While travelling around the former Soviet republics, German photographer Peter Ortner found himself drawn to roadside architecture — so much so that he ended up documenting over 500 works.

He compiled a collection of his photographs from over the years, and published them in a book: ‘Back in the USSR’, under Jovis Press.

“It all started during a trip to Uzbekistan with my wife”, says Peter, “after a few days on the road, we kept seeing these structures along the highway.”

They were so struck by the eclectic examples of micro-architecture, that they vowed to go back and dedicate their next trip to photographing them.

He noticed that “compared to our Western counterparts, which are typically filled with massive advertisements and glass and steel, these places were sheer punk.”

As the structures were small-scale and often in rural areas, architects didn’t have to receive the green-light from Moscow to bring their designs to life. Due to this, the bus stops provided a favourable environment for artistic experimentation.

“The Soviet Union could be inflexible and centralized. In these designs there is, at least for me, some kind of freedom and innocence,” Peter says.

“Another interesting thing is the sociological aspect of these small houses. They are designed for waiting, connecting meeting points and shelter, yet designs like these have given non-places an identity.”

Peter traced his way through the former Soviet republics, following a vague interpretation of the ‘Silk Road’.

“Of course no actual road as such exists, but we tried to cover countries along the trail like Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, as well as Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and some others.”

Since there is no pre-existing map of the bus stops, finding them was not easy, and often Peter came upon them by pure chance.

“In some countries there were main roads with lots of bus stops on the route to the airport or something, but in other places, such as Azerbaijan, it was quite some effort to find the right spots.”

Locating the stops was one thing, but setting up once there was an entirely different hurdle. “Some people would sit there waiting, and wouldn’t know what I was doing. It resulted in some quite funny conversations. Sometimes official policemen would give me a hard time. They would accuse me of parking wrong and try to fine me.”

Incidents sometimes took an even sharper turn, “I even remember being forced by gun to stop taking photos and leave the place. I still came back later though!” Peter says.

Challenges also arose when it came to composition. “Sometimes the landscape is disruptive or the light would be coming from the wrong direction.”

While many of the shots in the book are quite peaceful, he disputes that many of them appear way more tranquil than they actually were.

“Sometimes I would be shooting near highways of several lanes and dense traffic and noise. It was hard dashing into the middle of the road to take pictures between all these big vans.”

After his travels, Peter had photos of around 1,000 bus stops, which he whittled down to 500 before publishing.

As for the future of the structures, he thinks that while some may be restored and are in nice condition in places like Crimea, in others they could end up disappearing completely. “In Azerbaijan, they already got rid of alot of them since they want everything to be new”, he says.

Peter has just released a new book about Berlin’s Tegel airport. “The airport is regarded as a classic in German architecture, yet is set to close its doors this year. It had some very good design features, however it had become a little overcrowded and shabby. I want to show the essence of the building, without the advertisements or coffee booths, just as it was.”

The photographer contemplates that perhaps he is drawn to it for the same reason he took to the bus stops: “to have a look behind the shabbiness and prospect of demolition, to look at the purpose, form and color, behind the curtains of today’s use.”