DURING ITS FOUR-plus decades of existence, the GDR was a unique geopolitical paradox. Its place at the heart of the Cold War conflict belied the simple, day-to-day lives of the vast majority of its citizens. This paradox manifests itself visibly in the architecture of the former GDR, where often-cosmic abstract and geometric tendencies exist alongside the drab and mundane.
TOWERING CONCRETE SCULPTURES inlaid with bright tiles, Brutalist housing blocks adorned with intricate patterns: the structures of post-Soviet Central Asia are a study in east-west contrasts, and include some of the stranger relics of the Cold War era.
BRUTALIST ARCHITECTURE IS experiencing something of a renaissance – or at the very least, a zombified second coming. With the opening of formerly sequestered countries in the Eastern Bloc and the ease of taking and sharing digital photos, hulking tower flats and concrete curiosities have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. In the words of the authors, “The Iron Curtain was understood in the West as The Concrete Curtain. Everything behind it was perceived as mass produced and grey.”
THE VILLAGE OF Rummu, in northern Estonia, is home to a geographical oddity: a lake with several offshore buildings that are partially or completely submerged, skirted by pale white hills that taper down to a gentle, beach-like incline. The lake is in fact a former limestone and marble quarry, now shut down and flooded. The site teems with plant and animal life, particularly in the summer, making it a striking blend of the idyllic and creepy – particularly given that one of the sunken buildings is a former prison that once housed the quarry’s involuntary labor source.
SPOMENIK MONUMENT DATABASE, out this week from FUEL Publishing, chronicles the massive, brutalist war memorials spread across the former Yugoslavia. While “spomenik” simply means “memorial” in Serbo-Croatian, the word has come to be associated with the particular form these monuments took from the 1960s to the 1980s: wildly asymmetrical abstract constructions of concrete, stone and metal, often placed incongruously in remote, pastoral settings.
THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENTS in both the Baltics and Yugoslavia went on a spree of monument-building in the decades after WWII, which, when the ruling paradigms collapsed in the early 1990s, became fraught symbols of a tangled past in the power vacuum of the present. While some of the monuments in these regions were destroyed and others were moved or built around, most have been simply left to age themselves into obsolescence. When the material is concrete, however, the aging-out game can be a long one.
THERE IS A vast openness – visually, thematically, atmospherically – to any given Tarkovsky film that feels easy to attribute to the monumental scale of Russia, both in its history and its sheer physical size. But this too-easy association belittles an artist who brought immense visions to life as much in spite of his homeland as because of it.
DURING THE FINAL decades of the Soviet Union, architects found themselves freer to create unconventional structures than at any point in the country’s history. This was particularly true in the republics outside Russia, where, while cursory tributes still had to be paid to overarching socialist ideals, the structures themselves took on a dizzying array of forms.