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Soviet Grandeur

by Yori Yanover

The four co-op buildings at the tail end of Grand Street are not particularly pretty. They stand like heavy, intrusive blocks of bricks and cement in a neighborhood where, over the centuries, a great deal of effort had been invested in creating lovely facades and fancy entryways even for buildings intended to house poor immigrants who bathed in the kitchen sink and relieved themselves in the hallway toilet. The co-op buildings are ugly in a very particular way, their ugliness rooted in the philosophy of socialized housing circa 1920’s Vienna and Moscow. Why the working man had to shun outer expressions of beauty in favor of straight-lined prison-cell like structures is beyond me, but, apparently, he did.


So there they are, four enormous things, thrown onto the landscape in a slanted position, wide and bulky and overpowering. They will never be pretty, will never catch the eye with a new revelation of this chiseled hint or that sculpted glint – none of that. Instead of aspiring to classical notions of beauty, these buildings adhere to modern ideas of goodness: Big, generous, solid, reliable. In the post-WW2 world of shaken faith and shrunken expectations, big and available beats beautiful any time.


So there they are, so completely un-handsome, their ugliness is beauty-like, their oppressive enormity almost motherly, offering shelter and security. They’re gigantic brick bosoms, loving and accepting and no nonsense. You wanted a brave new world? You got one.

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