Akademgorodok, or ‘Science City’

Capital Sigma - symbol of Akademgorodok; It reflects diversity and unity. From: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Capital Sigma – symbol of Akademgorodok; It reflects diversity and unity.
From: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Hidden away in the frozen forests of Siberia and away from the eyes of the bureaucracy resides a city built for the scientist and the researcher. It was believed that Akademgorodok would be the harbinger of scientific breakthroughs that would put Soviet Russia at the forefront of academic achievement, and, more importantly, ahead of western science. Though few would view the frozen Siberian wasteland as appealing, Russian scientists flocked to Akademgorodok for the opportunity to conduct research free from the red tape.

The living conditions here surpassed even those of Moscow’s. The shops were well-stocked and the apartments were well-furnished, a far cry from the shoddy ‘Khrushchev barracks’ that were hastily built to combat the housing shortage in the traditional cities. Those who obtained a doctorate were given a ‘special food delivery service,’ which provided them with a wider selection of food than the average person could normally acquire.

Main street of Akademgorodok (Early 1980s.) Source: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Main street of Akademgorodok (Early 1980s.)
Source: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Akademgorodok isn’t just a research institute, it’s an entire city, complete with housing, stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, cinemas, clubs, libraries, 35 research institutes, and even a sports complex. The House of Scientists, which served as the social center for the city, contained over 100,000 volumes of not only Russian literature, but American, British, French, German, and Polish works as well. It was estimated that 30,000 scientists and their families would move in upon its completion in 1958. Akademgorodok, dubbed, ‘Science City,’ also had kindergartens and nurseries to accommodate upwards of 2800 children and schools to accommodate 6000 students. (Edit: This statement in particular refers to another ‘Academic City’) Later on, 65,000 scientists and families called this city their home. Akademgorodok was a small utopia residing within the failed reforms of the Khrushchev era.

In the end, Akademgorodok couldn’t live up to the hopes of the Soviet Union. At best the city achieved mixed results. Successes in the field of physics was coupled with failures in genetics and cybernetics. However within its confines existed an openness that didn’t exist elsewhere in Russia, especially during the repression of anti-Stalin or anti-Soviet sentiments. Topics that couldn’t be discussed in the streets of Moscow could be freely discussed in Akademgorodok.

Aerial view of the city. Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Luftbild_akademgorodok.jpg

Aerial view of the city.
Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Luftbild_akademgorodok.jpg

The collapse of the Soviet Union did not mean collapse of this city, though many of Russia’s scientists were reduced to poverty after the Soviet collapse. In the 1990’s when economic reforms allowed private investment in Russia, Akademgorodok saw $10 million in private investments. This grew to $150 million in 2006. The software company Novosoft, whose chief client was IBM, was founded here, and Intel have done some of their work here as well.

In Russian, the name is Академгородо́к, a combination of академия (akademiya, or academy) and город (gorod, or city).

City lies on the Ob Sea, 30 miles from Novosobirsk, a city in southwest Russia.

City lies on the Ob Sea, 30 miles from Novosobirsk, a city in southwest Russia.

Edit: It has come to my attention that there were not just one, but multiple of these ‘Academic Cities,’ with the one in Novosobirsk being the most prominent. The dlib eastview source refers to another one of these cities, in Minsk.





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6 Responses to Akademgorodok, or ‘Science City’

  1. snagy54 says:

    Interesting article. I had no idea Science city existed. Kind of surprised that this facility was not more successful considering the amount of work the Soviets put into it, but at least all the money spent on it has not gone to waste since it is being used today. This also is not the only city like this that the Russian’s made. The other city is ‘Star City’, the home of the Russian space program.

  2. abishop says:

    This post was really informative and eye-opening. I agree, I had no idea that the Science City existed, especially in such a far-away place like Siberia. It was really interesting to read the comparisons between Akademgorodok and traditional cities, like how the living conditions were often better in Siberia and food was less scarce, especially for doctorates. I think it’s fascinating to read how much money, work, and infrastructure the Soviets put into a city like this, and it’s a shame it didn’t work out as they planned, but I agree–at least the Science City is still being used by successful companies today. Really interesting post!

  3. oliva2015 says:

    This was a really cool post about something I had never heard about but is a very interesting topic. I find it interesting that the Soviet Union invested in the creation of such a city with the intention of creating a super advanced city which would spread to their entire society. It reminds me of Nazi research on human advancement through eugenics. It is also surprising that the ey allowed much more open freedoms of speech and ideas which were far from present in the rest of the Soviet Union.

  4. A. Nelson says:

    Good points in this post and in these comments! Check the reference to the article from the Current Digest, though. There were actually multiple “academic towns,” with the one in Novosibirsk being the most prestigious. The article refers to the construction of one in Minsk — which is on the other side of the country.

  5. GPittard says:

    Its crazy how the leaders of Russia knew that scientific breakthroughs could not happen in their society; therefore, in order to make their society advanced, they almost had to grant a “get out of jail free card” to members of academia so that they could study in peace without having to worry about government interference.

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