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What’s with the concrete spaceships?

Why Kiev became a centre of Soviet Brutalism and so-called “space architecture”

What’s with the concrete spaceships?

Kiev may be gaining a reputation as a glamorous city with an army of sunken-cheeked models hanging out in its hip nightclubs and bars, but it’s also home to an often overlooked type of architecture: Soviet Brutalism. 

Flamboyant, muscular buildings pepper the city, many of which look more like spaceships about to take off than the civic structures they are. “A lot of it was called ‘space architecture,’” says Clementine Cecil, an expert in Russian heritage who co-founded the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society. “The Space Race was massive for them, and a point of pride because they won it,” she says. “It provided huge inspiration for their buildings.”

The fantastical, flying saucer-like disc of the Ukrainian Institute of Scientific and Technological Research and Development is a case in point: it could almost double as an alien home. Hotel Salut sits right at the heart of the city and its concrete drum cantilevers dramatically above a rectangular podium. One of the most theatrical is Kiev’s crematorium, built from white concrete and found in the Park of Eternal Glory. It looks more like a Constructivist sculpture than a public building, its curved shape wrapped by giant, soaring wings.

What is most surprising, though, is that these buildings are all so young – they may look like they were built decades ago but in fact they date between 1970 and 1990. So why was Kiev knocking out such retro, if delightfully curious, buildings only recently? “It’s simply late development,” says Cecil. “Their architectural styles are later, they’re playing catch up.” In the 1950s and ’60s Kiev was dealing with a massive housing shortage, and only after that did they turn to their civic buildings. “But funding was very slow, it took a long time to build anything,” says Cecil, “and the Soviet tradition of Modernism was much slower to develop and different to much of Europe.”

But while these bold buildings can be found in many of the former USSR’s cities, what explains the particular flamboyance of those in Kiev? According to Cecil, “It could be a kind of Ukrainian tradition for decoration. They love pattern.”


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