The Vintage Beauty Of Soviet Control Rooms.
January 24, 2019 9:46 PM   Subscribe

 
Awesome. Reminds me a bit of the scenes of ISIS control in Archer. I mean, apart from the fast-food worker hats. Thanks for posting!
posted by es_de_bah at 10:25 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Yeah a few of these definitely don't look Soviet, and some are suspiously modern looking to my eye. Oh yes, other people have noticed this-- a few American pictures accidentally included, and several others from the 1990s or early 2000s. Still, what a lovely picture collection!

If you click through to the original blog, "Present and Correct", then you can click on the individual pictures that will then link to the various facilities' webpages-- either as museums, or as still functioning plants. Hydroelectric, nuclear power-- lots of interesting things. It's all in Russian of course, but Chrome offers to automatically translate enough of it that I can figure out where they are located and what years in operation.

Because I HATE HATE HATE when internet blogs present pretty pictures without any context. Attribution, please! That's how I roll.
posted by seasparrow at 10:46 PM on January 24 [21 favorites]


Hanford B Reactor's control desk (via wikipedia)
posted by mikelieman at 11:08 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the link to the Present & Correct blog, where I found this fantastic piece of design, among other things.
posted by Termite at 1:43 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]


18 months ago I went on an amazing trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and got a tour of one of the reactor control rooms - such cool old tech, all big buttons, analog dials and flashing lights. The operation of it was compared to playing the piano - manually raising and lowering each rod to keep the reactor stable. What I didn't expect was the gold wall panelling and patterned linoleum on the floor. Album of some photos I took there.
posted by JonB at 2:38 AM on January 25 [32 favorites]


Wow JonB - thx for that!
posted by DreamerFi at 5:32 AM on January 25


Awww yeah, I know what I'm gonna do with that spare room now…
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:36 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Oh man mikelieman, I want to live in whatever universe that radio TV thing came from. I saw the first picture and was like hmm, is the screen on the other side? It would have to be kinda small, and tilted. But noooooooooo, it's way better than that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:38 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Also, it's weird to me how hip Soviet design has become. Like, I get that there's an interesting sort of alternate-universe vibe to a lot of it, but also the USSR was a pretty seriously dystopic place even after accounting for the Cold War era anti-Russia propaganda bias. Glorifying their industrial design feels like it kinda whitewashes the genocide and oppression that was going on inside the Soviet empire at the time and I'm not entirely comfortable with it.

Did we go through this in the 1970s, a generation after the fall of Hitler's reich? Because the Nazis had some interesting aesthetics going on too, but outside of psychopaths you don't see a lot of people drooling over their creations. Granted there seem to be a lot of psychopaths around these days, but it's not quite the same thing.

I don't have a firm opinion here, I'm just kind of generally musing about this. Would be very interested to hear others' takes.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:49 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]


This is fascinating and strangely beautiful.
posted by Fizz at 6:53 AM on January 25


If I had gobs of money and skill, I'd have a kitchen that looked a bit like that. Thanks for posting, k8t and thanks, jonb, for the link.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I've been to the control room of our friendly local nuclear reactor (Vermont Yankee in Vernon VT), and it would fit right into this set, same shade of green, same dials, meters and buttons. (Add crewcut ex-Navy operators, plus black-clad security gents carrying Uzis.) VY was built in 1972, retired in 2014, and is now starting to be decommissioned. They also had an off-site training center with an exact replica of the control room where they ran simulations.
posted by beagle at 7:55 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I don't have a firm opinion here, I'm just kind of generally musing about this. Would be very interested to hear others' takes.

I don't think you're wrong about there being more of a disconnect in Soviet era crimes than is probably good and the alternative-universe thing is definitely true, but I'd also posit it fits the heavy cultural love of nostalgia we're experiencing, where the Soviet design sort of provides a heightened example of a 60s and 70s sci-fi vibe, but real. It's like what people in the US might remember but so much more in every way. It's an exaggerated version of those memories combined with the outdated vision of a brighter future media used to have that gives some hint of romanticism to what was once considered dour.

Back in the day, "our" tech was better for being so much more light weight and agile than that of the Soviets. But as we've gone further and further down the path of pocket tech, the old style tech seems quaint in comparison. That the US and many other western countries are experiencing crises in their political and social systems in part thanks to all our slick new tech, that might make the older or alternative tech seem more attractive for pointing to a different future, even if that pointer came from a system no one should want to emulate.

Aesthetics are responsive to the moment via the immediate past by their nature, so I suspect it's more choosing against the now and the shiny view of the future we've been fed over the last couple decades as we're faced with a much dingier reality than we'd hoped.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:18 AM on January 25 [6 favorites]


Previously (Inside MIT's Nuclear Reactor)
posted by mikelieman at 8:21 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


These are beautiful.

I've been to a few particle accelerator control rooms and space mission control rooms of various vintage. I'm always amazed at how much they look like film studio sets, even when they're actively in-use. Every science facility I've actually worked in has coax cables running along the floor, parts held in place with zip-ties, and random tools on most surfaces. I suppose that's the difference between a million dollar lab where students do the work and a billion dollar lab where engineers do the work.
posted by eotvos at 8:46 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I think part of the weird nostalgia-but-not-exactly attraction to Soviet stuff is precisely because (to Western eyes) it's disconnected from history. The control room of a Soviet power plant in the 70s or 80s looks a lot like U.S. ones built twenty years earlier, but if you showed someone a picture of the U.S. one, they'd probably be able to place it, and "1960s America" has a lot of cultural baggage. But the Soviet stuff seems to exist outside of history, because most Americans have a very dim view of what was happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain for those decades. So they become these slightly weird, alien artifacts, onto which you can project whatever cultural context you want.

Also, mixed in with that, is a more general attraction to "macro-scale" technology, as the complexity of our world recedes into sealed boxes and behind screens. So much of our life is dominated by machines that operate so far below the limits of the unaided senses that they're inherently mysterious. The internals of an iPhone are so complex that I guarantee that nobody in the world actually understands it completely, down to the lowest functional level (not new—we hit this level in the 70s with VLSI really, but now that complexity is ubiquitous). Even the developers are working with abstractions layered on top of abstractions, and users are only touching the abstractions those developers create.

There's sort of a weird thrill in working with something that you know you could understand. That if you unscrewed the front of those control panels, you'd see physical wires running somewhere and you could, with your eyes and enough time and some very tolerant security guards, trace them to whatever sensor they're connected to. They operate on a manageable scale.

It's the same thing that leads some people (and I'll include myself here) to have such an attraction to steam engines. You can stand next to a giant steam locomotive and, despite the impressive complexity of the later ones, it at least seems like something you could figure out. There's nothing inherently mysterious there, nothing up the technological sleeve—you can understand how the whole thing operates without delving into quantum theory—and the result is a system that feels more humane than a lot of modern stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on January 25 [14 favorites]


Needs a wee shoutout to those aquamarine Soviet aircraft cockpits
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:58 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Also, there's a sizable fraction of Internet users who weren't even alive until after the Wall fell which even further abstracts ideas and historical context.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:08 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Needs a wee shoutout to those aquamarine Soviet aircraft cockpits

I'd do my whole house in that colour if my partner wouldn't find that terminally boring.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:21 AM on January 25


some are suspiously modern looking to my eye

What gave them away?

Was it the flat-screen LCD's or that some of the ones photographed were running "Windows XP"?
(Although, XP was released about 17 years ago, does that kind of timeframe qualify as vintage?)
posted by jkaczor at 9:35 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I'm fascinated by the circular, salmon-ish panel in image #6.
Are those silver squares individual displays, or are they paper/foil pinned to it?
posted by doctornemo at 10:45 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


What are all those .. what look like metal frames to put a sheet of paper in? Some of them seem to have clock faces in them, and some just look.. empty? Like on the left side of the 2nd picture?
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:04 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


But the Soviet stuff seems to exist outside of history, because most Americans have a very dim view of what was happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain for those decades. So they become these slightly weird, alien artifacts, onto which you can project whatever cultural context you want.

The ekranoplans are exactly like this for me.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:23 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]


They look not unlike the NRX and NRU control rooms I was in at Chalk River (Canadian nuclear reactors from the 40s) I'd love to show pictures, but that is SUPER not allowed anymore.

There might be some online from before 2001 though, all the security rules changed then.
posted by Canageek at 12:35 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Solaris!!!!!!!
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:49 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]


I call shenanigans, because the fifth photo is not even remotely a Soviet control room, but is in fact the reactor control room of the fabulous NS Savannah, a particularly elegant refugee of the Atoms For Peace program that is presently relaxing at anchor in Baltimore, Maryland. I've spent quite a bit of time lollygagging around that particular control room, which is not only fabulous, but also has fantastic linoleum. The ship is open to the public once or twice a year and it's entirely worth the trip if you're into midcentury optimism at its best (or take a look in a virtual tour).
posted by sonascope at 2:38 PM on January 25 [7 favorites]


Did we go through this in the 1970s, a generation after the fall of Hitler's reich? Because the Nazis had some interesting aesthetics going on too, but outside of psychopaths you don't see a lot of people drooling over their creations.

The US (and most of the western world) fought in a war and had actual casualties against Nazi Germany. While there were proxy wars between the US and the USSR, we never fought directly (hence, the "Cold War"), and further, the perception in the US is that most of the murders and human rights violations perpetrated by the Soviets were against their own people, without a racial motivation. Even if the atrocities committed by the USSR are of a similar scale, people in the US and much of the western world didn't experience the sting of direct harm. This is probably the biggest reason you see Soviet nostalgia viewed as acceptable, while Nazi nostalgia carries with it so much more baggage that makes it unacceptable to most people (though that was probably more true in the 1970's than today, unfortunately).
posted by Aleyn at 6:06 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


the perception in the US is that most of the murders and human rights violations perpetrated by the Soviets were against their own people, without a racial motivation

Whereas, when we did things like help Saddam Hussein gas Kurds, there was a racial motivation but it wasn't our own people. So we totally threaded the needle there and retained the moral high ground, which is what's important.

And you have to add up overseas atrocities of the 20th and 21st century with slavery and Jim Crow and continuous genocides of indigenous Americans and Pacific Islanders to get anywhere near the scale of the Soviets, so this little thing recently where our democratic system voted to re-enact the cover story for the Holocaust by rounding up tens of millions of immigrant undesirables to move them... somewhere outside the border, is probably just a coincidence.

I mean the Soviets were really bad but given the scale of the Nazis killing 20 or 30 million Slavic and other non-Aryan Soviet untermenschen in addition to the Holocaust, we're closer to the Soviets than they are to the Nazis. It's just that whereas there were formal de-Nazification and de-Communization processes in Europe, no such national renunciation of collective crimes has ever occurred in the United States.
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


some are suspiously modern looking to my eye
Control rooms for e.g. refineries are overdesigned and generally keep being used, because shutting the whole thing down costs money. A lot of those old, simple controls get hooked up to microcontrollers and various other modern systems, but both big control rooms I've seen are still using big chunks of the old alert system, some of the mechanical switches, etc. etc.. Partially because of teaching old engineers new tricks and partially because in aggregate they can end up being more reliable.

it's weird to me how hip Soviet design has become.
I assembled an FPP about Oktaba microphones at some point (deleted, probably because it contained several links to a no-longer-extant postmarket modification site). But I still find Soviet-era microphones and radio equipment just terminally cool, particularly the hideous MK-219.

Recording studios are the other place you can still consistently run into old weird control rooms, usually in the form of some ancient mixing desks and outboard gear hooked up to a modern interface.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:26 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


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