It is a frequent site in the suburbs of Almaty: one long home with two paint jobs, like the owner started a remodel and gave up halfway through. What are they? I've chosen to call them duplexes, which isn't the optimal term as it is sure to evoke images of its Western archetype. A duplex, in my mind, is usually two apartments, one on top of the other. The British term semi-detached housing, with two homes smushed side-by-side, is definitely more accurate, but also less understood, and similarly weighed down with its historical association to British urban planning. In Russian, as far as I can tell from internet sifting, this kind of arrangement would be literally called a "two family home", or dvukhsemeiny dom [двухсемейный дом], but some people have given them the nickname "Finnish homes" [Финнские домики; Finnskie domiki] What they have to do with Finland I have yet to uncover.
So that's the "what", how about the "why"? I haven't been so brave as to knock on any duplex doors, so this is pure speculation. But what I've noticed is that these houses are all old-fashioned...could these have been homes of the rich, split up and given to the poor after the revolution? I'm just worried that these homes aren't quite old enough to make this hypothesis hold up. I can also imagine that the mass-housing-oriented Soviet planners would have been relatively hostile to private home ownership, and would have encouraged duplexes as a denser and more communal housing arrangement. This seems more likely, as many of these homes seem to have been built intentionally to be split, with a noticeable party wall in the middle (now that's a word that sounds more fun than it really is).