Original Residents: They Are the Estates


Mass housing in socialist countries provided quick, effective solutions for post-war social needs. Today, as the former Eastern Bloc fades into history, the future of these modernist and brutalist constructions remains uncertain. While often perceived as homogeneous grey masses of concrete, these estates actually boast rich diversity in design and urban planning.

They have lived through the buildings’ golden years and darker times; they are the estates.
Josef in front of his apartment block in the Jižní Město Housing Estate in Prague, Czech Republic. ©Zupagrafika

Over the past decade, we have documented post-war modernist architecture in the former Eastern Bloc through photography, illustration, and cardboard models, with a special focus on housing estates. Our illustrated paper models serve as an unconventional yet noteworthy means of preserving these buildings in their original form, whether they stand or make way for new developments.

Christin has lived in his two-bedroom flat in Berliner Querplatte for over 50 years. ©Zupagrafika

In our book, The Tenants, we portrayed original residents of post-war prefab panel estates with their miniature paper homes, capturing their stories, anecdotes about their communities, and thoughts on their blocks and living conditions. From former East Germany to the Russian Far East, Kazakhstan to the Baltic states, residents unanimously praised large green spaces, children’s playgrounds, and public transport, while frequently lamenting poor thermal insulation and maintenance.

‘I have lived here for over 30 years. I used to work in a factory that produced those panels. Turns out that I built a house for myself.’

Nadiya in front of her panelky apartment at the Sykhiv Housing Estate in Lviv, Ukraine. ©Zupagrafika

Now over 60 years old, these modernist estates face an uncertain future. While some are being renovated and others have been prematurely demolished, their tenants remain undaunted. They have lived through the buildings’ golden years and darker times; they are the estates.

All images featured in this post are extracted from the book The Tenants (Zupagrafika, 2022). Text excerpt from the foreword to the book by David Navarro & Martyna Sobecka.
Photography: David Navarro & Martyna Sobecka © Zupagrafika
All text and images are © Zupagrafika. Unauthorized use or reproduction of any content is not permitted.

Written by
David Navarro & Martyna Sobecka

Text and images © Zupagrafika

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