Американская Хрущевка

53 thoughts on “Американская Хрущевка”

    1. I read him years ago and still have his books. His thesis states that the Soviet system was so visibly bad at delivering services and goods that Russians had no choice but to get good at self provisioning and improvising. Hence, Russians were accidentally reasonably prepared to cope (at least physically) with the giant crash.

      Of course, the reality is more nuanced. A lot of middle aged men drank themselves to death when they lost their status as breadwinners. The women were generally more pragmatic. They managed to roll up their sleeves and get on with solving immediate problems like how to grow a garden and swap essential from the neighbor ladies. I saw that directly while I was exploring the region as things began to fall apart.

      Dmitry has since moved back to St. Petersburg with the expectation that America is approaching some similar Soviet-like crash of empire. Who knows?

      1. Interesting. I didn’t know that he moved back to Russia. The friend who recommended him said he was living on a boat or something like that.

        Your mention of middle-aged Soviet men drinking themselves to death makes me wonder if the “deaths of despair” (opioid overdoses, suicides, etc.) happening right now in the United States are a kind of analogue, except that our economy is supposedly doing just great right now.

        1. I have relatives who are middle aged white guys who struggle to find good jobs and maintain the kind of middle class life they thought they were entitled to. They haven’t become drug addicts or hard drinkers, but they’re suffering health effects from the stress of falling farther and farther behind all the time. Some may succumb to premature death by minimum wage, no health insurance, and no pension…

          Orlov used to live in Boston. He made good money as a computer engineer type. Bought a condo before the last bubble. Sold it at the top of the market and then moved on to a sailboat with his wife and squirreled away the cash.

          My understanding of the situation is his family (parents) stepped away from the Soviet Union before it crashed. They had a better life in the US than they would have back in Russia. Now Orlov is stepping away from the US in anticipation of a crash here. He feels Russia might be the better place to ride out a future storm.

          I don’t have a horse in that race. I’m not ever going to live full time in Russia, although I enjoyed visiting. I will say that a lot of Orlov’s work in recent years was extra kiss-assy toward the Russians. That might have been genuine, or it might have been part of a deliberate strategy to ensure a warm welcome by the authorities. Whatever.

          1. Lately, Orlov has been engrossed in the perfection of the design of a live-aboard escape-pod sailing vessel for do-it-youself escapers. Out of curiosity (only) and an interest in sailboats I subscribed to his now-and-then email updates of this project – interesting stuff, if one is interested in such stuff, that is.

            1. Looks like he’s designing a bigger version of a Coresound 20 with much poorer naval architecture since he has no experience. B and B Yachtworks would’ve designed and built him a better boat for much less and been done about 4 years ago. He hasn’t even built anything – it’s all in CAD. Like most software engineers, he’s convinced he’s smarter than everyone else. Nothing better to do with his time I guess.

  1. Just clipped that paragraph about the hotels to send to my husband. We’ve wondered out loud many times, while driving through little two bit towns in Texas with several of those kinds of places springing up, “Who is staying in these places?” You see them all the time next to the one lone gas station at the corner of Farm Road XXX and State Highway YYY, and we’ve found their presence so puzzling. But seeing them in a future iteration as places where poor and aging rural folks can hang their hats? Ah. Makes much more sense.

    My husband is a corporate road warrior and stays in many luxe Hilton brand properties; our favorite place to spend his points for family travel is Homewood Suites. They are remarkably consistent even when run as franchises; we’ve found them to be generally clean, the no-smoking policy is rigorously enforced, and having a little kitchenette and pull-out couch is helpful when traveling with kids. I’ve thought more than once that if our fortunes were to change dramatically I could live modestly in such a place – with some nearby space to go for walks and a place out of the sun and rain to read books and write I could be ok. As those are my only requirements for my retirement, outside of bodily necessities, I can see living in the Sunset Suites™ Golden Rewards© by Marriott, were it ever to become necessary.

    1. I also have minimal living requirements and currently live in a 700 square foot one bedroom aparent. I can,(and have) lived happily in much smaller spaces. What I really need is that small space to be in a good location. For me that means a walkable Main Street town. That could be a village in the country or a medium scale city. What I can’t tolerate is the Jiffy Lube landscape of much of suburbia.

    2. The domestic oil and gas boom has fueled a boom in such hotels in the fracking regions. [Pun intended] There are lots of newish ones along I-70 in Eastern OH and Western PA, an otherwise depressed area.

      I suspect the same may be true in Texas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

  2. The Soviet examples seem to have more entrances than the hotels do. Converting hotels to apartments will require a bit of reconfiguration, though not too much.

    The bigger issue from a land use perspective is that having isolated boxes requires lots of asphalt to be built and maintained. The Soviet buildings that were in a more urban environment (vs. the blocks-in-a-park type) seem more economically sustainable.

    1. As I’ve said, I’m less bothered by the aesthetics of bulk housing than the institutional dependency on either central governments or corporations. Your links to Tiny Houses have a Russian equivalent called a dacha. These are small self built country cottages that are more or less off-grid or grit-lite (a little electricity but hand pumped water and some bottled gas for cooking.) Russians have a long tradition of having access to tiny plots of land near the city where regulations are less rigorous.

  3. But it’s looking highly likely for a significant segment of the population. Will Corporate America care for individuals any better than the Politburo? How much cash do you have on hand?

    Hahaha! Speaking of the US looking like the Soviet Union, didn’t the Soviet Union collapse? I’ve been to Russia twice and it’s Moscow, Nizhny-Novgorod, St. Petersburg, and the cities in Siberia (Omsk, Tomsk, etc) that the Russians flee to when the Krauts or French invade. And Vladivostok. There’s not much else. Going outside Moscow is like going back decades in time.

    1. I’d actually prefer to live in those “decades back in time” cities. They are much more human, even if they don’t have the latest amenities. When I was in Russia I found them wonderful.

  4. There was some fannie mae research floating around the interwebs that in 2017 the price per square foot of a 4-7 story apartment building came into parity with the 1-3 story tier, which is a sort of a watershed moment for development economics. We’re in the mid-rise era of American cities.

    https://www.fanniemae.com/resources/file/research/emma/pdf/MF_Market_Commentary_031517.pdf

    Personally, I’ve made peace with the fact that these 4-7 story boxes are the most efficient way to deliver MF units, hotels, etc. And, ergo, it’s probably going to be dominant mode of development for the foreseeable future. Our cities are probably going to be blanketed in them in 20 years.

    1. These can be made livable. I stayed with friends in Waldstadt 2, a development in Potsdam just outside Berlin built in East German times. The individual units were clean and light, there was bike storage for each unit, a small shopping centre and a five-minute walk to the train into Berlin. The most stunning feature was the forest (Waldstadt = Forest City in German) next to the development: it was like a standard American suburb’s population had all been swept into highrises and the rest of the land had been turned into a managed forest. There were birds of prey, kilometres of walking trails and wild boar to hunt in the spring. High-rises don’t have to be turned into concrete slums.

      1. I was put up temporarily in a unit in one of these buildings as part of a work relocation.

        https://www.google.com/maps/@43.0201284,-87.9123807,3a,75y,17.46h,102.52t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sy1ozEA8jrfFqrsVofeM7fw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
        There’s 3 identical buildings. 40 units per building/120 units total. Each building has a ground floor commercial stall and parking for 14 cars in the structure of the building. 78 surface parking spots between the buildings (so exactly 1 spot/unit). The developer built the complex for about $100K/unit.

        Urban infill. ~30 minute brisk walk to city hall, good neighborhood amenities, etc. It’s in the zone around downtown that has decent, regular bus service but everyone keeps a Toyota Corolla or similar. $10 ubers get to a lot places.

        First these 3 and now about 10 others have gone up in the area, and now feels like a pretty normal urban neighborhood where before it was a desolate post-industrial rust belt hardscape, with a few tex-mex restaurants & biker bars.

        1. Great link and example. Yep. These are Milwaukee khrushchyovkas. Notice I didn’t say this building type is good or bad. It’s just efficient and ubiquitous. My value judgement centers on institutional scale, not architecture per se. I notice across the street on one side is a city block that’s almost entirely surface parking – with no cars parked on it. And on the other side is what’s left of the old pre WWII town of individual homes and small businesses.

    2. “In 2017 the price per square foot of a 4-7 story apartment building came into parity with the 1-3 story tier.”

      That’s the stick-built multifamily housing, on a cement podium. And I don’t mind saying that I worry about what will happen to them down the line when the plastic electrical wring gets old. Lots of them seem to burn down before they are even finished.

      Hmmm — I went looking for a link, and it seems that the latest inferno might have been arson.

      https://www.nj.com/somerset/2020/01/he-threatened-online-to-burn-down-a-building-days-later-he-set-the-bound-brook-fire-cops-say.html

      I will say I’m glad that attached or multifamily housing has to be semi-fireproof in NYC, except Staten Island. Although I understand that in a place like SF, other threats would make a masonry bearing wall building even more dangerous.

      1. I’m not sure these are regionally appropriate everywhere. In Milwaukee, I think they make some sense. The water table is very high near downtown (it is on a great lake…), which makes building anything underground very expensive. Similar to most buildings downtown, these are all built without basements. They just pound structural steel in the ground and build the first level like it’s box store.

        They also super-insulate them, putting insulation between the framing and around the whole building. The unit that I lived in had a heat pump system, supported by an electric heated floor. I ran neither during the winter. Open windows are sufficient in the summer here.

        The city is pretty soggy so fire risk is fairly low. More than fire risk, I’d be concerned about mold. The place was so tight that I had to keep towels on window ledges because a puddle of condensation would accumulate.

  5. I care way less about the look of them than you, but my main problem with this is the Soviet ones form a city while in the US examples they are the tallest thing around and mostly surrounded by empty lots. Not even parking lots, just fields of grass! The ones around me are all built at random angles which prevents them from blending in and forming a coherent city.

    1. I didn’t comment on the aesthetics of these buildings. That’s in the eye of the beholder. I can’t say I love the look of a lot of vinyl sided split level ranch homes. “Whatever.” But I take your point about how individual buildings combine to form a coherent town
      Some do. Others don’t. And trust me, the vacant fields on the edge of Bozeman will be filled with Jiffy Lubes and Burger Kings in no time.

      1. I didn’t comment on the aesthetics of these buildings. That’s in the eye of the beholder.

        There is an extent to which this is true but there is also such a thing as “aesthetics.” Take a look at the Georges Pompidou Center, compare it to Notre Dame, and tell me aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. As with Brian, this is the statement that stuck out for me:

    “What both a Soviet and American khrushchyovka have in common is a structural dependence on larger institutions.”

    The essential point isn’t the shape and size of your living space as much as your ability to express your humanity. That is, to produce something and express yourself within that confine in order to be an active part of the surrounding community and economy instead of just a consumer and a recipient of corporate/government services.

    Give me a garden or workshop or let me make something out of my home. If you just limit me to being a recipient, then you might as well take me straight from the hospital nursery to the old folk’s home. Yes I can go out and work a job to help support society, but then that part of my life is totally separate from the rest of it and probably damaging to my health as well.

  7. Maybe the story should begin with the period where everyone built their own little dachas or for Americans, farm House, barn ,etc. Two vast countries with blending of cultures, America with a few languages USSR with over 100. Peasants move to the cities , both countries urban slums grow. Regulations galore. Soviets and China become more capitalist America experiments with socialist ideas. Russia has chain hotels , America has Code Enforcement on every corner and old motels are rented by the month to the impoverished. Post Cold War beliefs of urban planning, ordinances , boards and committees havent worked.

  8. My wife works at the Hilton so we get travel discounts, but rarely can book space at the Hilton itself. So we’ve stayed in countless Hampton Inns and such around the country. They’re all the same but the new buildings are reserved for urban/upscale markets. Could be a worse fate than living out my golden years in a place like that…

    But… even though it’s a proven typology….”What both a Soviet and American khrushchyovka have in common is a structural dependence on larger institutions.” After the fall of the USSR, what was the determining factor in whether they were re-used? In the early 2000s, I stayed in a cheap 5 story hotel on the outskirts of Moscow. The stray dogs rooting through the dirty snow covered trash out front was a nice touch to give it that apocalyptic Eastern Europe vibe! On the inside though, it was safe, refurbished and well insulated. And close to the Metro. How many Hampton Inns will get the same treatment?

  9. Regarding the American chain hotels: “While these are currently hotels they’re intentionally designed to convert to long term accommodations as the buildings age and markets shift.”

    Say more! Is there an actual official plan to do this?

    1. Hotel chains build and operate their properties for a certain amount of time. Then they either give them a reno for another cycle or sell them on to the secondary market. You see this with fast food chains. The Peruvian restaurant with the distinctive Pizza Hut roofline or the Chinese take-away place that used to be a Burger King.

      1. Interesting that those fast food places don’t use particularly distinctive building shapes anymore (Taco Bell and Pizza Hut especially), just add-on cladding that can easily be removed when the building is sold and repurposed. I actually consider the down-cycling to be a good thing, because they are solid buildings and good for local restaurants.

    2. I had never heard about this plan before, but now that I think about it, it seems obvious.

      This doesn’t happen at nice hotels, but when I stay at a discount hotel, my room often has a micro-kitchen with a stove, fridge, kitchen sink, and dishwasher. I have never felt the need to whip up an oxtail stew while staying at a hotel, but if they are designed to convert to long term housing, then it makes sense to include these features.

      Some of those hotels were looking fairly run-down too. I bet they’re only five years away from their next stage of life.

      1. Hotels and motels with kitchenettes cater to business travelers who stay for a month or so on the company’s expense account, traveling families who like a little home cooking on the road, recently divorced folks in transition, emergency relocation after disasters… etc. The switch to permanent housing is a matter of economics, rebranding, change of ownership, and local zoning dynamics.

  10. Regarding the American chain hotels: “they’re intentionally designed to convert to long term accommodations as the buildings age and markets shift”

    Say more about this!

  11. Why do I think the Kruscheyovka conversation/kitchen sink dramas were more compelling than those in the Montana dorms or Spring Hill Quality Suites? Look at the peasant women waving from the balcony at 0:24 in traditional headscarves. First-generation off the farm, living in the modernity of the apartment block. No TV. No internet. A bridge between worlds. By the time they became elderly people it would all collapse around them. They had no idea a polite young American with a mullet haircut was coming for tea.
    Here in the USA, we think we know what we don’t know. Maybe I will be end up hosting a young Chinese man in the garden of my decrepitude.

  12. There are a bunch of these going up just down the road from where I live – which is an older mobile home park; i.e., the 60’s/70’s version of the same thing hereabouts.

    1. Mobile homes and their associated parks are in many ways the American version of fast cheap mass housing. Mobile homes are also the American twist on the classic Russian dacha. Small cabins built simply and cheaply usually in semi-rural areas. I’d say the dachas are superior.

      1. Never been in a Dacha, though my Dad lived in one as a kid growing up in Czarist Ukraine, but I can well imagine they’re far more sturdy than my double-wide since just about anything else but a tent is.
        The park I live in is well kept, as are most of the dwellings therein, but both the park and most of the dwellings are pushing 45-plus yrs. (well beyond the life span imagined by their constructors) so I imagine the sell-off by the owners is not far off since MH parks are eminently convertible to other, more robust purposes.

        1. The Czar was overthrown in 1917. That’s the same year my Sicilian grandmother was born. 103 years is a long time for humans, although not so long for the pendulum swings of history. Even if your dad was very young in 1917 and produced you at a tender age you must be… 90? Mozel tov!

          1. May I humbly submit that Martin doesn’t need to be near 90. He doesn’t claim that he has any memory of the Dacha, only that his father “grew up” in one.

            His father may have been born in 1900 (so 17 yrs old when the Czar was overthrown) and then had him a little later in life, say, at 42 (I became a first-time father at 39). If that’s the case, Martin is in his late 70’s.

              1. Yeah, they were – packed up what they could carry and emigrated to Alberta, Canada in 1906 or ’07. He said the thing that pushed them out was the pogroms carried out by the Czar’s bully-boy Cossacks against people with non-Russian names. My people were (are) German and apparently immigrated to Ukraine under Katherine the Great, but I guess that didn’t matter. Anyway, I’m rather thankful they left – their village was less than 100 miles from where Chernobyl sits now.

                1. Hey! I’ve been to that area. Radomyshl. A friend here in San Francisco traced her roots back to that area. While I was in Kiev I traveled to see both her ancestral village and Chernobyl. Beautiful country, but not so great history. Her people were driven out by pogroms as well.

                  1. I’m getting way off topic here so I’ll stop hereafter. I googled Radomyshl – Dad’s village (Gordonytz sp?) was in the same area NE of Zhitomyr but was either destroyed or renamed, ’cause I haven’t been able to locate it on any maps I’ve consulted.

                    1. I’m familiar with the German settlers of Eastern Europe under Tzarina Catherine. They were invited to the less productive parts of Russia to increase the population and cultivate the land. The Germans of 200 years ago were both industrious and desperate. They were eventually so successful that they were resented by the locals and driven off the land when a new tzar took power.

                      My friend Rachel was from a Jewish family. Radomyshl was 90% Jewish a century ago. Now there’s no trace… What the pogroms missed the Nazis finished off.

                  2. > Her people were driven out by pogroms as well.

                    Despite the inevitability of cycles of growth, stagnation, collapse, rebirth often discussed here, I pray that this is a cycle we don’t repeat again (though I know that it is happening now in places like Burma).

  13. Capitalism’s claim to fame: “we put lipstick on the pig.”

    Efficiency is the real enemy here. How to do the most with the least. That’s not *always* bad, of course, but when the mindset roots deep we end up with less and less human results.

    I’ve helped a few people put budgets together and I always tell them “leave some fat”. Humans need it. But our society(ies) are getting so tight, and efficient, that we see less and less of it and that is damaging on more than an institutional level.

      1. Efficiency and resilience are necessarily opposites; in order for something to be resilient it has to have failsafes, redundancies, fallbacks; all of these are inefficient.

      2. The effect of hyper-efficiency is to redistribute risk, hence fragility, towards the masses, while the investor builds a treasure chest to reduce their personal fragility.

        But ultimately, that treasure chest can only protect you from fragility insomuch as you can pay a subset of the masses to protect you from the rest.

  14. I call those boxy hotels-by-the-interstate “shoebox hotels” because of their proportions and interchangeability.

    (When I have a choice I try to stay at the newest one as they don’t age well.)

    And the retirement rebrandwill be “Bonvoy Sunset Suites™ Golden Rewards© by Marriott” 🙂

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