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The City of Socialist Man

By Vrej Haroutounian

(Article 3)

“Our cities became socialist from the very moment of the October Revolution, when we expropriated the bourgeoisie and socialized the means of production”

Lazar Kaganovich

Older Yerevan residents have a way of remembering city life in the good old days of the Soviet Union.

Yerevan was a part of the Soviet Union for 70 years. This period experienced different political, economic, social, and cultural forces that shaped its urban landscape. The City of Socialist Man started as an ideal that would be tested over the length of the Soviet Union. The four phases that characterize the rise and fall of the Soviet Union are reflected in the currentcityscape of Yerevan. The Tamanyan Master Plan of the early idealist period, the strictly controlled facadism of the Stalin era, and the Soviet response to the housing shortage are all corresponding to political ideologies and economic realities. A fourth phase of nationalism is reflected in the city’s ability to abide by -the prescribed urban landscape codes of Moscow, while expressing its nationalistic voice.  Understanding the ideals of the City of Socialist Man paves the way to understanding the urban landscape of Yerevan.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 marked the beginning of Soviet communism. The new regime’s plan was to build a new society in which members would enjoy egalitarian values reflected in their living and working environment (Paperny, 2002). The plan intended to avoid the influence of capitalism and the free marketin addressing urban growth issues, which was viewed as leading to chaos, inequality and squalor (French, 1995). The City of Socialist Man was to be centrally-planned and organized, with the state being responsible for the advancement of communist ideals, includingurban design on a national scale (Paperny, 2002). The objective of Soviet city planning, orplanirovka, was based on what the chief architect of Moscow described as “ the process of integration of knowledge and action into a single controlled effort, the object of which is to achieve harmony between man and his environment”(French, 1995, p.3).

The architects and planners who were to build the City of Socialist Man derived their principles and ideals from Marxist doctrine (French, 1995). The Garden City movement is a pre-revolutionary idea that was the most widely influential in subsequent urban planning. Howard’s design principles had reached Russia before the revolution and had been translated into Russian. A Russian branch of the Garden City Society opened in St. Petersburg in 1913 (Scott, 2009). The reformist nature of the book and the marriage of town and country were in line with the Marxist ideology of eliminating the distinction between the classes that lived in towns and those that lived in the country. The GardenCity principle of open, green space for psychological and physical societal health was implementedin Moscow. Ten percent of residential areas were to be left open for parks and all dwellings were to be located within 2,000-feet of an acceptable park (French, 1995). Other concepts and designers influencedtheir Soviet counterparts, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Soriay Mata, the Bauhaus Movement, and Le Corbusier (French, 1995).

The concept of the “superblock” was introduced in this era and would be the main type of urban housing design until the beginning of World War II. The model consisted of four to six-storey buildings that would house up to 2,000 people and provide all the necessities,including schools, cafeterias, and daycare centers (French, 1995). This model would eventually lead to the development of the mikrorayon, the micro-region, which would be significantly modified and implemented by Khrushchev in the 1960s (French, 1995).

The City of Socialist Man was eventually deemed utopian nonsense and brought to an end by Stalin, a political realist who did not believe that architecture and urban planning could have an impact on social engineering (French, 1995). What was to follow, with the advent of Socialist Realism and rejection of utopian ideals, was a simplified vision of city-building, based on heavy industrialization. This period can be described as a dark age in urban planning, with modern design principles and ideals forbidden by the government (Scott, 2009). Stalin and his associate, Lazar Kaganovich, directly attacked the concept of the City of Socialist Man and deemed it as a merely fantastic and utopian idea. As Kaganovich stated “Our cities became socialist from the very moment of the October Revolution, when we expropriated the bourgeoisie and socialized the means of production” (Kaganovich, 1931, p.42).

Stalin’s era ushered in grandiose façadism. During this period, the classical revival style continued to be desirable in government buildings and those created for the Soviet elite. These pre-revolutionary buildings exhibited intricate ornamentation. They were typically made of stone, with wooden floors for private residences and marble floors for public areas. These buildings were usually found in republican capitals, and demonstrated a façade of development and continuity; however, the rear of these grand buildings consisted of one or two story post-revolutionary structures (French, 1995). The areas behind the republic square were the pre revolutionary housing blocks that would be torn down after independence to make room for new residential development and gentrification, some of which are being implemented today such as Northern Avenue and the Many other hotels that were built in the backdrop of Republic square.

In the Stalinist period,the growth of industrialization led to a significant increase in urban populations. Overcrowded housing was common after World War II, since all efforts were concentrated on industrial expansion (Medvedkov, 1989). The Kvartaly, a Soviet housing concept,was a plot of land, an average of six hectares in size, with roads enclosing on all sides. Abandoning the original, ideological communal living plan of the Garden City and socialist ideologies, this housing model consisted of self-contained building units. It contained a daycare center, kindergarten, club and cafeteria with facades that looked onto the street and a central courtyard with open, green space. It was to ultimatelybecome a part of a larger living region called a zhilkomplex, though this phase was usually not realized. In this era, it was the goal of planners to allow for half of the built-up areas to be open green space (French, 1995). Even though this plan was not carried out to the scale envisioned, it was, in later years, modified and fused with the concept of the micro-region and the original urban planning concepts based on Garden City and City Beautiful principles.

Khrushchev succeeded Stalin and started the construction of much-needed housing for the people of the union, who were living in cramped, overcrowded conditions at the time (DiMaio, 1974). In the early years of the housing drive, the common buildingmaterial used was brick. Five-storey ochre brick buildings were constructed. These buildings were slow to complete and failed to meet housing demands. They prompted the use of prefabricated concrete panel buildings, which were quickly developed and constructed all over the union. These buildings reached heights of 25-storeys, with 12-storeys being the minimum by 1974 (French, 1995).

Alexei Gutnov’s The Ideal Communist City, published in 1968, reintroduced pre-war principles of the superblock and communal living into Soviet urban planning after World War II. By now, the concept of a family unit was well-established. In this post-war housing plan, adults and children lived on different floors, with all living needs located within the superblock. With pedestrian travel as a main focus, trains and freeways were confined to the periphery, with a circular tramway connecting all superblocks to other regions. Since all aspects of everyday life are located within walking or tramway distance, automotive dependency was eliminated (Scott, 2009).

Understanding the design ideas that shaped the creation of the City of Socialist Man,one can see the effects of globalization, politicaland economic forces and their ability to push and pull the urban landscape in the direction of their will. The City of Socialist Man was founded on the strong communitarian ideals of the Garden City, and adopted the City Beautiful principles in its design strategies. These strategies were followed by housing solutions with communal origins, yet reverted to family-based housing models that were generally based on the concept of community and strongly oriented to town-country principles. In Yerevan,the implementation ofthese different phases of Soviet planning is evident, along with adherence to the Garden City and City Beautiful movements, as well asto the concept of the micro-region, which is present in the suburban areas.


Dimaio, A.J. (1974). Soviet urban housing: Problems and policies. New York: Praeger.

French, R. A. (1995). Plans, pragmatism and people: The legacy of Soviet planning for

            today's cities. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.

Paperny, V. (2002). Architecture in the age of Stalin. Culture two.  Cambridge UK,

            Cambridge University Press.

Scott, S. (2009). The ideal Soviet suburb. Panorama. Retrieved from


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