Everyday life in avant-garde housing estates : A phenomenology of post-Soviet Moscow

Abstract: This thesis explores the social meaning and function of what is known as avant-garde, or constructivist, housing estates located in central Moscow. Five of these estates – Budenovsky, Dubrovka, Khavsko-Shabolovsky, Nizhnyaya Presnya and Usachevka – comprise the empirical foci of the study. Built in the late 1920s, the avant-garde estates are the architectonic expression of specific ideals about everyday life and collective living for Soviet citizens.Exploring the avant-garde housing in their current post-Soviet setting, the thesis analyses the lived and social experiences of their residents in the mundane fabric of everyday life, against the backdrop of structural societal forces and the sweep of historical changes occurring in the built environment. Theoretically, the study draws on phenomenologically informed humanistic geography scholarship as well as Henri Lefebvre’s Marxist analysis of everyday life and social space. Empirically, the analysis is based on semi-structured interviews with local residents, including walking interviews, and interviews with architecture historians and preservation activists, as well as a survey, a range of historical sources and state register data. The findings show that residents, in relation to the spatial, architectural and design features of their housing estates, make sense of their residencies as home places, thereby transcending the official historical and cultural heritage narratives. Furthermore, associated with the restructuring of housing markets in post-Soviet Moscow, the change in social (housing) relations has had a clear effect on the physical and social space of the estates, leading to novel patterns of place-based socialisation and politicisation. The thesis also demonstrates how residents rediscover the historical meanings and underpinnings of avant-garde housing in the course of their daily lives, showcasing the awareness and possibility of envisioning housing as a fundamental social right built with human needs, not profits, in mind.This study should be of special interest to those concerned with housing and urban planning, urban history, residential architecture and urban phenomenology. It is also an invitation to revisit and actualise the humanistic tradition in current human geography studies.