Why is Socialist Housing so Ugly

Or is it?

Marjan Krebelj

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When people drive through the outskirts of any major Slavic city that once belonged to the Soviet giant, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, or any similar countries, they often frown upon the endless panoramas of socialist housing blocks that intimidate western eyes and freeze the blood in their veins, perhaps reminding them of the gulag pains or the chilly winds of North Korea. Living there must fell like imprisonment, they might think to themselves. These buildings look drab, lifeless, and mechanical. And to some extent, this might be true. But let me spend some time trying to defend these magnificent structures and explain their true identity.

Photo by author.

Most of these housing projects were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Knowing a bit of world history, this alone should tell you all you need to know; the rest is simply a logical deduction. So let’s walk together through it.

Unlike the United States, Europe was in ruins after the second world war. Many people’s homes were completely ruined, and there was a huge demand for affordable housing. This is not only true for the “communist” countries but also for the western part like Germany (which was particularly struck), France, Austria, Great Britain, and all others. So to say that this particular architecture is limited to socialist states would be thoroughly wrong — it is a universal post-war phenomena that extends throughout Europe and beyond.

While western countries were largely industrialized and urbanized before the war, most Slavic countries were still very much rural. Peasant (self-sustainable!) village folks consisted of the majority of the population, and both the Soviet confederation and its satellites like Yugoslavia (where I was born much later) embarked on 5-year plans to catch up. This was the time of enthusiasm and rebuild. People took shovels, and within a short decade, not only repaired the damage of the war but also built new factories, streets, and cities, which meant that many of them left farm life and ventured into the urban areas to get a job in the rapidly growing industries.

Combine that with an explosion of postponed marriages and the birth of baby-boomers, and you’ll quickly see that the demand for housing was without precedent.

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Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.