Synopses & Reviews
When communism took power in Eastern Europe it remade cities in its own image, transforming everyday life and creating sweeping boulevards and vast, epic housing estates in an emphatic declaration of a noncapitalist idea. The regimes that built them are now dead and long gone, but from Warsaw to Berlin, Moscow to postrevolutionary Kiev, the buildings remain inhabited, populated by people whose lives were scattered by the collapse of communism.
Landscapes of Communism is a journey of historical discovery, plunging us into the lost world of socialist architecture. Recalling the work of W.G. Sebald and Rebecca Solnit, Owen Hatherley, a brilliant, witty, young urban critic shows how power was wielded in these societies by tracing the sharp, sudden zigzags of official communist architectural style: the superstitious despotic rococo of high Stalinism, with its jingoistic memorials, palaces, and secret policemenand#8217;s castles; East Germanyand#8217;s obsession with prefabricated concrete panels; and the metro systems of Moscow and Prague, a spectacular vindication of public space that went further than any avant-garde ever dared. Throughout his journeys across the former Soviet empire, Hatherley asks what, if anything, can be reclaimed from the ruins of Communismandmdash;what residue can inform our contemporary ideas of urban life?
Hatherley (Militant Modernism) an erudite writer offers a staggeringly detailed look at the buildings and urban designs of the Soviet Union its eastern European client states and as a bit of an afterthought China—“the only explorable legacy” of a political system that’s been largely gone for more than 25 years. This hefty densely researched volume is not for beginners. Hatherley acknowledges up front the inextricable ties of buildings and the economic system under which they are created and he vows an honest examination of the buildings that remain after the regimes that constructed them have crumbled. The pages are laced with architectural descriptions and the names of architects long consigned to the scrap heap of history. Some of this is fascinating (particularly a chapter devoted to the Moscow metro and a few other East Bloc underground rail systems highlighting the art design and political theory of a Communist society) but the exhaustive examinations of buildings include very little of the human dimension of the society that brought them into being. The chapter on Communist era memorials and monuments is instructive and interesting but in taking on these public commemorations in mainly architectural terms he fails to incorporate newer societies that would help explore the meaning behind them and the failure of those societies to care for the people who lived in the buildings they built. Bamp;w photos. (Mar.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"Owen Hatherleyand#8217;s eye is so acute, his architectural expertise so lightly deployed, his sympathies so wide and generous, that reading it is like a tour of a whole world of unsuspected curiosities and richnesses conducted by a guide whose wit is as refreshing as his knowledge is profoundand#133;I loved it, and Iand#8217;ll go back to it again and again."
"In the craven world of architectural criticism Hatherley is that rarest of things: a brave, incisive, elegant and erudite writer, whose books dissect the contemporary built environment to reveal the political fantasies and social realities it embodies."
"Hatherley has a wonderful eye for buildings and space, a good grasp of the history that spawned them, and a deft way of describing them...Iand#8217;d better take his book, big though it is, in my backpack next time I go to Warsaw, Lviv, Bucharest or elsewhere in the old Soviet empire. I might even throw out Sytin and take it to Moscow."
and#151;London Review of Books
"[Hatherley's] grasp of twentieth century social and cultural history is impressive, and he has created a witty, intimate and insightful book."
and#151;Sunday Times (London)
"Owen Hatherley goes in search of socialism via an epic and insightful study of Eastern bloc architecture."
and#147;Hatherley takes us on an extraordinary tour of architecture in what could loosely be called the ex-Iron Curtain countries."
About the Author
Owen Hatherley is the author of the acclaimed Militant Modernism, a defense of the modernist movement, and A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. He writes regularly on the political aesthetics of architecture, urbanism and popular culture for a variety of publications, including Building Design, Frieze, The Guardian, and New Statesman. He lives in London.