Soviet Realism Architecture at its Best

Soviet building with hammer and sickle art
Soviet Realism Architecture Required Art

If you have ever visited Russia or any of its former satellite states, including Eastern Europe or Cuba for example, you will be vaguely familiar with the drab architecture used to house “the masses” in identical apartment units in large complexes. I have seen many of these housing complexes. Most are eyesores on the side of the road because they are so ugly.

Enter Poruba, Czech Republic, a “model city” of the Soviet era. The City of Ostrava, Czech Republic, see Ostrava, while under communist rule, was a dirty, polluted city. Its main local industry was coal mining because coal was naturally abundant in the area. Even those not involved in the coal industry were said to return home at the end of their day with black soot on their skin and clothes. To fix this situation, the centralized communist government of the Soviet Union in Moscow came up with a plan to relocate everyone in the center city to the outskirts where it would be cleaner to live. The Soviets conceptualized the “city of the future” in Poruba. The plans never completely materialized because the Soviet Union fell, but what was completed offers one of the best example of “Soviet Realism” architecture in existence today. The arches here are as triumphal as those of Paris, Rome and London, and on the same scale. Many international movie producers have used Poruba as a set for productions because of its unusual aspect.

Poruba was conceived and built in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Soviet planners required that all construction include a budget of five percent devoted to art. Throughout the structures you see Soviet-era art glorifying the worker, the state and the communal effort. This art is in the form of sculptures, friezes and drawings scattered around the buildings. Trees and shrubbery were not important to Soviet planners, so very little vegetation is evident. A tree here and there in the median of some of the wider boulevards was about all the Soviet planners conceded to nature.

The main arch in Poruba is based on the one in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square. It was designed as a monumental gateway entry to Poruba and when viewed from the air formed the familiar hammer and sickle shape of the Soviet flag.

The main residential buildings are designed with retail on the bottom floors, a new design concept for Soviet stylists. The thought was to keep those living in Poruba from having to travel far to do all the chores of life. Playgrounds for children and schools are located close to the residential buildings.

Still there are relatively few parks. And there are even fewer parking spaces for cars, even today, because most of the people who it was designed to house would not have been able to afford a car. Extensive public transit was designed into the plans and continues to serve this community.

Today, Ostrava is a wonderful place to live. Its old coal mines are relegated to relics and used only as tourist sites for the curious to see how coal was once mined there. The Soviet-era town of Poruba serves people who want to live outside Ostrava’s urban center but still want the convenience of local shopping, interesting art and architecture, and intend to rely on public transit to commute. Ownership of a car remains a challenge in this community, but Poruba is popular with a younger generation that is seeking to shed reliance on cars anyway.

Poruba is a fascinating, living monument to a model Soviet city of a past era. Off the beaten trail, but worth a visit if you find yourself in Moravian Czech Republic.