Six hundred

Fyodor Savintsev

2009 - 2019

Ten years ago I flew over the shore of the White Sea - from the Pomeranian village of Nizhnyaya Zolotitsa towards Arkhangelsk - I took a picture of a snow-covered village with tiny buildings that looked like toy houses. Many small colorful houses were rhythmically arranged in a large area.

For ten years I have been trying to find this village, studying the topography of satellite sites, clarified the flight route, contacted local residents, but unfortunately no one can pinpoint the location of that village. I visited a couple of dozens of garden partnerships in search of the one I took a picture of from a helicopter during my trip to Arkhangelsk. And only in 2018 I finally discovered that village. There are more than 2000 houses in it, and I tried to study almost every street, paying attention to the most unusual houses. Among the typical and predictable summer cottages I found true architectural masterpieces.

Before the 1940s, owning a dacha was a sign of belonging to the Soviet elite. Ordinary citizens could not acquire a private dacha until after the World War II when the government set out to fight the food crisis by giving out plots of land to families, where they could indulge in private gardening and horticulture. They had little in common with enormous manor houses sitting on vast plots of land, which were granted to high ranking officials. For a common Soviet citizen, the dacha had become a place where he went to work tirelessly throughout the summer and collect fresh produce in the fall. There were strict regulations imposed by the so-called «garden partnerships» - organizations, responsible for the utilization and distribution of land among their employees - on what was allowed to cultivate, as well legal size restrictions for land plots, which couldn't exceed 0,06 hectare. Commonly known as a «six hundred,» these plots of land had to consist of a single-story plywood house without permanent heating, a vegetable lot, a greenhouse and flower beds.

These regulations were loosened during the 1970s, so people became very inventive in modernizing their toy houses. They rebuilt their attics into second floors, added glazed verandas and boldly experimented with decor. And although there wasn't much money or access to proper building supplies, they went far and beyond in their architectural fantasies by appropriating the most unexpected materials in their construction process.

As I was wandering the streets of remote villages around Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk, among the typical and predictable «six hundred» summer dachas, I found some true architectural gems. The eccentric shapes of the miniature houses made it feel like I was on a trip to Hobbit Land. I wanted to document these structural patterns from a straightforward «objective» point of view, excluding any details that would detract from the central theme. This is also why I decided to take these photographs in the midst of winter, letting the snow do the elimination work for me, drawing all attention to the shape and color of the constructions.

Many have a hard time believing that the colors of the constructions in these images haven't been retouched and I was just as taken aback by the unconventional choices of paint and extravagant color coordination when I saw these houses for the first time. I am curious to find out where did the owners even manage to get this paint back in the days when most of the houses were painted in primary shades of green, white and blue. Or how did they come by these wild building materials and techniques? These flights of imagination stand in deep contrast to the times of total external stagnation when the houses were built.

I am fascinated by these stories and intend to collect and convey them as a part of my ongoing research for this project. I'd like to further investigate how was it possible that with limited financial resources and lack of visual information or aesthetic education, ordinary people found their unique ways of creative expression and went to great lengths in their ingenuity. For a Soviet citizen, his «six hundred» dacha was a whole little world in the midst of nothingness, where his flights of fancy were his way of mental escape from the times that imposed the uniformity of thought. These curious personal accounts shed new light on the course of life of Soviet people, whithout them it will soon get lost in history along with its odd plywood houses and whimsical gardens.

In the case of a grant, several trips to the village will be organized for a detailed study of the construction features. It will be necessary to find homeowners, do interviews with them for a small video for the exhibition. It is interesting to capture as many unique items as possible, as they are getting destroyed every day. I consider it very important to preserve, albeit visually, a part of the national creative way of an ordinary person who embodied his sincere fantasies and ideas about a better world in architecture.

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