Strangely Pleasing Images of Soviet Control Rooms

Wednesday October 09, 2019 Written by James


The Soviet Union was great for dictators, communists and concrete suppliers, but it’s never been particularly noted for flashy design. Sort of the opposite, really. Soviet design tended towards the brutish and utilitarian: whatever would get maximum bang for minimum rubles. If it annoyed the Americans, that was considered a bonus.

Which is partly what makes this photo series from Present & Correct so pleasing. It’s a collection of images from Soviet-era control rooms.

As it turns out, Stalin needed a lot of control rooms. The Union was littered with power plants, railway systems, space shuttle launch sites and nuclear bunkers. Before the digital revolution, the best way to organise all this complex statistical information was ceiling-high banks of dials, gauges, switchboards and big buttons with ‘DO NOT PRESS’ written on them. You have to admit, the aesthetic has a certain Death Star-esque appeal.

Of course, as Chernobyl has taught humanity, a control room is only as good as the people controlling it. Now, what does that flashing red light mean…