Soviet period has drastically changed the urban face of Kaunas. Though the main transformation was rapid expansion of the city, during which many new residential and industrial districts were developed, central part of the city has changed too. Our short tourist route illustrates the main architectural events in Naujamiestis district during this period.
The best place to start our walk through examples of Soviet architecture in central Kaunas is the railway station. One of the first buildings built in the city after the war, the station itself is a good example of so called socialist realism, also known as the „Stalinist style“. The main principles of this style are clearly seen in both the interior and the exterior of the station, that is „national by it‘s form, but socialist by spirit“. Other good examples of socialist realism include buildings at 81 and 100 Laisvės avenue and „Pergalė“ factory housing blocks.
Radical political changes, that followed Soviet communist party congress in 1956 also influenced architectural trends in whole country: prevalent socialist realism was substituted by international modernism. Although Soviet interpretation of modernist ideas is most commonly associated with typical housing blocks suited for „minimal existence“ of the working class, objects located in central part of the city also show the other side of Soviet architecture. Buildings like cinema „Planeta“, hotel „Baltija“, „Buitis“ department store and some others indicate about objectives to find original architectural approach in the times of bad quality construction materials and outdated building technology.
Architectural possibilities started to expand only in the late Soviet period. Postmodern M. Žilinskas art gallery, interrior of „Viltis“ pharmacy, and already demolished „Merkurijus“ department store all illustrate the more original and individualistic approach, that became available to the architects just before the collapse of the Soviet union. Kaunas still have two unfinished objects from this period, reffered by locals as „ghosts“ and „monsters“. These concrete buildings were supposed to become hotels, but the lack of funding halted the construction, and to this day both remain abandoned.
Even though Soviet era architecture is still considered controversial, the wide spectrum of functional types, style interpretations and distinctive urban solutions in such comparatively small area, shows us the importance of political decisions, that influenced architecture during whole socialist period. It also gives us unique insight of how architects of the time coped with creative restraints induced by the strict system.