A home for every worker, or at least that was the promise of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when in the late 1950s planners introduced the concrete panel apartment blocks which have themselves become a symbol of communism, and enjoy a certain cult following lovingly referred to as Khrushchevkas. These three to five story mass produced apartment buildings are icons of the functionalism movement in architecture, where buildings are designed based solely on the purpose and function of the building.
Khrushchev’s functional apartment buildings were a departure from the architectural excesses of projects from the Stalin era. In 1951, rising star Khrushchev was already investigating the use of new technology in low-cost quick construction techniques to alleviate a severe housing shortage in Moscow. By 1954, at a meeting of the All-Union Conference of Builders following the death of Stalin, Soviet leadership decided that architecture in the USSR should be “characterized by simplicity, strictness of forms and cost-effectiveness of decisions”. Construction processes were industrialized, designs were standardized, and engineers quickly got to work implementing mass-scale housing projects across the Soviet Union.
The Khrushchevka design is based on rapid assembly of pre-fabricated concrete panels made at concrete plants and trucked to construction sites where they could be assembled quickly into massive housing projects. In Tashkent, the western Chilanzar district was laid out in the late 1950s with panel constructed Khrushchevkas making up the bulk of new housing. After the 1966 earthquake, panel factories were built on the south side of the city to provide a continuous supply of concrete panels to rebuild. Over the years, Khrushchev’s basic design evolved into a whole series of concrete panel based buildings each with their own unique model number. In Tashkent, today the most common 77 серия (series 77) are nine story concrete behemoths, sometimes built in rows stretching 800 meters long.
In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, housing authorities have moved away from the panel construction method. In cities in the Russian Federation, many of the original Khrushchevkas have been demolished and replaced with modern housing. In the former Soviet republics, however, the Khrushchevka lives on, standing side by side with later generations of Soviet housing stock. In Tashkent it is possible to see the full evolution of housing in the USSR from the neoclassical architectural excesses of Stalin era housing (Stalinkas) from the 1930s to mid 1950s, and the abrupt shift to the functionalism movement which lasted until the end of the communist era.
In our corner of Tashkent along Novomoskovska Street, neoclassical buildings with ornate architectural highlights face the main road. These were built during 1940s Stalin-era Tashkent, well before the 1966 earthquake. Our mahalla of traditional Uzbek style homes built during the same time period still survives behind these historic buildings, lucky enough not to be destroyed by the earthquake, or demolished by developers since. Classic Khrushchevkas were built adjacent to our mahalla in the 1960s, and the opposite side of Novomoskovska contains nothing but rows upon rows of these icons of functionalism. Surprisingly, these old communist apartments are today prime realestate, as this area of Tashkent is among the most desirable in the city.
Soviet era apartments still represent the vast majority of available housing stock in Tashkent today. Even with luxury apartment developments going up in all districts of the city, panel housing is the preferred affordable option. Easily renovated to suit any taste, don’t be fooled by outward appearances. A drab depressing looking concrete building on the outside often hides immaculate modern designed and well fitted interiors. Built to last, Khrushchev era planners never imagined a brisk market for apartment resale and luxury renovations in today’s modern post-Soviet Uzbekistan.