• ZATO: Soviet Secret Cities of the Cold War
    Asif Siddiqi & Xenia Vytuleva

Arkady Nasonov, Cloud Commission, 2012, Secret Cities, Moscow, Russia. Courtesy of the artist.

Nameless and not shown on maps, secret Soviet cities, known by their official term “ZATO,” were sites of highly secretive scientific and military research work. More than forty cities, some with a population over a million, were established as part of a cold-war posture of confrontation and competition, and were only recently declassified. Inspired by ideal cities, based on perfect geometric plans, and articulated by progressive modernist architectural language, ZATOs were one manifestation of the technologically utopian impulse of Soviet socialism. These cities embodied multiple layers of meaning, existing in a place where architecture, secrecy, science, and social privilege intersected. Using recently declassified archival materials, previously unknown documents, oral history, images, and interviews, the authors render visible a phenomenon that created a new topography on the Soviet social, political, and urban landscape, and that continues to exist in present-day Russia in a contested and liminal space.

Asif Siddiqi is a historian of science and technology who specializes in modern Russian and Soviet history. He is an associate professor of history at Fordham University in New York. He has published widely on the history of the Soviet space program. His most recent works include The Red Rockets' Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857–1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). His interests include the production and regulation of knowledge in the Russian context. In that vein, he is currently working on two projects, one on the Soviet intelligentsia's role in enabling the Gulag economy (under contract with Oxford University Press), and the other on a history of secrecy in Russia.

Xenia Vytuleva is an architectural historian, theorist, and curator. She received her PhD from Moscow State University and is currently teaching at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. Her works focus on cold-war phenomenon, immateriality in architecture, and questions of architectural representation.  Vytuleva has curated a number of exhibitions, including IMMaterial Box (Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow), Moscow Planetarium ’99 (Moscow), Music on Bones (MAXXI, Rome), and most recently, Soviet Secret Cities during the Cold War (Columbia University). Her essays on modern art, architecture, and related fields have appeared in journals and in edited volumes in Europe and in the United States. A senior researcher at the Institute of the Theory and History of Architecture and Preservation at the Russian Academy of Science (NIITIAG RAASN) in Moscow, Vytuleva is currently working on a book, Aesthetics of Uncertainty in Experimental Practices of the XX the Century.