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Prefabricated housing was a global and cross-cultural phenomenon that defined the architecture of the twentieth century. No other architectural endeavour has had a greater influence on people's daily lives or their sense of freedom within their own four walls. It is still too early to assess whether this struggle for affordable homes – and for social equality – was a failure or success. When the reconstruction of Europe's war-torn cities began in the 1950s, planning and construction quickly became part of a political agenda that promised hope, happiness, and progress. Wide government support, both in the East and the West, enabled mass housing to flourish, providing many families with an affordable home in a short period of time. The ideological conflict during the Cold War inspired a flurry of capitalist and socialist strategies for solving the housing problem.

The success story of standardised mass housing in the Soviet Union begins in the mid-1950s. Until his death in 1953, Joseph Stalin had promoted an extravagant, neo-classical form of architecture, characterised by diverse and costly decorative elements. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, introduced a radical change in planning and construction. Millions of prisoners, released from labour camps by decree of Khrushchev, were flocking to the cities and searching for a home, which placed even greater pressure on the already strained housing market. Large new four- to five-storey housing blocks with very similar building forms soon emerged across the Soviet Union. This form of standardised mass housing, bearing the name Khrushchyovka, changed the face of Soviet cities. These new buildings intro­duced an urban – albeit monotonous – quality to many settlements in Siberia, the Eurasian Steppe, and the Far East for the first time.

Prefabricated housing accounted for up to 75 per cent of all homes in the Soviet Union by the time of its dissolution in 19911. The rest of the homes primarily comprised conventional brick buildings, though these had been largely built to standard designs. These numbers characterised the housing stock of almost all municipalities in the Soviet republics. In Tashkent, the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), the share of prefabricated housing rose to 75 per cent by the early 1990s, with a total floor area of between 3.1 and 3.5 million square metres. These numbers also typified other socialist states such as the GDR, where ­prefabricated buildings made up 75 per cent of all housing. The construction of new homes dropped by almost 50 per cent in terms of floor area between 1991 and 1995.

All housing construction was completely centralised in the Soviet Union. The state's project institutes developed the standardised designs; its housing combines constructed the buildings. The housing series were designed to be universal and were adapted with small modifications for different ­regions – with extreme climates, risk of earthquakes, and permafrost for example. As such, the panelised building could be exported inter­nationally to countries across the socialist world, from Cuba to Chile, from North Korea to Vietnam. State project institutes in Central and Eastern Europe also dev­eloped their own housing series based on the Soviet system. Series I-464 was an especially popular export product to allied socialist states.

Throughout this process, Soviet architects were drawing on ideas that had already been developed at the Bauhaus in Dessau in the 1920s. Hundreds of architects and engineers emigrated from Germany to the Soviet Union around 1930, partly to escape the financial crisis in their home country and partly out of a wish to help establish a new social model. Ernst May, Frankfurt's city planner from 1925 to 1930, was a key figure in modernist housing. He and his task force, the so-called May Brigade, experimented with prefabricated construction methods for two years and would have a lasting influence on industrial mass housing in the USSR. However, Stalin's purges of the 1930s and the outbreak of the Second World War put a halt to the further development of prefabrication methods. The crucial turning point for Soviet mass housing came twenty years later, when the state purchased a licence for the Camus System. This French panel technology became the basis for prefabricated construction across the Soviet Union, promising the mass production of homes at a scale otherwise only found in the automotive industry.
The principles of industrialised construction had reached their maturity by the 1960s and underwent few changes in the following decades. But the diversity of the early housing series gradually dwindled due to the pressures of economic optimisation, the decline in material quality, and – parti­cularly in East Germany – the emigration of specialist workers. The resulting mono­tony of prefabricated housing estates is still seen as a failure of an entire social model to this day. However, the prefabricated homes offered around 170 million people in the former socialist countries a place to live and improved their living standards. Today, Soviet-era microdistricts look like modern slums due to poor building maintenance and shabby outdoor areas, if outdoor areas exist at all. But we cannot blame prefabricated housing for these failures. Far more detrimental were the urban plans with inhumane scales and the principle of strict functional separation that led to dormitory towns and sleepy residential settlements without any urban quality.
We need to understand the strict cost calculations and planning standards that constrained Soviet architects in order to explain the monotonous appearance of Soviet mass housing. A paradigm shift took place in Soviet architecture in 1954, when Khrushchev publicly denounced the excesses of Stalinist architecture and blamed the architects under Stalin for causing needlessly high building costs. Khrushchev's blanket criticism led to a new architectural culture centred on cost control, which in turn stifled architectural creativity. Against this backdrop, it is a delight to see the creative ways in which Soviet architects performed the tasks that did leave a certain degree of design freedom. In residential buildings, three sections particularly stand out: the façades / sun-protection elements; the balconies / loggias; and the stairwells / entrances. Architects adorned the large panels, prefabricated concrete parts, and sun-shading elements for these building sections with traditional ornamentation – as long as their designs were approved by the local party committees.

The joy in architectural ornamentation was particularly pronounced in the southern Soviet republics – for example in the multi-ethnic Caucasus or in Central Asia, where there was and is a rich Islamic heritage. Among these regions, the Uzbek SSR especially stands out as a place where national trad­itions formed a symbiosis with Soviet construction standards. Moscow's policy was to leave a certain degree of creative freedom to the architectural collectives and housing combines in the faraway union republics. And Tashkent can be seen as a successful outcome of this policy. Tashkent's success also had the perhaps unintended effect of highlighting an analogy between the principles of prefabricated construction and the principles of Islamic art. It affirmed the idea, championed by Khrushchev, that location is interchangeable, that the same construction method can be applied to all conceivable building types. Or to put it more provocatively: Islamic art and the Soviet ideology of standardisation both rest on the recurrence of basic forms and manifest themselves in similar architectural forms, though they are rooted in different cultural world views.

Planning and construction were strictly divided in the Soviet Union, and archi­tects did not exercise creative oversight of building projects ­other than in rare exceptions – when they were designing important public buildings, for example. As such, the names of the architects who designed standardised housing series are not known to us today. Similarly, the small number of artworks on buildings mostly remain anonymous. To this day, there have been few studies of façade ornamentation as an independent art form in its own right2.

Tashkent is a city that exemplifies Soviet architecture while boasting distinctly regional features. It became the site of an all-union reconstruction effort after the earthquake of 1966 destroyed most of its historic centre. Republics from across the Soviet Union sent workers to rebuild the city in line with a pre-approved masterplan. Soviet propaganda organs seized on the event as a demonstration of the so-called friendship of the peoples3, which shows the importance of architecture, alongside space travel and military technology, in the imagination of the Soviet people. However, while the city of Tashkent was built in accordance with a markedly Soviet architectural style, it contains of a wealth of regional ornamentation unmatched by any other republic of the USSR.
The brothers Petr Jarsky (1929–1993), Nikolay Jarsky (1931–2014), and Alexander Jarsky (1936–2015) created an array of remarkable artworks for buildings in Tashkent. It is thanks to them that the city boasts over 200 façades with colourful mosaics and filigree reliefs. Their floral patterns and programmatic motifs combine the heritage of Islamic architecture with Soviet modernism's euphoric anticipation of the future. The Jarsky ­brothers arrived in Tashkent shortly after the earthquake of 1966, seeking to introduce their ideas on façade design to the city.
The Jarsky brothers' first building-height decorative mural adorned a nine-storey residential building on Ulitsa Mukim in the district of Chilanzar (Figure 7). Many years later, the architect Jury Miroshnichenko made the following comment on this design, created by the eldest brother Petr:
"This design bewildered the architects. Its composition, colour, and subject matter did not reflect the Uzbek people's popular ideas on ornamentation. The red, brown, and golden hues; the sheer size; the boldness of the composition; and the imaginative power of the creators did not immediately speak to us. Only the unmistakable talent of the painters made it clear that the design needed to be realised. An analysis of the first mural revealed that it drew on many elements of Uzbekistan's cultural heritage. The work was closer to the ancient art of Afrasiyab and Panjakent than to creations from later periods, which typically display a more intricate ornamental style. The use of ancient, forgotten stylistic and compositional traditions conferred on this work a special value and made it stand out among modernist artworks"5


Although the author's comments refer to the artwork rather than the archi­tecture as a whole, such high praise is a rare find for a standardised, prefabricated residential building in the literature on Soviet housing. As such, the works of the Jarsky brothers can be seen as unique, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in the history of Soviet architecture. It becomes clear that Tashkent was attempting to introduce variety to the monotonous panel-­building façades by way of ornamentation, reliefs, and varying arrangements of façade elements.

Nikolay Jarsky, who was the chief architect of the DSK-2 housing combine from 1972 to 1991, not only designed mosaics but also reliefs for ­balcony parapets and sun-protection elements in front of loggias, the so-called Panjaras. These elements had an enormous influence on the cityscape, which prompted Jarsky's employee Miroshnichenko to euphorically claim:
"A group led by head architect Jarsky and head engineer Prassolova has been working for a number of years on a new kind of relief that can be used for multi-storey façades. This relief, unlike smaller ones developed in previous years, has been met with great approval. Since then, a design team at the housing combine has been tirelessly planning the prefabrication of the relief. It has already brought greater var­iety to the city's buildings, and each district has taken on its own individual architectural appearance. Today we can speak of a unique Tashkent style!"6
Outside the Uzbek SSR, the concept of a "Soviet" style was reduced down to the principles of rationalisation and optimisation7. On 9 July 1963, Soviet architects gathered at the Central House of Architects in Moscow for a two-day conference on the design and theory of a socialist architectural style. Georgy A. Gradov, the chairman of the Commission for Theory and Criticism, outlined his view on the subject at length. He argued that throughout history, architectural styles had developed haphazardly. That in the capitalist world – under bourgeois ideology and under the conditions of the free market – the search for style was being replaced by fleeting trends.
"In contrast to the capitalist world, we bring a degree of order to the process of developing Soviet architecture, building our actions upon our knowledge of the objective laws that govern the development of society. We have the opportunity to steer the development of the ­socialist architectural style"8
Gradov's definition, devoid of any meaning, alluded to a statement Nikita Khrushchev had made on the future of architecture during the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:
"It is a point of honour for our architects to create a socialist architectural style that embodies the best of humanity's architectural thought – a style that must rest on the progressive creations of Soviet architecture. It is essential that buildings offer maximal comfort, that they are durable, economical, and beautiful"9
Khrushchev had invoked the Vitruvian triad – firmitas, utilitas, and ­venustas – to describe the fundamentals of architecture par excellence, rounding it off with the need for economic efficiency.

Gradov had trained and worked as an architect under Stalin, and was therefore inclined to a traditional, academic way of thinking, but he also ­attempted to free himself from this past. The conference report, published in the magazine Architektura SSSR, cites extensively from Gradov's speech:
"The decisive battle against architectural excess and ornamentation has led to a triumphant new style – has led to a creative aspiration characterised by honest architectural solutions and forms. We have overcome the grave consequences of the cult of personality"10
The conference report goes on to discuss the theoretical building blocks of style. According to a conference participant, continuous technical and scientific advances in construction methods actively shape and influence Soviet architecture:
"Three kinds of technical and scientific advances influence style ­under contemporary conditions. First, the development of standardised designs. Second, the new construction methods and materials. And third, the industrialised prefabrication of housing. Modern planning methods and style are closely intertwined."
This approach made Soviet architectural theory unique in the international context of planning and construction. Gradov used Series I-468 to illustrate in more concrete terms how the Soviet style is formed.
"We have been implementing and continuously fine-tuning the principles of standardisation and unification, which have led to a set of stable and universal stylistic features. Let us examine Series I-468, which is currently being used to build prefabricated homes and facilities in the Urals and Siberia. A standardised modular system defines all main parameters of this series, which means a single planning process can be used for multiple designs. It is possible to construct buildings with different floor plans, lengths, and numbers of storeys, along with most of the related facilities, using a fixed catalogue of prefabricated parts. The principles of series-based planning have allowed us to build different buildings with shared structural features. At the same time, they offer the possibility of developing residential districts with greater variety and expressiveness."
Gradov thus declared the production of standardised parts as the main ­parameter of the Soviet architectural style. He later also ­argued that style is inextricably tied to the materials and construction methods being used, and that any attempt to liberate style from materials and construction methods can only lead to "stylistic imitations" – to a stylised, purely formal approach to architecture. According to Gradov, the main path towards dev­eloping a Soviet architectural style was self-evidently tied to the extensive use of prefabricated reinforced-concrete elements:
"A completely new and unique feature ... of the socialist architectural style ... is its connection to prefabricated construction methods, to the production of buildings on the assembly line. This style is also ­defined by our continuous attempt to increase the size of the parts, to maximise the degree of prefabrication, and to reduce the scope of the required assembly tasks."
The conference of architects in 1963 had an enormous influence on how the style of Soviet housing developed, not least because the conclusions of the conference reflected the views that Khrushchev had pronounced during the traditional November plenum of 1962.
In response to the emerging monotony of mass housing, the party leader had stated that "individual architectural and artistic nuances must be designed within the boundaries of ... a rationalised process"11. In other words, solutions to architectural monotony must be found within the confines of industrialised production.
And the techniques for producing large panels limited the scope of individuality to the treatment of surfaces. Against this backdrop, the Moscow conference on style concluded that the characteristic features of the new Soviet style are simplicity, functionality, ease of production, use of economic materials, and forms with clear compositions.

In non-democratic societies, debates on style are led by the political – not the intellectual – elites. As such, it is unsurprising that the debate on style in the Soviet Union focused on the political and socialist requirements of prefabricated housing. This makes the Jarsky brothers' work that much more remarkable. Although they were working with a planning and construction process dominated by economic considerations, they ­dedicated two per cent of all building costs to artworks, proving that the creative drive, sense of civic duty, and social engagement of individuals can introduce a glint of variety and expression to Soviet housing.


One must understand how panelised housing series were developed and produced in order to appreciate the significance and uniqueness of the Jarsky brothers' work. Prefabricated mass housing is defined by its production process. It centres on the optimised and standardised production of identical elements in large numbers. A building system manufactures all elements required later for assembly.

The success story of prefabricated construction methods begins in Western Europe immediately after the Second World War. France in particular was a pioneer in this field, where the Camus and Coignet systems took hold of the market. In the beginning, nobody gave any thought to the idea that prefabricated construction could lead to aesthetic problems. On the contrary, civil engineers such as Robert von Halász elevated industrialisation to a social ideal:
"An industrialised society makes continuous technological progress, which raises productivity, increases people's incomes, and improves their living standards. The industrialisation of the building sector serves the well-being of people, allowing them to take advantage of their improved situations to refine their culture. To industrialise the building sector is therefore an ethical imperative."12
Halász went on to define industrialisation by its three main characteristics: preliminary planning based on scientific research; the development of standardised designs; and the prefabrication or mass production of the designs using automated systems.

Halász also pointed out that industrial production, unlike conventional planning and construction, forces developers to "fully plan in advance". All steps of the design process must be completed before production can begin. "This is a revolutionary requirement, especially in the field of construction, where improvisation has traditionally been considered a ­virtue"13. Halász also pointed out that a central element of industrialisation is the mass production of a standardised design using highly mechanised or automated processes.

Hans Schmidt, the director of the Institut für Typung (Institute of Standardisation) of the Deutsche Bauakademie (German Building Academy), had voiced this line of thought ten years earlier. Schmidt had promoted industrialised construction as a fundamental requirement of modern architecture, claiming that the advent of steel and concrete in construction meant engineering could replace manual work. But he also noted that industrialised construction had not yet reached its full ­maturity, and that machines were only gradually replacing manual tasks. "Most of the work is still being carried out on the construction site"14. Schmidt's hand-written notes also mention the resolution, passed by the Council of Ministers of the USSR in August 1954, "to build around 600 new factories to manufacture reinforced-concrete parts for housing". This resolution intro­duced a radical change in the Soviet building industry. It stipulated that all future building projects between the Baltic Sea and Siberia be based on industrial production processes.

In general, prefabrication methods can be divided into stationary and non-stationary processes. Another important distinction is whether the panels are cast in groups or individually – in vertical or horizontal formwork. Some processes also use steam injectors or heating chambers to accelerate the setting of the concrete. The size of the prefabricated elements is determined by the production-line technology as well as the methods used for transport and assembly.

The dimensions of prefabricated parts continued to grow larger as technologies improved. And the number of different prefabrication methods used in parallel also increased. By the 1980s, a dozen different processes were being used concurrently across the Soviet Union, each with its own set of modifications and degree of modernisation. A concrete factory was only capable of producing the parts of one specific housing series due to the complexity and scope of the production process. "A factory and all of its technical equipment must be created for a particular design series of a building or complex. The factory's equipment is generally tied to a building or series and is therefore already constrained"15.

One of the first formwork systems developed in the USSR was the one used to produce the elements of Series K-7.
"In the Soviet Union, a group-casting system developed by Lagutenko is used to produce wall panels with edge ribs. First, the reinforcement is placed in the formwork, and vibrators are attached to the steel bars. Then the concrete is poured and, at the same time, ­compacted through the vibration of the bars. After the concrete has set, the vertical side walls of the formwork are removed one after the other. As a result, a side wall is freed up each time and can be used to produce a new concrete element. The panels are thickest along the edges and therefore need to be removed sideways before they can be lifted. The formwork systems are opened and closed hydraulically by remote control. Concrete wall panels without ribs are often produced in simpler formwork systems made of steel plates."16
This procedure describes a stationary group-casting process that was used to manufacture I-shaped panels typical for Series K-7. Stationary group casting was also used to produce panels based on the Camus System in Baku and Tashkent. And the panels of Series I-464, widely used in other areas of the Soviet Union, were also manufactured using this ­method. But planners quickly recognised its narrow restrictions. The vertical group-casting method made it very difficult to vary the panel size. As such, engineers came to increasingly favour horizontal production methods, which offered greater flexibility.

In socialist countries, non-stationary production facilities were seen as more modern. In summer of 1959, the Soviet engineer Lev Michailovich Novitsky put on an exhibition in East Berlin to present Soviet building machines and production facilities. Three non-stationary processes were on display: the vibro-rolling method (Koslov System), the automotive assembly-­line process, and the aggregate production-line process. The vibro-­rolling method, developed by Koslov, a Soviet engineer, entailed three main steps: first, reinforcement cages were laid on a conveyor; second, a vibratable concrete mix was added to the cages; third, a roller levelled the concrete to form a strip measuring 25 metres in length and 3.30 metres in width. The factory presented at the exhibition had the capacity to produce 2,000 homes per year with a total living area of 70,000 square metres.
"The exhibition also provides an overview of how factories use the auto­motive assembly-line process and the aggregate production-line ­process to manufacture reinforced-concrete parts. These factories specialise in a fixed catalogue of parts, rapidly producing elements that will be in high demand for many years. A display model gives an insight into the automotive assembly-line technology that a concrete factory in Stalingrad uses to manufacture prefabricated reinforced-concrete parts with an annual capacity of 195,000 cubic metres"17
The processes presented at the exhibition – particularly the Koslov System – were modelled after Henry Ford's assembly-line technique. According to Halász, the Koslov System was the most modern process for manufacturing large panels at the end of the 1960s.
"The modern rolling systems, invented by Kozlov, are automated and centrally controlled. They have a length of 91 metres, a width of 4.66 metres, and a height of 3.85 metres. They weigh 185 tonnes and are powered by 29 electric motors with a total capacity of 70 kilowatts. Each system is capable of producing 70 to 75 cubic metres of parts per hour, consumes 680 kilograms of steam per hour, and produces a concrete strip with a width of up to 3.66 metres."18
Although the Kozlov System was exceedingly efficient, it led to imprecisions, since the concrete strip was cut into individual panels on a moving assembly line. These imprecisions needed to be manually corrected on the construction site.

These production processes had already been launched in Moscow and Leningrad by the time the exhibition opened. "The first factory to implement the assembly-line system was created in Lyubereski, near Moscow, in 1953"19 . Factories using the assembly-line system had emerged across the Soviet Union as part of Khrushchev's plan to open up 600 housing combines within two years. Some of these factories had two or even four assembly lines, each requiring 16 workers. At the Obikhov combine in Leningrad, the assembly-line system for manufacturing outer walls of Series OD entailed the following tasks, with a rotation every 20 minutes (Figure 12):



I. Cleaning the formwork
II. Preliminary treatment of the formwork
III. Cleaning and assembling the formwork
IV. Coating the formwork with a release agent
V. Checking the dimensions of the formwork
VI. Pouring the concrete
VII. Vibrating the concrete
VIII. Allowing the concrete to set
IX. Smoothing out the surface
X-XIII. Treating the concrete in vertical, multi-layer chambers
XIV. Cooling the panel
XV. Stripping the formwork
XVI. Setting the panel upright and hanging it up along the assembly line for the fit-out 20
In any case, each concrete factory was tied to a specific series or production process and came under criticism for their inflexibility:
"In our view, the scheme for introducing standardised production ­should look as follows: develop experimental designs; evaluate and optimise the designs; test the designs in practice; consider the deficiencies based on careful observations and by analysing their use; carry out the final detailing. Only then should mass production begin."21
However, following such a thorough procedure was virtually impossible ­under the building conditions of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, housing combines in Baku and Tashkent had begun to manufacture concrete elements using a French building system. The Gosstroy combine had purchased a licence for the Camus System for the southern republics and had begun to produce floor-height panels using a stationary production process. Architectural artists, who were granted two per cent of the building costs for ornamentation, were responsible for designing gable façades as well as decorated panels for entrances and balconies22. The colourful images, which must also be seen as part of the state propaganda, were created at the concrete factories themselves.

A builders' newspaper based in Tashkent published several articles praising the works of the Jarsky brothers. An article in 1973 reported that in the past, only artists had created mosaics, as part of a costly process. Now, three architects, the Jarsky brothers, were designing all mosaic murals ­directly at the DSK-1 housing combine, taking care of all tasks, from selecting the motifs through to the moulding.
"The techniques for producing mosaic panels have been improved and simplified. Petr, Alexander, and Nikolay Jarsky draw a full-size pattern on a piece of paper. Mosaic setters then lay out colourful tiles onto the drawing, and the finished template is laid into a mould. After the concrete is poured into the mould, the paper is removed, and the tile pattern remains fixed on the panel. The completed panels are delivered to the construction site and assembled. The Jarsky brothers are constantly seeking new ways of improving production techniques and reducing costs, while searching for unique images and patterns. The architects have also introduced the use of broken tile fragments, which were previously thrown away but are now being used to create finer decorative patterns. This way, the housing combine has saved on costs without affecting the quality or beauty of the ornamentation."23
The fact that a daily newspaper published an article praising a detailed building process highlights the significance of housing in the USSR. In Tashkent, where the Jarsky brothers created most of their work, art for archi­tecture particularly drew special attention because the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1966 had become a defining feature of the Uzbek SSR capital. So it was only natural that a news report should ­cover the construction of the first experimental prefabricated residential buildings. In 1970, the Tashkent evening newspaper published a feature on a new job in the construction industry: "Two of the Jarsky brothers, Alexander and Nikolay, left their positions at a planning institute ... in ­order to produce their monumental art at an urban scale and create a more beautiful cityscape. A new profession has also been created in the building industry, following the opening of a new office at the DSK-2: that of the mosaic tile setter." The article continues with a description of the work process:
"A large piece of paper with a black-and-white drawing hangs on the wall: a figure of the Madonna, between exotic flowers and plants, holding the sun in her hands. It is the sketch of a future mosaic mural that will adorn a residential building in Tashkent. There are many such sketches at the workshop. Some of them can already be seen and admired on façades in the city; others are still being prepared. We spoke to three mosaic tile setters on the day of our visit: Lyuda Byelichenko, Nina Kuzmina, and Natasha Paramonova. They were busy putting ­together a pattern for a gable façade. They glued small, colourful tiles onto a piece of paper lying on the floor, one tile after the other. We could already recognise a green leaf or a beautiful flower. 1,500 tiles and fragments were laid on a surface measuring two square metres. The women told us that the three of them require around 20 work days for a mural measuring 150 square metres."24
Figure 17
Finished decorated panels at the DSK-2 factory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (mid-1970s).

Author: Nikolay Jarsky.
The Jarsky brothers' success could not have been foreseen in the Soviet building industry. But neither the factory management nor the party leader­ship objected to the decorations, since the work of the predomi­nantly female tile setters was incorporated into the production process for the large panels, and the motifs could be created directly at the factory. What made the Jarsky method particularly special was that the ­mosaics and the load-bearing panels were cast together as a single unit at the factory. Although the approval authority GlavAPU had the final say in the choice of images, the Jarsky brothers at least had the right to make suggestions. The influence of politics on the design of the façades and on the construction process as a whole sometimes came from the highest level. "Sharof Rashidovich Rashidov, at the time the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, examined the decorated panels at the housing combine and approved their assembly on the construction site."25
Although secular buildings in other parts of the USSR have remained anonymous, in Tashkent, the expressive mosaics and reliefs on the ­gable façades of nine-storey residential buildings are linked to the names ­Alexander, Petr, and Nikolay Jarsky. Within a period of three decades, the artist trio created over 200 façade designs that define the cityscape and testify to a search for a national style. It is remarkable that the ­individually designed façade decorations were used not only to adorn prestigious residential buildings for the Nomenklatura and public buildings at prominent locations in the city, but also prefabricated mass housing series. The motifs range from oriental patterns to figurative representations through to geometric forms. Most of the façade mosaics hang on the front side of nine-storey residential buildings of Series 1 T-SP, which were produced at the DSK-2 housing combine. According to Nikolay Jarsky, the challenge was to "break the monotony of the prefabricated mass housing series, each time with a new image."26

Four experimental housing projects realised shortly after the earthquake show that architecture in the Soviet Orient increasingly took on a ­national character. The projects include large-scale ensembles and a number of smaller individual buildings, some of which feature mosaic façades by the Jarsky brothers. For the housing development along Ulitsa Bogdana Khmelnitskogo (today Ulitsa Babur), Petr Jarsky created a building-height mosaic relief depicting a portrait of the Uzbek national hero Zahir ­ud-din Muhammad Babur (Figure 19). The building, which contains 500 apartments, also features a natural ventilation system that functions like a kind of heat exchanger. The higher the outside temperature, the greater the cooling effect in the interior:
"The off-set windows on the western façade face south against the norm. As a result, vertical draughts arise in the evening, creating an airflow that cools the rooms by four to six degrees more than in other buildings of a similar kind. The building also features a "Pandjara", a traditional sun-protection lattice façade cast in concrete, which became a popular element of Uzbek façade design."27
Figure 19

A building-height mosaic relief depicting a portrait of the Uzbek national hero Zahir ud-din Muhammad Babur on ul. Babur in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Design by Petr Jarsky (1974).

Author: Philipp Meuser.
While Nikolay and Petr Jarsky worked in Tashkent from 1969 into the 1990s, the youngest brother, Alexander, left the city to travel extensively for almost ten years. He worked in various places in the Caucasus and in Udmurtia (Figure 20), where he and his family had settled after emigrating from France in 1947. In 1980, he created a façade mosaic in Izhevsk using the technique developed in Tashkent – by casting the mosaic tiles and the concrete for the wall panels together as a single unit. But the two brothers who remained in Tashkent also worked outside of Uzbekistan, designing façades for Kulob in Tajikistan and Tbilisi in Georgia (Figure 22). However, Tashkent remains the city with the greatest variety of colourful façades in Soviet mass housing. This under-researched chapter of twentieth century mass housing still awaits a comprehensive academic study.
Figure 20
Façade mosaic on a five-storey building in Izhevsk,Udmurtia. Design: Alexander
Jarsky (1980).
Author: Philipp Meuser.

Figure 22
Façade design for a residential building in Gldani microdistrict in Tbilisi, Georgia. Design: Nikolay Jarsky (1973).
Author: Philipp Meuser.

Philipp Meuser is a managing director of Meuser Architekten GmbH and head of DOM publishers. He is PhD on the Soviet Mass Housing and currently is working on a monographic book on the Jarsky brothers.

The article was originally published in CANactions Magazine Edition 01 MIKRORAYONS. Download Edition 01 and pre-order the print copy.

  1. Cf. V. A. Kossakovsky and V. A. Chistova, Architectural Compositions of Residential Buildings (Moscow, 1990).
  2. Books on art for architecture in the Soviet Union have begun to be published in recent years. However, these works only offer a cursory treatment of façade ornamentation for housing. Cf. Yevgen Nikiforov et al., Decommunized: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics (Berlin, 2016); Nini Palavandishvili et al., Art for Architecture: Georgia (Berlin, 2018).
  3. Many publications document the reconstruction of Tashkent. See for example: A. A. Arkhangelsky, Tashkent – gorod bratstva (Tashkent – City of Fraternity) (Tashkent, 1969).
  4. Quote from Nikolay Jarsky in Vecherny Tashkent (Tashkent Evening Paper), 12 February 1972.
  5. Jury G. Miroshnichenko, Monumental Art and Architecture in the Residential Buildings by Petr, Nikolay, and Alexander Jarsky, in Stroitelstva i arkhitektura Uzbekistana (Construction and Architecture in Uzbekistan), issue 7, 1987.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Problemy stilya v sovetskoy arkhitekture (Problems of Style in Soviet Architecture), in Architektura SSSR, issue 11, 1963, 40 – 52.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Cf. Project Russia, issue 25 (2003), 12 ff."Problemy stilya v sovetskoy arkhitekture". The following quotes in this paragraph are also cited from this source.
  10. Nikita Khrushchev, Auf dem Wege zum Kommunismus. Reden und Schriften zur Entwicklung der Sowjetunion 1962 / 1963 (On the Path to Communism: Speeches and Writings on the Development of the Soviet Union 1962 / 1963) (Berlin, 1964).
  11. Robert Halász, Industrialisierung der Bautechnik (Industrialisation of Building Techniques) (Düsseldorf, 1966), 293.
  12. Ibid., 19.
  13. Hans Schmidt, Die Industrialisierung des Bauwesens in der Sowjetunion (Industrialisation of Construction in the Soviet Union), manuscript from 22 April 1955, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) at the ETH Zürich, Hans Schmidt estate.
  14. Anatoly Polyansky, Architektonisches Schaffen und Industrialisierung des Bauwesens (Architectural Creation and Industrialisation of Construction), in Architektura SSSR, issue 9, 1966, 1–10. German translation found at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space in Erkner (signature: 14 430).
  15. Robert Halász, Großtafelbauweise im Wohnungsbau (Large-Panel Construction in Housing) (Düsseldorf, 1969), 419.
  16. Lev Michailovich Novitsky, Sowjetische Fertigungsanlagen auf der Deutschen Bauausstellung in Berlin (Soviet Production Facilities at the German Building Exhibition in Berlin), in Deutsche Architektur, issue 12, 1959, 673.
  17. Halász, Großtafelbauweise im Wohnungsbau, 439.
  18. Ibid., 429.
  19. A. S. Zaporoshtsev and K. V. Trukhel, Obukhovsky kombinat- opytno-pokasatelnoe predpriyatie (The Combine in Obichov – a Test Facility), in Stroitelstva i arkhitektura Leningrada (Construction and Architecture of Leningrad), issue 3, 1964, 1 ff.
  20. I. Fomin and G. Platono, Semya i kvartira (Family and Housing), in Vecherniy Leningrad (Leningrad Evening Paper), volume 16, issue 288, 1961, 3–4.
  21. Nikolay Jarsky, interviewed by the author in Tashkent on 2 April 2004.
  22. Rivals of the Old Masters, in Stroitel Tashkenta (Builders of Tashkent), 7 February 1973.
  23. Where Beauty Is Created, in Vecherniy Tashkent (Tashkent Evening Paper), 31 October 1970.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Nikolay Jarsky, interviewed by the author in Tashkent on 2 April 2004.
  26. Text on a panel at the exhibition Soviet Modernism 1955–1991: Unknown History, at the Vienna Centre of Architecture, 8 November 2012–25 February 2013.