Download Across The Plaza: The Public Voids Of The Post-Soviet City by Owen Hatherley PDF

By Owen Hatherley

The huge, proverbially windswept plazas outfitted below “really present socialism” from the Nineteen Twenties to the Eighties are greatly thought of to be lifeless areas, designed to intimidate or a minimum of provoke. but in the event that they are just of use to these in energy, why is it they've been used so effectively in protest? From Petrograd in 1917 to Independence sq. in Kiev through the Orange Revolution, those areas became focuses for mass protest. starting in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, and taking in Warsaw, Ljubljana, Kharkov and Moscow, Owen Hatherley heads looking for riot, architectural glory and horror. alongside the best way he encounters the extra civic squares that changed their authoritarian predecessors and reveals that, mockingly, the previous centres of energy are extra conducive to dissent than those new, ostensibly democratic plazas.

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It is partly a quite simple concrete tower, albeit with a hint of bling presaging what would happen in the 1990s and beyond — golden windows, golden curlicues. These patterns are not resolved into some Byzantine or neoclassical motif, but are an abstract tangle, wrought screens without referent. But the star here is very much Gagarin himself. His memorial — the column and the statue that it propels — is not an ‘artwork’, but an industrial product, constructed specially out of titanium from a Moscow factory.

It initially appears to be an elegant small-town remnant, a little market square demarcated by three apartment/retail buildings, all of them on a diminutive scale, as if designed for the physically smaller people of the eighteenth century. Stary Rynek is very precisely the kind of space that is now advocated by the New Urbanists. This school, led by planners and thinkers such as Andres Duany and James Howard Kunstler, and supported by the likes the Prince of Wales and the Disney Corporation, recognises certain unavoidable truths about the contemporary city: its car-centred sprawl is ecologically destructive; its suburban non-planning discourages community and cohesiveness; its aesthetics are incoherent and obnoxious.

An empty, irregularly paved space denuded of wreath-laying and parades leads at the furthest end to a monument dedicated to the valiant Cheka. A stark stone plinth alternates between a dark and a light red, and atop that are two gigantic, interlocking severed heads — one for each wing of the state, its sword and its shield. These heads are on a cyclopean scale, but that isn’t what makes them frightening. Again, this isn’t socialist realism in the strictest sense: it has none of the veracity, the Renaissance-inspired anatomical precision, that aesthetic demanded.

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