I am a student of Urban Design and Planning. It’s not a common choice of study, and if you don’t have any idea what I’m studying, just take it that my course is a cross between architecture and human geography – two of my loves. And speaking of architecture, every country, city, town, village, or – to fit in the localised context – oblast and raion, has her unique architectural styles and famous iconic buildings. However, while searching for landmark buildings, most of the time, people forget the beauty and uniqueness of the buildings that everyone – normal people, normal residents of a city – stay in – the residential buildings. Ternopil surely has numerous beautiful churches, parks and drama theatres, and a quaint town centre with a central European feel with several architectural styles, but we should never forget the tall, concrete, residential blocks that house everyone. Without such buildings, the city does not function even if there are beautiful churches or splendid ‘tsum’ (shopping centres).
Other than the super-rich elites, majority of Ukraine’s urban population stays in high-rise apartment buildings known as Панельний будинок (Panelnyy budynok). Many were built during the Soviet Union era, but many newer ones were also built after Ukraine’s independence in 1991. During the Soviet Union, workers of factories or companies allocated apartment units to workers and their families, but after independence, workers or staff have to pay to buy apartments. They are now privately owned (not government-provided public housings) by companies, but the houses in Ternopil are not too unaffordable. According to a local, it costs about 40 000 UAH (about 5 000 USD), which I think is within reach of the average worker and very affordable for university graduates. I also read somewhere that in the Soviet Union times, the regulation required residential buildings above 5 storeys to provide elevators, hence many are 5 storeys high.
From my observation, these apartment buildings are organised into neighbourhoods (мікрорайон, mikrorayon), each with its own cluster of shops (accessories, grocery, equipment etc.), some of them at the ground floor of each building, and with schools, nurseries (creches), playgrounds, parks, public service centres, specialised shops and bus stations. These neighbourhoods radiate away from the city centre, that is, there are no residential neighbourhoods in the old city centre of Ternopil. All these neighbourhoods are near but not within the centre.
Greenways or roads often serve as boundaries between different microrayons. There was a restriction that all public service buildings have to be located within 500 metres from every point in a residential building.
I think all these buildings are more functional than aesthetic, and serve the primary purpose of housing large populations. From the facades, it seems the buildings are made of reinforced concrete, and sometimes bricks. They generally appear to be grey, white or brown.
These buildings might not be magnificent or postcard-worthy, but there should be much more attention paid on these places where the ordinary Ukrainian grows up. They might not be included in any architecture or travel guide, but these humble buildings serve as the basis of society.