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Catégorie : Brutal East

Brutal East 14

The fanciful brutalism

The landscape of Balkan countries is dotted with monuments, showcased in cities or hidden in mountains. Many were built after the Second World War, to commemorate victims and heroic acts. The brutalist imposing yet purified style renders an aura of respect and solemnity for the events the monuments symbolize. Unlike the prefabricated blocks, each monument is unique, conveys something different, and surprises by its original shape. A vivid example is the Bubanj Memorial Park, located in a field near the city of Niš, in the south of Serbia, where inmates from the concentration camp in the city (weirdly, next to a school) were executed. Three fists stand in the spot where more than 10 000 prisoners were shot by German […]

Brutal East 5

Carcasses of a dream

A curious and parallel aspect of the socialist architecture legacy are the projects that were never completed due to the fall of the regimes in 1989. Bulgaria as a particularly eloquent example in the city of Shumen, where the center is adorned with a giant but empty infrastructure. It is probably one of the best known abandoned socialist projects in the Balkans, but it is far from the only one. This Central City Square was supposed to be a pilot for a new kind of space planning in cities, that combined a shopping center and other facilities (post office, restaurants) linked by underground paths. Because it was new, mobilized a lot of resources, and was simply big, it caught the […]

Brutal East 10

Let there be colors

In all of the Eastern Bloc, time and economic constraints led to prefabricated panels, creating mostly identical blocks, mostly grey, though sometimes gifted with over-washed looking colors. The grey is easy to figure out, as, being the color of the material used, it was the cheapest and easiest way. But the colors? That meant painting over an added layer of stucco. A little more effort, to make the buildings welcoming and friendly to the new dwellers. Maybe so that the cramped living conditions awaiting them, or the inevitable problems of quality, would seem less frustrating. The slight differences in styles (shape, numbers of apartments, height, windows, colors, etc.) are the product of various architectural and design tryouts to find the […]

Brutal East 6

Belgrade but « greyer »

Visitors of the Serbian capital are greeted by the sinister looking Genex tower, a masterpiece of brutalist architecture that dominates New Belgrade, a neighborhood built across centuries old Belgrade (for a brief review of Serbia’s history told by buildings, see here). New because, obviously, at the time of the construction (starting 1948), that’s what it was; but also new in the sense that it was to be a planned city, the implementation of Tito’s own socialism. The buildings, mainly apartment blocks (surprise!), were to be a culmination of the best carefully designed blueprints, destined to represent the high living standards of socialist Yugoslavia. The construction had to be fast, the space (in the blocks, and in between) had to be […]

Brutal East 5

Boxed lives

Away from the city center full of historical buildings, maybe castles, fortresses, old churches certainly, cafés, shops, stand the monolithic, massive, blocks of concrete. From afar they look sinister, quietly waiting, daring for people to come closer. Up close they are dizzying, their symmetrical patterns of windows and balconies a play on the eyes; the occasional AC breaks it, and the clothes left hanging to dry are a splash of colors against the grey. Beautiful, ugly, whatever; one can’t help but wondering, how is it like to live in there, up there? To call this place home? To literally reside in a box? To look at these apartment blocks and see, beyond the style, the legacy, the decay, a loved […]

Brutal East 8

A making of segregation

The Marxist ideology and socialism were in theory supposed to eradicate social classes and put everyone on equal footing. That was certainly not the outcome and housing, more specifically the distribution of dwellings, can account for that. Described by academic works (again, Brigitte Le Normand’s book Designing Tito’s Capital: Urban Planning, Modernism, and Socialism in Belgrade is a Bible), bribery (ties with the Party could help), bypassing (long, reportedly up to years!) waiting list and tinkering of all sorts (faking divorce, for example) allowed for some lucky citizens to get better apartments, or to get them faster. Army officials and Party members had better housing conditions. On the opposite, people with low-salary, or unable to work, were regrouped in poorly […]

Brutal East 6

Behind the curtain… the socialist plan

From villages to blocks Let us start at the beginning. Why so many apartment blocks, why so suddenly? As mentioned in the previous post, the main reason why the landscape of Balkan cities underwent such a drastic change during the socialist years is the rapid industrialization. To up their game and catch up with other European countries, especially the Western counterpart, Balkan states needed to change the percentage of the rural population. To illustrate the starting point, immediately after the Second World War, around 80% of the Bulgarian and Romanian population and around 66% of the Yugoslavian population lived in rural areas (see John Sillince’s book, Housing Policies in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union). The calculation is simple: industries […]

Brutal East 8


To all brutalist architecture lovers, or soon-to-be, welcome to my blog! Brutalism is « a style in art and especially architecture using exaggeration and distortion to create its effect (as of massiveness or power)« . 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 […]