The House of Soviets is a huge brutalist building located right in the middle of Kaliningrad. There is no other construction in the city as large as this one so it can be seen from everywhere which is a stain in the cityscape for many Russians.
Mostly because this is a failed architectural project that lays abandoned in the heart of Kaliningrad. But some people complain about the weird look of it, and some even mention that it looks too much like a buried robot since its appearance resembles the head of a buried giant robot.
I was in Kaliningrad in the last days of October 2017, and the House of Soviets caught my attention since I arrived in the city. The building can be found in the middle of the central square of Kaliningrad, close to where the Königsberg Castle used to be but not quite there.
The House of Soviets was built over the moat of the castle, and you can clearly see this in the following picture. There you can look at the ruins of the castle and the abandoned building in the back.
But, if the House of Soviets is an abandoned building that stains the reputation of Kaliningrad due to its ugliness, why the city doesn’t tear it down? This is a complicated question, and the answer is even more complicated. To try to answer it, I will have to explain a little bit of the history behind this brutalist building.
The History of this Brutalist Building in Kaliningrad
Before it was Kaliningrad, the city was called Königsberg, and it was the most significant German town west of Berlin. During the Second World War, Königsberg was the first vital German city that the Soviet Army took. During the battle, the Königsberg Castle was severely damaged and, when the town came under the control of the Soviet Union, the local authorities decided to demolish the castle. They argued that they shouldn’t preserve the castle because it was a symbol of fascism in the city. They didn’t care about the Königsberger Schloss rich history: it started being built back in 1257 by Teutonic Knights, and it was one of the landmarks of East Prussia.
After the end of the Second World War, while in control of the USSR, the castle was blown up, demolished and cleared away. Around 1964, two architectural competitions for the area’s redevelopment happened and included design studios and architecture offices from Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The winning design was from Kyiv-born architect Yulian L. Shvartsbreim. He ran the workshop TsNIIEP and was a well-respected citizen and architect in the Soviet Union.
This project was heavily influenced by the works of Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa who developed Brasília, Brazil’s Capital, a couple of years before. Construction of the House of Soviets began in 1970, and the building was intended to be used as the central administration office in the entire Kaliningrad Oblast. But things didn’t go very well during construction.
The massive concrete that was being poured on top of the Königsberger Schloss ruins resulted in a lot of structural problems. The soil of the area didn’t help much being marshy. They had to fix the project and adapt it to the new conditions so only 21 of the planned 28 floors were completed.
Construction of the House of Soviets came to a full stop in 1985 when the regional Communist Party Committee lost interest in the project and ran out of money. After that, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union came to an end, and the building was still there, incomplete in the middle of Kaliningrad.
For 20 years, the House of Soviets stood abandoned and unfinished in the heart of Kaliningrad. Until 2005, when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the city to celebrate Kaliningrad’s 60 birthday and the 750th year of Königsberg. Because of Putin’s visit, the House of Soviets received some light blue paint and windows. Some people believe that it made the building a little less ugly. But it still stood as a problem for the city since nothing was done on its interior and it remained unfinished and unusable.
At the Hostel Suffix where I stayed, I asked around about the House of Soviets, and most people just said that they hoped the building was done and being used. The fact that it is abandoned is a sign of past failures, and Kaliningrad needs to fix it.
Some people told me that it would be better for it to be demolished and for the area to become a new museum to the city’s vibrant Prussian history and heritage. But nobody knows for sure what will happen with the House of Soviets. There is a lot of construction work happening in Kaliningrad for the 2018 World Cup, but I didn’t see anything being done to the building. Nothing.
Too bad I couldn’t get inside the House of Soviets due to some problems with the security people that walk around the building. During a walk around the area, I saw some kids jumping a fence and walking around the ruins of the Königsberg Castle. I followed them and quickly found a security guy who couldn’t understand what I tried to say in English, and I couldn’t argue with him in Russian. So, I just walked away and took more pictures from the outside of it.
Personally, I find the House of Soviets a beautiful example of Brutalist Architecture and an excellent exemplar of Soviet Architecture. I hope something good happens to the building that seemed to follow me everywhere I went in the city centre of Kaliningrad.
If you happen to visit Kaliningrad and want to find the House of the Soviets, you need to find your way into Shevchenko and Lenin Avenue. When you see a large square with something that looks like a buried robot’s head in the middle, you will know you’re in the right place. If you speak some Russian or have somebody to help you out, try to bribe the security there and get inside the building. I would love to see your pictures from the inside.
The House of the Soviets in Kaliningrad
2 к, Ulitsa Shevchenko, 5, 236006
Kaliningradskaya Oblast, Russia
All the pictures here were taken during the three rainy days that I spent in Kaliningrad at the end of October 2017. Some of them were taken using my Sony Action Camera, some with my iPhone, some with my small Canon video camera but most of them were taken using my Canon 7D. Some Lightroom editing was involved.