By now, it should be no secret that I love brutalist architecture in general, and apartment blocks in particular. Hands down, I think it is the architectural style that best represents the hopes and failure of a political regime. On the other way around, I think apartment blocks are the most evocative and concrete (literally!) legacy of the communist period (as it is the most used term in articles looking at comparison and continuity, communism will be synonym to socialism for the purpose of this post). As frustrations about the post-communist situation emerge, a communist nostalgia seems to spread, where the job security and other perks are remembered fondly, and the lack of personal freedom and other problems are forgotten. The memory of people seems to be changing and shaped by the present context. Where memorials about communism are scarce, which could explain the apparent amnesia over the bad sides, blocks are the acting commemorative sites.
Apart from the dangers of decaying and not maintained buildings, this rather big reminder might be a reason why so many want to see them gone. Because they are not just buildings, they are the home to which large rural families were assigned, the coveted space in a context where demand was way higher than supply, a place that was a rupture with traditions, a symbol of forced urbanization, of corruption, of the hypocrisy of erasing social classes while fostering segregation. In other words, they make what was wrong with communism still firmly standing. And this inheritance can’t be escaped: blocks can’t all be whipped out from the landscape, and the financial situation and corruption force many citizens to keep living in the too-small family apartment. This is especially true in the case of the elderly, that grew up with the communist motto that the state was taking care of people. Now, the situation seems to have worsened; there is no longer a safety net (which ties with the legitimacy of a nostalgia), and most people don’t have the means to move out of their apartment. So, these blocks are stuck between a hate for what they represent, and an inescapable life in them. A communist way of life in a post-communist context.
An easy excuse to advocate for their destruction is their ugliness. As I have said earlier, the questionable choice of form and color doesn’t find fans effortlessly – although I hope I was able to convince some readers that their beauty is in their sinister look, mesmerizing patterns and occasional dash of colors on balconies! But the debate on both sides (weird people like me that love them, for their look and what they represent, and others who want them down for various reasons) goes beyond the blocks’ appearance. It is intertwined with the communist legacies in a Balkans post-communist world that struggles with finances, memories, housing, and many other aspects of the transition. And that is why I argue that they should be preserved (when safe, of course). The brutalist blocks are still telling a political story, in the bigger picture of all the past and present personal narratives of the tenants.