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

By Owen Hatherley

The massive, proverbially windswept plazas outfitted lower than “really present socialism” from the Twenties to the Eighties are largely thought of to be dead areas, designed to intimidate or at the very least galvanize. 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 through 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 best way he encounters the extra civic squares that changed their authoritarian predecessors and reveals that, mockingly, the outdated centres of strength are extra conducive to dissent than those new, ostensibly democratic plazas.

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With its assembly of machine-like intersecting parts, it resembles an attempt to build one of the 1910s dream-projects of Antonio Sant’Elia — Piano here reveals himself to be every bit as much a retro-futurist as Kollhoff. , Can, Basic Channel) felt like a continuation of something rudely interrupted in 1933. As if to labour the point, you can in fact walk through a projected, 3D Metropolis in the Sony-Center. Helmut Jahn’s portion for Sony is the most successful bit of Potsdamer Platz, at least in terms of encouraging visitors, who can eat bratwurst or visit a rather fine Film Museum under an all-weather high-tech tent.

And there are spaces where the secret police’s presence in urbanism is still very much apparent, impervious to any renaming. 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.

While New Urbanism opposes many aspects of the neoliberal city, its hostility to modernism and experimentation indicates an exemplary capitalist realism. It is not so surprising, then, that even though many New Urbanists will use ‘Stalinist’, ‘Soviet’ and ‘socialist’ as catch-all insults for big bad modernism, much of what they produce resembles socialist realism in its more timid, contextual moments. The Lódz square is New Urbanist in every respect. It is a short walk from the city’s vast cotton mills.

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