It gives me great pleasure to read the culmination of Steven E. Harris’s important work on Soviet mass housing, and to crash this Russian History blog party. Two images from this book continue to haunt me. First, dead and living bodies. Stalin-era architects foresaw a change in apartment size as a result of the law banning abortion, as if apartments functioned like honeybee cells and expanded to hold new state-mandated babies (64.) Later residents of krushchevka units complained that they could not carry a corpse out of the building except if it was standing up (272 and 296.) Second, missing dining tables. “They [state planners] have completely forgotten the dinner table,” lamented a Krushchev-era furniture maker. (232.)
These images point to the structuring principles of Soviet housing from the Bolshevik to the Krushchev era, as Harris shows us: living space and auxiliary space. As far as I know this distinction is uniquely Soviet and does not appear either in Europe or in the United States (where hygienic norms simply take the total square footage of a domicile and divide it by the number of residents.)
What does this binary between (domestic) life and extra-life, ‘living space’ and ‘auxiliary space’, mean? Harris gives us several paths to an answer. Bolshevik planners used sanitary norms as a guide for reshaping the family. Individuals, not families, would receive an allotment of ‘living space’; all social interactions would ultimately take place in public spaces, in collective dining halls, kitchens, crèches and laundries. In this Bolshevik plans echoed contemporary left-wing modernists’ visions for hotel-apartments of the future. In living space one was meant to breathe and sleep, no more.