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Soviet Status Symbols: The Unique Balconies of the USSR

Credit: Balcony Chic, Oleksandr Burlaka

In Ukraine, there are balconies shaped like ship hulls and castles. DIY renovations extend over the streets below, each decorated in a unique style representative of their owner’s identity and requirements. The architecture of personal expression found in Soviet balconies tells a compelling story of defiance against uniformity.

Credit: Balcony Chic, Oleksandr Burlaka

From Saint Petersburg to Moscow

In the iconic Soviet film, Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, a drunken Moscow man flies to Saint Petersburg by mistake, where he takes a taxi to his home. The street, building and apartment in Saint Petersburg are identical to his street, building and apartment in Moscow. This was not entirely improbable, given that almost all buildings constructed after WWII were identical - across all the Soviet republics. 

After the Second World War, there was an urgent need for housing across the USSR. All citizens were entitled to housing in the Soviet socialist state. To save on design and construction costs, thousands of centrally-planned identical concrete apartment buildings were built in quick succession all across the Soviet Union. With a focus on practical living over private comfort, many apartments lacked a kitchen, while bathrooms were often shared by multiple families. The buildings were referred to as Khrushchyovka, after the new premier Nikita Khrushchev, and they came to characterise the drab Soviet style which was famous in the West. 

Credit: Balcony Chic, Oleksandr Burlaka

The USSR is dead, long live the Balcony

After the fall of the USSR, many Soviet citizens became owners of their own apartments, their first foray into private ownership. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, renovating a balcony required official permission - something that was hard to come by. This didn’t stop citizens from making their DIY renovations to make their balcony’s suit their requirements. Many enclosed them, effectively turning them into another room to compensate for the shortage of space in prefab-Soviet housing. Most were renovated without any thought for their stability. Questions of their safety come up time and time again. 

The architecture of personal expression found in these balconies reveals a compelling image of the transition from socialism to individualism in the post-Soviet era. You can read more about balconies in the book in Balcony Chic or the recent documentary Enter Through The Balcony.

Built spaces tell us the stories of the civilisations that shaped them. They’re products of their time; windows on the politics of the past. Architecture isn’t just art, it’s anthropology. Architecture Across the Ages takes travellers to some of the most important – and most often overlooked – architectural sites across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Visit Uzbekistan’s towering turquoise mosques, see how Georgia shook off Soviet rule with cosmic-inspired superstructures, and witness the rebirth of Turkmenistan with its audacious white marble city. Learn more

Dutch Housing Architecture | Hungary | 1973£250.00
Our Buildings | Ukraine | 1981£150.00
The Audience | Poland | 1973£200.00
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Further Reading

culture

Samantha Smith: The 10 Year Old Girl Who Became an Icon for Peace

The pressure was building. As the world stood on the sidelines at the height of the Cold War, both superpowers battled for ideological supremacy, each backed by their growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. Tensions kept rising.

art

In Conversation with a Soviet Poster Artist: Vladimir Tverdokhlebov

Art runs in my family. My father Sergey Grigoryevish Tverdokhlebov was an artist and spent most of his life working as an art teacher. My uncle Ivan Grigoryevich Tverdokhlebov was a prominent artist in Russia and Chechnya.

culture

Murder, Money and Michael J Fox: Ice Hockey in the Wild, Wild East

Ice Hockey was everything in the Soviet Union. The USSR national team dominated ice hockey on the international stage, winning nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament from the early 50s up until the fall of the Soviet Union. After the USSR collapsed, the money dried up.

company

Celebrating 60 Years of Humans in Space with a New Tour

60 years ago today, humans left Earth for the first time. On 12th April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, achieved Godlike status when he orbited the earth for 1 hour and 48 minutes onboard the Vostok 1. From outer space, borders vanish; and the conflicts that divide nations fade away. Space is our future.

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