Architect and The Countryside. Estonia ’66–’89
My research is about collective farms in Soviet Estonia in the 1960–1980s.
During the two years of work on this project, I studied photo, film and documentary archives in Tallinn and Tartu, met with local collective farm researchers. I managed to in- terview several architects who directly designed the buildings for the collective farms and talk with former employees of three collective farms. Having made several business trips all over Estonia, I visited 17 collective farms that were most interesting from an architec- tural point of view and took more than 1,100 photographs on medium format and 35 mm film. All these materials will form the basis of the book of the same name, which I plan to finish this year.
Traditionally inefficient collective farms in the Soviet Union unexpectedly became incredibly successful enterprises in Soviet Estonia. In the system of planned economy, the state purchased all products produced by collective farms, and the purchase prices and standards were calculated on the basis of average collective farms in the Unionproduction efficiency in which was far from optimal. However, the Estonians managed to use this situation to their advantage: they established efficient and often non-waste production, due to which, within the framework of existing purchase prices, their profit margins turned out to be quite high. A separate role was also played by the factor that relatively small Estonia received an almost unlimited market in the face of the enormous Soviet Union: the state purchased all the products that collective farms could only produce.
The profit remained on the collective farms and invested in the development of farms and the social benefits of the collective: the collective farmers' salaries were often sever- al times higher than the salaries of urban residents, and bold and progressive projects of metropolitan architects from a large design institute were accepted for the construction of new buildings.
Over time, the heads of collective farms realized that agriculture itself did not have such high profit margins as other sectors: such as, say, mechanical engineering or the production of electrical goods. Many collective farms managed to obtain permission for these types of activities in Moscow, and they essentially turned into small (and sometimes large) factories, and besides agriculture they engaged in a wide variety of activities. A vivid example of such unusual activity is the Kullama collective farm: in a conversation with its former chairman, it turned out that the collective farm had established not only the production of vegetables and meat, but also lasers for the USSR army.
Collective farms were able to invest in development, and therefore in the construction of new buildings. The architects, in turn, received ideal customers in them: architectural projects did not require numerous approvals at the state level—it was just necessary to approve the future project with the director of a particular collective farm. This greatly simplified the process and gave much greater creative freedom for architects. As a result, design institutes that worked on collective farms quickly gathered the youngest and most talented architects of Estonia at that time. Despite their age, young architects were commissioned with large-scale construction projects, and for them there was nothing more interesting than such tasks.
As a result of these premises, Estonian collective farms acquired a unique architectural appearance. My project not only shows the architectural component of collective farms with the help of archival and modern photographs, but also reveals the internal economic and political mechanisms of their functioning.
Fachklasse: Klasse Expanded Cinema von Clemens von Wedemeyer