A Photographic Insight into Soviet Modernist Architecture of Siberia

Author: Lynsey Free

A newly released photographic book by Zupagrafika sheds light on the Soviet architecture of Siberia. Over the course of 160 pages, Concrete Siberia provides a rare glimpse into the fascinating modernist structures that populate the vast Russian territory.

The photographs in Concrete Siberia, taken by Russian photographer Alexander Veryovkin, tell the story of post-war modernist architecture in Novosibirsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Norilsk, Irkutsk, and Yakutsk. Many of the buildings captured in the book have never before been published.

More than 100 pictures showcase the realities of Siberia, from its microrayons to the brutal landscapes of industrial monotowns, cosmic circuses, concrete theaters, and opera houses. Siberia’s notoriously harsh winter climate provides a snow-white backdrop to the Soviet buildings—most notably in Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities on the planet, where temperatures reached -30 degrees Celsius during shooting.

Norilsk. Zupagrafika ©2020

Omsk. Zupagrafika ©2020

The circus building in Krasnoyarsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

While the photos alone are striking, they are best understood by getting to know Siberia’s history and the motives behind each style of architecture, each era of construction. That history is best explained by architecture critic Konstantin Budarin in the introduction to the book.

“During Stalin’s rule development of the region was, to a great extent, determined by production plans, namely the optimization of extraction and processing of natural resources. Stalinist architecture was concerned less with accommodating people’s needs than with promoting an ideological vision. Following Hannah Arendt, Stalinist architecture in remote regions functioned as antennae that received and reproduced images of central power, he writes.

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Thermal Power Station-5, Central District of Omsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

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Krasnoyarsk monument. Zupagrafika © 2020

But Khrushchev’s “shift to prefabrication meant architecture was no longer about reproducing the image of power, but about replicating a standard of urban life across the Soviet empire.”

That meant “focusing on building and peopling cities.” People were not just forced to move, he explains, but they were also genuinely attracted to Siberian cities “by the promise of a flat in one of the prefabricated blocks.”

Sports and concert complex named after Blinov, Omsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

The plan was a success, Budarin writes. “From the beginning of Khrushchev’s era to the fall of the USSR, the populations of the cities featured in this book more than doubled.”

The architecture featured in Concrete Siberia has been described as “fascinating” by its publisher Zupagrafika. “We believe this book can be a tool to explore the little known Soviet-era architecture shaping the cityscapes of Siberia and, perhaps, to appreciate it as it is.”

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Mural on the apartment building in Krasnoyarsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

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Oganer microdistrict in Norilsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

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Norilsk. Zupagrafika © 2020

Zupagrafika is an independent publisher, author, and graphic design studio consisting of David Navarro and Martyna Sobecka. Founded in Poznań, Poland, in 2012, it celebrates modernist architecture, design, and photography in a “unique and playful way.”

Concrete Siberia comes after Zupagrafika’s 2019 release Eastern Blocks, a photographic book that showcases modernist and brutalist architecture scattered around Moscow, Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, Kyiv, and St. Petersburg.

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