I often get sentimental here about the unseen designers who have shaped Almaty's visual landscape. Someone ought to give that eave-carver some credit! The handpainters of handpainted signs get no love! What do address-writers dream at night? It turns out that I'm not the only one. A journalist at Esquire Russia wondered about a certain concrete fence design that had colonized the Soviet Union. Called "Plate Fence PO-2" [плита ограда по-2], it was covered in concave diamonds and it was darn near everywhere. While cast-iron fences were used for places that needed to look pretty, the concrete fence was used for anyplace else: to protect factory lots, schoolgrounds, construction sites, anything really. The PO-2 was far and away the most popular design, but until Esquire came calling, nobody really knew, or cared, who made it. Too bad. It turns out it was a guy named Boris who lives in New York.
Boris Lachman is in his seventies now, but back in the Brezhnev years he worked in a field the Soviets called "technical aesthetics" [tekhnicheskaya estetika; техтническая эстетика], studying how industrial forms could best be used to inspire the proletariat. Mr. Lachman was asked to design a fence. He made three sketches, and though he found it unremarkable, the diamond one was chosen. It was soon to become "the most replicated architectural project in Russia", but its designer suggests that the committee who picked it simply liked the fact that it could be cleaned by rainwater. The concrete fence soon inundated even Almaty, but Boris Lachman wasn't even fully aware that it was an icon of Soviet industrial design. He moved to America in 1981, and doesn't feel much attachment to the homeland where he made a mark. "When I get nostalgic", he told the interviewer, "I just eat some caviar."
Lachman's fence does have some competition in Almaty - a repeating star pattern is particularly popular too. Also common are a plain fence with thin concrete bubbles at the top that should be smashed through with a hammer, leaving a line of circles. The workers tasked with that finishing touch don't always get it done, leaving many concrete walls that look like they've been punched through randomly by superpowered vandals.
Concrete fences should actually be pretty easy to assemble. A bulldozer puts a foundation in place that is shaped like a truncated pyramid. Workers call this the "cup", because there are two vessel-like holes where the support columns slide into. After the walls been set into place, sand or dirt is poured around the pyramid foundation to keep everything secure. The effect is that concrete fences look as if they're dominos tipped on their sides, balancing gracefully despite their heft.