In one of his essays from the 1970s, Ryszard Kapuściński recalled: “When I came back from Africa, nobody asked me: ‘How are Tanzanians in Tanzania doing?’ but: ‘How are Russians in Tanzania doing?’ And instead of asking about Liberians in Liberia, the question was: ‘What about the Americans in Liberia?’”
The focus on Polish architects and planners in the two publications, generously put to debate by Steven Harris and Daria Bocharnikova, and perceptively reviewed by Viviana d’Auria and Elke Beyer, might suggest a similar, one sided view on architectural transfer, even if Poland’s role in the Cold War can be hardly compared to the two “superpowers.” Continue reading
With the two richly-illustrated exhibition catalogues on Polish architectural practices and their intertwinement with post-colonialism, (post)modernism, socialism, and globalization, Lukasz Stanek offers us a great deal to ponder. He does this with a reader-friendly lightness of style and wonderful documentation supported by attractive graphic design, though this does not keep his research from delving deeply into the implications that the export of intellectual labour and political ideology before and after 1989 represented. While PRL™ Export Architecture and Urbanism from Socialist Poland illustrates the significant contribution of Polish architects to framing modernist architecture as a globally effective solution to (urban) development, Postmodernism Is Almost All Right: Polish Architecture after Socialist Globalization reveals the impact of these experiences abroad on post-socialist Poland. Continue reading
PRL™ by Łukasz Stanek claims to be “an exhibition on magazine’s pages” and its sequel Postmodernism Is Almost All Right would be equally justified to do so. In fact, the two publications document two exhibitions shown in Warsaw, in the Museum of Technology in fall 2010 and in the Museum of Modern Art in fall 2011, representing consecutive stages of a long-term research endeavour on post-colonial planning, global technology transfer and the Cold War, documented on the web platform www.south-of-eastwest.net. The long credit lists underscore the teamwork of several researchers, architects and designers in a collaborative production process. Texts are set in parallel in English and Polish. Continue reading
Our second book discussion features two recently published exhibition catalogs by Łukasz Stanek: PRL™. Export Architecture and Urbanism from Socialist Poland / Eksport architektury i urbanistyki z Polski Ludowej, Text: Łukasz Stanek / Design: Metahaven, special supplement to Piktogram 15, 2011. Postmodernism Is Almost All Right: Polish Architecture after Socialist Globalization / Postmodernizm jest prawie v porządku: Polska architektura po socjalistycznej globalizacji Text: Łukasz Stanek / Design: Jayme Yen, edited by Warsaw Museum of Modern Art / Fundacja bęc zmiana, 2012. In these generously illustrated collections of architectural projects, diverse documents, and visual materials, the author investigates the export of socialist urbanism to the Global South between the 1960s and 1990s. He shows how the encounter between Polish architects, engineers, and urban planners with local experts and third parties involved in construction endeavors in the Middle East and Africa turned out to be truly transformative for all parties. In particular, Stanek traces how such encounters made architects reconsider and alter the architectural vocabulary of socialist modernism that is commonly associated with the architectural production of the Second World. In turn, their work reveals how traditional notions of the Cold War’s dynamics dominated by Washington and Moscow fails to capture the diverse relationships that existed between countries of the Second World and the Third World. And the motivations that drove Polish architects to seek out commissions in countries such as Ghana and Iraq are likewise complex and defy easy explanations. To begin our discussion, we have invited Elke Beyer and Viviana d’Auria to review the two exhibition catalogs. Readers are welcome to contribute comments to the posts featured below.
Please join us in congratulating Sonia Hirt (Virginia Tech) for winning Honorable Mention in the 2013 Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies for her book, Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-Socialist City (Wiley-Blackwell). The award will be presented at this year’s ASEEES conference in Boston, November 21-24, 2013.
First of all, many thanks to both Virág and Juliana for their generous and thoughtful reviews, as well as to Steve and Daria for their invitation and for making this discussion possible. There are a growing number of excellent scholarly studies that tackle the built environments of the Second World, and we are honored that Modernism In-Between is the first to be discussed here. Continue reading
The book offers a thoughtful and fascinating survey of the diverse architectures of socialist Yugoslavia. While each postwar socialist state defies attempts at easy categorization, the former Yugoslavia probably remains the most bewilderingly idiosyncratic of all. As a rare occurrence, the country was largely self-liberated in World War II. It was a close ally of the Soviet Union until it abruptly broke with the communist bloc in 1948 to later become a leading player in the Non-Aligned Movement. Its economy was socialized and planned but also promoted workers’ self-management and market mechanisms. As a result, it had a well-developed consumer culture while its citizens were also relatively free to travel. Continue reading
Modernism In-Between: the Mediatory Architectures of Socialist Yugoslavia (Vladimir Kulic, Marjore Mrduljas, Wolfgang Thaler, 2012) is a truly excellent book, with luminous and eloquent writing about a stunning body of architecture. An overview of some its many accomplishments should start with the images: abundant, colorful, of impeccable quality, and, most importantly, making available for an English readership, perhaps for the first time in such abundance and combination, a dizzyingly rich corpus of buildings.
Our first book discussion will begin on Wednesday, September 18. It will feature the recently published book, Modernism In-Between: The Mediatory Architectures of Socialist Yugoslavia (Berlin: Jovis, 2012) by Vladimir Kulić, Maroje Mrduljas, and Wolfgang Thaler.
In this beautifully illustrated book, the authors explore how the architects and urban planners of socialist Yugoslavia mediated a range of aesthetic, geopolitical, and national ideologies in rebuilding and forging the urban spaces of post-World War II Yugoslavia. The result was a modernism that was situated “in-between” multiple and often conflicting tendencies, at once quintessentially Yugoslav in its diversity and innovation, and representative of the larger tensions that informed socialist architecture and urban planning throughout the Second World. Indeed, the theme of “in-betweenness” is central to our study of urbanity in the Second World, making this book an ideal starting point for discussion. Juliana Maxim (University of San Diego) and Virág Molnár (The New School) will lead this first discussion. Readers are invited to submit comments to the posts below.
Second World Urbanity: Between Capitalist and Communist Utopias, is a scholarly project that explores the history of conceiving, building, importing, and inhabiting socialist cities past and present from Cuba to Yugoslavia and Russia to China. Initiated by historians Steven Harris and Daria Bocharnikova this project brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines to reflect on the specificity of urban design and its uses in the Second World. Our goal is to shatter a common image of the socialist cityscape as necessarily dull and grey, and offer a revised understanding of its limitations and achievements. The project is envisioned as a series of informal conversations, virtual and offline meetings, and a conference followed up by the publication of the selected essays.
The first meeting of our project, a virtual conference, was held July 30-31, 2012. Participants who submitted paper proposals posted additional comments on the overall project and individual paper proposals, and continued the conversation through video-conferencing on Google+ Hangouts. The next stage of our project is a major conference to be held in either spring or fall 2014, to be followed by the publication of a conference volume.
If you have questions and comments about the project, please drop us a line at email@example.com or post a comment on this blog.
All the best,
Daria and Steve