After logging in, you'll be able to save your favorite works of art in this section. Read more about “My Collection” in the “Project” section.
Push slider to the right
Registration successful.
Username already exists!
Passwords do not match!
Slider error
You are almost done. To activate your account, please click the link in the activation email which has been sent to your email address ( )
A new password has been sent.
The Nature of Socialist Modernism
Marija Drėmaitė
An optimistic Thaw
Soviet Lithuanian architecture of the 1960s experienced an optimistic “Thaw” period. After the Soviet leadership’s 1955 decision “On the removal of excess in construction and architecture,” the elaborate and decorative style of Soviet architecture was gradually replaced with “clean” modernism. For some, this meant a conditional liberalization of cultural and art long suppressed by Stalinist Socialist Realism, for others it brought new (but still strictly controlled) ties with the West. Modernism emphasized an optimistic picture of revitalized Soviet life. Though the construction sector viewed this first and foremost from an economic perspective (“faster, cheaper, more”) rather than in terms of aesthetics, architects and artists who yearned for integration into the international modernist community nevertheless began to enjoy real opportunities to bring suppressed ideas to life.
A significant impetus for change came with the Sixth International Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957 and accompanying exhibitions showcasing the visual and applied arts. Until then, the youngest Soviet generation had never seen contemporary Western art. The dissemination of modernism was further aided by the launch that same year of the magazine Dekorativnoe iskusstvo SSSR (Decorative Art of the USSR), which featured reporting from abroad and advocated the modernization of domestic and public spaces.
The stimulus for all of this change came from a program with the lofty title “Art for Everyday Life.” The design of applied artwork (ceramics, textiles, leather, metal) was designated a priority field of art, accelerating the introduction of modernist design in the Soviet Union and in the Baltic republics in particular.
The “thaw” in the cultural realm was marked not only by the liberalization of artistic expression, but also by a programmatic government concern for the people’s “material and domestic welfare.” This shift was clearly evident in the public sphere (in the mass media, for example). Within the context of the Cold War, a new field of focus – a more visible “domestic front” – emerged alongside the considerable attention already devoted to military readiness and armament. The race against the West to improve the material lives of citizens was meant to demonstrate that everyday Soviet life was just as modern and contemporary as in the West.
The differences between Soviet and Western domestic life became acutely evident with the opening of borders and the Soviet Union’s appearance at Expo ‘58 in Brussels, the first World’s Fair to be held after World War II. The USSR’s backwardness was on display for everyone attending the Expo. In 1959, an American exhibition in Moscow showcasing various domestic technologies and innovations in home appliances only served to further highlight Soviet underdevelopment. After these shows, Moscow began taking measures to modernize both the design of its exhibitions and the domestic life of Soviet citizens overall. This led to the opening of new cafés, cafeterias, stores, cinema houses, recreational facilities and sanatoriums; increased production of contemporary domestic technology products, furniture, and home appliances; and the start of planning for the production of inexpensive mass-produced automobiles.
The main goal, promise, and method of achieving “Khrushchevian prosperity,” however, centered on individual family apartments. A huge shortage of housing throughout the Soviet Union hampered efforts to provide even the most basic conditions for modern life. Moreover, the great majority of urban dwellers were still packed into the notorious “komunalkas” – communal apartments housing several families sharing a common bathroom and kitchen.
To address the problem, more and more architects were sent on organized trips abroad to learn firsthand about modern housing construction methods. Understandably, this usually meant travel to the so-called Socialist countries (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania), but, with the help of the Architect’s Union, a few architects were also able to reach the idealized West (Finland, Sweden, even France and Italy).
Architects were particularly pleased by the liberalization of their own trade publications. The Western architecture that had been cut off by the Iron Curtain became gradually more accessible in the form of glossy photographs printed in foreign architecture magazines. The journal Arkhitektura SSSR (Architecture of the USSR) began including more material from the West and it soon became possible to obtain (though not easily) Czech and Polish trade magazines. In the late 1960s, the Soviets signed an agreement with the legendary French modern architecture magazine L‘Architecture d‘aujourd‘hui (Architecture Today) to begin publishing a Soviet version in Russian.
In Lithuania, developments in architecture were showcased by the local journal Statyba ir architektūra (Construction and Architecture), whose title revealed the priority given to construction. In 1960, the state-run magazine Švyturys began featuring a column dedicated to contemporary architecture titled “Architektas dirba. Ar visada gerai?“ (Architect at work. But is that work always good?). Modernism as a clean, sound, and acceptable style was promoted in Jonas Minkevičius’ books Miestai vakar, šiandien, rytoj (Cities: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1963), Lietuvos TSR interjerai (Soviet Lithuanian Interiors, 1964) and Naujoji tarybų Lietuvos architektūra (New Soviet Lithuanian Architecture, 1964).
It quickly became clear that the liberalization underway was conditional and that many innovations were purely superficial. Nevertheless, a new generation of Lithuanian architects born in the 1930s and educated in the mid to late 1950s used their talent and connections to place themselves at the epicenter of architectural change and even began to dictate new styles. Having broken away from the architectural concepts dictated by Socialist Realism, they capitalized on the modernism of inter-war Lithuania and their experience with the West (primarily Scandinavia) and, together with architects in Estonia and Latvia, began shaping the image of Baltic modernism that later earned the region the names “the little (Soviet) West” or the “inner abroad of the Soviet Union.”
Architecture in the Soviet Union was dependent on political patronage and coordination. Even in this respect, however, change was palpable, as younger architects began occupying leading positions in architectural management in the 1960s. In 1962, Gediminas Valiuškis, a modernist and innovator, was appointed Senior Architect of the City of Vilnius, and remained in this post until 1988.
It could be said that the seeds of modernism planted in the late 1950s began to blossom into beautiful flowers by the late 1960s. On the other hand, architecture as never before became dependent on the construction industry and the typical designs and standardization that were the main aim and centerpiece of an entire decade. “Banal modernism,” or mass-produced residential housing and standardized designs, undoubtedly brought about the greatest change in the urban environment of the 1960s.
Long-term planning
Soviet modernist architecture of the 1960s was characterized by an almost fanatical faith in the power of long-term planning. Never before had there been so many long-range (evolutionary, developmental, and growth) plans being produced. So-called regional planning projects were already being launched in 1956, with Lithuania being one of the leading republics in this field, the result of rapid industrialization and accompanying urbanization, as well as the collectivization of rural communities and the construction of new collective farm settlements.
The first regional planning scheme was designed for the Kaunas District, a direct result of the construction of the Kaunas Hydroelectric Station (KHS) that required the transfer of entire settlements from the area to be flooded by the new Nemunas dam, creating what was later called Kauno marios (the Kaunas Lagoon). In 1958, architect Kazimieras Šešelgis oversaw the drawing up of general guidelines for the development of large settlements (industrial and cultural centers). By 1960, a Planning Methodology for Rural Districts (directed by architect Steponas Stulginskis) was prepared for the entire republic and was later used as the basis for regional planning schemes for all of the administrative units of the Lithuanian SSR drafted in 1967 by the Rural Construction Design Institute. Each regional plan stipulated the location of rural settlement construction and main design parameters (the number of residents, type of public service institutions and industrial complexes, etc.) to facilitate the preparation of general settlement plans. In 1966, the Lithuanian SSR Architecture and Construction Research Institute prepared a Plan for Recreational Areas in the Lithuanian SSR (under architects Vladas Stauskas, Giedrius Daniulaitis, et al) that proposed a system of tourism and recreational centers and assessed the diversity of the republic’s landscape and opportunities for public recreation.
In 1964, the Republican People’s Economic Council (“Sovnarkhoz”), as it was then known, commissioned a Long-Term Plan for the Distribution of Industry and Urban Development that outlined the location of industrial facilities, the construction of settlements, laying of roads, the proper use of water resources, and the resolution of matters pertaining to urbanization and agricultural restructuring, including a decision to simultaneously develop ten regional centers.
While in other countries urbanization (the transfer of rural inhabitants to cities) took centuries, in Lithuania this process transpired in one decade, and thus can be justifiably referred to as “turbo-urbanization.” The engine of this process was turbo-industrialization, since industry was considered to be the main and sole promoter of urban growth. The Long-Term Regional Planning Scheme for the entire republic approved in 1967 (covering the period up to 1980) was the result of collaboration by several academic institutions. The regional administrative make-up and development of Lithuania envisioned in the scheme remained in force until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The 1950s and 1960s also saw the adoption of the majority of master plans for Lithuania’s cities, envisioning the clear division of urban territories into industrial and residential zones—the culmination of functional zoning in urban planning.
Urban modernism from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s was associated with particularly large plots of land: residential neighborhoods, university campuses, industrial zones, commercial districts, hospital complexes, and cemeteries. Large swaths of territory were viewed as critically essential elements in this period of expansion and modernization.
New city centers encompassing new commercial and administrative quarters were an essential part of modern urban planning, the principles of which envisioned the demolishing of old buildings in existing city centers and their replacement with new, modern complexes. This was a common feature of the reconstruction efforts of post-war European cities, as seen in such examples as the new city center design for Sergels Torg (Sergel’s Square) in Stockholm, which inspired similar projects in many other European cities.
In 1964, a contest announced in Vilnius calling for detailed proposals to reconstruct the right bank of the Neris River quickly became a competition between old and new ideas. One proposal in particular stood out among the various submissions prepared by architects from across Lithuania. Under the direction of Algimantas Nasvytis, a group of young architects (including his brother Vytautas Nasvytis, Jaunius Makariūnas, Vytautas Čekanauskas, and Vytautas Brėdikis) presented their interpretation of prevailing Western architectural concepts for commercial centers featuring a multi-perspectival commercial street and square for pedestrian shoppers. The proposal envisioned the intersection of two main arteries on the broad, flat embankment of the Neris River. One axis was to join the old section of Vilnius with the new districts by means of a bridge over the Neris (today’s Baltasis [White] Bridge, completed in 1995) and then ascend up the riverbank by means of broad, terrace-like steps to meet the second axis, Ukmergė Street (today’s Konstitucijos prospektas), beyond which was an area set aside for high-rise residential housing.
Another modernist project focused on the construction of large university campuses and student housing villages. A rapid rise in the number of students and the expanding scope of academic research had led to considerable growth in the number of people working and studying at Lithuanian universities, thus requiring an equally rapid construction of new university facilities. Planners anticipated that the growth of universities would continue at a similar pace, so it became vital to establish academic complexes in open, unobstructed areas to permit future growth. The most suitable areas were on the outer edges of cities. Since future growth was deemed essential, university campus designs had to be structurally flexible and located on open territorial plots.
The application of these ideas can be seen in two large-scale projects: the minimalist architecture of the campus for the Kaunas Polytechnic Institute (designed by Vytautas Dičius, 1964–1970, and known today as the Kaunas University of Technology), and the architecture of the Saulėtekis university campus for Vilnius University (architects: Rimantas Dičius, Zigmas Jonas Daunora, Julius Jurgelionis, 1966–1970). Ground for the latter project was broken on the northern edge of Vilnius’ Antakalnis district in 1968. The 175-hectare territory was divided into three zones: an educational district (with buildings housing various departments of Vilnius University as well as the Vilnius Engineering and Construction Institute—today’s Vilnius Gediminas Technical University); a cultural and sports area (with a 600-seat cafeteria and sports center); and a residential section consisting of 4-5 story dormitory buildings and several taller 16-story dormitories on the northern edge of the campus.
Another type of monumental modernist project was a series of hospital complexes. Their designs were also usually based on a scientific rationale: planners believed that concentrated structures were more effective. A group of architects specializing in this field soon emerged in Vilnius, tasked with designing large hospital and medical clinic complexes adapted to modern functionality—specifically two university hospitals in Antakalnis (designed by Eduardas Chlomauskas and Zigmantas Liandzbergis in 1960–1966 and 1966) and a large-scale complex of hospitals and clinics to the north of Vilnius, in Santariškės, known today as the Santariškių Clinics (designed in the late 1960s by Chlomauskas, Liandzbergis, and Regimantas Plyčius).
A common trait of many grandiose projects is that they are often only fulfilled in part. These projects, too, were only partially completed.


Write a comment
No comments.

Sources and links


Mokslas ir technika
Statyba ir architektūra
1964, Nr. 3
Statyba ir architektūra
1964, Nr. 11
1961, Nr. 14
Naujoji tarybų Lietuvos architektūra
Vilnius: Mintis, 1964


Personal archives of Algimantas Nasvytis
Personal archives of Marija Drėmaitė
Lithuanian Central State Archives
[[item.description]] [[item.details]]
You have subscribed successfully.
Patikrinkite savo pašto dėžutę ir paspauskite nat gautos nuorods norėdami patvirtinti užsakymą.