Anthony Paletta of The Awl has collected a series of coffee table books which showcase the remarkable and often strange structures that were designed and built during the Cold War. And as a quick scan of his gallery shows, many of these buildings were clearly inspired by utopian longings and an aesthetic sensibility pulled straight from science fiction. Here are some of our favorites!
Paletta describes this unique era in architecture:
Milan Kundera wrote, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, "in the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions." Questions, as we have seen, such as "am I in the wrong city?" and "are you my wife?" but this is immaterial. Totalitarian kitsch, in the realm of architecture, poses innumerable questions once the core of the totalitarian has passed. Architecture in totalitarian societies unquestionably constitutes an exercise of power; the question stands how effective this exercise remains once that rule has passed, and whether the nature of a given totalitarianism is indissolubly bound up in the stone, concrete, and steel to which it gave form. Some particularly egregious symbols are demolished, but far more often, buildings are simply repurposed and assume some new identity. The Reich Chancellery was demolished, with excellent cause; but the Luftwaffe headquarters now houses the German Finance Ministry. Few today, outside of perhaps any especially melodramatic Greek circles, would think that this amounts to any sort of continuity of purpose.
Some wish to expunge the physical memory of totalitarian rule as fully as possible; others believe in retaining some memory of the humane strivings of these former socialist states, that would design and build a puppet theater, or a "children's health resort basin" or countless other facilities for public recreation. These debates continue. There are, of course, far more buildings that many would like to see demolished, and this not because of the buildings' latent symbolic power, but simply because they are godawful monstrosities. But, as you may have heard, money is not something in which the former Eastern bloc is generally much awash, and so they stand.
You can read more about these remarkable buildings at The Awl.