Designs in Russian architecture

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Behold the панельный дом (panel building)!

You’ve probably seen this kind of prefabricated construction a hundred times. These massive buildings are cheap and quick to build… so they’re everywhere. Everywhere! I can’t say they’re the most awesome living spaces ever, mainly because you can hear your neighbors really well

(as my husband says: it’s like living in a cardboard box!)

but hey, one very cool thing about them is the artwork on the sides.

This prefab-panel building style has been around for quite a while. This article claims the concept was thought up by the French and gladly welcomed as a solution to the USSR’s post-WWII housing megacrisis. The entire building, which was no higher than 5 stories and didn’t have an elevator, could apparently be assembled in just twelve to fourteen DAYS. And thus, the era of the хрущёвка came to be! Within a few decades, the панельный дом was everywhere and the newer buildings were becoming taller and taller.

The newest generation of these buildings are – according to another article, at least- quite different from the советские панельки of yore. Maximum building height has gone from 12 floors to 25 floors. Ceilings are higher. The time before the building itself will need major repairs has gone from 70 years to 120 years. (🤨 Yeah, I know.) Newer buildings are much warmer than the old ones. But maybe these buildings aren’t as popular as I imagine them to be; the article also says only 1 in every 10 new buildings in Moscow is a панельный дом.

A quick панельный дом tour of Chelyabinsk:

L: панельный дом
R: панельный дом
R: панельный дом

If you’re curious about these building models, you can find a breakdown of them here: Хрущевские панельные, кирпичные и блочные серии домов.

But let’s go back to the one thing I can’t find an answer for: the paneled artwork on the side of these buildings.

Some of them are true works of art.

Others, well, they’re more like a mishmash of leftover panels.

That’s actually how I started noticing this building style. I don’t have any photos of the weird ones but they were so chaotic and odd that I couldn’t imagine an architect purposefully choosing the (lack of) pattern. Could they really be unintentional odds and ends of panels? And do the panels come with the design or is this actually painted on after assembly? So many questions…

But most designs look like someone out there put some thought into it. Now that the lockdown has ended here, I’m always keeping an eye out for new colors and patterns.

What do you know about the панельный дом? Do you know anything about how they’re designed? Have you ever lived in one?

If you’ve got an eye for old Soviet mosaics, by the way, here is a cool photo article on the incredible панельный дом mosaics of Kaluga, Russia.

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