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In much of Almaty, one kind of Soviet architecture is unavoidable: panelnoe domostroenye [панельное домостроение], or prefab concrete panel buildings. These high-rise buildings were assembled from modular units built in Almaty itself, at the Alma-Ata Building Factory [Алматинский домостроительный комбинат; Almatinskiy domostroitelny kombinat]. This factory was known by its Russian initials ADK, and in its place there now stands a shopping mall with the same name. Back in its prime, the complex churned out cement panels at an astounding rate, transforming Almaty into a post-war boomtown. Khruschev-era architecture aimed for efficiency above all, so the very same building plans were used at dozens of sites across the city, and the buildings themselves were minimalist, little more than apartments shaped like trailers, stacked to the sky. 

One of these models, the E-162 (Э-162), is especially prevalent, and it's recognizable by the radically-decorated walls on the ends of the buildings. These windowless walls, in Russian called glukhie steny [глухие стены; "deaf walls"] or the German-derived brandmauer [брандмауэр], were a necessary consequence of modular construction - on the inside, there of course weren't windows looking from one apartment module into another, so the apartments on the end of the buildings didn't have windows along their length, either. Often, these outer walls were left entirely blank, just a massive facade of concrete with the seams still visible between units. Other times, to the urban explorer's delight, these building ends were decorated with multicolored geometrical patterns or giant murals, giving each clone-like building a sense of character. 

The most iconic and impressive brandmauers in Almaty must be the walls facing Saina Street in the Zhetisu-2 Microdistrict. Driving along the wide avenue, visitors are stunned to see the Giant Sphynx painted on the side of a giant prefab highrise; farther down the street are the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal. Whoever ordered this series of murals certainly has a strange sense of humor, as the parade of painted landmarks only reminds you that the buildings they're found on are as uninspirational as the Sphynx is grand. . 

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