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cold war: the home front

Home is a dwelling, but also an emblem of domestic comforts. The home has established itself as an icon: a pitched roof arrangement with two windows symmetrical about a central-axis door. An architectural anthropologist could look to any artistic kindergartener for evidence of such images in our collective subconscious. The representation of home may also be a relevant tool for comprehending a culture’s projection of itself, especially when confronted with a competitor-culture projecting its own domestic persona.

The Cold War, fought between the United States and the Soviet Union for four decades, may be such an instance. While external wars often fought over resources and land, they only involve residential architecture incidentally (house-to-house combat). Few hostilities are actually about the house. Recent exceptions might include houses in Gaza, which became both a place to fight and a thing over which to fight. Even after negotiating the withdrawal of settlers, officials were at odds over how to distribute the residual abodes. The homes were demolished with the excuse that Palestinian occupation of domestic space could not, should not, and would not adapt to Israeli constructions of domestic space.

But a war of subverted aggressions, comprised of discreet subliminal battles, might more convincingly demonstrate a confrontation of material cultures. An ideological confrontation such as the Cold War portrays the clash over the homescape with greater subtlety. The infamous Kitchen Debate became a rare admission of domesticity in this delicate antagonism. A model kitchen, set up for a US Trade Fair in Sokolniki Park, Moscow, became both setting and emblem for an impromptu clash when Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon simultaneously strolled into the same display. The Cold War turned suddenly to heated words. Though outwitted by the Soviet premier, the American vice-president managed to stand the heat and stay in the kitchen, rendering Khrushchev’s victory pyrrhic. The Soviet people were indeed envious of a lifestyle their American counterparts already lived.

The barracks and other built culture presented here, though much of it predates the Cold War, manifests the idea of home we embed in our respective cultures. American forces decamp to barracks that signify their prototypical dream house. Meanwhile, Soviet housing blocks scattered across the Soviet Bloc housed populations both military and civilian. For both, the relics of empire now crumble.