Across The Plaza: The Public Voids Of The Post-Soviet City by Owen Hatherley

By Owen Hatherley

The massive, proverbially windswept plazas equipped below “really current socialism” from the Nineteen Twenties to the Eighties are commonly thought of to be lifeless areas, designed to intimidate or at the very least provoke. but in the event that they are just of use to these in energy, why is it they've been used so effectively in protest? From Petrograd in 1917 to Independence sq. in Kiev throughout the Orange Revolution, those areas became focuses for mass protest. starting in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, and taking in Warsaw, Ljubljana, Kharkov and Moscow, Owen Hatherley heads looking for rebellion, architectural glory and horror. alongside the way in which he encounters the extra civic squares that changed their authoritarian predecessors and unearths that, ironically, the outdated centres of energy are extra conducive to dissent than those new, ostensibly democratic plazas.

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A stark stone plinth alternates between a dark and a light red, and atop that are two gigantic, interlocking severed heads — one for each wing of the state, its sword and its shield. These heads are on a cyclopean scale, but that isn’t what makes them frightening. Again, this isn’t socialist realism in the strictest sense: it has none of the veracity, the Renaissance-inspired anatomical precision, that aesthetic demanded. It is representational, for sure, but it is informed by the long-vanquished avant-garde in its stylisation and reduction of the human face to a series of sharp, robotic planes.

Architecturally, the best thing about Potsdamer Platz is exactly its biggest problem. It isn’t postmodernist, in the sense of jolly, jokey historical reference, but it most certainly is retro. All of it, with a couple of minor and unconvincing exceptions, is a play on the architecture of the Weimar Republic, when German modernism was at its height. Hans Kollhoff’s eponymous Kollhoff Tower is a clinker-clad, angular and expressionistic play on Fritz Höger’s 1924 Chile-Haus in Hamburg, with a similar series of spatial distortions that make the whole structure feel like it is charging into the intersection, becoming an active element in its congestion.

The Silesian metropolis is based on coal and steel, much as it ever was; it actually stretches outside Poland altogether into the Czech Republic, where the city of Ostrava provides a similarly sprawling, polycentric, industrial form of urbanism. But walk around the centre of Ostrava on a Saturday and you’ll find something considerably more desolate than Katowice on a Sunday. There’s a short answer to this conundrum — Ostrava closed its mines, Katowice did not, and so maintains a liveliness that is deeply unusual in a Central European industrial city.

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