Architecture Publications

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The Housing Question: Tensions, Continuities, and Contingencies in the Modern City

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In contemporary conversations about urban housing, the cities of the former Eastern Bloc rarely come to mind as potential models for future development. Images persist of vast, grey, treeless expanses of space occupied by repetitive apartment blocks that dwarf their human inhabitants. This view does capture something about the experience of living in what came to be known as the “socialist city,” yet the cities had many other kinds of spaces—older urban fabric, small apartment blocks, green spaces, village remnants, and neighborhood shopping corridors. Often the existing and the new were integrated into a synthetic whole. The ambitious master plans for cities across the region included large swathes of housing provisioned with services such as schools, retail stores, cultural centers, utility services, and public transportation networks.[1] Labor and material shortages meant that the final results usually deviated (sometimes significantly) from these initial plans, leading in part to the bad reputation of socialist construction. Yet over time, some of the missing components have materialized and gaps have been filled. This process of completion and change continues even today.

[1] These units were known as mikroraions (microdistricts) in Soviet parlance, although the term was not typically used in Czechoslovakia. On the Soviet case, see Smith 2010.


Reprinted from ‘Infrastructural Thinking: Urban Housing in Former Czechoslovakia from the Stalin Era to EU Accession’, in The Housing Question: Tensions, Continuities, and Contingencies in the Modern City, ed. Edward Murphy and Najib B. Hourani (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 57–78. Copyright © 2013.

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Kimberly Elman Zarecor



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