Concrete Beauties: Post-War Soviet Architecture in Central Asia

When thinking of Soviet architecture, one image comes to mind: rows of monolith, concrete-slab housing blocks arranged across a rigid pattern of intersecting boulevards. This type of city planning was a consequence of massive urbanization in the postwar years, as well as the brutal requirements of the officially sanctioned Socialist Realist form of architecture, which often left little room for creativity to architects.

It’s the typical image of some of the sad consequences of mass planned society. As Central Asia is now entering a second phase of mass urbanization, it will be interesting to see how cities will plan for all those new inhabitants. The first results do not look encouraging though.

Anyway, after Stalin died, new avenues opened up. Working conditions were still difficult, but a new style dubbed Soviet Modernism emerged. While some architects in Central Asia went for a distinct Orientalist style, others rejected any reference to previous building styles altogether.

Interesting evolutions happened far away from the eyes of the West and some spectacular buildings started appearing in the capitals of the Soviet East.

Sadly, many of the masterpieces of the period have been converted or demolished in the past 2 decades. This is an overview of what is left.

For architecture buffs looking for an in-depth look at architecture in Central Asia from the 50′s to the 80′s, see Soviet Modernism, the ultimate reference book.

Republican Palace, Almaty

republican palace

In the center of Almaty, this seventies structure from influential Almaty architect Ripinsky looks different now a huge video wall is mounted on the front.

Picture via Real life is elsewhere.

Hotel Kazakhstan, Almaty

kazahstan_hotel

Dominating Dostyk avenue, the elegant and understated Hotel Kazakhstan is noted for its special stability structures that can withstand severe seismic shocks.

Palace of Weddings, Almaty

wedding palace almaty

A typical example of the Soviet penchant for collectivizing family life: wedding palaces, mourning centers, etc. all were built en masse after the war.

Hotel Alma-ata, Almaty

Alma-Ata-Hotel

You cannot ignore this boomerang-shaped hotel when walking in the centre of Almaty. The renovation in shocking blue gives it a kitschy resort style.

Arasan Baths, Almaty

arasan-baths

More beautiful from the inside than the outside, the Arasan baths are nonetheless an interesting combination of traditional Kazakh elements and the concrete moloch style of the 80′s.

Picture via Almaty Guide.

Palace of School Children, Almaty

Almatinskiy_Dvorets_Shkolnikov

This one is a mix between an observatory and a mosque at first sight. But no, it’s a cultural centre for children.

Picture via Structurae.

Other concrete beauties in Almaty: the KAZGU campus, the Kasteev Museum and the old Parliament Building.

Lenin Museum, Bishkek

lenin museum

Imposing in the best Soviet tradition, it is now the History Museum.

Picture via Real life is elsewhere.

Museum of Fine Arts, Bishkek

bishkek-fine-arts-museum

Picture via Saramistbixian.

Karl Marx Library, Ashgabat

karl marx library

Considered one of the true masterpieces of the Soviet Modernist style, the library would stay cool in Turkmenistan’s scorching summers without air conditioning. Turkmenbashi wanted to detonate it since it clashed with his plans for the city, but found out that the construction was so solid that it would be impossible without destroying the entire neighbourhood. So he had it clad in white marble like the rest of Ashgabat It is now beyond recognition.

The sculpture of Vadim Kosmatschof in front was a daring piece of abstract art that could only exist because of the huge distance between Ashgabat and Moscow.

Picture via Real life is elsewhere.

Hotel Uzbekistan, Tashkent

uzbekistan-hotel

tashkent-hotel-uzbekistan

Pictures via Mayhlen and Comtourist.

Exhibition Hall of Uzbek Union of Artists, Tashkent

exhibition-hall-tashkent

Picture via Aeliita123

Palace of Arts, Tashkent

palace-arts-tashkent

Lenin Museum, Tashkent

history-museum-tashkent

Like in Bishkek, this is now the History Museum. The decoration is the traditional pandzara, a decorative railing that has been magnified and reproduced in concrete on many of the Modernist buildings in Central Asia.

Picture via Open Buildings.

Cafe Blue Domes, Tashkent

cafe-blue-domes-tashkent

Picture via Aeliita123.

Lenin Square, Tashkent

lenin-square-tashkent

Comtourist

Picture via Aeliita123 and Comtourist.


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