Most people don’t think of Nikita Khrushchev, the former Soviet premier, as having changed architectural history. But those people haven’t been to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for the fascinating new show, Cold War Cool Digital. The exhibition, which runs through March 20th (in a building undamaged by last week’s destructive fire), traces the relationship between Soviet imperialism and the panelized building systems that were a hallmark of the Iron Curtain years.
In a 1954 speech to the National Conference of Builders, Architects, and Workers, Khrushchev called for the elimination of “ornamental excesses” from Soviet architecture and the use of pre-fab concrete panels to create of massive new housing blocks throughout the Soviet-influenced world. Under his plan, “construction was transferred from the building site to the factory, and manual labor was exchanged for the automated mass production of large standardized pieces,” write Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola in an introduction to the exhibition. In Russia, the resulting apartment blocks, called Khrushchovkas, were celebrated in propaganda films, and also widely parodied. The exhibition includes more than a dozen cartoons from the satiric magazine Krokodil, including one in which a husband removes an entire wall of his apartment in an attempt to open a window.