tolyatti’s two cities
Tolyatti, located in the Volga Region of Russia, is actually two planned cities—the “old city” built in the fifties, and the “new city” built in the sixties—connected by a single, busy artery, which pumps traffic between the two, pulsing with blaring billboards along the way. A third area, the port, hangs below both at the river’s edge. Though Tolyatti was actually established in 1737 as Stavropol-on-Volga (its name changed in 1967), the construction of the Volga Hydro-Electric Power Plant in 1950 submerged the original town in a new lake. It was rebuilt on higher ground, and drew thousands to work in the new local industry. The “new city” came about after the construction of the Volga Automobile Works in 1961, which manufactures Russia’s infamous Lada cars.
At the heart of the old city there is a park, from which radiate its roads. The south side of the park borders the main east west axis, while a few boulevards complete the north south directions. A grid fills out the plan. This city, though planned, contains a mixture of high rise apartments and single family homes, something I have not seen before. Certain sections of the city were simply planned to be privately and individually developed, and while most of these zones are in separate blocks, some of the intricately detailed wood constructed houses hunker down right in the shadow of the towering slabs. The oldest apartment buildings are of brick and top off at 3 or 4 stories, clad with brick and covered with pitched tile roofs. Newer buildings in the southeast corner grow longer and taller, and discard the traditional(esque) materials for prefab concrete panels and flat terraces.
In the new city area, blocks simply march one after the other across the terrain. With hardly any differentiation in building material and a lot of mirror/copy/paste in plan, it is difficult to know when you are near the edge or in the heart. Each block is organized according to what is inside, although the streets around blocks have become increasingly important. All blocks are meant to be identical in area and shape, but are cut off at the boundaries of the city that run diagonally across certain blocks. The city center comes at the intersection of a green cross that comes through the grid just west of center, forming an open axis, and the city’s focal point. Recently, an immense, intensely decorated traditional church—one major piece that the soviet city omitted—was built at the center of it taking advantage of the open, highly visible area.
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