Tashkent, the southernmost metropolis
of millions in the Soviet Union, is a city redolent with architectural
contrasts and paradoxes. Home to the most beautiful prefabricated
buildings in the world, it features a prominent urban duality predicated
upon the oriental Old City and the Russian New City.
Never was this contrast brought into
sharper focus than during the severe earthquake of 1966 which left the
New City relatively unscathed but the Old City in ruins, and more than
200,000 people homeless. Yet one respite was offered: a rebuilding
effort which triggered an upsurge of innovation.
The city thus became the face of
seismic modernism – unprecedented in history, the earthquake stimulated
modernisation of urban development in Tashkent. Architects incorporated
regional building traditions in their socialist modern designs,
including the visually intriguing façade mosaics attributed to the
little-known Zharsky brothers.
The rebuilding of Tashkent thus
provides a perfect example of Soviet ideas about urban planning – in
which technical standardisation and social requirements were no more of
a contradiction than the design of experimental living concepts and the
simultaneous search for an expression of national identity in building.
Tashkent thus represents a unique example of the radical urban
redevelopment of a Soviet megacity with standard designs.