To all brutalist architecture lovers, or soon-to-be, welcome to my blog!
My interest in this type of architecture goes way back to my first visit in Eastern Europe. Out of nowhere, in the countryside near Bratislava, Slovakia, stood apartment blocks, looking like that had just popped from the field. They drastically contrasted with the lively green and blue of the landscape, and instead gave a sinister touch to the view. Most people would discard them after briefly thinking how ugly and wore down they looked. I instead became fascinated with them. First, with their appearance, the dominance of the grey and sometimes faded colors, their hypnotizing symmetrical patterns, the fact that they were still up even though they looked like they were about to crumble down. Then, as I kept coming back to Eastern Europe and saw more and more specimens in Poland, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia, I became equally interested with the history behind the look. Why so many? Why this particular style? How is it to live in them? How were they constructed? What will happen to them?
Many scholars have examined the ideology of the socialist take-over that happened in Eastern Europe after the Second World War. In the Balkans specifically (which will be my main area of interest here, as I have lived there for a few years), where more than half of the population was rural, a need to boost the industrial sector meant forced urbanization and massive migration towards the cities. Hence the erection of apartment blocks to house the incoming population. From capitals cities to provincial towns, prefabricated blocks were built and now dotted the urban landscape. Academic works (see bibliography below) detail the plans conceived to build even more, and even faster, as one of socialism’s failures in Southeastern Europe (and presumably everywhere else) was to live up to the promise of providing housing of equal and good standards to everyone.
Socialism has fallen in Eastern Europe, but its legacy is still alive. Corrupted bureaucracy, social segregation, and evidently, apartment blocks, are some of the ideology leftovers. These concrete witnesses of a fallen dream, a hope for equality and better life, an urban utopia, are still standing and very well a part of the everyday life of citizens… at least for now.
You can imagine my distress upon learning that there are multiple projects targeting the destruction of apartment blocks. Some because they are becoming dangerous, which is understandable, but others in the presumably apparent objective of tearing down the legacy of the period they represent, or simply to make way for new, modern constructions. Fortunately, in response to this, there are many organizations that are seeking to protect the historical importance of the socialist apartment blocks (more on that in following posts!). In writing this blog, I want to add my voice to them. Trying to protect this heritage starts in my opinion with an understanding and appreciation of the role of the blocks in the recent history of the Balkans, which I will briefly present in the following posts, while simultaneously including news on projects of destruction and preservation, to better grasp this wonderful subject.
To soak yourselves into the beauty of the brutalist architecture, which was the minimalist style used in the construction of apartment blocks, I suggest taking a look HERE, where pictures of Belgrade, Serbia, are presented. In my opinion the most striking examples are found in the Balkans, but there are great specimens all over the world, not just in the form of apartment blocks, but in various buildings and monuments as well. And what better way to experience brutalism than photos? All that are shown here are mine, except when I specify otherwise, and I will link the work of talented photographers whose pictures I enjoy when I can!
To learn more about the failure of the socialist regime concerning housing, please see these academic articles:
Alfirevic, Djordje, and Sanja Simonovic-Alfirevic. “The ‘socialist Apartment’ in Yugoslavia: Paradigm or Tendency?” Spatium 2018.40 (2018): 8–17. Web.
Chelcea, Liviu. “The ‘Housing Question’ and the State-Socialist Answer: City, Class and State Remaking in 1950s Bucharest.” International journal of urban and regional research 36.2 (2012): 281–296. Web.
Marcińczak, Szymon, Michael Gentile, Samuel Rufat, and Liviu Chelcea. “Urban Geographies of Hesitant Transition: Tracing Socioeconomic Segregation in Post-Ceauşescu Bucharest.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, no. 4 (2013). Web.
Parusheva, Dobrinka, and Iliyana Marcheva. “Housing in Socialist Bulgaria: Appropriating Tradition.” Home Cultures 7.2 (2010): 197–215. Web.
Parusheva, Dobrinka, Meglena Zlateva, and Iliyana Marcheva-Atanasova. “Tinkering with Daily Life: People, State and Social(ist) Housing in Bulgaria.” Études balkaniques 3 (2010): 69–91. Web.
Serban, Mihaela. “The Exceptionalism of Housing in the Ideology and Politics of Early Communist Romania (1945-1965).” Europe-Asia Studies 67.3 (2015): 443–467. Web.