The changes that have taken place in Russian society since 1990 have had an enormous influence on the way people use the city. People have been given more choices. Stratification in income combined with the emergence of a housing market has given people the possibility to choose where to live. Many have moved to new places where they hope to find people with the same lifestyle.
At the same time the city itself has not changed that much. Most of the buildings are inherited from the Soviet era. And those thet were constructed after do not differ too: by intertia they repeat the Soviet model.
The wish to be different implies the introduction of borders - borders that separate privately owned land from public space. In the city that is inherted form the Soviet era these borders did not exsist – all space was public space. Now this public space is being privatized. Not only residential buildings, but also offices, schools, parking lots and shopping malls stand on their own plots that are surrounded by fences. As a result the urban environment in the city deteriorates: moving through the city implies the permanent encounter with barriers and guarded gates.
Now this seem to be changing. Many are considering a way of building that is more adequate to the contemporary city. They propose the creation of a city with streets and squares, aligned with buildings that are accessible from public space, but also with private courtyards that are part of a well-designed communal space. With the street grid as a neutralizing structure, the city of urban blocks enables the creation of an open urbanism that can absorb the diversity of contemporary society.
The 2014 Moscow Architecture Biennale takes this urban block as its main theme. It aims at showing examples of its reemergence in Russia through projects by Russian and foreign architects, but also by showing best practices from countries around the world. It specifically wants to address the ability of the urban block to organize communal life - the creation of a new sense of community to replace both the collectivist ideal of the Soviet era and the egocentricity of the last decades.
The urban block is a traditional urban model. Though it is relatively new in the post-Soviet context it has history that goes back centuries of not millennia. At the same time its reintroduction in Russia in no way equals simple historicism. Its principles have only survived over time because they were able to adapt to changing circumstances. Now it is time to adapt it to the reality of contemporary Russia.
Bart Goldhoorn, Curator