Dissertation Medal Winner 2013
In the first of his Five year plans, Joseph Stalin set out his ambitions for the industrialisation of Russia, changing the economy from agrarian to one based on mechanisation and industrial processing. This involved the creation of new settlements, based around a single economic activity in previously uninhabited locations. The most significant of these is Magnitogorsk, a city on the extreme south of the eastern face of the Ural mountain range. The dissertation looks at the conception, realization and present state of this city as an experimental socialist utopia, asking how a political ideology of socialism was developed spatially in the city during the years 1930 to 1953. Furthermore, it seeks to determine how the current day city is both characterised by its past and how it is adapting to the social and political changes of Russia’s contemporary capitalist economy.
The dissertation presents evidence to suggest that the architects of the city continued a historic typology of industrial urbanism which was preoccupied with the production of labour through an efficient division of society. As a result ideology was spatially imposed on the new community, aiming to alter the fundamental structure of social classes through their interpersonal relationships. The study argues that a particular urban form, characterised by its scale, geometric rigidity and persistent enclosure was used to create a new, alienated working class. As a result of such formal specificity, the study analyses the presence of this in the modern city, arguing that both the spatial precedent and social legacy remains in Magnitogorsk today. With this in mind, it looks at the theoretical foundations by which to reconsider the future of the city through a discussion on ideology and utopia, aiming to find the relevance of these terms in a contemporary framework.
Despite the enormous crisis posed to today’s Russia by its ailing monocities, Magnitogorsk remains largely unexamined since it was reopened to visitors after having been closed to protect military secrets from 1932 to 1987. The dissertation aims to reopen a conversation relevant to the current political and economic state of the country in its contemporary transition from centralised communism to a western model of neoliberal capitalism.