Are soviet microregions cultural heritage?

статия 7This article is part of our weekly series “Plattenbau stories”, introducing the topic of plattenbau districts in Europe and the world. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2016 will be held in Trakiya, a plattenbau districts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, from September 30th until October 9th. The main focus of the festival is the topic of“citizen participation in the creation of the urban environment“.

An article in ArchDaily, for the full version click here.

What are the characteristics of an architectural design that make it worthy of the name “cultural heritage” and who are the people that decide?

This question remains unanswered as there are multiple opinions on the topic what should be preserved and what not. For example there are people like architect Kuba Snopek who think that even seemingly generic places like the microregion Belyaevo in Moscow are unique and deserve a place in the UNESCO  List. He researched this microregion and it’s predecessor – Cheryomushki, constructed during the 1950’s, and published the results in a book.

One of the main lego parts of soviet cities was the microregion. This is evident in Moscow, with its radial-concentric plan, that reminds us if many other european capitals. But the tissue of Moscow itself is different. We can see dozens of neighborhoods with residential blocks symmetrically aligned around schools, kindergartens and public spaces. Microregions are so similar that the only differences between them are the building heights and the length of the spaces between them. The distance between these structures and Kremlin give us a hint about when they were built – was it in the Khrushchev, Brezhnev or early Luzhkov period.

The first ever microregion – the Ninth Quarter of Cheryomushki – still exists today. It was built between 1956 and 1958  over less than 12 hectares and filled with five-story four-section and nine-story “tower” residential blocks. Some buildings are built using different technologies, some with brick, some with panel-blocks. The whole microregion was one giant experiment – buildings with different constructions, architectural plans and functions in order to find the optimal combination of elements. The Ninth Quarter later became the prototype of all microregions.

Today the microregion has merged with Moscow’s central zone and with the city’s cultural life. It starred in many soviet films and was a main character in Herbert Rappaport’s cult musical and Shostakovich’s operetta. This creates an illusion that Cheryomushki has been part of the russian capital for far longer that it has really been.

Namely these characteristics of the Ninth Quarter inspired a campaign to protect Cheryomushki. In 2008 a group of historians filed an application so that the microregion can become part of Moscow’s heritage list. The reasoning behind it – the Ninth Quarter was the very first experimental settlement and was a model to all the others.The request was denied ironically based on its similarity to other such structures even if it was the original.

If they succeed this will probably be the first and last case of a microregion labeled as cultural heritage, but for now the debate on the topic of architectural value and uniqueness continues.