Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture worth sav­ing?

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Ber­met Talant ber­met@kyiv­post.com

Kyiv’s iconic Soviet-era “space­ship” build­ing risks be­ing swal­lowed up by a new mall that will soon rise near Lybed­ska metro sta­tion. The con­tro­versy over the mall’s con­struc­tion plans has raised the ques­tion of whether ex­am­ples of Soviet mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture even de­serve to be pre­served in Ukraine.

New ur­ban move­ment The Sovi­ets launched Sput­nik 1, the first satel­lite, on Oct. 4, 1957. Less than four years later, on April 12, 1961, Soviet cos­mo­naut Yuri Ga­garin’s or­bited earth — the first hu­man to do so — in his Vos­tok space­craft. These event put the Soviet Union far ahead in its space race with the United States at the time, but Amer­ica pulled ahead by the time of the first U. S. Apollo mis­sion moon land­ing on July 20, 1969.

But, through­out the 1960s, ow­ing to its early suc­cesses, the idea of hu­man dom­i­na­tion of space and Soviet space achieve­ments con­tin­ued to be re­flected in Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture.

The fa­mous “Fly­ing Saucer” was built in 1971 by ar­chi­tect Flo­rian Yuriev as part of the build­ing of the Ukrainian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence and In­for­ma­tion. Yuriev, now 89, spoke at the Kyiv Bi­en­nale last November. His lec­ture was a huge success and in­spired a group of ac­tivists to start a move­ment called Save Kyiv Mod­ernism to preserve and pro­tect Soviet mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture in Kyiv.

Ini­tially, the de­vel­oper of the Ocean Mall, which is be­ing built be­hind the Ukrainian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence and In­for­ma­tion, and right next to the re­cently built Ocean Plaza Mall, pledged to ren­o­vate the Soviet build­ing and its “Fly­ing Saucer.”

How­ever, the pro­ject was changed and, ac­cord­ing to the pho­tos, the saucer will now be in­cor­po­rated in the new build­ing as part of its en­trance. More­over, the con­struc­tion of the mall will de­stroy the unique con­cert hall lo­cated in­side the saucer, ur­ban ac­tivists say.

Un­der cur­rent leg­is­la­tion, build­ings con­structed be­tween 1955 and 1991 aren’t con­sid­ered a part of the city’s historical or cul­tural her­itage, and there­fore aren’t pro­tected from de­mo­li­tion and re­con­struc­tion — un­like his­toric build­ings from the 18th or 19th cen­tury.

In ad­di­tion, anti-soviet sen­ti­ment in Ukraine has risen since the 2014 Euro­maidan Revo­lu­tion, which saw for­mer Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych ousted from power, Rus­sia's seizure of Crimea and the start of the Krem­lin's war on Ukraine in the Don­bas. In 2015, the Ukrainian govern­ment launched a de­com­mu­niza­tion cam­paign in a bid to get rid of the sym­bols of com­mu­nist rule, which re­sulted in a na­tion­wide cam­paign to top­ple Lenin stat­ues and re­name Soviet-rus­sian city, town and street names.

But ar­chi­tect and ur­ban­ist Olek­siy Bykov be­lieves Soviet mod­ernism is just as valu­able as any ar­chi­tec­tural style from other historical pe­ri­ods.

“We need to preserve all his­tory,” he says.

What is Soviet mod­ernism? Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ended the era of Soviet mon­u­men­tal clas­si­cism with an or­der on Nov. 4, 1955 in­tro­duc­ing a “Fight With Ex­cesses in Con­struc­tion” con­cept. New Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture was re­quired to be prac­ti­cal and plain in form. All the same, ar­chi­tects still man­aged to ex­er­cise some cre­ativ­ity even within strict rules of Soviet ar­chi­tec­tural or­tho­doxy.

Some of the re­sult­ing mod­ernist build­ings have be­come land­marks in Kyiv, such as Kyiv Cre­ma­to­rium or the Sa­lyut ho­tel, while others re­main rel­a­tively un­known even to lo­cals. The Save Kyiv Mod­ernism group re­cently re­leased its first map fea­tur­ing 70 mod­ernist build­ings that are in var­i­ous states of dis­re­pair.

Bykov fears that, in the ab­sence of any le­gal pro­tec­tion and state con­ser­va­tion policy for Soviet mod­ernist build­ings, they will be­come an easy tar­get for prop­erty de­vel­op­ers. In his opin­ion, ur­ban­ists, ar­chi­tects and de­vel­op­ers have to work to­gether to find a so­lu­tion.

“Re­vi­tal­iza­tion is a global trend that re­thinks how old build­ings can be con­verted into some­thing new func­tion­ally, while pre­serv­ing their form and cul­tural value,” Bykov ex­plains. “A good ex­am­ple in Kyiv is Plat­forma, a for­mer Soviet plant that has been turned into an art and public space.”

Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture could also be a tourist at­trac­tion, he added.

Once con­sid­ered “ugly and bleak ar­chi­tec­ture,” mod­ernism and bru­tal­ism have gained pop­u­lar­ity, at­tract­ing scores of for­eign tourists, artists, pho­tog­ra­phers, and re­searchers to for­mer Soviet cities since the fall of the Iron Cur­tain.

The ob­ses­sion with aban­doned and de­cay­ing post-com­mu­nist in­fras­truc­ture has even got its own term — “ruin porn.”

How­ever, this has often been crit­i­cized for fetishiz­ing the re­pres­sive Soviet regime, and gloss­ing over the ef­fects of eco­nomic de­cline fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

Kyiv au­thor­i­ties are fac­ing a swelling chal­lenge: not enough kinder­gartens.

Part of the prob­lem is just pop­u­la­tion growth. While Ukraine’s over­all pop­u­la­tion has shrunk to 42 mil­lion over the past four years, Kyiv’s met­ro­pol­i­tan area keeps grow­ing — to about 3 mil­lion peo­ple — as peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas seek bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties in the cap­i­tal.

But part of the prob­lem is profit-hun­gry de­vel­op­ers. A long­stand­ing city reg­u­la­tion re­quires all con­struc­tion firms build­ing res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments to al­lo­cate 1.2 hectares for an on-site kinder­garten.

Au­thor­i­ties and res­i­dents, how­ever, say that this law is ig­nored in the in­ter­ests of com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

This year, Kyiv City Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates that al­most 3,800 chil­dren are on wait­ing lists to get into kinder­gartens, with some par­ents fill­ing out kinder­garten ap­pli­ca­tions im­me­di­ately af­ter their chil­dren are born.

Kyiv au­thor­i­ties are mulling a stricter rule that re­quires de­vel­op­ers to place a kinder­garten on the first floor of ev­ery res­i­den­tial build­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Re­gional De­vel­op­ment and Con­struc­tion.

Re­li­able com­pa­nies?

It’s dif­fi­cult for Kyiv res­i­dents to know where to buy. De­vel­op­ers will often fool po­ten­tial buy­ers by in­clud­ing so­cial in­fras­truc­ture, such as med­i­cal cen­ters and fit­ness cen­ters in plans, as well as spa­cious park­ing, schools and kinder­gartens.

But, once con­struc­tion is fin­ished, res­i­dents move in

to find that the promised ben­e­fits don’t ma­te­ri­al­ize. The trees aren’t planted and the near­est kinder­gartens are out of the district.

One such in­stance pro­voked an out­cry late last year, when lo­cal me­dia re­ported about a scan­dal in­volv­ing a res­i­den­tial com­plex along Solomii Krushel­nyt­skoi Street in Kyiv’s Osoko­rky district.

Stroy­ob­zor re­ported in November 2017 that own­ers who had in­vested in apart­ments un­der con­struc­tion protested when a promised public school with swim­ming pool and sta­dium did not ma­te­ri­al­ize. In­stead of putting in a school, the de­vel­oper, Zhit­loin­vest­bud-ukb, planned to build two more res­i­den­tial build­ings. The press ser­vice of Zhit­loin­vest­bud-ukb re­fused to com­ment.

The lack of kinder­gartens is an even more se­ri­ous prob­lem. Cur­rently, the most over­loaded dis­tricts in Kyiv are Darnyt­sky and Svy­atoshin­sky, forc­ing par­ents into years-long wait­ing lists or suf­fer­ing the in­con­ve­nience of hav­ing to take their child to another district. Per­verse In­cen­tives The in­cen­tives to ig­nore city leg­is­la­tion are high, since money can be made by sell­ing apart­ments on the 1.2 hectares al­lo­cated for kinder­gartens in each build­ing.

But even de­vel­op­ers who do build public kinder­gartens run into prob­lems. Au­thor­i­ties are often not in a hurry to rec­og­nize the kinder­gartens, as it’s ex­pen­sive to fill the space with equip­ment, hire teach­ers and pay for com­mu­nal pay­ments.

“Af­ter the kinder­garten has been built, the city simply re­fuses to con­sider it in the bal­ance. Per­haps, be­cause there is noth­ing to earn money from,” said Glieb She­movniev, press sec­re­tary of con­struct­ing cor­po­ra­tion Ukr­bud.

The on­line news por­tal Min­fin keeps a list of re­li­able con­struc­tion com­pa­nies in Kyiv, based on the num­ber of res­i­den­tial units they’ve planned and com­pleted. Among them are Ukr­bud, Zhit­lobud, Ar­cada, In­ter­gal-bud and Com­fort Life. How­ever, Olena Ter­estchenko, a co­or­di­nat­ing board mem­ber of the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Kyivske Viche, says that many of these con­struc­tion com­pa­nies have close ties with Ukraine’s law­mak­ers.

“Con­struc­tion com­pa­nies lobby for their in­ter­ests at the Verkhovna Rada,” Teresy­chenko said.

“For ex­am­ple, the for­mer head of Ukr­bud (Mak­sim Mik­i­tas) is cur­rently a mem­ber of the Verkhovna Rada, while In­ter­gal-bud be­longs to the for­mer deputy of the Party of Re­gions Vladimir Zu­bik.”

Whether these con­nec­tions as­sist them or not, the bot­tom line is that many de­vel­op­ers, hav­ing re­ceived land in Kyiv, don’t want to build schools or kinder­gartens, be­cause they aren't prof­itable. Some, like Com­fort Town, turn their kinder­gartens into pri­vate kinder­gartens, ex­tract­ing high fees from needy par­ents. Mak­ing Kyiv com­fort­able But there is a trend that is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity — res­i­den­tial com­plexes are be­ing built as small towns in­side a metropo­lis. Such com­plexes in­clude all the nec­es­sary in­fras­truc­ture to meet the so­cial needs of res­i­dents: health clin­ics, kinder­gartens, schools, park­ing space and shops. But such de­vel­op­ments also tend to be more ex­pen­sive than the av­er­age apart­ment in Kyiv. Schools and kinder­gartens will typ­i­cally be pri­vate with much higher prices. For ex­am­ple, the tu­ition fee for send­ing a child to first grade at a school at Com­fort Town, a res­i­den­tial com­plex with a to­tal area of 40.7 hectares, is Hr 12,500 per month. Mean­while, the av­er­age monthly salary in Kyiv is Hr 13,300. Such high prices are jus­ti­fied con­sid­er­ing that build­ing a pri­vate school can cost $10 mil­lion, Ihor Nikonov, founder of KAN De­vel­op­ment and main share­holder of Com­fort Town, said. “I do not be­lieve that the state can do such projects. In any case, the school will not bring us profit,” Nikonov said. Such ameni­ties are good ways to keep con­struc­tion firms ac­count­able since there is a stronger sense of com­mu­nity among the neigh­bors in such com­plexes, he says. “Res­i­den­tial com­plexes cre­ate a mood for peo­ple, cre­ate feed­back and if the de­vel­oper de­ceived ev­ery­body and did not plant even a sin­gle tree, this cre­ates neg­a­tive en­ergy around,” Nikonov added. Maxim Bakhma­tov, managing part­ner of UNIT City, a Kyiv in­no­va­tion park that rents of­fices to tech com­pa­nies, agrees. UNIT City will in­clude two schools and two kinder­gartens; one set is public, the other is pri­vate. “Res­i­dents are ex­pected to be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ukraine’s cre­ative econ­omy and we will con­tinue to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment for them,” Bakhma­tov said.

The Soviet-era "Fly­ing Saucer" build­ing in Kyiv is be­ing taken over by a mall be­ing built nearby. Photo taken on May 9 in Kyiv. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Res­i­dents of Com­fort Town res­i­den­tial com­plex walk near its ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter on May 22. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Kyiv de­vel­op­ers some­times fool po­ten­tial buy­ers by in­clud­ing so­cial in­fras­truc­ture – med­i­cal cen­ters, fit­ness cen­ters, spa­cious park­ing, schools and kinder­gartens in their plans – but then fail to de­liver af­ter buy­ers com­plete their pur­chases.

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