“Standing on the Rooftop of a Dvor” and Other Miracles of Daily Life in “Brutalist” Petersburg

I usually don’t agree with the smart-alecky overread leftish folks who start crying “Orientalism! Orientalism!” whenever they see travelogues and anthropological essays “from the real Russia” like this one, but here I am tempted to join them.

I am also astonished the editors at the Guardian don’t understand the difference between “brutal” living and “brutalist” architecture, of which per se there is no more in Petersburg than anywhere else in the world.

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This is not to mention that “dvors” (courtyards) usually don’t have “rooftops,” at least not in this regional ruin-porn capital.

More importantly, self-avowed “urban decay” devotees like the whiz-bang art photographer from the Guardian are sorely missing out on the much more interesting and inspiring, but infinitely more complex and often tragic story of how the city’s residents have been fighting at the grassroots over the past ten years to preserve its classical, spectacular skylines and numerous architectural treasures as well as the often pleasantly green courtyards in its non-neoclassical, “brutalist” districts. But to tell that story you have to see Petersburgers as more than disempowered, colorful props in your personal post-ideological, neo-romantic visual fantasy.

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At some point, art—and solidarity—means putting down the camera. Or pointing it in a direction other than immiseration and defeat. Such angles exist in abundance everywhere, even in lowly Petersburg. // TRR

Photos by the Russian Reader

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Here are a few glimpses of the real modern city of Petersburg and the people who have been fighting for it.

 

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