Microhouses in the Microrayons
A plucky young architect and composer of my acquaintance recently declared his intention to nick details from Eastern Bloc Functionalism. There is an almost-cliched comparison made (most prominently in The Filth and the Fury) between Britain in the 1970s and Eastern Europe. Without being drawn into this dubious comparison, I did find once on the outskirts of Budapest that the first thing that sprang to mind was Thornhill in Southampton. Slab after slab after slab surrounds the outskirts of East and Central European cities, almost begging to be used as film sets. Bee Flowers, whose What's Wrong with This Approach, Comrades? profiled these Microrayons (as they are known in the former USSR) in the Manmade Molecular Megastructures issue of AD, has a site dedicated to them, with some of his astoundingly gothic, imposing photographs. Eastern Bloc Functionalism in all its imposing glory, akin to a Ville Radieuse where the sun never shines.
It's not an aesthetic I would be inclined to make a case for, unlike its interwar forbears - there does seem something indubitably cruel and frightening about them, and the process thousands of people live in enormous Mondrians spaced out among pointless countryside. This is surely the dream after it has long since curdled and gone sour. Yet I can't deny a frisson here, some hint of the sublime about the whole operation. One almost wants to argue for them, suggest that just given an allotment or two and an injection of cash they could be fine - yet surely, here if anywhere are the limits for the apologist for system building and untamed modernism (heheheh, he says). Yet this is where 80% of Russians actually live, and to dismiss them off the cuff is as callous, surely, as the original aesthetic impulse. And isn't there something decidedly dubious about getting one's jollies from contemplating the sublime inhumanity of others' homes? So what is valuable in these pictures is that they make the Microrayons look, in their sombre, obsessive way, rather beautiful.