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2021.10.12 14:00

Building cities in middle of nowhere – Lithuania’s utopian planning heritage

LRT TV, LRT.lt2021.10.12 14:00

Three Lithuanian cities – Visaginas, Elektrėnai, and Naujoji Akmenė – are prime examples of Soviet town planning. During the Soviet period, the cities were built from scratch in the middle of nowhere.

Naujoji Akmenė was established in western Lithuania in 1952 to service a newly built cement factory. The area where the city appeared was rich in limestone, crucial for mass construction in the Soviet Union.

Naujoji Akmenė was built around an axis that led to the main city building – a cultural centre and workers' housing. The city mainly featured small apartment buildings and symmetrical neighbourhoods intertwined with greenery.

Elekrėnai was established midway between Vilnius and Kaunas in 1961 to house workers of a nearby power plant. The city is a legacy of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s era, which lasted from 1958 until 1964.

“Elektrėnai exemplifies the modernist functional planning of the 1960s. Instead of perpendicular streets, it features a circular street that envelopes residential houses,” an architectural historian Marija Drėmaitė told LRT TV.

The city planners also designed separate functional zones, including a public zone with cultural centres and shops, as well as a recreational area along the lake with sports and concert venues.

Instead of smaller apartment buildings, Elekrėnai features large monolith residential houses, typical to Khrushchev era.

Visaginas was established in 1975 as a town for Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant workers. It embodies late Soviet modernism that rejects monotonous housing and adopts organic planning.

“There are no perpendicular streets, houses are scattered in clusters in the pine forest. […] Residents can reach the city centre in eight minutes on foot from any neighbourhood. It was called “8-10 minutes planning”,” Drėmaitė said.

Visaginas was built using Leningrad nuclear town Sosnovy Bor as a model. Lithuanian architects were allowed to design only a few buildings, including a kindergarten, a shopping centre, and a cultural centre.

According to Drėmaitė, Visaginas, Elektrėnai, and Naujoji Akmenė are exceptional because of their mono-industrial function. The cities were established to serve one large industrial enterprise, which created distinctive communities.

“People in these cities work and live together. But mono-industrial cities are very fragile because their wellbeing depends on one enterprise’s stability,” the architectural historian said.

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