Working-class apartment blocks—particularly those built by authoritarian governments—don’t exactly have stellar aesthetic reputations. When you think of the high-rises erected for the proletariat, adjectives such as “brutish,” “drab”, and “grim” are what immediately pop to mind. Yet it is important to remember that even when budgetary constraints and government ideology factored into the construction equation, the buildings were still the work of human beings. And humans have a penchant for finding some way to make their surroundings tolerable.
That truism is well documented in the nascent International Mass Housing Image Bank, which consists largely of photographs taken in the 1970s and ’80s. At first glance, many of the buildings portrayed look positively dreary—a bit like the banged-up “estate” that the anti-hero of A Clockwork Orange called home. But take a closer look and you can see where architects made small efforts to create something elegant, even warm, despite having to work with the cheapest materials and the dourest bureaucratic overseers.