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The Eccentric Beauty of Rural, Soviet-Era Bus Stations

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A Soviet-era bus station in Córnaje, Belarus, featured in photographer Christopher Herwig's new book <b>Soviet Bus Stops</b>. All photos by Christopher Herwig
A Soviet-era bus station in Córnaje, Belarus, featured in photographer Christopher Herwig's new book Soviet Bus Stops. All photos by Christopher Herwig

If you were stuck in the middle of nowhere in, say, Armenia during Soviet times, your transportation options may have been limited. But according to the photos in Christopher Herwig's new book, Soviet Bus Stops, at least you had something interesting to look at while waiting for a ride. One-of-a kind bus stations, a type of infrastructure folk art, dot the landscape, having seemingly arisen from some far-off architecture contest to populate rural areas.

Herwig discovered this unique type of architecture during a bike trip from London to St. Petersburg in 2002. The Canadian photographer had been on similar journeys before and was struck by the gap between reality and the National Geographic fantasy of foreign travel. As he spent hours passing through flat, boring farmland, he made a game of snapping a photo every hour. As the trip began winding through Lithuania, he began to notice these exceptional bus stops.

Taraz, Kazakhstan

Kootsi, Estonia

He discovered they were officially designated "minor architectural forms." Locally inspired and created by road workers and artists, the stations remained unnoticed and outside the purview of the central Soviet bureaucracy.

"Because they're small, they flew under the radar," he says. "They could be frivolous and experimental. They couldn't really fail; they didn't need to convey any massive ideological opinion, and didn't even need to function that well. People got wet, it wasn't the end of the world."

Herwig staged a small exhibit of his work in Stockholm the year after his initial trip, and has since traveled through numerous countries including Ukraine, Moldova and Kazakhstan, where he lived for a few years, seeking out more of these eccentric structures. Due to their location and unique shapes, repair and maintenance is costly and many are currently crumbling or in disrepair, making his book an especially timely means of documentation.

An expert on the form, Herwig has chronicled stations in 14 countries over the decade-plus he's spent on this project. He like the oddball buildings because they offer a unique form of expression and oftentimes blend in with the landscape, especially some of the examples from Armenia, which, while Brutalist, appear to aim for a light and airy feel. But even he hasn't spent much time using them as initially intended, preferring to travel to sites via car, taxi or bike.

"The times I've traveled by bus have been the more painful times," he says. "Do you yell for the driver to stop so you can take a photo? Then you'll be stuck there for another day in the middle of nowhere."

Some of Herwig's photos from the Soviet Bus Stop series can be found at The Fence, a photo exhibit in Brooklyn up through September. His new book, Soviet Bus Stops, comes out this month.

Brutalist Concrete Gas Station A Thing of Surprising Beauty [Curbed]
13 Oddball Examples of Reclaimed Soviet Architecture [Curbed]
Capturing the Haunting Ruin of Industrial Ukraine, Post-USSR [Curbed]