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Ripe for demolition | by Silanov
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Ripe for demolition

View upwards of a derelict staircase of a multiple dwelling unit with probably communal apartments near Shpalernaya Street in Saint Petersburg’s city centre, Saint Petersburg, Russia


Some background information:


Kommunalki or communal apartments first appeared in Tsarist Russia. In the early 18th century, the landlords often partitioned rental lodging into sp-called "corners", often walk-through tiny dwellings. From the mid-19th century the number of such apartments had drastically increased. Usually they consisted of three to six rooms.


In the 20th century, the Soviet Union undertook "intensive industrialization and urbanization", shifting from 80% of the population living in rural villages and towns at the time of the Revolution, to nearly the same percentage living in cities by the 1990s. People were driven from the countryside by poverty and collectivization, and pulled to the city by the industrialization of the economy. This exodus put enormous pressure on existing urban housing accommodations. Communal apartments were one answer to the housing crisis, and many considered them a step up from the alternatives of housing communes, hostels and barracks.


Lenin conceived of the communal apartment, and drafted a plan to "expropriate and resettle private apartments" shortly after the Russian revolution. His plan inspired many architects to begin communal housing projects, to create a "revolutionary topography". The communal apartment was revolutionary by "uniting different social groups in one physical space". Furthermore, housing belonged to the government and families were allotted an extremely small number of square meters each.


After Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev’s regime “embarked upon a mass housing campaign,” to eliminate the persistent housing shortages, and create private apartments for urban residents. This campaign was a response to popular demand for “better living conditions, single-family housing, and greater privacy;” Khrushchev believed that granting the people private apartments would give them greater enthusiasm for the communist system in place and that improving people’s attitudes and living conditions would lead to a healthier and more productive workforce. However, the new, more private apartments were built quickly, with an emphasis on quantity over quality, and in underdeveloped neighborhoods, with poor systems of public transportation, making daily life harder for workers. These apartment blocks quickly became called "Khrushchyovka", a cross between Khrushchev’s name and the Russian term for slums.


Today there’s certainly still a considerable number of communal apartments, although many of them were already renovated, modernised and converted into private apartments. However, the derelict structural condition of both the inner courtyard and the staircase of this multiple dwelling unit has given me reason to believe that it is occupied by communal apartments. By the way, there was a penetrating smell of faeces on the stairs. Therefore it’s good in this case that the internet still cannot transmit odours.


Space in communal apartments is divided into common spaces and private rooms "mathematically or bureaucratically", with little to no attention paid to the physical space of the existing structures. Most apartments are partitioned in a dysfunctional manner, creating "strange spaces, long corridors, and so-called black entrances through labyrinthine inner courtyards". Entire families lived in a single overcrowded room, with little hope of changing their situation.


Residents are meant to share the kitchen, bathroom and corridors amongst themselves, but even these spaces could be divided. For example, each family might have their own kitchen table, gas burner, doorbell, and even light switch, preferring to walk down the hall to use their light switch to turn on the bathroom lights rather than using a closer switch belonging to another resident. Furthermore, the hallways are often poorly lit, because each family has control of one of the lights hanging in the corridor, and would only turn it on for their own benefit.


Though communal apartments are relatively small, residents have to wait at times to use the bathroom or kitchen sink. The kitchen is the primary place where the residents interact with one another, "sharing their joys and sorrows", and scheduling shared responsibilities. Wary of theft, residents rarely leave groceries in the kitchen unless they put locks on the kitchen cabinets. However, they often store their toiletries in the kitchen as opposed to the bathroom, because other residents could more easily use things left unattended in the bathroom. Laundry is left to dry in both the kitchen and the bathroom.


In spite of all these challenging living comditions, many former residents of communal apartments look back fondly on the sense of family they had with their neighbours. When asked which she would prefer, one woman who lived her whole life in a communal apartment in St. Petersburg answered: "It’s better to live in a communal apartment, a large one, in a historic Petersburg district, than in a private housing complex. In a housing complex there’s some kind of disconnection and life is more boring.. Everybody is on its own. But in a communal appartment we’re like one big family. If someone is in trouble, it gets shared. Or a joy, you share that too and that works out very well."


Saint Petersburg (in Russian: Санкт-Петербу́рг) is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with currently 5.3 million inhabitants, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal city. Saint Petersburg is also the fourth-largest city in Europe, only excelled by Istanbul, London and Moscow. Other famous European cities like Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid are smaller. Furthermore, Saint Petersburg is the world’s northernmost megapolis and called "The Venice of the North", due to its many channels that traverse the city.


Situated on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, it was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on 27th May 1703. On 1st September 1914, the name was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd, on 26 January 1924 to Leningrad, and on 7 September 1991 back to Saint Petersburg. Between 1713 and 1728 and again between 1732 and 1918, Saint Petersburg was the capital of Imperial Russia. In 1918, the central government bodies moved to Moscow, which is located about 625 kilometres (388 miles) to the south-east.


Saint Petersburg is also the cultural capital of Russia. Today, the city is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an area with 36 historical architectural complexes and around 4000 outstanding individual monuments of architecture, history and culture. It has 221 museums, 2,000 libraries, more than 80 theaters, 100 concert organizations, 45 galleries and exhibition halls, 62 cinemas and around 80 other cultural establishments. Saint Petersburg is home to the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. Every year the city hosts around 100 festivals and various competitions of art and culture, including more than 50 international ones. In 2017, the city was visited by 7.2 million tourists and it is expected that in the years ahead the number of tourists will still be on the rise.

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Taken on August 6, 2018