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HSE School of Cultural Studies Designs Khrushchyovka Museum

HSE School of Cultural Studies Designs Khrushchyovka Museum

The HSE School of Cultural Studies has designed a museum dedicated to the Soviet-era apartment complexes called Khrushchyovka buildings. The plans of the museum were presented at a meeting held by the Russian Ministry of Culture in Tsarskoye Selo. Under the guidance of cultural studies Associate Professor Irina Gluschenko, undergraduate and post-graduate students began working on the project long before the topic of citywide building renovation became part of public discussion in Moscow.

The idea to create a Khrushchyovka museum came about during one of the School of Cultural Studies’ project workshops in September 2016. During the winter of that same year, the project became one of the winners of HSE’s Educational Initiative Fund competition.

The working group included 10 people, and the project was a unique continuation of Anna Alekseeva’s thesis, ‘The Role of the Separate Kitchen in the Cultural Transformation of the Soviets in the 1960s,’ written under the supervision of Irina Gluschenko. Anna, who is one of the authors of the museum’s design looked at the daily lives of Soviet people in the 1960s, people for whom Khrushchyovka buildings played an important role. In preparing for the project, it became clear that while Muscovites have a clear interest in this era, there are no locations devoted to the history and daily life of the 1960s, making the Khrushchyovka museum necessary for the city.

‘The spirit of the thaw obviously hung in the air because many museums exhibited works of the era and recorded television shows about the thaw. Soviet modernism suddenly went into fashion,’ Irina Gluschenko notes. ‘And all of the sudden renovation hits, and it turns out that there are plans to tear down the four- and five-story buildings constructed at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, buildings that were the most large-scale and significant embodiment of the era.’

The Role of the Khrushchyovka in History

According to Irina Gluschenko, the mass movement of people into new flats in the mid-1960s signified not only a change in the way of life, but also in the way of thinking. Having a separate flat was a sign of the modern person, as publications gradually started replacing the word ‘Soviet’ with the word ‘modern.’ Many design guides from the time wrote, ‘The modern flat of the modern person.’

A smaller apartment in a Khrushchyovka building became the new benchmark, a standard of individual living. Khrushchyovka buildings were the first to create a feeling of privacy and a new culture of private life. People now had personal space. At first, all of these buildings seemed large, spacious, and empty after the tight communal flats and barracks from which new Khrushchyovka residents moved. With time, people’s attitude towards them changed though; they started seeming overcrowded, archaic, and even took on the contemptuous name ‘Krushchev-slums’ (khrushchyoby).

‘It’s not surprising that Khrushchyovka buildings, a flagship social project of the USSR, were featured in movies much more frequently and willingly than communal apartments,’ Anna Alekseeva notes. ‘The strongest imagery of a Khrushchyovka apartment is in Marlen Khutsiev’s film July Rain, where late at night in a five-meter kitchen a group of young people meet to listen to the main character Yury Vizbor play the guitar and sing, while they also smoked and talked. This is the lyrical image that first comes to mind.’

This needs to be not only a museum of architecture or a museum of daily life, but a museum for a way of life

The happiness of the millions of Soviets who were anticipating a new life is shown in the comedic operetta by Dmitry Shostakovich Moscow, Cheryomushki, which turned Cheryomushki into a more common name. It’s interesting that the film begins with an urban planning layout in the Museum of History and Reconstruction of Moscow. In a certain sense you could say that the idea for the Khrushchyovka museum came about half a century ago.

A decade later, the common industrial-style buildings had already become uniform and boring. Just think back to the film The Irony of Fate.Though we see nine-story Brezhnev-era buildings with slightly larger kitchens there, the general attitude towards standard housing in the Soviet Union had hopelessly worsened and was now an object for sad irony and caricature.

‘The Khrushchyovka demolishment programme, no matter how they want to call it – modernization, reconstruction, renovation, etc. – means whipping out an entire cultural stratum and a grand urban planning project. Our memory is embodied and materialised in the structure and everyday life of our city,’ Irina Gluschenko comments. ‘It is particularly at this moment in time that we want to create the museum – while we still have an emotional and cultural bridge and while these buildings and flats are still residential. We believe that Khrushchyovka buildings and the atmosphere surrounding them should become an object of cultural heritage.

Work on the Project

Since the idea of creating a Khrushchyovka museum first came up, participants of the project group have done a lot of important work, including field research. The students visited flats where practically nothing has changed since the 1960s, and they had the opportunity to interview some of the first residents of Khrushchyovka flats who still live in them to this day. ‘We were amazed at their readiness to tell us about their own personal stories. They supported the idea of creating a museum and said that they’d like to join in on the work and were even ready to provide us with some exhibits,’ one of the project’s founders, Ksenia Korosteleva, explains.

Before presenting their project to the Ministry of Culture, the project founders met with representatives of the professional community and museum world. In particular, specialists from the Moscow Architectural Institute (MArchI), Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences, and the Museum of Architecture took the project seriously and supported the idea of opening a museum, while staff from the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia even created a special council and sent the plans out for external review. The project was also presented at a public discussion during the Intermuseum Festival, which took place at the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall in May of this year.

The project group developed three versions of what the Khrushchyovka museum might look like

Renowned cultural studies expert and architecture historian Vladimir Paperny visited Moscow from the U.S. for a day in May and found time to meet with the group. He was very interested in the idea behind the museum and said it would make him happy if the idea came to fruition. ‘It’s important that this not only be a museum of architecture, not only a museum of everyday life, but a museum for a wayof life. Artists and conceptualists should work on the exhibitions so that it’s simultaneously a recreation of an era and a detached view of this era with certain ironic elements,’ Paperny notes.

The project founders admit that almost none of them have personal experience living in a Khrushchyovka flat, but that this is the secret behind their success. ‘I think that the project is, of course, at a certain distance that we are getting a sense of as time goes on. It allows you to see everything as a way of living different from your own, and this is why it’s interesting,’ one of the project’s authors, Anna Ivleva, explains. ‘This museum can probably open in Moscow because in the regions, it doesn’t seem like this distance exists yet.’ 

A futuristic view of the museum. Architect: Philip Rudenko

What the Museum Will Look Like

The project group developed three versions of what the Khrushchyovka museum might look like.

The first assumes that the museum will have one building entrance (pod”ezd), while the rest of the building will remain residential. Each floor of the museum space could represent a certain decade between the 1960s and now. In this way, as one ascends from the first to the last floor, one can see how life inside the Khrushchyovka changed, as well as how our view of the building and flats shifted from enthusiasm to distain, and finally now to nostalgia.

The second version of the museum requires that the building be preserved entirely. In this case, the space might house various exhibitions on architectural history or the social history of Moscow. Several apartments could be reconstructed, but this wouldn’t be a museum of daily life, but a museum dedicated to the way of life in the 1960s. There is also the idea to reconstruct several apartments of famous people who used to live in Khrushchyovka flats. Museum visitors would therefore have the opportunity to visit a private flat, sit on the couch, flip through a 1960s magazine, listen to the radio, and maybe even try on clothing from the time. In addition, the building could serve as a stage for immersive performances.

The third option, the founders say, is the most productive – a museum cluster. An ideal location for such a complex might be Cheryomushki, which is where the experimental block No. 9 was located. This block became a symbol of change in urban planning and culture as a whole. The location also contains unique examples of Khrushchyovka flats from the 1950s and 1960s. These experimental objects were used to refine five-story construction technologies all around the Soviet Union, and the neighbourhood should be named a conservation area. The participants in the project suggest using Venice as an example, as this is a place where the traditional city atmosphere has been successfully maintained, an atmosphere that is still attractive for tourists. This third version of the museum envisions all exhibitions being located in the building entrances as well, while the outside will keep its yards, fountains, and other attributes from 1960s Moscow. Lastly, the abandoned Ulan-Bator Theater would be turned into an exhibition space. It could also be used as a location for round tables, lectures, seminars, and film screenings.

‘Now comes the most interesting part,’ Irina Gluschenko says. ‘How do we open the museum in practice? Russia has practically no experience with this. That goes for museumification and turning buildings and spaces in the residential sphere into historical heritage, buildings that just yesterday were not considered a part of history at all. We will need to resolve a number of important technical and even ethical problems. And this kind of work will take more than just a year.’


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