest of the capital. But this plan was never realised.

All those plans had a huge influence on the social life of Belyayevo. The Space Research Institute is next door to the Pushkin Language Institute. The Peoples’ Friendship University, built to support the postcolonial continents of Asia and Africa, creates a multicultural atmosphere that is so difficult to find elsewhere in Moscow. Unlike other northern and eastern districts of Moscow, the southwestern area became a magnet for the intelligentsia because of its academic and spiritual context. The concentration of artistic activity that took place here later was probably a consequence of this.

Due to this intangible component, Belyayevo, apparently identical to any other sleeping district in Moscow, is in fact drastically different. It differs from the local community in both atmosphere and reputation. This is the rule across the city – Moscow’s visually identical urban tissue, made up of microrayons, contains a great deal of cultural diversity, which usually remains unidentified and non-existent within the common knowledge of the city. Two identical bordering microrayons may drastically differ in ethnic composition, level of security, cultural life or even in the ways people use identical common spaces.

I cannot prove that it was due to the intellectual atmosphere fomented by the surrounding institutions, yet it is certain that shortly after being erected Belyayevo became home to many prominent artists.