Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


adventures in concrete

cosmic concrete constructions photographed

Concrete, concrete, everywhere - did no-one stop to think? A material which allowed architects to be creative in the mid 20th Century is responsible for some of the weirdest and ugliest buildings in the world's capital cities. Some of the buildings most deserving of such superlatives as these reside in the former Eastern Bloc - although not exclusively. This region drew its inspiration from the Space Race with the United States - it was a battle which Soviet Communism seemed to be winning when, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first man to successfully venture into outer space. This key event forged a new Soviet aesthetic based on cosmic constructions - and one realised through the flexible and seemingly ever-deployable (or 'deplorable'?) medium of concrete. Concrete was cheap, quick and easy. This aesthetic also found another notable manifestation through the proliferation of television towers with cosmic striped antennas and space-age embellishments (be sure to check out my Great Towers page here). Initially these constructions were supposed to be functional and devoid of unnecessary adornment - especially after the era of the hyperbolic Stalin Palace (see my From Russia with Love page here for more on the Stalin Palace). Indeed, the Soviet Academy of Architecture, which spearheaded the Stalin Palace revolution, was disbanded in 1955 by Nikita Krushchev, the then leader of the USSR. He deemed the Palace style excessive and too flamboyant. The machismo of the Stalin Palace was castrated and replaced with Russian constructivist architecture: functional, boxy and truly amazing in its own right. 

Sadly, it is becoming a race against time to see these cosmic creations as former satellite republics move ever further from their Soviet past, the peculiar buildings constructed during its tenure are being bulldozed, flattened or, because of poor construction, are falling down themselves. One of the most notable concrete constructions to have already met its maker is the glorious 'Andropov's Ears' in central Tbilisi, Georgia (click here) which, sadly, had already gone to meet its maker in the sky of concrete ugliness by the time I visited the city in 2012. Conversely, I feel supremely lucky to have made it out to Buzludzha in central Bulgaria - home to, perhaps, Europe's weirdest building. Buzludzha is some 250km south east of Sofia. Public transport does not lend itself to travelling to this place as so few people actually want to go here. It features only nominally in the Rough Guide to Bulgaria - one paragraph, in fact. You could be forgiven for missing this destination out entirely because you didn't even know it existed. You won't find this building on any Bulgarian postcard or in any Bulgarian brochure. It is home to one of the most bizarre and curious sights ever built. Many Bulgarians despise it. The Prime Minister wants it demolished - if only they had the money to do so. It stands forlorn and abandoned high up on a hilltop, a cosmic, concrete externalisation of a failed socialist system which Bulgaria is keen to shuffle off into the vaults of time labelled 'forget'. It is the Mount Buzludzha UFO building, a once grand concrete meeting place for communists. Politics aside, it is one of the most marvellous examples of cosmic communist architecture there is and acts, I believe, like a touchstone to the ideology and period which built it. For this reason alone it should be preserved. It is a little trite to say that the state of the building is a perfect metaphor for communism itself - but I suppose that's what it has become: like communism, the building was cheaply executed, illusory and full of obscene hyperbole and, ultimately, completely unsustainable. Marooned on a hilltop, and an uncomfortable relic reminiscent of a darker past, it has been handed over to the Socialist Party of Bulgaria - who have failed to do anything with it except to lock the doors and leave it to rot. Except, as you'll see below, they even failed to secure the building fully. You can check out my trip to Europe's weirdest building on my Western Balkans page here.

These buildings have been a bit of a fascination of mine, partially inspired by the Concrete Cosmic Constructions Photographed book by Chaubin. Here are some of the weirdest concrete constructions I have managed to capture on camera thus far: from bus shelters to apartment blocks, from TV stations to cinemas and fountains - and from Azerbaijan to Albania, Kasakhstan to Kosovo.





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