— Your latest book Towards a Typology of Soviet Mass Housing. Prefabrication in the USSR 1955-1991 is a result of a research that lasted for many years. How did you come up with this idea?
— I had my first contact with panel housing in the early 1990's. I came to Berlin and realized right away that it was the place to be when it comes to socialist architecture. I was studying design at Berlin Technical University shortly after the German reunification, and was very curious to get to know the eastern part of Berlin. Everything was new for me: urban design, architecture and public spaces were all completely different. Very soon I was given the opportunity to take an internship at a former Party newspaper in East Germany that was transformed into an independent newspaper. The city was founded in 1953 as Stalinstadt and was close to the border of Poland. It was built solely for the workers of a gigantic steel plant, or kombinat. As the city grew during the decades, one could see the various generations of housing estates in socialist Germany. In this way I became quite familiar with housing estates in the socialist world. Step by step I found more and more pieces of information, although I had a feeling that nobody at that time was interested in this topic. Some years later I visited Tashkent. It was fascinating to see all the murals on the facades. I then started to do some research on all the mosaics on the facades. However, I couldn't find anything, and nobody could provide me with information, so I decided to conduct my own research. As a matter of fact, that was the starting point for my latest book on the history of Soviet mass housing.
— What is the most exciting part of the book apart from the fact that you found all those houses exotic?
— I wouldn't say I found them exotic. "Exotic" means something so far away that you cannot reach it. It was more familiar to me. The difference was that it was so colourful – there were so many different designs. That was the reason I grew so curious about it. Also, I have two professions: architect and journalist. As an architect I was familiar with panel housing, and as a journalist I was curious to get to know the stories behind the designs, since no one could tell me anything about them. Uzbekistan did not appreciate that they used to be a part of the Soviet Union – a fact they attempted to ignore since they were trying to form a new identity. I was digging for information.
— Like an archeologist?
— More like a Charles Darwin of architecture. Or better, like a Charles Darwin of large panel housing. I found some "bones" in East Berlin and Tashkent and tried to reconstruct the whole evolution of panel housing. During the last twelve years I have tried to identify an itinerary between the two cities, and the fascinating thing is that the concept behind prefabricated housing covered a distance of 13,000 km between the Baltic Sea and the Pacific Ocean, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. As an architect, I am fascinated by the idea of producing architecture that covers a third of the hemisphere. My initial idea was to discover the one and only panel series. However, very soon I learned that there are 500-600 series in total, and that they are all different. Of course, one can identify some similarities and clusters, but at the end of the day they differ widely from each other. The only thing that brings them together is the idea of prefabricating all the building components in the factory and bringing them to a construction site by track or by train for assembly. For a country like the Soviet Union it was almost perfect, because you could assemble panels in the North, and the hot deserts of the Soviet Orient at the same time. It was possible everywhere. The only things required were raw materials, which are easy to find and, of course, a house-building factory (DSK). As soon as I found out that there were differences – with regards to beautiful murals, national features and local influences – this provided a starting point for my research.