#GuestReview for Eastern Blocks: Concrete Landscapes of the Former Eastern Bloc by Zupagrafika #BookReview #EasternBloc @Zupagrafika

‘Sleeping districts’ of Moscow, Plattenbauten of East Berlin, modernist estates of Warsaw, Kyiv`s Brezhnevki: although these are home to the vast majority of city dwellers, post-war suburbs of central and eastern Europe have been invisible for decades.

Eastern Blocks is a photographic journey through the cityscapes of the former Eastern Bloc, inviting readers to explore the districts and peripheries that became a playground for mass housing development after WW2, including objects like houses ‘on chicken legs’, soviet ‘flying saucers’ or hammer-shaped tower blocks.

Showcasing modernist and brutalist architecture scattered around the cities of Moscow, (East) Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, Kyiv and Saint Petersburg, the book contains over 100 photographs taken by Zupagrafika throughout the last decade as a reference archive for their illustrated books and kits, with special contributions by local photographers.

Divided into 6 chapters, Eastern Blocks includes a foreword by writer and journalist Christopher Beanland, orientative maps, index of architects and informative texts on the featured cities and constructions. 


Today I am delighted to be able to hand over my blog to my husband Mark so that he is able to share his review for Eastern Blocks: Concrete Landscapes of the Former Eastern Bloc

Life behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ has long been a fascination of mine. The ‘Cold War’ characterisation of life  on the other side of the wall, as espoused by sundry textbooks; documentaries, and lecturers, of a dull; grey, and relentlessly oppressive grind were, to me, little more than a highly-polticised veneer which made no meaningful attempt to comprehend or explore these societies. Indeed, this learning by rote approach served only to intrigue, enhancing the mystique of this forbidden political fruit and promoting a necessity for further enquiry in the process. 

From a ‘conventional’ perspective, life behind the curtain appeared to involve military parades; ossified heads of state, and vast swathes of monotone tower blocks and concrete. It was this latter aspect which piqued my interest. There was / is a stark, brutalist reality to these buildings which screamed the political. The buildings, be they residential; industrial, or educational, were bold articulations of the visions of a soviet man; of communist futurism, and anticipated global victory of Soviet civilisation. The resultant striking iconography which was attached to, or positioned close by the buildings in question represented the bold projections of socialist realism, converting ‘grey tower blocks’ and their associated concretised communities into giant canvases, upon which innumerable art installations and socio-economic visions were painted.  Political differences of opinion aside, there can be little doubt that this soviet architectural style is as intoxicating as it is sublime, it truly was visionary whilst being eminently practical in daily use. This brings us neatly onto the subject at hand. 

Eastern Blocks is a celebration of Brutalist and Modernist architecture styles within the former Soviet Bloc. Utilising local photographers, the authors showcase some of the very best examples of Plattenbau; Lakotelepek, and Krushchyovki structures from East Berlin though to St Petersburg, via Moscow, Warsaw, Kyiv and Budapest. Each chapter begins with a short overview of the geographical area which embraces social and architectural commentary. This commentary is accompanied by a colour-coded map which identifies where the featured buildings can be located within a particular territory.  The term ‘map’ is possibly a little generous, it doesn’t appear to be to scale, and it is somewaht vague. However,  the colour key points in the general direction of travel that the reader should aim towards if making a similar architectural pilgrimage. 

This work is part photo gallery, and part travelogue and it places the reader very firmly behind the wall. The contributing photographers have successfully captured the majesty; the social context, the mystique, and the built environment within which these buildings currently stand. Some of the featured buildings are truly ground-breaking and monumental in nature. The dominance of the all-pervasive Titanic is a sight to behold, as is the bright and colourful Soviet-inspired iconography which accentuates the clean lines of the Prospekt Peremohy. A personal favourite of mine, purely from the perspective of context, is that of the Brezhnevka Prospekt Prosveshcheniya. The photographer has captured a stunning juxtaposition between the Soviet era Brezhnevka and the hustle and bustle of the market economy. This is an ideological and architectural clash which is a joy to behold whilst also underpinning the inherent durability of these ageing designs. 

Books like this live or die by the quality of the enclosed photography. In this case, the standard of the photography within this particular work is stunning. There is no airbrushing or concealment, if a building is dilapidated; unloved, or abandoned, then the photographer has reflected this. The photographers have also successfully captured the atmosphere of the communities which inhabit these buildings. The judicious use of passers-by provide a sense of scale and contrast, whilst also accentuating the broader built environment. These are photographs which you will want to re-visit time and again. 

In conclusion, this book comes highly recommended. The photography is brilliantly composed; poignant, and unabashed. The selection of buildings, and the depth and breadth of the authors knowledge is perfectly judged. There is an all-pervasive sense of people and place, and it is  accompanied by an unabashed love of Brutalism and socialist modernism. This book stands in stark contrast to the simplistic Cold War orthodoxy of grey uniformity and lifts the lid on some remarkable buildings and contexts in the process. 

One thought on “#GuestReview for Eastern Blocks: Concrete Landscapes of the Former Eastern Bloc by Zupagrafika #BookReview #EasternBloc @Zupagrafika

  1. I grew up in such blocks and there was often quite a bit of creativity to make them look more friendly and welcoming. There was a real sense of community too, with gangs of children playing outside till our parents called us in from the windows.

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