Chernobyl is a city in northern Ukraine that went through an apocalyptic event in 1986. It shook the entire world with the explosion of the Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The painful occurrence caused instant deaths of 31 people and the spread of radioactive clouds in all of Europe. It led to its evacuation. Today, its landscape is characterized by the extremes of tangible and intangible characteristics. The former being the engineering interventions and the latter one as the strangeness and ghostliness instilled in the soil of Chernobyl. The architectural scenario of Chernobyl has smouldered in the past. But it is expected to rise from the ashes eliminating the eeriness and shine bright.

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Chernobyl post explosion_ ©Scientific American
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Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor_ ©National Geographic
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Pripyat Amusement Park_ ©The Atlantic

Chernobyl Architecture in the 1980s

In the 1970s, a nuclear power plant was constructed and named after the Soviet Union President, Vladimir Lenin. It was the first power station to be built in Ukraine. Located to the north of the capital city, Kiev, there were a total of four nuclear reactors. As an expansion plan, two more reactors were to be erected. Unfortunately, this scheme got abandoned post-disaster. The town of Pripyat was the closest settlement which housed the workers and their families. It grew with the Soviet modernist architecture, including a few elements like the 160 prefabricated apartment blocks that were provided by the state to the workers. In addition to a widely photographed amusement park, Pripyat developed with over 13000 apartments. The urbanization plan alongside the power plant established around 100 schools and a hospital. A period predominant of Brutalist architecture in concrete was given more life with the introduction of colour in the stained glass windows. After the disaster in 1986, an evacuation process began in Pripyat. As a replacement, the city – Slavutych was established to accommodate the power plant workers and their families. 

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The New Safe Confinement under construction_ ©Flickr
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The New Safe Confinement completed_ ©EBRD

Chernobyl Architecture post Disaster

After the painful disaster in 1986, no habitation was possible in Chernobyl and Pripyat. To secure the damaged nuclear reactor, a team of engineers proposed the construction of the world’s largest movable metal structure. The New Safe Confinement, an arched steel structure, was completed in 2017. The total project cost went over $1.7 billion.  It was assembled on a piece of land nearby, placed on rails and then moved into place with hydraulic jacks. The arch frame made of tubular steel members is a lattice construction that spans over 260 metres; while being 110 metres high and 165 metres long. The structure weighing 36,000 tonnes had to be moved 327 metres for it to be directly over the reactor building. It was large enough to accommodate two Boeing 777s and a Statue of Liberty!

The urban landscape of both Chernobyl and Pripyat today has very different interpretations. It functions along with the natural landscape to absorb radiation from the soil. While Chernobyl grows about the engineering interventions to contain the mistakes of the scientists working then at the V.I Lenin Nuclear Power Plant. Pripyat exhibits the abandoned structures. These have been covered to bring to the public the infamous Chernobyl in the form of movies and TV series.

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Solar Panels Installed_ ©Stuff.co.nz
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Azure Swimming Pool abandoned_ ©Flickr

Chernobyl Architecture for the future

The disaster was such that it manifested the site and its surroundings too dangerous for habitation or to carry out agricultural practices. The state planned to use this land efficiently through a planning scheme of setting up Ukraine’s first solar plant. Around 100 metres away from the epicentre of the disaster, a total of over 3800 solar panels have been installed. They are placed on top of a concrete base. When up and running, the solar plant would power 2000 homes. In an attempt to reduce the human interaction directly with the endangered site, with the aid of some old nuclear plant infrastructure, they will be controlled and operated remotely from Germany. 

On the other hand, Pripyat is growing as a hotspot for the tourists who come from far off places to see the relinquished remains. The guided tours last only two hours on each visit. But, they are sufficient to turn the clock back in time on a journey through the deteriorated architecture. Even today, the Ferris wheel in the amusement park, the Avanhard Stadium (an abandoned football stadium) and the Azure Swimming Pool are the landmarks that are widely appreciated by the visitors, getting back the feeling of the existence of a settlement within the city at some point of time. 

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Tourism at Chernobyl_ ©CNBC.com

Chernobyl architecture is unique as it can be associated with optimism and renewal while being entirely in ruins with no ray of hope. The future schemes are designed to produce more electricity than the Reactor 4 of Chernobyl. The rebirth of the disreputable Chernobyl Nuclear Plant as a solar energy producer is a pragmatic chronicle for the human race that is achieved through architecture. The massive architectural operation was a much-needed undertaking to contain the treacherous site. The strength of modern technology through architecture enabled Chernobyl to get back onto a path of progress and advancement. In early 2020, the former residents of Pripyat collected together for the first time since evacuation in the abandoned city to celebrate its 50 years of establishment. 

Author

An architecture student who understands the power of words and feels that architectural journalism goes beyond design by playing a pivotal role in initiating meaningful dialogue. He believes that architects can change the world and make it a better place to live, work and play in.

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