Book Review


Urban Dreams Brutal Imperatives
Clayton Strange

Monotown provides a comprehensive overview of the history of monotowns in Russia and the challenges that they face from their geographic, socio-political and economic contexts. In short, a monotown is a planned town dominated by a single industry. This simplistic definition does not offer much meaning to the complexities associated with these planned developments. The first section of the book addresses this and explores the definitions, origins and characteristics of monotowns. It follows a chronological account from the late 16th century, highlighting key political, economic and ideological developments leading to the spatial plans for these utopian industrial towns in the 1920s and 1930s, that were to be built in remote locations across the Siberian hinterland.

The subsequent two sections of the book follow a similar structure and can be read as case studies into specific monotowns. The following monotowns across the then USSR are investigated: Novotroitsk, Yurga, Mezhdurechensk and Krasnokamensk. Each case study provides insights into the standardised approach, yet as a result of their context, each town has its own characteristics. The four case studies seamlessly transition into the third section of the book. Here, we are offered an insight into how the monotown has been translated as a model of urbanisation into remote areas of China and India.

This is an interesting book, clearly written and informative. What brings it to life is the vast amount of visual content that supports the studies. Each chapter is filled with a range of visual material across all scales of the masterplans, from historical maps, aerial photographs, schematic plans, to housing layouts and building plans. Supplementing this, the author also includes numerous drawings and photographs of his own. The drawings tie together a visual consistency through the case studies, although some of the information can get lost within each of the diagrams. Further to this, the grids of photographs taken by the author could have been enlarged to a similar size as the historical images. This would have improved legibility, especially as the images are rich in details of both built form and public space, and how it is being used in the present day.

This book is a valuable resource for any urbanist interested in learning more about monotowns in Russia, China and India, especially with regards to the triangulation between authority, ideology and urban form. In addition, it opens up a dialogue about the reinvention of post-industrial towns and, despite differing contexts from the UK, some lessons and insights can be taken from each of the case studies.

URBAN DESIGN 155 Summer 2020 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 155 Summer 2020

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Monotown Publication Urban Design Group
Oro Editions
978 1939621573
Reviewed By
Amanda Gregor, Associate, Public Practice working at Sevenoaks District Council