Revisiting the role of architects in planning large-scale housing in the USSR: the birth of socialist residential districts in Tallinn, Estonia, 1957–1979 (2017).
In Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, housing estates are often associated with inhumane architecture and unwelcoming public space, an outcome that can be attributed to strict design requirements in a rigid centralized system. Due to the uniformity of residential housing produced during socialist times, both the design process and its master – the architect – are believed to have played only minor roles in shaping townscapes. This study, situated in the large housing estates of Tallinn, Estonia, challenges these assumptions using analyses of archival material (relating to planning procedures during state socialism) and articles in specialized magazines.The study also explains – through first-hand interviews with senior architects who were key players in building socialist cities – the relations between Soviet regulations and vital elements of the city-building process, including creativity, power, and artistry. Analysis of primary source materials highlights an oversimplification of socialist modernism, which suggests more nuanced explanations for town planning outcomes. Findings suggest that regulations issued in Moscow for Union of Soviet Socialist Republic-wide planning played a less important role than previously assumed in town planning outcomes in Estonia. International modernist city planning ideals, combined with local expertise, strongly influenced town planning practice in the Soviet ‘West’.