The Khrushchyovkas helped solve the USSR’s housing crisis after World War II. Now, Moscow plans to demolish 8,000 of them

... displacing more than 1.5 million people. Should any be preserved for posterity?

Sergey Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, announced last month that the Russian capital—with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin—will launch an ambitious effort to demolish 8,000 Soviet-era public housing blocks.

Known asKhrushchyovkas—named after the Soviet leader who initiated their mass production in the late 1950s—the distinctly banal architectural type has long outlasted its planned 25-year shelf life. As Khrushchev took power, the USSR’s capital city had twice the population it housing stock could accommodate. Five-story Khrushchyovkas popped up in newly planned microdistricts, designed to house tens of thousands of people in hopes of alleviating the severe housing crisis exacerbated under Joseph Stalin.


Not one for opulence, Khrushchev’s commitment to solving the urban housing shortage was rapid construction with little time (or money) to spend on design. Drab as they were, the final product left rivals impressed. “What the Russians have done” an official from the U.S.’s National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) told the Chicago Tribune in 1967, “is to develop the only technology in the world to produce acceptable, low-cost housing on a large scale.”

Sobyanin’s plan means eliminating 10 percent of the city’s current housing stock and resettling 1.6 million residents. As explained by Maxim Trudolyubov for the Kennan Institute, such a plan could cost $100 billion and take decades to accomplish. Writes Trudolyubov: “It took the Soviet building industry (and it could work fast) about 10 years to build this much.”

CityLab caught up recently with Philipp Meuser, author of Towards a Typology of Soviet Mass Housing: Prefabrication in the USSR 1955-1991 to discuss the history of the Khrushchyovka and what they mean in post-Soviet Moscow.

How would you describe a Khrushchyovka to someone who doesn’t know the difference between social housing designs?

It’s the first prototype of how a residential building could be produced in a very industrialized manner. You can compare with car production—one prototype, optimize it, put it on assembly line, and produce. The philosophy is similar but the reality is different because Khrushchyovkas were assembled on construction sites, not assembly lines. The original Khrushchyovkas had 4 or 5 floors and were divided into 2 to 6 sections. Each section was organized around one staircase and each floor had two, three, or four different apartments connected to one staircase.

The urban design was not flexible. This was the first critique of them dating back to the early ‘60s. Architects said that if these buildings were to keep getting built, the cities would become too monotonous. They decided to separate each section from another so that urban designers could do different shapes. When you see a row of 4- or 5-story buildings or a row of 6-, 8-, 12-story buildings, those are Khrushchyovkas. Under Brezhnev they were called Brezhnevkis, but the only difference was that the new ones under him belonged to a second-generation type so the urban design was different.

They were popular because it was revolutionary for housing politics. Under Stalin there were some signature projects with Neoclassical ornament, but most people were still living in wooden barracks. Under Khrushchev, this was changing. They were building something simple so workers could move into new homes. In the beginning, the total lifespan of these was planned to be 20 to 25 years. Some of them are in bad shape now.

What would you say are their best and worst features?

The biggest problem is that they have not been maintained. No facility management. The construction itself isn’t that bad. What’s in bad condition is the heating, the water, the waste systems. The buildings are not up to today’s energy efficiency standards.

In general there are two different types of construction for these: one has load-bearing walls and the other has facade panels. If you have a building where the panels are inside, it’s easier to change the facade. If load-bearing walls are the facade, you can’t replace them. The first Khrushchyovkas demolished are the ones where the facade panels are load-bearing walls.


A similar thing happened in East Germany. They’ve been demolished because reconstruction would be too expensive. What they’re doing in Moscow is demolishing all of them and not doing any evaluation of the quality of these buildings. They say, “This is a low density neighborhood, so we have to demolish the buildings and replace them with 30-story highrises.” The drive is not “How can we improve quality or improve space,” it’s “How can we modernize the city and make the biggest profit?”