Closing fast 09: Which prefab will win?
Dec 9, 2015
Figure © Staatliches Schtschussew Museum für Architektur, Moskau

Now that the evenings are long and dark the time has come to play games. So why not play Happy Families again? Best of all with a set of cards on the Soviet Union’s standardized housing construction. In particular since “the prefab” (in other words, the construction of larger housing units with prefabricated parts in a variety of forms) seems to be experiencing a massive renaissance given the lack of adequate housing for low-income families and the many refugees coming to Europe.

And no, you won’t find any signature buildings in the game. But when you read the “leaflet” (consult your architect or publisher about risks and side effects) it transpires that Soviet mass housing construction was ubiquitous and on such a huge scale that it represents a unique phenomenon. The residential towns it gave birth to shaped the everyday life of Soviet citizens. No town escaped the intensive use of standardization. In the 1960s prefabs formed the basis for over 90 percent of all residential buildings in the former USSR.
That said, it should not be overlooked that the system was devised for modification, which led to numerous variations in combination with differing regional construction cultures.

The serial design method, which is the main principle of standardization, was introduced as early as the mid-1940s. Shortly afterwards, the standard designs were integrated into a comprehensive designation system. 1957 is seen as key to developments: It was the year Nikita Khrushchev recognized the need to quickly provide every family with inexpensive housing, which led to a completely new system of serial mass housing construction and the creation of so-called “microrayons” – independent estates of prefabricated housing outside the town center.

Start playing and you notice immediately: With four to nine storeys the first generation of these buildings was relatively compact. That changed in the 1960s, when there could be as many as 16 storeys, and the number of units per block increased to 200 and more. The generation realized in the 1970s and 1980s got taller still and appears more monotonous in many regards. So before starting to play you should first agree whether a building with as many units as possible wins, or one with less. Mind you, my favorite card is a joker. It depicts not a prefab but a cosmonaut in front of a disc with the signs of the zodiac, decoration that once adorned a building in Tashkent:

Those wishing to delve deeper into the subject matter should look at “Belyayevo Forever”, a book about the typical everyday architecture of a microrayon. Belyayevo is the home of many renowned artists, in particular those advocates of Moscow Conceptualism. Initiated by Rem Koolhaas at the Streika Institute, the book forges a link to the action and performance art of concept artist Dmitri Prigov, and its author, Polish architect and academic Kuba Snopek, argues the district whose façades and squares were redesigned by artists should be included on the UNESCO world heritage list. Alternatively, you could simply consult Philipp Meuser’s extensive study “Die Ästhetik der Platte” (The Aesthetics of the Prefab). (tw)

Soviet Mass Housing 1958-1980
37 cards, 36 with images plus one card with instructions on the back
1 leaflet with information on Soviet serial mass housing
Card format 65 x 100 mm in case of glass-clear polystyrene
Cards made of cardstock, lacquered on both sides
DOM publishers, Berlin 2015
ISBN 978-3-86922-343-8 (German)
ISBN 978-3-86922-443-5 (English)
Each EUR 9.95

Kuba Snopek
Belyayevo Forever
A Soviet Microrayon on its Way to the UNESCO List
Volume 39 of Basic Series
192 pages, 130 ill., soft cover, English/Russian
DOM publishers, Berlin 2015
ISBN 978-3-86922-438-1
EUR 28

Philipp Meuser
Die Ästhetik der Platte (The Aesthetics of the Prefab)
Wohnungsbau in der Sowjetunion zwischen Stalin und Glasnost
728 pages, over 1,400 ill., hardback with dust jacket
DOM publishers, Berlin 2015
ISBN 978-3-86922-399-5 (German)
EUR 98

Figure © DOM Publishers, compilation Stylepark
Figure © DOM Publishers, compilation Stylepark
Figure © DOM Publishers, compilation Stylepark
Figure © DOM Publishers, compilation Stylepark
Figure © DOM Publishers, compilation Stylepark