Saving Soviet brutalist architecture in Ukraine one book at a time

Ukrainian architectural monuments of Soviet Modernism are in danger of destruction. While state institutions are doing nothing, public activists are fighting for the preservation of this architecture. In 2019, we presented the Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-Modernism. Building and Structures in Ukraine 1955-1991 book. The presentation began with a talk between Dana Pavlychko (Director of the Osnovy Publishing House), Oleksii Bykov (architect and author of the book), and Serhii Pylypenko (General Director of the Kovalska Industrial-Construction Group) on the perception and problems of modernist architecture in present-day Ukraine.

О: I got interested in modern architecture in 2012. There was virtually no information, but there was architecture. It was everywhere, so I wanted to learn more. I did not get enough information at university to understand this architecture. Together with friends we decided to try and do it ourselves: we photographed and communicated a lot with living architects, who created these buildings. We’re still doing it.

In 2015, the Nadbudova exhibition first attracted mass attention to the topic. After that, Dana and I realized that we needed to create a book, since there was no published material, which recorded and described Ukrainian Soviet architecture, even its most famous objects.

D: I’d like to note that at the Osnovy Publishing, we do some crazy, complicated projects. For example, there is a stigma regarding Soviet legacy in the society. Not everyone understands it and is ready to accept it. We are very grateful to Kovalska for helping us make this book possible.

S. We really did get along from the very first words and are also grateful for the opportunity to join in on the project. The history of our company starts in the 50s, which is why it is important for us to maintain the cultural connection between generations, especially in architecture. We try to protect the unique architecture from the influence of external factors, and commercialization in particular. With this project, we seek to reevaluate our connection to the past, rather than deny it.

О: Today’s situation is such that many Ukrainians are trying to deny any connection to anything Soviet. We truly lack the ability to accept our Soviet past, let alone be proud of it. Our book, without exaggeration, is a big step in Ukrainian architectural and cultural society, as it is about the ability to see the beauty in our own legacy. For example, we are in the building where the Chernobyl series was filmed, which is breaking all records in ratings, but many Kyivans have never been to the Vernadskii library, which, by the way, is the coolest, and also free, co-working. I often come here to work or read.

D. Foreign directors come to Ukraine to shoot videos, movies, advertisements. They’re interested in our locations. We should learn to use modernist architecture in order to improve our tourism. It is yet another reason for saving, rather than destroying it.

О:I often lead tours for foreign experts, architects, friends. They are not indifferent to modernist architecture, and are especially impressed with its expressiveness.

О:Each generation perceives modernist architecture in different ways. For people that were young in the 60s-70s, these buildings are associated with something specific, such as the smell of bleach or rudeness of a vendor. For the new generation, however, this architecture is a decoration, a form without all the layers of other aspects.

S: For me, this book is largely personal, it’s about the time of my childhood.

D: I first saw the Tarilka when I was little. It impressed and surprised me. I still remember this emotion. Architecture can fill the emptiness in the soul.

О:I’m also influenced by the geometry of architecture. It’s hard to fully describe with words, but I can definitely say that for me, architecture is inspiration. Some buildings are always photogenic. For example, the Memorial Park in Kyiv, Summer Theater in Dnipro and several other objects. You can take pictures of them, stay in them for a whole day, season, year or even life. They are constantly changing, and these changes can help discover ourselves. I believe that is what’s most important. Thinking of yourself on the scale of architecture is a beautiful feeling, which I wish everyone can experience

S: We lost what we had, but haven’t found something new yet. It was modernism, brutalism, that carried a very strong ideological component. We see many commercial projects now, which do not carry a single message to the public. Personally, I am disappointed.

О: Today, our task is to create a dialogue. A dialogue between architects, between society and architects, between architects and the city, between developers and the city. The lack of good communication is the main problem that we constantly face, as was the last time in the case of Tarilka.

С:I am convinced that our book is a very important step towards creating this dialogue. I’d like the Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-Modernism. Buildings and Structures in Ukraine 1955-1991 book to become a reminder for business that not everything should be measured with money and short-term benefits. Every project, every investment is a chance to say and do something important. In our case, draw attention to cultural heritage, to a beautiful and underestimated era in Ukrainian architecture.

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