The Round House in Moscow
The Moscow round house (or Bublik) was built in a difficult context of housing crisis in the USSR. The circular shape makes it an example of Khrushchyovka structure, different from the standardized and monotonous buildings of that time.
A typology created by a housing crisis
After World War II, Eastern Europe suffered a significant rural exodus, following the movement begun in the 1930s, as a consequence of the new policies of industrialization and collectivization. The agricultural population deserted the countryside to settle in the cities, forcing the Soviet authorities to expand urban areas and build massive buildings. This was the advent of collective housing and the birth of a new architectural model, the Khrushchyovka (an unofficial name derived from Nikita Khrushchev). This typology succeeded the Stalinist architecture, a group of expensive, good quality buildings, reserved for a minority. While the Khrushchyovka are low-cost buildings, built in brick or concrete panels. They were originally built as temporary dwellings to solve the housing crisis in the USSR with an estimated life span of 25 years, but many of them were finally built as permanent structures. Priority is given to simplicity and low construction costs, in return for this functionalism, aesthetics and originality is reduced, blade and monotonous. A particularity of these buildings was their massive scale, although they rarely exceeded 5 floors. Indeed this allowed the absence of elevator, considered too expensive.
Diversify collective housing with a circular architecture
In reaction to the standardization of these architectures, the Soviet architect Eugene Stamo joined forces with engineer Aleksandr Markelov to propose a new design for these buildings. In 1972 they built a cylindrical apartment building intended to break the monotony of the Ochakovo-Matveevskoe district. This building with a diameter of 155m, has 26 entrances allowing to serve 913 apartments on 8 floors. The first floor is dedicated to shops (stores, hairdressers, pharmacies, bookstore/library, children’s club,…) while the courtyard is laid out as a park and playground isolated from the city. Nicknamed “Bublik” (bagel in Russian) for its particular form, the real estate operation was not really a financial success. Due to its technical difference from the standard buildings, it was much more expensive and was built in a longer time than the neighboring buildings.
The circle, a form of unity and division
However, the center, which was supposed to recall the old Soviet residential yard, brought a symbolic value to the project seducing the authorities. In addition, the possibility of access to all services at a very short distance allowed to build two more round house buildings in Moscow in the 70s, with more or less the same number of apartments. On the other hand, although the collective functional aspect was appreciated, the apartments had a trapezoidal shape that accumulated the constraints. First of all it is difficult to furnish a surface with non-perpendicular walls, but it was also difficult to make repairs in these non-standardized units. Moreover this large central common space reinforced the incessant wind instead of interrupting it and an echo problem was noticed. Nevertheless, this project left its mark on the Soviet urban landscape, and the circle is still today a widely used architectural form.
More info, images and plans in this video: