Katya Larina presented a fascinating lecture for my AA Landscape Urbanism students, earlier this week, on the phenomena of the ZATO (zakrytye administrativno-territorial’nye obrazovaniya – closed administrative-territorial units) or ‘Closed Cities’ of the Soviet Union. A graduate of the Architectural Association’s Landscape Urbanism programme, and founder of UrbanLab.Spb, Katya outlined the history of this peculiar urban formation that still holds a population of 1.5 million people in dozens of once secret cities, known only by coded reference numbers and unmarked on any official map. Since the research and production facilities of these now stagnating or declining cities are still seen as significant to the economy and development of the Russian Federation, the means of their revitalisation are being explored. In this context Katya’s practice was invited, alongside teams of economists and futurologists to explore methods and proposals for re-catalysing the social life of the closed city of Novouralsk. Central to this project was the question of closed and open systems, and the future place, if any, of the wall that circumscribes the ZATO – as a both a physical and governmental/legislative threshold – through which these systems are articulated.
I hope to be working with Katya on the publication of this material, and the design projects resulting from her workshops, in the near future. For now, however, here are some images of Novouralsk from her presentation. Also, see her website for future updates: http://katyalarina.typepad.com/