What do yurtas and plattenbau have in common

статия 9This 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 The Calvert Journal, for the full version click here.

In Almati, Kazakhstan, the tower blocks sport an unusual look. Their facades are variegated with colourful ornaments, much like those on the felt covering yurts.
This intrigued Dennis Keen and he began a research on the matter.

The yurt of the Central Asian nomads bewilders with its compact form and minimalistic design – a retractable wooden structure covered with felt so that the warmth is kept in and the rain out. It is also easily ventilated and illuminated via an opening in the roof. But how can this be interpreted in modernist architecture, where the goal is to build houses for the masses? Many consider that impossible.

During the Soviet era Almati – the then new capital, took on the look of a Soviet town  with an orthogonal grid plan, a central square and low-rise apartment buildings huddled around courtyards. At first sight there is no trace of the traditional yurt, that can be still found in cities like Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia, but if you pay close attention to the facades you would be able to spot specific ornaments on them.

Viewed from the outside yurts are plain white and minimalistic. The beautiful embroidery used to decorate the inside of the yurts. Today these geometric ornaments are turned inside out and cover the facades, balconies, doors and other places of buildings. Places, where the Soviet hammer and sickle would usually be placed.

The first building with such decоrations date from the 1930’s. They were two-storey buildings built with bricks and wooden brackets and decorated with friezes. The tradition came to a halt because of Krushchev’s politics of minimalist efficiency, which, on a separate note, led to the creation of films like “The irony of fate”.

The locals, who used to make the ornaments out of plaster, found a way to put designs in the moulds for some of the panels. They found a way to bypass the rigid guidelines of Soviet architecture.