Kiev “Commieblocks” Get a Pastel Makeover

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When you think of Europe, what immediately comes to mind? Do you imagine Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower and townhouses? London’s famed Victorian clock towers and palaces? Maybe Madrid’s sundrenched villas come to mind? Italy’s Roman colosseum and ancient obelisks? Perhaps even the glistening white Tsarist architecture of St. Petersburg? Among Europe’s famous sprawling metropolises, does the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, appear alongside them. Probably not; nobody would blame you, either. Over the last handful of years the most limelight the country has received is the civil conflict taking place in Crimea and along the Russian border. However, not all is doom and gloom for the relatively poor (and relatively young) former Soviet republic.

Prior to and during the 1950s, the USSR faced a major housing issue, reaching such severe extents as to have families live in individual rooms of houses and forced to share restrooms and kitchens. Aware of this issue, the Soviet head of state, Nikita Khrushchev, initiated a massive housing and construction reform. What resulted were a style of building that became synonymous with Soviet anti-culture: Flat buildings of 3 to 5 stories (due to early reluctance to implement elevators) with enough space to fit a small family in each apartment. They were, in effect, the Soviet counterpart of American project housing complexes commonly associated with the lower class community. The buildings, while sore on the eyes to say the least, were remarkably efficient at quelling the housing crisis there. Eventually, as restrictions relaxed, elevators were implemented and allowed the buildings to reach higher floors.

Eventually, the crisis was all but solved thanks to the reform. However, the style (or lack thereof) remained: Hundreds upon thousands of prefabricated, concrete high rises that imposed themselves upon the skyline of every Soviet city. Their lower-class inhabitants eventually gave them a look of dishevelment as maintenance was rarely conducted. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the buildings remained still. To some, these “commieblocks,” as they began to be called by some, served as stark reminders of a bygone age of eastern European history marked with terror and political turmoil. To others, they were simply boring and soulless; a suggestion that you were probably in the wrong neighborhood if you didn’t live in one of those buildings. Kiev, Ukraine suffered the same fate as the other former Soviet industrial centers. This form of housing only became more common after the collapse of the Soviet Union caused the former Eastern Block’s economies to grind to a halt.

However, a group of architects are helping brighten Kiev’s neighborhoods. Dubbed “Comfort Town”, the new development intends to merge a style that Ukrainians will find familiar and one that is more modernized and ecologically conscious. Just like their Soviet predecessors, they were built for cost efficiency. Their market rates range from $40,000 to $90,000, and their exterior follows generally the same production process. The community is also self-sufficient to an extent, sporting its own school and fitness center.

Built upon the site of a demolished factory, the new apartments will sport courtyards with greenery where their old Soviet counterparts were largely concrete. Another departure from their inspiration is the differentiation between rooms, wherein the old Soviet apartments consisted of one general purpose room where they’d sleep, entertain, and sometimes eat in with a few offshoots. Now, a level of privacy has been added which allows the aspiring interior designer to take some more liberties.

Of course, the color is what really catches the eye. A solid pale green, yellow, pink, or blue paint job adorn every building in the community. Against the rest of the Kiev skyline one can’t help but to admire (or at the very least gawk at) the vibrant hues against the grey scale background. Of course, there’s a fair contingent of people who find the intense colors to be tacky, but the town has received its fair share of love as well.

Either you love it or you hate it … There’s no in between.”

— Zhanna Rzhanova, spokesperson for the Comfort Town developers

Regardless of your opinion on Comfort Town, such a large step away from the status quo of urban development in Eastern Europe begs the question if this is what the region needed, to initiate the process of distancing itself from its uneasy past.