The socialist industrialisation process was accompanied by fast urbanisation throughout the USSR and particularly in the Baltic states, the western periphery of communism. Due to various factors shaping socialist urbanisation (Bater 1980; French 1987, 1995; Lewin and Elliott 2005), cities in the Baltic States are uniquely preserved. Apart from certain scholarship about Lithuania (Dremaitė 2013; Rimkutė 2014; Maciuika 1999), a lack of reliable written material exists about state socialist residential planning theory as implemented in planned developments in the Baltic States.
As a site for our empirical inquiry, we select Estonia, the smallest of the three Baltic States, where there is comparatively less literature on residential housing formation than in other parts of Europe (Kährik and Tammaru 2010). During the Soviet occupation, several hundred thousand Russian speakers emigrated to or were settled in Estonia, and all Estonian cities experienced population growth between 1944 and 1991 (Tammaru 2001; Kulu 2003). In the 1950s and subsequent decades, there was strong demand for new housing in Estonia, especially in the capital city Tallinn, as Estonians moved from the countryside to towns and Russian-speaking immigrants arrived to support various USSR enterprises. During Soviet times, approximately 76% of housing units in Tallinn were state-subsidised rental units (a higher share than elsewhere in CEE) and by the end of Soviet occupation, about two-thirds of the population lived in large prefabricated housing estates (Kalm 2002). Each city in Estonia had a master plan, which reserved space for future detailed site planning (Bruns 2007; Port 1983; interviews with R. Kivi, 2013; P. Männiksaar, 2013).
Today, housing estates in Tallinn offer bold visual symbols of the socialist past. Prefabricated panel buildings do not suffer from a bad reputation and have not experienced ghettoisation predicted following the dissolution of the Soviet Union (Sild 2014; Szelényi 1996). However, official policy within the housing sector sometimes reinforced social separation and exclusion (Hess et al. 2012; Leetmaa et al. 2015). Housing in mikrorayons is often unpopular, and many families are driven by a desire to escape the drab environments of Soviet-era housing estates and relocate when possible to new or renovated upscale dwellings or detached homes in the growing suburbs (Tammaru et al. 2009).
In Tallinn, three large mikrorayon-based residential districts—Mustamäe, Väike-Õismäe and Lasnamäe—were constructed successively and at comparable distances from the city centre (see Fig. 7.1). The districts depict an evolution of town planning ideology during the Soviet decades and reflect a maturation of the mikrorayon concept and requirements for larger per person living space in apartments (Andrusz 1987).
7.4.1 Mustamäe: A Cautious Test of Socialist Residential Planning Principles
To liquidate the housing shortage in an optimistic period of 10–12 years, the communist party launched an ambitious housing construction programme in the USSR in 1957 (Bruns 2007). Following directives from Moscow, site selection for the first large housing estate in Tallinn was immediately initiated.
The winning design by T. Kallas, M. Port and V. Tippel served as a guiding conceptual plan for Mustamäe (Tammaru et al. 2009) (see Fig. 7.2). In 1959, the plan was elaborated in a detailed planning project in which key planning principles—mikrorayons composed of large residential building blocks and schools, kindergartens, shops within walking distance—were for the first time expansively realised in Estonia (see Fig. 7.3). Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, new detailed planning projects were compiled to provide additional residential space in Mustamäe for Tallinn’s rapidly increasing population.
The plan offers the first attempt in Estonia at free-form planning, considered novel at the time, in which large residential buildings are distributed freely and do not follow traditional street rights-of-way, producing more sunlight and open space between buildings (Estonprojekt 1959). A number of features in the planning concept can be identified as characteristic of Finnish and Swedish modernist residential planning, where building blocks are harmoniously attuned with surrounding landscapes. Foreign influences in city planning can be attributed to the Khrushchëv thaw (McCauley 1995; Peirumaa 2004), which made possible organised study trips for Baltic professionals to capitalist countries and limited distribution of international city planning and architectural literature. More than half of the members of the Estonian Architects’ Union visited Finland during the 1960s, following an inaugural trip in 1957, coinciding with the formation of concepts for Mustamäe (Dremaitė 2013; Kalm 2002). Architects who had the chance to visit capitalist countries openly popularised western ideas upon their return by writing articles and columns in newspapers.
Adhering to a density norm of 9.5 m2 per inhabitant, the total residential space in Mustamäe was 538,000 m2, embodied in 9 mikrorayons. A majority of buildings (88%) were five storeys high and a small share (4%) was high-rises. Within every mikrorayon, several elementary schools and one high school (or gymnasium) were planned; in addition, two cinemas, a library, hospital, four canteens, a restaurant and four saunas were required. Shops and service centres (hairdressers, laundry, etc.) within so-called ABC centres were evenly distributed within a radius of 500 m of residences. Greenery was preserved in a surrounding forest park, and each mikrorayon included sports facilities and playgrounds. A network of pedestrian paths connecting major destinations was carefully planned. Public transport played an important role; in addition to trolleybuses and buses, a tram was planned, and the location of stops was integrated with the pedestrian network. Garages and shops were designed in the proximity of major thoroughfares to avoid heavy traffic in mikrorayon interiors. Commercial and community centres, with various attractions (including dance halls, fashion studios and sports centres) were planned as organising foci in the southern part of the district at the intersection of major radial thoroughfares. The plan stresses unique designs—avoiding standard Soviet projects—for important community assets like a cultural centre, department store, market hall and hotel.
The construction of Mustamäe occurred between 1962 and 1973. Major shortcomings in the operation of the district appeared when certain features were not built, including a centrally located business and community centre and several 16- to 22-storey tower blocks. A lack of recreational facilities, greenery development and landscaping were evident immediately after construction (Port 1969).
7.4.2 Väike-Õismäe: Aerial Architecture in a 1970s Makrorayon
A detailed planning project for Väike-Õismäe was completed in 1968, overseen by architects M. Port and M. Meelak, and a redevelopment enhancement plan was subsequently issued in 1974, adding services and amenities (but none were actually built).
According to Soviet building regulations, the area should have originally been divided into three or four mikrorayons. However, during the detailed planning project, several alternative solutions were proposed (see Fig. 7.4) which disregarded the central principles of mikrorayon formation and abolished the strict population normative. In the end, the architectural team courageously devised a novel makrorayon approach instead:
‘The makrorayon concept evolved quite unexpectedly when we tried to avoid the usual shortcomings of a
mikrorayon-based approach. The main logic is quite simple: the street is fringed with buildings on both sides, radial avenues are unneeded, the traffic operation scheme is more simple, and the required street length is halved. To avoid monotony, the buildings are grouped in various combinations; 9-storey buildings are interspersed with “freely placed” 16–storey highrises’. (Port 1969, 35–37)
The district was planned as a makrorayon with a compositional focus on a broad encircling street, which was, characteristic to socialist-modernist urban form, impressive when viewed from above (see Fig. 7.5) (Hess 2017). The outer parts of the oval contained mostly five-storey buildings and the inner part mostly nine-storey buildings (with occasional 16-storey high-rises) (Port 1969) (see Fig. 7.6). The circular layout is punctuated by an artificial lake at its core. Schools and childcare centres are situated symmetrically around the centre. Due to natural circumstances (location on a limestone plateau), green space is restricted in size. According to the plan, the total residential space is 357,000 m2 for 37,750 occupants [adhering to a density norm of 9.5 m2 per resident (initially) and 12 m2 (after full implementation). Car parking spaces were planned for 5,050 vehicles (norm of 170 cars per 1,000 people). Following the norms, 75 groceries and 12 shops for other goods were planned, as well as 3 canteens, 30 beauty salons and community centres. Only 25% of these planned services were ultimately built.
Construction of the Väike-Õismäe makrorayon began in 1973. Despite the fact that in Väike-Õismäe, USSR building regulations were creatively interpreted—for example, a single makrorayon instead of three mikrorayons, pedestrian crossings not separated from vehicles, etc.—the architectural team was awarded the Prize of Architecture of the USSR Council of Ministers in 1976 (Port 1983). Some parts of the original plan were never implemented (such as large communal car parks between dwelling groups). Deficits in shops and services were severe: only three grocery shops were built, which resulted in constant queues, and only two of three planned community centres were constructed.
7.4.3 Lasnamäe: Soviet Megalomania, Built to Only Half Completion
An all-union design competition for Lasnamäe, an enormous residential area, took place in 1969 (Port 1983). The winning design (one of four submitted) produced by M. Port, M. Meelak, O. Zhemchugov, H. Karu and R. Võrno became the basis for the detailed planning project prepared in 1970 by the State Planning Institute Eesti Projekt (see Fig. 7.7). In 1979, an updated general plan was issued to increase residential densities and provide better connections to neighbouring industrial zones.
The guidelines issued by Tallinn City officials and prepared by the city architect’s office in 1970 established additional principles for detailed planning: the general structure should be based on makrorayons (25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants) with administrative and business centres; residential building arrangements should form inner courtyards for wind protection; expressive exterior ‘gateways’ should be composed; buildings of citywide importance should be included and a pedestrian esplanade should top the limestone cliff (see Fig. 7.8) (Eesti Projekt 1970). The backbone of the detailed plan included two key east–west thoroughfares, one of them sunken (7 m deep), making possible flyover bridges and permitting higher traffic speeds below while enhancing safety for pedestrians (Hess 2017). Pedestrian precincts were planned as landscaped boulevards planted with trees, running parallel to the motorways and crossing the traffic lanes via footbridges near community centres and parking lots (see Fig. 7.9). All community centres adjoin pedestrian streets. In addition to five large sports halls, a cultural-memorial centre was planned on the edge of the limestone cliff. Housing is concentrated around the centres within a radius of 500 m. Each mikrorayon has a population of 12,000 to 16,000 inhabitants. The large-panel houses have mostly 5, 9 or 16 storeys. Two- and three-storey row houses and 22- to 24-storey towers are included (Port 1969). The total planned residential area exceeded 3.9 million m2 (adhering to a density norm of 22.5 m2 per capita).
Estonian housing estates and Finnish housing estates (such as Tapiola and Pihlajamäki) share elements of Finnish modernism (Dremaitė 2013). However, Scandinavian modernism and Finnish and Swedish orientation are not easily traceable in the Lasnamäe planning scheme. The cosiness characteristic of Scandinavian new towns that, according to one expert (interview with O. Zhemchugov, 2013), should have been expressed in Lasnamäe (through high-rise building
blocks arranged to form inner courtyards) was lost due to the enormous scale of the housing estate.
One-third of the planned apartment houses in Lasnamäe (mikrorayons IX-XII) were not constructed; the spatial structure of the largest housing estate in Tallinn is functionally incomplete because the commercial centre of the district was never built (nor was the cultural-memorial centre). As usual, there were shortcomings in providing recreational facilities and shops, and greenery and parks are almost non-existent. The transport facilities essential for commuting are remarkably inadequate, as the high-speed light rail originally planned in a sunken motorway was not built.