I love communists. Not communism in theory, or its effects in practice. But the systematic application of communist theory (and communist theory perverted in the pursuit of power) in building new states and peoples is fascinating. This application comprised absurdity and indifference and injustice and coexisted with the humor and pain and petty realities of citizens’ daily lives.

While living in the former GDR, I became fascinated with life under Soviet communism – both the quotidian experience for people, and how the state developed its ideology through the design of everything from egg cups to housing.

One of my favorite things to do in eastern Europe is walk around looking at architecture and wondering about life in each building. Communist buildings had a purpose greater than decoration or communicating the principles of modernity. Yet real people, not perfect communist citizens, lived and worked and learned in those meaningful concrete blocks. Block house apartment buildings were shoddily made, but had long waiting lists. As I learned at the German Historical Museum, only certain apartment models built as late as the 70s had showers or tubs or even their own toilets. What was it like to live there then? What about now?

What I think has been lost in romanticized outsider hype about transitions to freedom is that applied Soviet communism’s effects didn’t stop when the wall fell. The buildings in this excellent collection of photographs are pretty incredible physical manifestations of ideology, of state power, of individuals subsumed to a greater purpose whether they liked it or not. And they communicate what has happened every day since, the complications of freedom, the market economy, democratic governance and civil society, as well as individual efforts to survive the change, and to live.

Monolithic concrete houses,
Sankt Petersburg, Russia,
built in 1993,
Architect: V. Sokhin, V. Sokolov, P. Kurochkin
© Roman Bezjak

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