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Analysis of the Soviet housing estate Dainava

Content The city of Kaunas .................................... 3 - 4 Identity ...................................................... 5 - 6 Everyday life ............................................. 7 - 8 Public space ............................................. 9 - 10 People ..................................................... 11 - 12 Usage of buildings .................................. 13 - 14 Private commercial spaces .................... 15 - 16 Contrast of housing ................................ 17 - 18 Gardens .................................................. 19 - 20 Building types ......................................... 21 - 28 Conclusion .............................................. 29 Sources ................................................... 30

250 m 193 250 m2





The city of Kaunas Kaunas is the second largest city of Lithuania, which use to be the capital for the period of time. The city started to grow rapidly in that era. New layers were attached to the existing ones. Unfortunatelly, the development was so quick and ambitious, that some of that new parts were not properly connected with the rest. We have to understand that as in every other field of man’s doing also the urbanism evolves constantly. Urban planners tries to solve the problems of urban environment and that is why new methods of planning are created to be suitable for the time and its conditions. Every city should have clear strategy that helps to hold that complex organism together. 3

The analysis tries to show the insides and help better understand the problem of Soviet housing estates as one of the largest layers of Kaunas. As a concrete subject of interest was chosen the Dainava district. To see how different the urban structure of Dainava is, there are three other areas to compare. The further from the old town we go the urban structure starts to be less dense. However, it is different with people. In the same area in Dainava there live almost five times more people than in the city centre. In fact eighty percent of all people in Kaunas live in Soviet housing estates. Although the FSI index is low, the number of inhabitants is the highest.





70,6 %


100,2 %


31,2 %


50,3 %


69 321 m2 196 250 m2 1/ Old town

35,3 %

65 597 m2 196 250 m2 2/ City center

33,4 %

30 560 m2 196 250 m2 3/ Family houses area

15,6 %

24 805 m2 196 250 m2 4/ Dainava district

12,6 %


Identity Dainava as well as any other Soviet microrayon is often described as the “Gray neighborhood”, because most of the buildings are made out of concrete panels and repeat themselves. The Communist party liked uniformity and besides that to copy two building types all over again was the cheapest solution how to provide a flat to every family. It’s very easy to get lost between those buildings. This is a real problem for some people (elderly especially), because they are able to recognize their home only according to the small postal number next to the entrance.

hit certain age. When we consider the number of people that are living there, a little forest can be created easily. Another way how local people change the identity is by doing small upgrades of their flats that can be seen from the outside, such as covering balconies in various ways to extend the interior.

Nevertheless the most important aspect of identity are people and their activities in public space. But the public space is not occupied very much. Even though you are surrounded with hundreds of people, most of them are inside. The architecture strongly influeces the life of However, there is also something unique to Dain- its inhabitants. Unfortunatelly, we can still feel ava. Quite a vast part of public space is covered the echoes from the Soviet era. The feeling that with grown up trees. It’s a result of lithuanian tra- somebody is watching you. dition to set the tree for their children, when they 5


Everyday life Dainava is a very quiete region, because no car roads are going through the microrayons. People only drive their cars there, because of parking. The region is also safe for children in that sense. There are several playgrounds, but most parents rather go to the near park with their small children, because the atmosphere is much more pleasant there. In the park, they can meet other parents and have a little chat together while their children are playing. The other quality of the place is presence of other social groups such as teenagers or erderly people, who spend their leisure time in a very active way. But except for the park, Dainava is not really designed for people to act freely in there. One simply cannot enjoy the ordinary doing such as shopping, going to a bus stop or taking a trash 7

out, because the environment is so dull and nothing interesting could happen or be seen. The activities became only the necessary acts that has to be done. And this condition is not healthy for interaction between people. Because you want to see smiles at people’s faces when you are passing them. However, nobody will be that optimistic on the way to a shop that is too far going on the narrow broken pavement. There is a missing part of the day. During the time from eight till seventeen a clock the area is dead, because adults are working somewhere else, children are at school or kindergartens and older people are in the park or at home. There is no morning rush or enjoyable lunch time. The district is more like a satellite in which people return after their productive part of the day.


Public space Public space is in fact the only place, where people from different flats can meet and get to know each other better, because in apartment buildings, there are no common spaces. However this public space is not in a good condition, because the city does not have money to maintain such a vast area. People took the public space in their hands and started to create things that are most needed like improvized parking, benches for sitting or places for trash.

grounds and sport-fields but for that huge area the diversity is missing. Not every person does sport or have children. For example teenagers do not have much choices what to do. Then there is a possibility that they will waste their time by doing nothing instead of developing themselves.

It looks that a plenty of space is occupied by cars. But actually there are not to many of them. The problem is that they are unorganized. Cars are placed as near as possible to the home. So the result is that they are often standing on a paveThe general appearance is gloomy most of the ment or grass, which can completelly destroy time. You don’t feel that things are going to get green surface, especially when it starts to rain. better someday. This is caused mainly by the absence of people there. Even though you are sur- The quality of surfaces is going down rapidly, berounded with hundreds of people, most of them cause since the date of the construction no mainare inside. It is happening, because the public tanance of roads or pavements has been done. space has no program. There are several play9


People According to a survey, people like living in this region. When we talked to them, they were very friendly and willing to discuss the neighborhood and private subjects such as their job or family. The majority are Lithuanians that moved from villages to the city during the Soviet period are now at the age of sixty five and more. Most of them have lived in Dainava all their life. That is why they manage to build a strong community. They organize trips abroad and do other social activities together. But also new generations are living and rasing children there. Some of them moved to Dainava, because they inherited the flat or just found a mate there. They didn’t spend much time together so creating a community can be hard for them under these circumstances. 11

The inhabitants are mostly satisfied with the living and the condition of their neighborhood. In general, they say that it is the best region, because there are enough shops and the access to public transport is good. However, they do not like the unorganized parking, undefined greenery, bad pavements and miss a cultural center, which can provide space for groups with the same interests. This place could also attract people from different parts of Kaunas to make Dainava more integrated in the city. Now this functÄąon is provided by the nearest park. But in bad weather conditions, there is nowhere to go. Besides that, for some leisure time activities a sheltered space would be better.

29, married


25, married

How long do you live here? 5 years. How far is your job? Approximately 250 km. He do shifts in Kaliningrad as an bodyguard with 3 other guys from Kaunas. How many rooms do you have? 2 rooms. Do you like Dainava district? Yes, but he’s plannig to move in family house if he’ll have enough money in the future. What would you change? He wants more space in flat, and need some space for his car.

How long do you live here? More than 50 years. Do you like Dainava district? Very good region because of transport and shops. They like little hills in the park and big numbers on the buildings. They play games almost every day. (when the weather is not bad) What would you change? They miss some cultural center. They don´t have enough play tables and don´t like young people drinking here. They want public spaces to be better.

How long do you live here? 4 years. Originally from Vilnius. (husband is from Kaunas) How far is your job? 10 min by car (husband) How many rooms do you have? 2 rooms Do you like Dainava district? He likes Dainava, because it’s safe and quiet region (no big factories) What would you change? She wants more places where children can play.

41, devorced

22, married

67, married

How long do you live here? Since childhood. How far is your job? He lost his job 2 weeks ago. Do you like Dainava district? He likes Dainava, because of his friends here and enough shops. What would you change? He wants sidewalks to be in better condition and wants to get a job. He is going to Lion to get a job. (he worked there 2 years ago)

How long do you live here? 1 and half year. How far is your job? 10 minutes by car. How many rooms do you have? 2 rooms. (size is good enough, but he wants to renovate the flat) Do you like Dainava district? He likes housing, but don’t like space between buildings. (there are to much cars) What would you change? He wants his garden, more “green areas” and space for car.

Do you like Dainava district? She likes it. It’s the best region according to her, because of good transport. There is strong community of people her age. They excercise 3 days per week and going for trips together. (they find these trips on websides) What would you change? She want some community center for meeeting her friends inside in warm and park renovation.


residential buildings garages, other commercial buildings, hospitals schools, kindergardens

Usage of buildings The typical microrayon consists mostly from residental apartment buildings. Among them are schools and kindergartens. On the sides near roads there are shops, medical and other buildings needed for everyday life. As in many other microrayons, also in Dainava most of public buildings were not constructed. They were planned to be built at the end, but no money was left for them. There is a lack of facilities except shops, becauce Lithuanian companies built several big supermarkets there. To place commercial buildings next to the four strip road is convenient because of the supply, 13

but then one can’t enjoy the shopping surrounded with busy traffic. On the other hand, because there are no shops and no roads in the middle of these four microrayons, it is a very quiet place. From the Lithuanian statistics we can see that more women than men live in Dainava district, that the population consists of Lithuanians and smaller number of Russians and that there is a higher percentage of people with secondary education and less people run their own business compared to the rest of Kaunas.

total number of people in area

33 020

by sex males females

13 930 19 100

age groups 0 - 14 15 - 64 65 +

4 220 19 890 8 910

education higher post-secondary tertiary (+secondary specialized) secondary basic and primary

8 030 5 140 9 720 7 160

maritial status married divorced widowed single (never married)

13 270 4 070 4 020 7 450

source of livinghood salary or wage family business, farming, investments pension, benefit, grant (state suported) supported by family, other person (other source)

12 170 380 12 000 8 480

mother tongue lithuanian polish russian other

31 270 70 1 300 160

command language english polish russian other

11 230 3 270 22 180 5 200

number of conventional dwellings

14 750

by type in apartment building in two-dwelling building in one-dwelling building without hot water without bath or shower without flush toilet

14 650 50 50 30 20 10


Private commercial spaces No residental buildings have a commercial ground floor. Soviet houses were not planned to give people the opportunity of starting their own businesses. Now the regime is completely different, based on capitalist ideas. There is a strong need to establish local commercial spaces, because the demand for consuming goods and paying for services exists. Some people prefer to have their hair cut by a person they know, rather than to go to some unfamiliar hairdressers in the city center. These kinds of services could also stimulate the community in a good way especially hairdressers with all those gossips. 15

A small number of flat owners converted a part or a whole flat on the first floor into commercial spaces into which it is possible to enter directly from the street. Stairs were added to balconies, which works as an entrance platform. The first floor is one meter high up the ground. Unfortunately these shops are not convenient for handicapped people. Creating a ramp here is not a solution, because it has to be sixteen meters long to overcome one meter of height. The most common type of these spaces are private dental clinics, but also beauty salons, shops with car components or wedding dresses can be found.


Contrast of housing Most people dream about having their own house with their own garden and their own garage. Unfortunely, not everyone can afford it. So buying or renting a relatively cheap flat is probably the best solution how to start a family. In Dainava there is no guarantee that you will find your own parking spot and there are no private gardens. One part of the district is an area with family houses, which had been there before the first Soviet apartment buildings appeared. But the reality is different. These two different urban structures don’t communicate with each other. The relationships between those people is not 17

completely healthy, because the differences are too big between them. Even though the roads and paths are not in a good condition, the fact that you own the family house push you to a higher position in society. Of course that this diversity of social statuses is natural, otherwise we would be back in communism, but there are some borders. And especially the formation of neighborhoods, that consist only from certain part of society is not desirable. The goal should be the mixed society, where a laborer can live next to a bussines manager or highschool teacher, but all of them respect each other. These are good conditions for social mobility.


Gardens Lithuanians are hardworking people, who care about their closest environment. In spring one can notice all those neatly trimmed frontgardens that can be found everywhere in the city. People (especialy those who came from villages) have a “farmer spirit” inside.

Another reason of the poor garden conditions is that there is no place to store the tools. Flats do not have any spare storage and to build some kind of gardenhouse is not that easy, because some authorization is needed. On the other hand, small frontgardens are usually very nicely arranged, because in this case This passion for gardening is also reflected it is clear that something should grow between among the Soviet blocks in Dainava. Because a building and a pavement to create a gradient there is no private piece of land, people start- from the public to the private. ed very carefully to create small gardens close to the buildings. They use various materials for Even a very small garden can satisfy human’s fencing. Often gardens do not look that some- need for self-expresion. To maintain a garden body is working on them, because nobody knows could be a very relaxing and also social activity. where the borders are or if it’s even allowed to When people have thing in common, they can plant anything there. Generally plants that were talk about it, share ideas or just chat while waplanted there are not edible, because then any- tering carrots. one could steal them very easily. 19


Building type 1 / 5-storey Five storey building type is the most common building on the site. It is a typical prefabricated concrete panel building which was designed to be as cheap as possible to provide living for a great mass of people. These buildings are known as “khrushchyovka� after Nikita Khrushchev. They can be seen in many forms. But they all have certain things in common. A simple modular system was used to keep the structure together. Every building consists of various number of blocks. Each block has its entrance. Each block contains of one-room, two-room and three-room flat. So the apartment 21

buildings can provide living to a young couple, a family with kids, an old couple without kids or a loner. However it is not flexible enough to absorb different models of living for example a young couple with kids and grandparents. The effectiveness is very high. There are no corridors or undefined spaces. Stairs are narrow. Everything serves only its function. The problem is that in these buildings there is no space for ordinary conversation with your neighbours. These kinds of interactions were not desirable in the Soviet regime. People were supposed to talk to each other in large places to be easily controlled.

















common space: private space:

common space: private space:

8% 92%

8,9% 91,1%


Building type 2 / 9-storey Another building type is a nine storey building, which attracts attention at first sight by the expressive geometric ornaments on the front side. This building has an elevator, because the rule was that only buildings with more than 5 storeys can have one. A modular system is the same as in the prewious building type. There is a difference in the amount of common space, because it is possible to enter balcony from each staircase semi-platform. Each block contains one-room, two-room and two three-room flats. Number of square meters is lower compared to the Europian standard. For example the kitchen 25

was not planned to be the place for eating, but almost everybody eats there now, because they want to have a bigger living room without an eating table. Then the qality of spending nice time eating at one table together is gone. A table that fits in a kitchen is too small. One cannot fully enjoy a meal with his close ones. These buildings will expire in the near future, but in most cases, inhabitants are not able to collect enought money to start the reconstruction, which is needed mainly due to a poor thermal insulation and outdated water pipe system.





















common space: private space:

9,8% 92,2%


Conclusion No doubt that Dainava district is not in a condition which can be considered a norm for today Europe. In the year of its construction microrayons work well and served its purpose. They provided home to people during economical crisis. The speed of construction was impressive. However, in these days the way of life is different. The society mode has changed from socialism to capitalism. Unfortunately, the district cannot adapt to this switch without decreasing living standards. Most of the buildings will expire in five years. In addition, the prices for heating are unbearable. That is why Dainava should be transformed. The problem is that the flats are private so municipality can’t interfere much. But except for these flats and a couple of supermarkets, everything is public. There is a great potential for new proj-


ects. But such a transformation need some impuls, that will encourage people and other subjects, such as developers, to be envolved in the process. The most important acts that can help develop better microrayon are reducing the amount of undefined public space and creating conditions for building communities. All in all, the goal is to make Dainava attractive also for the upcomming generation using the means that are possible instead of radical demolition, because we already know that reconstruction costs thirty percent less than a new construction. The solution could be that municipality will announce an urban competition for a new transformation strategy for Dainava and then realize the best project according to the impartial jury.

Sources Lithuanian statistics The publication Towards a Typology of Soviet Mass Housing Prefabrication in the USSR 1955 – 1991 Philipp Meuser, Dimitij Zadorin Pictures were taken between 1. 2. 2016 - 1. 5. 2016 Interviews were taken with an assistance of the psychologist Vilma Skibiniauskaite. The publication was written by David Zatloukal as a student project at the Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania under the leadership of Martynas Marozas and Johan de Wachter.


Analysis of the Soviet housing estate Dainava  
Analysis of the Soviet housing estate Dainava