Accepted Paper:

Successful socialist verticality in the wild capitalist urban age  

Author:

Michał Murawski (University College London )

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the distinction between high-rise architecture in different political-economic regimes. What is the difference between state socialist, welfarist and wild capitalist verticality? Is the high-rise form inherently 'inhumane', or does it have progressive value?

Paper long abstract:

It is time, this paper argues, to re-orient our understanding of the architectural legacies of progressive high modernism (whether in its state socialist or welfare-statist incarnations): from a failure-centric lens, to a success-centric one; further, this paper moves towards a definition of socialist verticality, and to consider its fates in the 'wild capitalist' urban condition of today. 'Wild capitalism' is an emic term used throughout the post-socialist world to refer to the supposedly 'immature' years of capitalism's infancy during the 1990s. Far from being a thing of the past, I argue, 'wild capitalism' can be deployed as a heuristic through which to make sense of the global urban condition in the 21st century.

This paper considers the distinction between high-rise architecture in different political-economic regimes. What is the difference between state socialist, welfarist and wild capitalist verticality? Is the high-rise form inherently 'inhumane', or does it have progressive value? What is the connection between architectural verticality, centrality and monumentality? This paper surveys a range of ethnographic material, focusing on: the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, a Stalinist skyscraper today emanating a subversive 'still-socialist' 'public spirit' over its wild capitalist host city; on elite Stalinist high-rise residential architecture in Moscow and its contemporary fates; on the Soviet Constructivist idea of the 'social condenser' and its possible high-rise incarnations, from Moscow to New York; on the tragic fate of high-rise council housing in wild capitalist London, from Grenfell to Aylesbury; and on the contested replacement of low-rise (five-storey) Khrushchev-era housing with developer-built high-rise architecture in wild capitalist Moscow.

Panel Env03
Tower block failures: high-rise anthropology