But what was this? A village? Of course not. A small town? No. An encampment? A workers’ settlement? A burg? No, officially this huge populated place was called a city. But was it a city? – Valentin Kataev, Vremia, Vpered! (Time, Forward!)1
What was this place, Magnitogorsk? In truth, it was not easy to say, even if, like the novelist Valentin Kataev, you had visited it. And it was no easier for the permanent urban inhabitants, or the city’s leaders. Simply locating Magnitogorsk presented difficulties, since it did not yet appear on any map. But you could buy a train ticket to Magnitogorsk or, more precisely, to a destination of that name. In the first years, a train ride to Magnitogorsk from Moscow required five changes and routinely lasted more than a week, even when everything went smoothly, which it rarely did. After one eight-day ride from Moscow in 1930, the train came to its usual abrupt halt in the middle of the open steppe. Passengers looked out the window and, seeing nothing, assumed there had been yet another breakdown. But then the conductor bellowed, “Magnitogorsk!” Could this barren, windswept wasteland be the famous World Giant? The colorful journalist Semen Nariniani disembarked from the train, looked around, turned to the station man, and asked, “Is it far to the city?” “Two years,” the man answered.2
As it happened, the station man was doubly wrong. It would be far more than two years to the completion of the fabled “socialist city of the future.” But it would be far less than two before the emergence of the actual city, which was growing that very minute in front of the station man’s eyes. The train station, or rather the site of the future train station (it too was a few years away), formed the gates to the emerging urban territory:
Every day when the train arrived a panic broke out. Another four hundred workers! It was of course known beforehand that workers were coming, that they would come every day. But all the same, every day their arrival posed an unpleasant dilemma. . . . In a forty-person barracks up to one hundred fifty people would be squeezed. Of course they figured it was only for a day or two, but on the very next day, a new trainload arrived and they forgot about those from yesterday.3
In such apparently haphazard fashion did Magnitogorsk come into being. Magnitogorsk’s urban geography coalesced into a distinct, if not immediately obvious, pattern. In its own way, Magnitogorsk ended up faithfully reflecting the circumstances of its conception and construction as the urban form for a new world founded on heavy industry. For this reason, the maligned planners, however much they may have been offended by the outcome, could not completely disown the urban milieu they had a part in creating. (Pg.107)
As a socialist city, Magnitogorsk was to be the very opposite of a capitalist city—more accurately, the opposite of the capitalist city as vilified by contemporaries. Rather than narrow, dark alleys and desolate slums, Magnitogorsk would be composed of wide, bright streets, where the workers would live in shiny superblocks.
Comfort Town Housing / archimatikaText description provided by the architects. 2021 The first residential complex in Ukraine based on the block development principle. Picturesque building silhouettes, elaborated apartment layouts, and fully pedestrian courtyards became the standard of comfort class in the Ukrainian residential property. Due to the city block concept, the area is divided into two types: streets (allowing for motor traffic) and courtyards (located inside the block and featuring children’s playgrounds, benches, and alleys). Motor vehicles cannot enter these inner courtyards, with the exception of emergency service vehicles which can use widened passageways paved with grass paver.
A socialist city would not be founded on ignorance or superstition but on education and science. And it would not be rampant with alcoholism but overflowing with “culture.” In short, Magnitogorsk was to be a place of hope and progress.8 But who knew how to design such a city, or what form it should take?
Perhaps because it was altogether a less frightening and more conventional project than what some of the famous architects were proposing in the country’s leading architectural journals, Chernyshev’s conception met favor with the State Institute for the Planning of Cities (Giprogor), the agency initially charged with designing the new city.13 Be that as it may, Giprogor decided, in Ivich’s words, to add a few details of “socialist settlement patterns.”14 These, however, were still to be worked out. All anyone knew was that socialist settlements patterns were to be different from capitalist ones, whatever those were.
Simultaneously, an agency of the Soviet government other than Giprogor sought to import the services of Ernst May from capitalist Germany to design the vaguely understood noncapitalist city. (Pg.208)
I post this segment for educational purposes. I am grateful to the authors.