Individual self-expression wasn’t exactly a hallmark of the Soviet era (1922–1991). Like its heavy-handed rule, the architecture of Stalinist Russia was known for bleak brutalist structures, which conveyed the tone of the government’s strict regulation. Building methods were expensive, considering the fact that structures were often little more than flat concrete slabs with modest decorative elements. Conformity was mandated, and self-expression stifled in the Communist nation.
Imagine my surprise when spotting this new book featuring Soviet era bus stops, featuring over 150 photographs of architectural exuberance dotting the streets and highways of the vast country. Christopher Herwig, a Canadian born photographer and videographer, first recognized the beauty of these structures during a 2002 long-distant bike ride from London to St. Petersburg. One goal of his trip was to “take one good photograph each hour,” a task made slightly easier to accomplish after spotting these unusual bus stops along the way. Twelve years later, Herwig resumed his trip, traveling by car, bus, taxi, and bike covering nearly 18,000 miles.
So why would something as banal as bus stops be so creative and non-conformist in a nation known for none of that? The answer lies in the fact that the creation of these structures was the responsibility of the local municipalities. This separation from the all-powerful state provided a much-needed outlet for creativity and experimentation. Although many of these structures are falling into disrepair from age and neglect, that they still exist is a testament to how meaningful they must have been in an otherwise homogenous built environment. Herwig's tenacity and devotion to accomplishing a project of this scale is extraordinary.
The photographer has a very entertaining video about his bus stop travels and adventures on his website.
Soviet Bus Stops is designed and published by London-based FUEL design group, founded in 1991 by Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell.
This essay was originally published in October 2015.