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The Aging Beauty Of Soviet Control Rooms

With their hundreds of buttons, blinking lights, and spartan, Space Age aesthetic, the control rooms of power plants in the old Soviet Union would be the perfect sets for a Flash Gordon movie directed by Stanley Kubrick–which all of the sudden I really wish existed.

The folks at the Present & Correct blog have curated a small collection of photographs of these small spaces. My favorite? The organized chaos of the control panels at the Metsamor light-water reactor nuclear power plant, which started operations in 1969 in Armenia and was still producing 40% of all of the Republic’s electricity as recently as 2015. A chilling thought, knowing that the reactor has no containment building whatsoever unlike its Western counterparts and that it was built to withstand a magnitude-7 earthquake–allegedly, this is the Soviet Union after all–on ground that is highly likely to experience a magnitude-8 quake in the coming years. I hope those cute little diner chef hats from the ’80s are lined in lead.

Control room, Metsamor nuclear power plant. [Photo: courtesy Present & Correct]
As a close runner-up comes the elegant simplicity of the custom two-seat control panel made for the Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station. This 3,000-foot-long gravity dam on the Angara River, in Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, can produce 22.6 terawatts hour each year (for comparison, the largest hydroelectric station in the U.S., the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, produces 20.2). One of the 67 hydroelectric stations built in the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1991, the 50 years of Great October–as the pompous Soviet government named it–started operations in 1967, an era clearly encoded in its design.

Both seem about as easy to use as the iPhone X.

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