The construction boom in Kaliningrad


The construction boom in Kaliningrad

From the ashes of war

The reconstruction of towns and villages in the young Soviet region was one of the most urgent tasks of the early post-war years. Königsberg had been hit hard by British air raids in 1944, and the assault on the city by the Soviet army in April 1945 led to further destruction of city blocks and suburbs.

The war resulted in particularly severe destruction in the central districts of the city: up to 90 % of buildings were in ruins. The housing stock on the outskirts of the city preserved much better. In the first post-war years the centre of city life gradually moved from the Royal Castle area to the less damaged one — that of Stalingradsky Avenue (since 1961 — Mira Avenue) and Geroev (Hero) Avenue (Gvardeysky Avenue).

The process of reconstruction of the regional centre took more than a decade. Even in the 1960s one could encounter debris in Kaliningrad, and empty "brick boxes", remains of buildings and simply unrepaired (and not demolished) structures could still be seen here in the following decades. The city's ruins were the perfect setting for the filming of movies about the war.
Meanwhile, the mass and rapid settlement of the region by the Soviet people, and the dynamic growth of Kaliningrad’s population demanded an increase in reconstruction and urban construction — tens of thousands of settlers and seconded specialists had to live and work.

Ruins ("razvalki") and debris sometimes posed a deadly danger to citizens: the collapses threatened serious injury and even death not only to careless teenagers and "treasure hunters", but also to ordinary pedestrians, passengers of public transport and settlers who had found a new home.

The task of integrating the region into the Soviet socio-cultural, political and ideological space required appropriate architectural and construction work.

In the first post-war decade was a period of chiefly reconstruction work in the city with hardly any construction of new buildings. Rapid construction progress was hampered by numerous difficulties: the ruins were full of unexploded shells and bombs; the pre-war utilities system, streets and preserved foundations of houses hindered the use of standard designs for mass housing; the industrial construction base was extremely poor; bricks and stone obtained from debris and ruins were mainly sent for reconstruction to other Soviet cities (Leningrad, Minsk, Moscow, Stalingrad…). Building constructions, decorative elements and mechanisms, namely the oldest city clock in Minsk today, were taken away.
Construction of new building began with Stalingradsky Avenue. In the late 1940s it was seen as the main thoroughfare of the city because this part of Kaliningrad was less destroyed: about 45 % of the pre-existing houses remained. The first rebuilt enterprises (carriage works, pulp and paper mill 2, river port) and administrative institutions were located in this area.

The thoroughfares along the avenue were included in the first phase of the restoration. They were to form an integrated ensemble, making a front monumental avenue of the Soviet city. The central element was to be the theatre building. The ensemble was designed under the direction of Dmitry K. Navalikhin, chief architect of Kaliningrad.

Dmitry K. Navalikhin


Dmitry Navalikhin was a Soviet architect and artist, an apprentice of Academician Alexey V. Shchusev. Before the Great Patriotic War Dmitry Navalikhin worked in Leningrad. During the war he served in the Red Army, was engaged in drawing engineering structures. In 1948 he was sent to Kaliningrad, where he held the post of chief architect of the city until 1953, later (until 1957) he was a head of the regional department of construction and architecture. Navalikhin supervised the reconstruction and construction of Stalingradsky Avenue, developed the first project for the reconstruction of the city centre of Kaliningrad.

Drama Theatre building (1960)
In the course of the restoration the pointed roofs of the surviving German buildings became flatter, sometimes they were decorated with a balustrade with columns and pyramids. Arched windows were blocked up or replaced by square ones. Colonnades appeared on the facades. Bas-reliefs with Soviet symbols (wreaths, spears, stars etc.) were placed on the pre-war buildings. To gain extra space for living, the houses were often rebuilt with additional storeys. This was the beginning of a change in the character of the old urban development.

Later the building of the Palace of Culture for fishermen was constructed (1957) in the neo-classical style, while the building of the Drama Theatre was restored (1960).
Stalingradsky Avenue was the only street in Kaliningrad restored before 1956. The pre-war exterior of the buildings was transformed in the neoclassical style. Today Mira Avenue illustrates the directions of architectural thought and style of buildings of the post-war years.

The transformation of one of the central thoroughfares of Kaliningrad was certainly perceived with optimism by the inhabitants of the city, instilling faith in the imminent revival of other areas of the city as well.

During the same period work was underway on the first general layout for the reconstruction of Kaliningrad.

By the mid-1950s the centre had been moved from Stalingradsky Avenue to Victory Square, where thoroughfares from all city districts converged and rallies and meetings were held. Tribunes (1953) and a monument to Joseph Stalin were erected there. In 1958 the monument was replaced by a monument to Vladimir Lenin. Gradually, all regional party and Soviet institutions were placed around the square. Behind the tribunes there used to be a public garden.

In the second half of the 1950s changes in town-planning policy started to take place in the Kaliningrad region, as elsewhere all over the country. A campaign against the rise in the cost of construction and architectural excesses was in progress. The forms of the buildings began to be simplified directly during the construction. According to the engineer V.N. Adrianov, "by the mid-1950s Karl Marx Street was almost completely restored — with arches, cornices, mansards… But after Nikita S. Khrushchev’s decree against excesses was issued, they had to destroy what had been done". However, the persisting material and organizational problems even with the "simplification" of architectural projects hindered the implementation of construction initiatives. A particularly difficult situation remained in the field of housing, which was particularly worrying given the constant increase in the urban population and the growing demands of the city dwellers on living conditions.

Preparing the transition to mass construction

In the 1960s the construction industry began to take shape in the region with the potential to implement large-scale construction plans. The first factories of reinforced concrete products (Reinforced Concrete Plant No. 1, Concrete Mechanical and Construction Plant No. 11) and small brick and tile factories were created in the region as early as the second half of the 1940s. In the 1950s and 1960s they were supplemented by the Reinforced Concrete Plant No. 2 in the settlement of Ozerki in the Gvardeisky district, brick plants in Guryevsk, Pravdinsk, Slavsk, and the first large-panel house-building workshop in the region was put into operation at the Reinforced Concrete Plant No. 1.

In 1961—1963 Leninsky Avenue was designed in Kaliningrad, combining several former streets. The area of the future development was cleared of debris, and the remaining "boxes" of pre-war buildings were demolished. The Avenue was to become one of the most "Soviet" city thoroughfares. The ruins of the Royal Castle, which gradually deteriorated in the post-war years, were demolished in 1967—1970.

The Stock Exchange building was retained, but its restoration came at the end of the decade. Leninsky Avenue became the same "ensemble of the decade" as Stalingradsky Avenue had been in the 1950s. At the same time, new residential houses ("Khrushchevki") were built in the area of Sovetsky Avenue, and the "Rossiya" cinema was opened in 1963.
Years of work on the Leninsky Avenue development project highlighted serious problems, some of which were intrinsic in nature and stemmed from the early post-war years. Nevertheless, local party leaders constantly raised the issue of problems with the pace and quality of construction. According to archive documents, in the early 1960s most of the facilities in the region were completed with a "satisfactory" rating and only 0.5% with an "excellent" rating.
However, the deployment of truly mass housing construction, which at that time could only be typical, required relevant decisions of the Union Centre. Under the conditions of a planned, centralised economy, directives from the highest Party and Soviet leadership (the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and the Council of Ministers) were of crucial importance. The decisive step was taken in 1968 when the administration of the region sent an extensive request to Moscow, describing the difficult situation in the development of urban construction.

In the request to the all-union and supreme party administration the local authorities stressed the "political moment": they drew attention to the border position of the regional centre, the lively contacts with the Olsztyn Province of the Polish People’s Republic, the fact that "in these conditions the low rates of restoration and development of the urban economy give grounds for unfavourable comparisons", and the West German propaganda could use the current situation as a pretext for "anti-Soviet calumny".

In 1968 the government passed decrees with the immediate prospects for the development of Kaliningrad’s urban economy: the pace of construction of residential buildings, communal and cultural facilities was to be increased; the development of electric transport, heating and gas supply had to be accelerated, and the city should be assisted in developing large and complex projects.

Transformation of the city

Rapid expansion of housing construction and development of urban infrastructure was a trait of the ninth five-year plan in the Kaliningrad region. In 1971—1975 builders put into operation about 1,5 million square metres of living space, which was 43% higher than in the preceding five-year period. The rate of putting schools and kindergartens into operation significantly increased. The indicators of the tenth five-year plan (1976—1980) were approximately in line with the previous one (1,4 million square metres). The grandiose work on the mass construction of the city required concerted efforts of the Party and Soviet authorities, architects, management and personnel of dozens of enterprises.

Yuri K. Pokrovsky


Yuri K. Pokrovsky was Soviet and Russian architect and artist, who worked in Leningrad, Krasnoyarsk and Ivanovo. He was the chief architect of Kaliningrad from 1966 to 1980 and took part in organization of the All-Union competition for the planning and development of the centre of Kaliningrad in 1971—1972.

During his term in office, Yuri Pokrovsky initiated the preservation and further development of green spaces and began to set a high value on the street furniture, landscaping, night lighting and artwork in advertising. As a chief architect, he supervised the restoration of surviving historic buildings.

In the course of implementation of the governmental decrees in Kaliningrad, a real struggle against the violation of building regulations took place, including the construction of buildings by organisations and enterprises without proper approvals and permissions. Solution to this problem was a necessary step to implement the general plan of development of the regional centre. A new version of the plan was being worked out at the turn of the 1960s.

There was an intensive development of large-block and panel-built house construction in the region in the early 1970s. The production of concrete and building structures at the Reinforced Concrete Plants No. 1 and No.2 was expanding. In September 1971 a house-building plant was organized on the basis of the factory Reinforced Concrete Plants No. 1. An asphalt concrete plant was opened, and the gravel pit started to operate. Technical schools were opened in Kaliningrad and Svetly to meet the needs of the growing industry.

A series of model school buildings, designed to meet the current requirements for the organisation of the learning process and the everyday life of pupils, were built in Kaliningrad. Today many Kaliningrad schools (e.g. No. 7, 10, 49) and kindergartens are still located in these buildings.
Within a few years the Giprogor Institute (State Institute of Urban Planning and Civil Engineering Design) developed detailed layouts for the central part of the city, the Northern, Southern, and Western residential areas and mass housing construction in these districts began. The new general layout of the city was adopted in 1974. Designers had to improve planning of flats, and to increase the number of storeys up to 9—12. Blocks of flats on Moskovsky Avenue and in the Leningradsky district were built according to the new design projects. Five-storey houses were also actively built in the Centralny and Baltiysky districts.
A new building on Mira Avenue, 1979
In 1972 a flyover bridge was completed, replacing the oldest of the city’s seven famous bridges, i.e. the Lawochny (Shop) and the Zelyony (Green) bridges, and linking the northern and southern parts of the city by a wide transport artery.
In terms of the ninth and tenth five-year plans medical objects, such as new buildings of the regional hospital, a building of the blood transfusion centre, were intensively constructed in Kaliningrad. In 1980—1981 a complex of a multidisciplinary hospital with a polyclinic (today — the Central City Hospital on Letn’aya Street) were opened.
Finally, debris, the "echo of war", disappeared from the streets of the city. There was a real development of street lighting and urban environment as well as expansion of green space in new areas of the city. This necessitated a whole series of communal tasks: considerable effort was made to improve roads, the sewerage network, water supply and other utilities.

Memorials and monuments, which became part of the tourist image of Soviet Kaliningrad and landmarks for organizing friendly meetings and appointments, were unveiled in the central part of Kaliningrad. Among them were the monument to the pilots of the Baltic fleet, the monument "Mother Russia" (1974) and the monument to compatriots-spacemen (1980).
At the instance of the chairman of the town executive committee Viktor V. Denisov active restoration, preservation and adaptation of surviving historical buildings to meet new needs started. Such cases of bringing back to life took place earlier, although they were very seldom. Reconstruction of the building of the Stock Exchange is the best known of them. It received the status of an architectural monument in 1960 and at the end of the 1960s it was repaired and its interior was redesigned. The building housed the Seafarers' Palace of Culture.

In the 1970s the Church of Queen Louise (the Puppet Theater since 1976), the Dohna Tower (the Amber Museum since 1979), the Rosgarten Gate ("The Sun Stone" restaurant), and the Church of the Holy Family (Kaliningrad Regional Philharmonic Hall since 1980) received a new life. In 1981—1986 the building of the concert hall "Stadthalle" was restored and reconstructed in order to house a museum of history and art.

The city transport was rapidly developing: new bus routes appeared and tram lines were renewed. The first trolleybus route was launched in Kaliningrad in 1975.
The design of ensembles of squares and avenues continued. The hotel "Kaliningrad", the largest one in the city, was opened in 1975. The self-service branded shop "Ocean" started to operate next year.
Of course, the history of urban development in Kaliningrad in the 1970s was not exclusively a succession of achievements and successfully implemented projects. There were difficulties, sometimes even failures, one of which had truly historic consequences.

The construction of the House of Soviets, which was supposed to be the architectural dominant feature of the central part of the city, the "common house" of the Regional Committee of the Party and the Regional Executive Committee, turned into a classic unfinished building. Serious disruptions in the construction of the building became evident in the early years of the project.
Design sketch of the House of Soviets
In the second half of the 1980s construction of the House of Soviets was suspended, and then the project was effectively "frozen". The House of Soviets, the most ambitious architectural project of Soviet Kaliningrad, became a landmark of the city, and its fate became the subject of lively, sometimes acute public debate.
Construction of the House of Soviets, 1970s

From renovation to Perestroika

During the forty post-war years the centre of Russia’s westernmost region has visibly changed. Wide avenues, new streets, squares and housing estates sprang up to replace ruins. Dozens of public buildings, medical, educational and cultural facilities were built. Many historical buildings found their place within the landscape system of the Soviet city and gained a second life. By the early 1980s, the vast majority of townspeople lived in separate flats of different postwar "generations" or in renovated prewar houses. The region ranked among the first in the country in terms of the provision of public utilities.