Automation Serves Man: Soviet Modernisms of the 1960s


After the apparently aberrant 25 years of ‚Stalinist architecture‘, a strange monumental neo-baroque, architecture in the USSR appeared to join the European mainstream in the late 1950s, consolidating this in the 1960s with a massive programme of modernist housing, infrastructure, office blocks and cultural buildings, rolled out across the Soviet Union’s immense territory. My talk will focus on the aspect of that which was most unlike the western ’norm’—the use of architecture in the aim, asserted by Khrushchev at the start of the decade, to reach ‚Full Communism‘ by 1980. The means for this was the ’scientific-technical revolution‘, which translated into architecture meant the increased use of prefabrication, automation, and other attempts to eliminate labour, as preparation for its disappearance under Communism. So the paper will focus on two major examples of this—the New Cheryomuskhi district in Moscow, both its prefabricated ‚microdistricts‘, with all social facilities in a small space; the Moscow House of the New Way of Life, a sudden return to the ‚House-Commune‘ of the 1920s; and the Leningrad Metro, whose design incorporated several automatic features. Was this attempt to achieve real Communism feasible, and why did it end by the close of the decade?

Owen Hatherley was born in Southampton, England in 1981, and lives in London. He works as a freelance writer for a variety of publications, but particularly for Architects Journal, Architectural Review, Icon, The Guardian, London Review of Books and New Humanist; he also frequently works as a guest lecturer in Britain and elsewhere. He received a PhD in 2011 from Birkbeck College, London for a thesis on ‚The Political Aesthetics of Americanism in Weimar Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919-34‘, which is being prepared for publication as The Chaplin Machine (Pluto Press, 2016). He is the author of several books: Militant Modernism (Zero, 2009), A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010), Uncommon – an essay on Pulp (Zero, 2011), A New Kind of Bleak – Journeys through Urban Britain (Verso 2012), Across the Plaza (Strelka, 2012), Landscapes of Communism (Allen Lane, 2015) and The Ministry of Nostalgia (Verso, 2016). He also edited, introduced and updated Ian Nairn’s 1965 book Britain’s Changing Towns as Nairn’s Towns (Notting Hill Editions, 2013).