Thursday, 7 September 2017

grace and favour

Writing for The Calvert Journal, Dasha Shkurpela’s meditation on the Russian country cottage, the dacha, and its place in society and in cultural currency was a really enthralling essay to read—especially in contrast to the Brutalist, Communist architecture that seems to inform our ideas about the Soviet era and its antecedents.
These summer estates date back to czarist times and has in the terms etymology (from to give) its connotations of preference with the government—though those beneficiaries were expected to develop the allotment surrounding their gifted residents and were obliged to elevate the serfs that worked them. While the Soviet revolution sought to undo the landed gentry, the institution of the dacha remained—retaining it fealty as well. Distinguished figures called номенклату́ра (nomenklatura—Latin for a list of names, careerists) were bestowed with not necessarily cottages or manors but cooperatives to take under their patronage and beautify. Ownership of property (lots of land) was of course in principle forbidden but the buildings on it could be embellished, exchanged or sold by workers in the institution that managed the estate—leading to a litany of zoning laws that aimed to prevent these countryside get-away destinations anything more than a weekend haven—much like the German notion of having a Gartenstadt reservation inside urban areas where city-dwellers might be able to have a party shed and a small plot for vegetables. The society that was building these retreats as an escape from the industrialisation of the cities and what became of them after the collapse of the USSR bears out a lot to reflect on and is a lens that brings one’s relationship to space, creation and exchange into sharper focus.