The Bartlett School of Architecture


Alena Agafonova

Moscow skyline © Victor Chekmenev / Lori Photobank



Post-soviet housing design in Russia: The conception of home defined by norms and regulations

First and second supervisors


My research broadly explores the field of Soviet and Post-Soviet mass housing. After World War II, mass prefabricated construction was aimed at solving the housing problem; it ‘made the strongest impact on the urban scene, changing the whole character’ of cities. In my research I focus on two aspects of this phenomenon, and the intersection between them, based on the example of Moscow: firstly, housing norms and regulations, according to which this built environment was and is still being created; secondly, the perception of home, which is in part determined by these norms, and its place in the mentality of Soviet and Post-Soviet people. 

Around 75% of Russians live in cities. In the Soviet Union individual housing construction was prohibited in big cities from 1948. The State built all housing as apartment blocks, thus making an apartment within a multi-storey building the Soviet model of Home. The Soviet housing system was highly centralized – all buildings were designed according to highly defined norms and regulations, which produced an extremely standardized built environment. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these standards continued to work in the new Russia with minor amendments until recently, when new guidelines were issued. However, these amendments did not affect the typology of the Muscovite home, which is still an apartment in a multi-storey block.

Bachelard wrote poetically about how the House where the person grows up is engraved within him by the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting, and all other houses are but variations on this fundamental theme. Bourdieu later showed how the habitus is formed through the structure of the habitat. These observations lead me to the hypothesis that people who grew up in the Soviet-built environment perceive it subconsciously as the norm, and so, continue to reproduce it.


Alena Agafonova graduated as an architect in Moscow. After 20 years of running a successful retail business for architects and designers while producing her own architecture and design projects, she returned to academia and received her Master’s degree in Architectural History and Theory from The Bartlett in 2017. Alena's interest in mass fabricated housing is connected to her personal and professional experience, which took place alongside a period of massive social and economic changes in post-Soviet Moscow.

Image: © Victor Chekmenev / Lori Photobank