Mikhail Barshch’s housing-communes in Moscow 1928-1930

Karel Teige
The Minimum

Currently, the functions and dimensions of the jačejka as a new housing type are widely discussed in the USSR under the heading of the obshchezhitie [collective living] versus the dom-komuna. The collective house is seen as a kind of interim solution, designed to accomplish the transition from the rental barracks type to a higher mode of dwelling. These collective houses are intended to provide accommodations for more than one person, and sometimes even families share a single room. The apartments have no kitchens, which are provided separately and shared by a number of living units. In some cases public dining halls are provided instead. The dom-komuna represents a more authentic solution for collective living: it is a house designed for a large number of inhabitants — a big structure, without kitchens, but containing common children’s homes, clubs, and so on. An all-out collectivization of dwelling services implies that it is possible to develop two types of houses: the dwelling beehive or the dwelling combine.

One of the foremost advocates of the dom-komuna [i.e., dwelling combine] idea is [Leonid] Sabsovich, the author of the book The USSR in Fifteen Years [1929], where he proposes a much more developed version than that exemplified by early Moscow dwelling communes. His mature dom-komuna envisions complexes for two to ten thousand inhabitants. Each commune is conceived as a distinct community, a city, and includes meeting halls, a club, study rooms, a theater, movies, health care facilities, emergency rooms, exercise rooms, and so on. Other spaces are provided for the offices of the administration and the local soviet. Several of these dom-komuna can be combined to make up a residential city for adults. Children would be raised and educated outside of the city, in special school districts.

Sabsovich’s theories have been implemented to some degree in the well-known architectural project of a large dom-komuna by Mikhail Barshch and Vladimir Vladimirov, members of the Construction Committee of the Economic Soviet (Stroikom), with the difference that in this project the children’s home and the schools are included as an integral part of the complex, in order to prevent the segregation of children’s life away from adult life in special districts. It is a self-contained community, an independent dwelling complex and a new urban type, designed as a unified architectural structure serving both individual and collective life. Its design and built form reflect the organization of collective life. It succeeds in fusing into a unified whole a whole series of heterogeneous elements. According to Sabsovich, the fundamental question facing the new type of socialist housing is to define the center of gravity of the dwelling combine: is it represented by the common spaces or by the complex of individual rooms? In his opinion, there is no doubt that the center of gravity of any socialist dwelling should be the collective, social spaces. And, since it is imperative to build at the lowest possible cost and save space, he defends the position that unavoidably the individual dwelling cells must be kept as modest as possible, rather than skimping on collective spaces, where it is essential to nurture the new lifestyle. For the collective spaces, he establishes a minimum of three square meters per inhabitant (but never less than one square meter). Sabsovich assumes that the majority of the inhabitants will spend most of their free time in the collective spaces for recreation, lectures, study, physical culture, and similar activities, while they will use their individual cells only for sleep and possibly individual rest — in short, when biological needs make isolation from the collective necessary. On these assumptions, it should be possible to reduce the individual cell to a mere sleeping cubicle of minimal dimensions, with an approximate floor area of four to five square meters. The opponents of Sabsovich’s theory claim that such housing communes change communism into communalism and that it is neither advisable nor possible to bring together all private as well as collective living functions in a single building complex, even if loosely arranged. They argue that it would therefore be better to decentralize these functions and accommodate them in special buildings, which means that the ideal collective house should be conceived as a separate beehive, consisting solely of individual living cells. Continue reading