FROM MASTERPLAN TO A STRATEGY OF LOCAL INTERVENTION
In trying to understand the nature of the Russian city, one cannot avoid to discuss the decisive forces that are responsible for its fate: the principles of communism, and, more particularly, the central position of the Plan in communist society. The Plan was the main instrument of the state in its aim to organize society rationally, eliminating unsound capitalist speculation and distributing wealth equally among all people. At the top of the Plan stood the production figures. All decisions concerning the development of society followed these figures on the basis of a hierarchical, normative relationship with the size of production facilities, the number of people needed to produce the products, their housing, and from there the shops, kindergartens and other social services. This hierarchy finds its most vivid illustration in urban design, more specifically, in its main document: the Masterplan. The Masterplan, hanging prominently in the office of every city architect in Russia, was, and often still is the blueprint for the future of the city, pointing out where what should be built over the next 5 to 10 years.
A change from a supply-oriented centrally planned economy towards a more or less demand-oriented free-market economy means a radical shift in the planning process. The Masterplan, being a document that existed thanks to the fact that all investments were controlled by the state, is loosing its meaning as the main instrument in defining urban development. This was one of the most important conclusions when the architects that later founded the Moscow office SENAB-Project completed their diploma project for the small town of Ludinova.
The example of Ludinovo is quite illustrative for the state of urbanism in Russia, not only because the outcome of the architects' research seems to apply for most Russian cities, but also because Ludinovo developed as a factory-city: perfectly compatible with an planning model based on production. The city developed under the guidance of Maltsev, an enlightened entrepreneur; parallel to social Utopians like Fourier, he tried to organize urban life along the same rational lines as the production process in the factory.
These 19th century positivist principles smoothly blended with communist ideology. The factory city can be considered the main model for the communist city. As production figures were the basis of all Plans, urban growth was directly linked to the development of industry. The factory was the center of life, not only economically, but also socially. Social life in Russia was, and still is closely connected with the working place. Here one meets one's friends, celebrates one's birthday, and, in earlier days, received one's food, willingly or unwillingly discussed one's private life with the workers collective and listened to the preaches of the party commissioner.
At the beginning of the eighties, Ludinova was bound to enter a new phase in its life as a factory city. The decision to locate a new factory for 100.000 workers in Ludinova, based on an overall development plan for the Soviet economy, had led to the drawing up of a new Masterplan by the Moscow Institute Gripogor. It provided for the construction of housing for 80.000 people. When the architects of SENAB started with their diploma project on Ludinova, they soon discovered that virtually nothing of this plan had been realized. The planned factory simply hadn't been built, leaving the city with a totally useless planning document. Since by its nature, this document could only describe an intended development, it couLd not regulate unexpected ones. As a result, the city government was left without any instrument, and could only operate on an ad-hoc basis.
This is of course not a unique situation. The Russian cityscape seems to be the result of an unplanned ad-hoc policy, a chaos that seems irreconcilable with the idea of central planning, where ideally, all means to plan and build a city can be controlled from one point.
When the architects of Senab became aware of the big discrepancy between the Masterplan and the actual situation, they concluded, that in a market economy, where investors can come from anywhere, a totally different planning structure is needed: not a plan for what should be built, but for what shouldn't be built. Instead of the big-scale Masterplan, the city needs a set of rules, setting the boundaries for urban development. At this point the architects ran up to limits of their possibilities because in order to set up these rules, one needs a legislative framework. Such a framework is still lacking in Russia.
The plan that the architects ended up making for Ludinova, can of course not solve the problem of missing legislation, but must be read as a LikeLy scenario. It is no building plan, but an interpretation of the current situation, giving the city government the possibility to anticipate on future developments. The city can then work out a strategy of investments, that can stimulate and accelerate these developments and work as a catalyst for economic growth.
The four building projects that were designed by Senab for Ludinova could serve as an illustration of the possibilities of such an investment strategy. The first project however still reflects the old times. The sports club is situated on the premises of the factory, at great distance from the housing of the workers. It was to be financed by the factory and used by the factory workers. It reflects an urban policy concentrated on production, with the factory as the focus point of social life.
The second project, a cultural complex including a cinema, a music school and a restaurant, is located in the vicinity of housing districts. This project could be seen in the context of a traditional social-democratic understanding of the tasks of the government: to provide the individual inhabitants with a community center. It also reminds us of the ideological meaning of the cinema in Soviet times. However, this ideological roLe has disappeared and American B-movies don't seem the best means to create a new sense of community.
Certainly the most urban of the four projects is the park, designed along the shore of the two lakes that divide up the city. As an investment, the construction of this park could have an invigorating effect: apart from the intrinsic qualities of the urban space, it could lead to a upgrading of the neighborhood and have an impact on the quality of housing in the area. Leaves us with the question, whether this impact makes up for the needed investment. For example: as long as the adjoining housing blocks are not privatized, there won't be any effect on rents or prizes and the project will fail to generate the needed investments in housing improvement.
The project for the Sloboda can be called the most exemplary for a new understanding of the function of small-scale architectural projects as catalysts in urban development. It represents a kind of urban surgery, instead of a radical replacement of the old by the new. Its quality lies in its multi-layered significance. To start with, it puts the emphasis on the historical backbone of the city: the Sloboda's are the oldest parts of Russian towns. These parts are connected with the circulation of people and goods, and therefore with trade and the marketplace. They could now form the new heart of the city, replacing the factories as the centers of social life, in accordance with the shift from a production-orien-ted to a market-oriented economy.
Moreover, the project could stimulate a process of gentrification of the SLobodas. It can be foreseen, that these urban spaces, lying in the vicinity of the city center and consisting of low-rise housing, will be very popular in the near future. This can lead to a process of an urban renewal, again leading to a strengthening of this historical backbone.
Also the functions the two buildings that are projected in the Sloboda's seem to be adequate, since they will inevitably generate an urban life in which everybody will participate: people will buy bread, even in a situation where they have littLe money to spend. Moreover, these functions will guarantee a certain profit in the exploitation of the buildings, meaning that the investments of the city can be minimal.
Finally, the project revives the concept of the factory town in its own way: not only does the red brick, combined with welded steelworks reminds us of the 19th century industrial architecture of Ludinova, also the fact that one of the buildings, the bakery , is actually a production facility, replaces the abstract notion of a factory producing for a whole country by the notion of small-scale production. This notion, however romantic, celebrates the individual entrepreneurship as a new basis for social development.