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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Life for Soviet-Era Homes

MTA pilot project added a mansard roof, a new facade and fixed the heating system.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The very symbol of sub-standard housing, the lowly khrushchyovka, may be being given a new lease of life in St. Petersburg, at least if the Danish Foundation for the Construction of Attic Apartments in Russia has its way.

The foundation presented its pilot project for the reconstruction of some of St. Petersburg's most unappealing housing to delegates at the Third Annual Baltic Development Forum Summit on Sept. 25.

Khrushchyovka is the popular name for the five-story mass-produced housing projects that were built in great haste during the rule of Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s and 1960s in order to ease the postwar housing shortage.

However, from the beginning they were widely ridiculed for their cramped living spaces. Now, 40 years on, the speedily constructed buildings are badly worn and often nearly dilapidated.

St. Petersburg has about 1,500 khrushchyovka buildings.

Now the Danish Foundation and six Scandinavian commercial companies have carried out a pilot reconstruction project in St. Petersburg at 16 Torzhkovskaya Ulitsa. The project, which took nine months to complete, added a mansard for nine apartments, insulated the facades to improve heat retention and renovated the building's heating facilities.

Now the gleaming six-story building with glassed-in balconies and fresh white paint is the envy of the neighborhood, surrounded by its decaying former twins.

"We look like Cinderellas next to [this building]," said one resident from a neighboring khrushchyovka. "We'd be happy to undergo a similar reconstruction," she added.

"This project may be one way of prolonging the life of these buildings for another 50 years," said Lev Khikhlukha, who directed the program for the Russian arm of the Danish company Velux. He added that the St. Petersburg administration adopted a program last year for further restorations.

Velux provided the numerous skylights for the restoration project, which were intended to create the impression that the small rooms were larger than they are.

Uffe Elemann-Jensen, chairperson of the Baltic Development Forum, who presented the project Tuesday, said that the idea of installing mansards on khrushchyovka buildings came to him nine years ago.

"It was back when I was still the Danish foreign minister, and the deputy of former Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, Vladimir Putin, was showing me around the city and presenting opportunities for foreign investment," Elemann-Jensen said.

Khikhlukha said that a square meter of such a renovation costs $230, which is more expensive than a square meter of new construction.

"However, if we look at the big picture, such projects are cheaper, because there is no need to create new infrastructure, such as roads, kindergartens and schools in such districts," he said.

The residents of the new building seem pleased with the results of the pilot project.

"We have never felt so warm at this time of the year," said one. "Because of the insulated walls, we feel much more comfortable."