Wednesday, September 15, 2010


SNIP's are stroitelnyi normi i praveli, or, roughly translated, building norms and standards. In our research in Georgia, it became clear that in the USSR, those norms were in many ways more important than the different types of plans supposedly guiding urban development. How so? After conversations here with retired architects and other bureaucrats, I got a better idea.

Plans were produced by planners and architects at many levels, those levels of administration were competing, resources were unpredictable, and, most of all, other organizations, like industrial ministries with their own planners, could override the plans that were supposed to be comprehensive. Norms on the other hand were easier to check, simplified and standardized the development process for all parties involved, saved money, guaranteed a basic quality of the product amidst the turmoil of competing state actors.

There were however so many norms, so many types of norms, that it became hard to follow them all, and they could easily contradict each other. This opened the door to corruption, theft, but it also created breathing room, flexibility to adapt to local circumstances, space for creativity, for planning as design. Connections helped, and a city with a strong and networked chief architect could probably boast better, more context- sensitive and multi- functional design.

When this was not the case, city planning and urban design would be delivered to the uniformity of the SNIP's, dictating everything from building design (detailed per type of building) to street design (related to adjoining building ensembles), green space (required surfaces), and neighborhood planing (standardized programmatically, and design- wise). Then, planning was reduced to moving around with predefined building blocks, in predictable patterns. Then, 'design was almost impossible', according to an insider.

(Tuesday, a disappointment: the famed German beer house was closed. We did find a good alternative, and solved many world problems with the help of a few beers. On TV, images of the cotton harvest, and military gymnastics in a football stadium, cheered by the crowds.)

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