Monday, June 04, 2007


What's a panelák? They're everywhere in the former Soviet bloc. Mass-produced concrete-panel housing, generally with small living quarters and poor-quality soundproofing between apartments. Often they can be found in what the Czechs term sídliště, which means rows and rows and rows of the things in a sort of concentration camp on the outskirts of town. (My dictionary is more delicate and claims that sídliště can mean a hamlet, suburb, or neighborhood, but that's not what I was taught.)
Paneláky are renowned for their ugliness. But interestingly, these days most paneláky are no longer unusually ugly. Since the living space is still needed and many people own their flats, paneláky are getting spruced up. This structure from Zlín may be in relatively good shape, or it may have had a very unobtrusive face-lift, I'm not sure.
As for the Boskovice set directly below, I can't quite recollect either... either it's not such a bad-looking structure, or it had some repairs, but the color scheme is very much old-style panelák, with all that gray concrete punctuated by squares of less than inspiring plastic or whatever it might be. In the photo, and in real life, it looks fairly neutral. And in truth, with all the panelák renovation going on, I have not actually managed to photograph any classically horrible paneláky, with crumbling facades and streaks of soot all over.
Below, also in Boskovice, we can just get a glimpse of renovation in progress. The right side, mostly hidden by trees, is a work in progress with scaffolding. The left side has been resurfaced and given a decorative paint job in shades of peach. The fact that there are all those trees doesn't hurt either.

This panelák in Kutná Hora is definitely an example of the new look in paneláky. Some of them even have a certain graphic appeal. As one of our Rakovník friends says of the paneláky there, now you can even see the glimmer of an architectural idea. (Well, he said something along those lines. He indicated that they aren't so bad now after all, after all those years of being an eyesore.)



Anonymous Dirk said...

That's intereting. how the worm turns, and turns again. I remember the Panelaky in St. Pertersburg. Bigger than these, with vast concrete waste spaces them. Truely horrifying.

June 04, 2007 11:53 PM  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

Interesting article. These buildings would seem to be better than freeway underpasses which is were millions of homeless Americans live.

June 05, 2007 7:52 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I wouldn't say I'd want to live in one even now, but I say the same thing about a lot of American buildings from the same time period.

The inhabitants of paneláky are not to be compared to people who live in the projects in the US. As far as I can tell, every sector of society can be found there except the nouveau-riche. Housing here is a much more complex issue than Americans are accustomed to because income is only sometimes a factor in where one lives. High income means more choice now, but otherwise it's more a question of whether someone in the family owned a house or flat before Communism, or had something during that time and doesn't want to lose it. Basically, young people tend to pay the most for housing and get the least for their money, as far as I can tell.

Homeless people here tend to congregate in the train stations, which I think is a better option than freeway underpasses! However, most of them are just unemployed, not former mental patients as in California.

June 05, 2007 9:36 AM  

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