Owen Hatherley on Cheryomushki

I would recommend Owen Hatherley’s well-researched piece on Moscow’s residential districts (not quite suburbs) to anyone interested in post-Soviet urban life and urban planning in general.

I suggest that readers also browse the photos in the author’s Flickr albums, some linked to from the text. They give a pretty good overview of the three areas of Moscow described in the article, and a few others, such as the 1925 GosProm/DerzhProm complex in Kharkiv.

I suspect the author has a soft spot for central planning and an aversion to free markets – unlike myself – but he knows more about architecture than I’m ever going to learn. For example, I agree that “infill” construction borders on the criminal in some cases but I would argue it is a result of general lawlessness and poorly defined or allotted property rights rather than the market economy by itself.

I have never lived in Cheryomushki proper but I have lived nearby for long enough to be familiar with the area. It’s hardly the only part of Moscow built over with Khruschev-era five-stories but it’s the first, allegedly the best-planned, and probably the most expensive of them, in terms of rents and property values. All the three boroughs Hatherley examined are actually at the higher end of the property value range for middle-class urban dwellings. An apartment in a Cheryomushki-type mikrorayon in the South-West of Moscow is likely to sell at a 20%-40% premium to an almost identical one in the south-east. It may have to do with the sort of people who had populated these areas by the early 1990s and with the availability of good schools, greater in the south-west than elsewhere in the city, except the center.

Which means that after the ruble’s recent slide, a family of four would still have to spend over $200k to buy an apartment consisting of three rooms and a small kitchen (khruschevka kitchens typically take 6-7 square yards) in a block that was supposed to be demolished 20 years ago and wasn’t sturdily built in the first place. Those early prefabricated panel buildings, including the K-7 types, were not supposed to last very long. They are being demolished gradually and replaced with modernized versions of Belyayevo-style blocks as dictated by the economics of real estate development. If the house is due for demolition, the apartment owners get replacement flats from the developer, usually in recently built blocks of somewhat better quality but not necessarily in the exact same area.

If the city authorities believe the old khruschevka can wait for three-five more years, the family will console itself with the ability to choose among decent local schools and a not too long drive or commute to the city center, where most people work. If your child can walk to school and you spend less than an hour getting to work, one way, you’ve got a good deal by Moscow standards.

By the way, the four-story K-7 block shown in the first illustration to the piece looks like the one in Grimau Street that is allegedly the first khruschevka (Khruschev-era prefab panel building) ever built. It was the birthplace of the Cheryomushki project. But most of Moscow’s khruschevkas, whether of the K-7 series or of other types, have five floors rather than four, like this one, a couple of miles southwest of the first K-7.

To conclude with a translation quibble: Novye Cheryomushki does not really mean “New Cherry Town.” The name of the village razed to make room for the mikrorayon, Cheryomushki (Google Stan Wayman Moscow for images of Khruschev-era construction), is possibly derived from cheryomukha, Prunus Padus, technically a species of cherry known as bird cherry (and its fruit, as hackberry), or Mayday tree, or Maybush. But Russians do not say cheryomukha to refer to a cherry tree (vishnya) so the name Cheryomushki does not evoke memories of Cherry Orchard. Rather, it’s the first tree/bush to bloom in May in Central Russia, followed by the cherry tree and naturally associated with spring and the merry month of May.


  1. I knew about Cheryomushki from the Shostakovich piece, although I’ve never heard much of the music. I think there was a short BBC documentary on the operetta about 20 years ago.

  2. Do you know if “cheryomukha” has anything to do with the River Cheremosh, namechecked in the Ukrainian folk song “Verkhovyna”?

    • Both names could have been derived from the same Eastern Slavic word or root, either referring to the mayday tree, or (less likely) to a kind of wild garlic (cheremsha in Russian, cheremosh in some dialects). There are plenty of places apparently named after Prunus Padus in Russia, some sounding much like Cheremosh. Cheryomushki was first mentioned in 1629 as Cheremoshye. There is a lake Cheremosh near Ryazan, a Cheremozhskaya volost near Yaroslavl, and a village called Cheremoshye near Novgorod.

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