For millions of Soviet citizens in the decades after World War II, they were home: the prefabricated apartment buildings known as khrushchyovki, after the Soviet leader who pushed their construction, Nikita Khrushchev.
But they were also the subject of derision: cheaply built, cookie-cutter housing blocks with paper-thin walls, low ceilings, and a five-story design that allowed authorities to eschew elevators and still remain in compliance with housing codes.
Soon, if President Vladimir Putin has his way, they will be no more. At least, in Moscow.
Putin on February 21 backed an ambitious plan to do away with khrushchyovki, telling Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin that he supports razing the units, which currently house around 1.6 million people in Moscow alone.
"I know the attitudes and expectations of Muscovites. Their hopes are that these buildings will be demolished and new housing will be built in their place," Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript. "It seems to me that this would be the correct decision."
When the mass housing project was launched under Khrushchev, the buildings were seen as temporary dwellings not meant to stand for more than 25 years or so. But they continued to be built until the early 1970s and remained a staple of Soviet cityscapes for decades. Despite significant deterioration, they continued to house people even after the fall of the U.S.S.R.
Butt Of Many Jokes
Faceless, prefabricated Soviet apartment buildings were famously lampooned in the classic 1975 film Irony Of Fate, whose key plot development comes when a drunk protagonist unwittingly travels to a different city and, thinking he's at his Moscow home, uses his own keys to enter an apartment with the same address in a five-story building.
They also spawned jokes, such as one that riffs on the combined toilet and bath in khrushchyovki, which differed from the separate rooms they occupied in Stalin-era apartment buildings.
"Khrushchev was able to connect the toilet with the bath," the joke goes, "but wasn’t able to connect the floor to the ceiling."
Moscow's previous mayor, the construction enthusiast Yury Luzhkov, launched a program in 1999 to tear down more than 1,700 khrushchyovki by 2011, though the 2008-09 financial crisis and Luzhkov's departure delayed those efforts.
The program, however, has continued under Sobyanin, Luzhkov's Kremlin-backed successor. He's made city beautification efforts a central pillar of his tenure -- and drawn allegations of corruption from political opponents along the way.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)
According to city authorities, 73 khrushchyovki in the Russian capital remain to be demolished under the original plan, and Sobyanin said on February 21 that he expects this to be completed next year.
But that plan covers only certain models of these buildings. This means that, even after completion of the Luzhkov-era plan, a large number of Muscovites will be living in "uncomfortable, to put it mildly," housing, Sobyanin told Putin.
"These are five-story buildings basically like the kind that we've torn down, but there's a lot more of them," Sobyanin said.
Sobyanin asked Putin to support legislation, which the mayor's office would draft, that would assist the city in executing planned demolitions and construction of new housing, an effort that would also involve resettling residents living in the affected buildings.
He added that the city government would handle the "financial and organizational aspects" of the plan by itself.
Sobyanin said on Twitter that the buildings set to replace the razed five-story blocks will house people "not for 50, but for 100 years."
Putin offered his support for the proposal but said the plan should be executed in such a way that "all people" who would be relocated under the project "are satisfied."