Khrushchyovka after life


Location of Project

Country: Russia
City: Novosibirsk, Akademgorodok
54.862029, 83.083889
Site area: 852 m

For our project, we chose Novosibirsk, a city in Western Siberia with a population of over a million people. Many residential buildings in Novosibirsk were developed using conventional designs until the early 1990s and beyond. The famous forerunner of all such structures in the USSR is the so-called khrushchyovka (named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev), a five-story project building that makes up a significant portion of urban texture in Russia and other former Soviet countries. These buildings, along with other examples of Soviet architectural history, are frequently abandoned and deteriorate swiftly. We propose transforming one khrushchyovka into an urban farm. Throughout its lifecycle, every building creates a complex ecosystem populated by organisms that rely on humans for survival (e.g. mold, mushrooms, rodents). We begin with a khrushchyovka that has been abandoned by its human occupants but remains connected to water and energy supply. We then examine the evolution of this ecosystem and how it contributes to the reintegration of urban ruins into the natural composition and degradation of materials.

According to the physical rules of the cosmos, we live in a world with rising entropy. Despite the fact that humanity as a biological entity is attempting to integrate many different pieces (micro) into something united and entire (macro), the natural flow of events in the Universe is one of destruction and disintegration. However, the disintegration of a structure into its constituent parts results in death for only one species, while it provides new material for creation for others. In the organic world, there are many living species that feed on death, including fungi and plants. Saprophytes devour dead or decaying organic stuff. Recycling, decomposing, reassembling, digesting, fermenting, and dissolving are all forms of mortification for creation. Humanmade buildings are, on the contrary, thought to be valuable because of their ability to withstand demolition, or durability.

But what if we imagined a saprophilic architecture, one that creates through destruction, devastation and disintegration? Soviet urban space, which has numerous artifacts of mass urban development, is one of the places where the presence of decay is most visible today. Quite often, it amounts to a desolate death, without any afterlife. Our endeavor seeks to rethink this situation. We define urban devastation and loss of the Soviet urban heritage as a means for dynamic recombination of relationships between all kinds of beings occupying a typical five-story building together. In our project, we consider a residential building constructed according to a typical layout in the 1960s to be a closed ecosystem in transition to a new quality ( such as after tenant resettlement), where different species can use the decaying residential building as a site for the continuation and development of new forms of life. Humans can then reintegrate such interaction chains into the urban environment, utilizing them for research, production, cultural, and social objectives.

Relevance: The extension of standardization was part of the Soviet modernization agenda, which also included the construction of new cities. Local modes of life, local ecosystems, and centuries-old human-nature interactions were brutally eliminated as typical urban blocks were built across the former Soviet Union. All these actions were inspired by the ideological idea of creating a new bright future. This message has been lost, but the uniform urban infrastructure that embodies it still exists. The quality of this infrastructure in terms of human and natural well-being leaves much to be desired. As a result, in many Russian cities, housing erected during the Soviet era is being either demolished or gradually ruined and abandoned. The depopulation catastrophe in the Asian part of Russia is exacerbated by the urban crises. Our proposal aims to leverage this objective crisis situation to test novel forms of coexistence between humans and other species in the context of mass urban re-development (and degradation), which is common in Russia, other former Soviet republics, and across Eurasia. This makes our proposal applicable to all nations that have or are experiencing a period of increased urbanization accompanied with the construction of mass prefab housing. At the heart of the project is the idea of converting a former residential structure into an urban farm. Culturally relevant challenges are also addressed as the cultivation of such an urban cluster progresses. On the one hand, the harvesting and gathering practices of Siberia's indigenous population are revived and reintegrated into Soviet urban fabric; on the other hand, the legacy of Soviet modernization is not completely destroyed, but rather serves as a site for exploring how the end of ideological utopia can give a productive start to biotopia.
Integration: In our project, we rethink a building's existence from construction to final demolition as a dynamic process of cohabitation of diverse types of beings that unfolds throughout time. An urban (infra)structure is more than just its material framework; it is also a system of relationships that is constantly re-composed and de-composed over its entire life cycle. At any given time, a building is not just a human dwelling/habitation, but also a complex network of connections with other biological species and types of beings. The building's physical elements are simply an overstory, a curtain that conceals a far more delicate and sophisticated understory of beings developing within, with, and through the edifice. Some of these relational networks, such as the one between humans and pets, particularly dogs and cats, are more or less obvious and generally taken for granted, while a much greater portion is usually wholly invisible or simply neglected. Indeed, a typical urban residential building is a field of communication and interaction between a large number of species representing all natural kingdoms: the vegetable kingdom (for example, trees growing on the roof of the building or grass growing through the cracks in the foundation and on the roof), animals (in addition to pets, these are, for example, rodents and insects that feed on human waste), and the fungal kingdom, whose spores gradually spread across different parts of the building. This complex interaction, of course, includes and takes into account the person and is mediated by her, but it is not closed only on the persons and their necessities. Integration is realized through a system of agency that transforms the simple polarity of life and death into an infinite ensemble of composition, decomposition and recomposition.
Impact: In many large and medium-sized cities in Russia, apartment blocks built during the Soviet era now account for a sizable portion of the real estate inventory. Khrushchyovki are one of the most prevalent types of such housing, having been built in large numbers in the second half of the 1950s and 1960s. Except for the largest and wealthiest megacities (such as Moscow), municipalities lack the resources to conduct urban renewal programs. As a result, it is widely assumed that emergency buildings will remain operational. Given the financial limits that municipalities face, our initiative addresses this issue. As a result, it is common for obsolete buildings to continue operating. Given the financial limits that municipalities face, our initiative addresses this issue. Currently, in order to rehabilitate housing stock, local governments frequently reach agreements with greedy developers, granting them valuable public land in exchange for the completion of renovation projects. Our project aims to disrupt this vicious spiral. Rather of demolishing Soviet housing for commercial expansion, we propose gradually converting it into urban farms. The positive effects of such a proposal are multiple: (1) municipalities are relieved of the costs of demolishing large numbers of buildings and the asymmetrical dependence on developers who frequently do not take local interests into account; (2) an experimental field is created to explore ways to gradually reduce the carbon footprint of urban infrastructure; and (3) jobs are saved and created to maintain infrastructure suitable for the development of prototype urban farm buildings. It is also worth mentioning how our project has impacted the way we think about species relationships. A sprawling city saturated with urban farms evolves from a location of aggressive human dictate to a hub of working interspecies contacts.
Innovation: The conventional technique is to transform the building's role, adapting it to a new task related to human activity (though different from the original purpose) as the center. As a result, factories are converted into stylish lofts, and rural communities into outdoor museums. The innovative idea of our project is not to keep the building alive by "re-using" it for future generations of humans. We accept that, like everything else, buildings eventually come to an end. However, the time between human withdrawal and complete destruction of the building allows non-human life to thrive. As a result, our idea transforms the decay of a five-story building into an interface for interspecies communication in post-human life. As envisioned in our project, the building's afterlife is essentially one of work. The destruction of the concrete structure as a separate artefact is in no way comparable to the breakdown of the creation and production. Non-humans work while their colonies are being developed. Fungi use their mycorrhizae to penetrate hardwood floor joists and develop new natural, durable materials. Rats and insects probing rusted water pipes develop strategies for quick urban infrastructure restoration. In this way, the diverse species preserve their existence while also offering a return on the investment required to keep the human-built structures in a condition fit for non-humans. Consequently, the process of urban and environmental degradation becomes a payback process by generating urban farms. Our project addresses the tasks of reclaiming the remnants of the urban past, creates a new model of sustainable urban existence , and finally, through the redefinition of the finality of the building as a process of cooperation between different forms of agency, transforms the fear of the afterlife into an understanding of the plurality of existence that intertwine, disintegrate and coalesce into new combinations.