Changes in urban planning in the Soviet Arctic in the 1960s

September 11th, 2013 | Posted by Lize-Marié van der Watt in News | Publication

Ekaterina Kalemeneva presented a poster on changes in urban planning in the Soviet Arctic at the recent European Society for Environmental History Conference in Munich, Germany.  Kalemeneva is a PhD candidate at the European University at Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Her studies form part of the Assessing Arctic Futures: Voices, Resources and Governance Project.  You can download the poster Land of the Future here.

Land of the Future: Changes in urban planning at the Soviet Arctic in the 1960s

Architects used to make projects not only to meet the contemporary needs of people. Sometimes they also looked for inspiration in visions of buildings and cities of the future, creating projects that can bring the imaginary future closer. Moreover, in some cases the very land where a planned city is to be built predetermines the invention of new, special approaches. For the Soviet Union, the Arctic was a region that challenged architects and inspired them to develop new principles for urban planning in the north and to create utopian projects of cities (like the design of a city under a transparent dome).

This territory played a significant role for the Soviet Union due to its resource potential: it held about three quarters of all mineral and natural resources of the country. The necessity of industrial development provoked the problem of civil engineering, because near every mine a special town for laborers was established. However, most of that land remained undeveloped because of the great challenge caused by the severe northern environment: the difficulty of work in conditions of permafrost, subzero temperatures, snowdrifts, lack of infrastructure, and so on. Furthermore, by the 1950s, people in the north had to live in really extreme conditions due to a disregard of the specific arctic climate: frequently industrial settlements were built with wooden one-storey houses, where there was no hot water supply or sewage. Even in big Siberian cities, stone buildings were constructed in accordance with southern standards without consideration of the effect of the northern environment on inhabitants.

However, since the 1950s and Stalin’s death, liberal changes in political, economic, and social spheres led scientists and engineers to become more independent and autonomous in their work. Thus in Khrushchev’s time the architects started to serve not only the State’s instructions; they began to pay more attention to the other side of urbanization in the Arctic – to the necessity of improving the living conditions of the citizens.

I am therefore going to show how engineers in the 1960s tried to change practices of civil engineering in the North. They developed new principles of city planning for the arctic conditions. The embodiment of attempts to make the ideal conditions for inhabitants in the Arctic was the project of a domed city in Siberia.

Although that city under a transparent dome was not constructed, the plan can be seen as a good example of the aspiration of the engineers to implement one of the famous utopian technological projects of the 20th century.

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