A guide to the New East
Photography

Chemical compound: inside a Soviet science town

  • Fullscreen

    A compressed air storage unit for a supersonic wind tunnel, Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics

  • Fullscreen

    Pavel Koshlyakov, PhD, researcher, Laser Photochemistry Lab

  • Fullscreen

    A brand-new IT Center, built 2007-2012

  • Fullscreen

    The Siberian Center for Photochemical Research houses a free-electron laser — the world’s most powerful source of terahertz radiation

  • Fullscreen

    A medieval Turkic anthropomorphic stele from South Siberia, on display at the open-air Museum of History and Culture

  • Fullscreen

    A map of western Siberia and an old telephone at one of the labs

  • Fullscreen

    Alina Munzarova, a sixth-year student at the Faculty of Physics, Novosibirsk State University: “Akademgorodok is a separate world. People seem to be different here. I like the atmosphere, it’s not a big city but still very civilised and calm.”

  • Fullscreen

    A makeshift oven to burn classified documents

  • Fullscreen

    A genuine 18th-century fence that once protected a Cossack oupost in western Siberia, now on display at the open-air Museum of History and Culture

  • Fullscreen

    A replica of the ‘Yakut Jesus’ – an icon of Jesus Christ with Asiatic features – on display at a 17th-century wooden church which was brought to the open-air Museum of History and Culture from the now-defunct Cossack outpost of Zashiversk in Yakutia region (eastern Siberia). The address of the church today: 6, Ionosphere Street, Novosibirsk

  • Fullscreen

    Inside the Siberian Center for Photochemical Studies, with a photograph of prominent Russian physicist Gersh Budker over the door

  • Fullscreen

    Mikhail Scheglov, senior researcher, Institute of Nuclear Physics, Siberian branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, had to repair cars to make a living during the 1990s crisis: “When Akademgorodok was just created (in 1958), people here were young, sociable, free and fearless. Then, after about 1970, this spirit began to vanish due to one simple reason: the party authorities realised that people are talking and reading about everything, not just science. And this was all destroyed, and people were intimidated and fear returned. If you’re thinking about what you can say and what you cannot, it’s disastrous for science”

  • Fullscreen

    An aeromodelling class at the Young Engineer Club, a state-run hobby center created by Mikhail Lavrentyev, the founder of Akademgorodok, and one of the last surviving institutions of its type in Russia

  • Fullscreen

    Dr Arkady Baulo, deputy director, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Siberian branch, Russian Academy of sciences: “Our government is not at all interested in developing education and science. Culture is being destroyed, and the science is the last bastion”

  • Fullscreen

    A cooling pond for a supersonic wind tunnel, Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics

  • Fullscreen

    Student canteen, Novosibirsk State University campus

  • Fullscreen

    A ventilation tower to cool powerful underground equipment, Institute of Nuclear Physics

  • Fullscreen

    A ZIL-131 truck once used to study the atmosphere in Siberia, now laid up due to lack of funding

  • Fullscreen

    Irina Salnikova, director, Museum of History and Culture, in front of a replica of a Mansi sanctuary at the open-air museum. Mansi are are one of the native peoples of western Siberia. “You can only assess the monetary value of research needed by industry and defence. But how can you assess anthropology in monetary terms, for example? It’d be very unfortunate if sciences that do not bring immediate profit cease to develop”

  • Fullscreen

    An air duct and bomb shelter entrance. Vast underground facilities were created under many scientific institutions here as part of wartime scenarios

  • Fullscreen

    A Japanese protective enclosure once used for international archaeological excavations on the permafrost in the Altai mountains, now on display at the open-air Museum of History and Culture

  • Fullscreen

    A reconstruction of the Siberian Ice Maiden (aka the Altai Princess) at the Museum of History and Culture. The Siberian Ice Maiden — a mummy of a woman from the 5th century BC — was found in 1993 by Russian archaeologists in the Altai Mountains. After it was transported for study to Novosibirsk, it became a source of much political controversy between Novosibirsk and Altai. The mummy was eventually transfered to the Regional Museum of Altai a few years ago

  • Fullscreen

    A beer outlet called Karasik (Little Carp) at the intersection of Institute and Ionosphere Streets, a popular hangout for local drunkards

  • Fullscreen

    School of Economics campus, Novosibirsk State University

  • Fullscreen

    Prof Alexander Petrov, senior researcher, Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Burning, Siberian branch, Russian Academy of sciences: “There were 300 members of the Academy back in the 1960s when the country had about 300 million people. It was moral and simple: we knew everyone and why he was elected a member of the Academy. Now Russia is a country of 140 million, there are almost 2,000 members of the Academy, and many are not elected for science but for the administrative position they hold”

  • Fullscreen

    Cryogenic tanks for liquid nitrogen and oxygen

  • Fullscreen

    A room for workshops, Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Burning

  • Fullscreen

    Mikhail Lavrentyev School of Physics and Mathematics, Novosibirsk State University, a renowned boarding school for talented children

  • Fullscreen

    Boarding school campus

Share on LinkedIn Share via Email
In the late 1950s, a need to modernise Russia emerged after the Stalin era. Modernisation was only meant to be technological and was mainly intended to serve defence; changing the political or economic system was not on the agenda. The easiest way was to create an isolated innovation compound.

The so-called “science towns” (akademgorodok) were built between the late 1950s and mid-1970s outside four Siberian cities as well as the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The Akademgorodok pictured here, outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, came to be the most successful. It was dreamt up by Mikhail Lavrentyev, a prominent mathematician and hydrodynamicist and a close ally of the then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Scientific institutions were to be placed close to one another, enabling research to be conducted at the intersection of different disciplines. Outstanding scientific achievements, including one of the world's first sub-atomic colliders (designed and built here in 1963 by a group of Russian physicists led by Gersh Budker) made Akademgorodok world-famous and even raised it to the rank of a Soviet myth.

As for the design and planning, the idea was simple: to quickly and cheaply build research facilities and standardised housing amid wild pine and birch forest 30km south of Novosibirsk. The quality of construction was rather low, so Akademgorodok looks almost identical to other Soviet-built areas of the time and, in some places, is reminiscent of a typically Soviet promzona, or derelict industrial area. But there is something symbolic or even charming to it, too: after all, great scientific strides were being made here in what was a spartan environment.

Isolated, forward-thinking communities have been around in Russia for quite some time. There were the foreign compounds in Russian towns from the 16th- to the 18th-centuries, the foreign industrial concessions in the 1920s to 1930s, and the secret research and development laboratories for convicted scientists (sharashka) in the Gulag system under Stalin. The science towns followed in this tradition, as does Moscow’s Skolkovo project today, where, instead of modernising the whole country's political system and economy, the authorities have created another isolated hi-tech compound. Russia's history is characterised by a continuous striving for technological modernisation without political modernisation. This is one reason why it has been thrashing about between antiquity and utopia, repression and thaw — always three steps forward, two steps back.

More from Tech

Apps of the New East

13 pocket-based tools you need to download asap

The Soviet web

The tale of how the USSR almost invented the internet

Cyber men

How Russian hackers became the international supervillains of cinema

Travelling circus

Inside the Russian company taking immersive theatre to the next level

Caught out

Six shocking Pokémon GO scandals from the New East

Opinion

Why has there been such an overreaction to Pokemon Go in Russia?

Comments

comments powered by Disqus