As a kind of companion piece to my post a couple of days back on Modern Forms, featuring the photography of Nicolas Grospierre, here's Roman Bejzak with his pictures of the architecture of Eastern Europe.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that the first photo is of the same tower block in St Petersburg that featured in that previous post - only this time, perhaps, the picture is a little more forgiving:
From his book Socialist Modernism.
Bejzak, in general, doesn't pick the stand-outs or the monstrosities that so appealed to Grospierre. Indeed what's interesting about these photos is how familiar they seem to us. This is the architectural language not just of the old Socialist Eastern Europe, but of modernism everywhere. We recognise this style in many of the shopping centres, housing estates and new pedestrianised city centres here in the UK that have so transformed - disfigured - our cities over the past fifty or so years. But here we're seeing the real thing, untroubled by preservation orders or public protests. In the UK we've only been subjected to a pale echo of the full modernist project. This, on the other hand, is the proper deal - the modernist dream realised in all its concrete glory.
And, for me at least, it's not all ugly and soulless. Over the years we've come to believe that this is the language of urban desolation: of well-meaning but horribly misconceived social engineering; of a brave new world that quickly turned sour. But like so many architectural trends there's that strange process whereby what's just past quickly becomes the height of vulgarity and poor taste, to be scorned and mocked, only, with the passage of time, for there to be a gradual rehabilitation and an aesthetic re-evaluation.
Which isn't to say these places all now look wonderful, or that we were entirely wrong to reject the post-war modernist designs that town planners were so keen to inflict on us. But, really, now - now that we've said goodbye to the socialist dream and we're just left with the architecture, is there not - especially in these photos - a least a certain bleak beauty?
Bezjak has expreesed the hope that we can at least now look at these buildings with a "gaze uncontaminated by ideology." That seems a reasonable hope.