GenPlan 101: How to Read a Socialist General Plan Drawing

The socialist version of the master plan is the general’nyi plan, or general plan (GenPlan for short). It is important to insist on terminology here. Socialist general plans—and the intimated processes required to instantiate them—differ measurably from so-called capitalist master plans in scope of ambition and temporal persistence. Continue reading

The Master Plan and the Socialist City

In the course of exploring the planning and architecture of any given city, scholars are often eager to reproduce an image of its Master Plan, if one is available. Such a document immediately offers the scholar’s audience a snapshot, bird’s-eye abstraction of the city with which to orient themselves. Continue reading

The Black Sea in the Socialist World

The Black Sea in the Socialist World

6 & 7 February 2015

Birkbeck College, University of London

Conference Programme

Supported by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, The Wellcome Trust (Small Grant in the Humanities), The Society for the Social History of Medicine, and The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

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(Thoughts about) more chapters to be written – and even more comparison!

On behalf of the whole editorial team, the authors and photographers, I want to thank Daria and Steven, for presenting and discussing our book on your forum, and Anne, Carmen, and Igor and for their three reviews with competent and constructive feedback.

I would like to start with thanking Carmen, for acknowledging the visual structure and partly ‘artful’ concept of the book, although not explicitly discussed in the text. Indeed, we had long argued and then consciously chose a publishing house that would go for any design we wanted – as long as we could afford it within our limited financial resources. Continue reading

Refuting Exoticism

Already in 1974, Henri Lefebvre asserted how “leisure is as alienated and alienating as labour; as much an agent of co-optation as it is itself co-opted. […] Once a conquest of the working class, in the shape of paid days’ off, holidays, weekends, and so on, leisure has been transformed into an industry, into a victory of neocapitalism and an extension of bourgeois hegemony to the whole space.”[1]

The “bourgeois hegemony” over spaces of leisure that Lefebvre reproaches is truly unrelated to the type of socio-political settings of a particular context, be it socialist or capitalist. However, making any two cases commensurable for the purposes of evaluation is never ideologically neutral, and histories of post-socialist development in Central and Eastern Europe often run the risk of an inherent exoticism. Socialism can indeed seem as a valid common denominator that offers a meaningful frame to discuss and compare specific building cultures; it can perform as an appropriate expedient of comparison but only if it simultaneously questions the rootedness of its own discourse. Continue reading

Sea, Sun and Socialism: Croatia and Bulgaria in a Cross-perspective

While being the first of its kind, the volume edited by Elke Beyer, Anke Hagemann and Michael Zinganel, Holidays after the Fall: Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia (Berlin: Jovis, 2013) is also a long-awaited publication. Indeed, seaside architecture and urbanism in the former communist bloc have stirred attention and debates in recent years (there have been a few papers presented at various conferences and Michael Zinganel chaired a session on this subject at the 2nd EAHN Conference in Brussels, 2012), but this is the first time that a book is dedicated to the topic. This is an additional reason to welcome Holidays after the Fall as a much needed expansion of the historiographical field on Eastern European architecture.

Conceived in an almost symmetrical structure – a general introduction looking at the seaside architecture from a brief historic perspective (targeting mainly the interwar years) and two sections, each treating one of the two case studies – the book offers the reader a complex framework for understanding its topic. This complexity is the result of a cross-reading on multiple levels. The first level is the geographic one, based on an intelligent choice – Bulgaria and Croatia (as part of the former Yugoslavia): “orthodox” state-socialism versus non-alignment and the “third way”; the closest satellite to the Soviet-Union versus the closest socialist country to the Western world and to capitalism. (Focusing on Croatia, as the inheritor of most of the Adriatic coast, pushes this striking parallel further, since, historically speaking, the region was the closest to Western thinking and production before 1945 within the entire Kingdom of Yugoslavia.) Continue reading

Socialist Holidays Before and After the Fall

Holidays after the Fall: Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia explores the transition from socialist modernism in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to recent “boom and bust” tourism development in capitalist Bulgaria and Croatia. The “remarkable [socialist] showcases of modern architecture and equally state-of the-art urban concepts” (30) are not the standardized, grey architecture high rises of the capitalist imagination, but a diverse range of creative forms ranging from hotel towers, to Bulgarian low-rise hotels modeled on traditional monasteries, to the terraced village-like complexes of the Adriatic. Post-socialist tourism, in contrast, has meant speculative property development, corrupt politics and zoning, and profound environmental degradation. The contributors to this edited volume are attentive to the physical restructuring of resorts and hotels over the period, and to economic and political changes including “revised models of mass tourism and the passage of ownership, investment and management into the hands of the respective countries’ new elites.” (32). The first half of the book explores the history and post-socialist restructuring of Bulgaria, the second Croatia. The subtleties and specificities of socialist and post-socialist holiday spaces are revealed in the comparison (if often implicit rather than explicit) between these two countries, which share a socialist past and a capitalist present, but a different future in that Croatia’s natural resources are still largely intact. Holidays after the Fall is appropriately and usefully interdisciplinary with contributions from specialists in urban planning, architecture, history, and German and Dutch studies. In addition to lavishly illustrated chapters—one of the deep pleasures of this volume are the magnificent images—the volume is bookended by color photographs of Croatian hotel architecture in the 1970s and Bulgarian coast resorts in 2012, the later as photographed by Nikola Mihov. Continue reading

The Infrastructure of Socialist Heterotopias

We’re pleased to announce the start of our next book discussion, which will be on Holidays after the Fall: Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia, edited by  Elke Beyer, Anke Hagemann and Michael Zinganel (Berlin: Jovis, 2013).  This volume is a remarkable example of interdisciplinary comparative inquiry into the history of modern and modernist spaces of leisure and joy in Bulgaria and Croatia. The major focus of the book is on the transformation of the built infrastructure of seaside tourism, understood as “a genuinely modern phenomenon” (35), from the 1950s to the present. Looking at the truly transnational experience of seaside holidays as well as the unequivocally international typology of seaside architecture, the volume poses a series of important questions about the nature of state socialism and market economy, the similarities between East and West, and the heterogeneity of the Second World itself.

Halu_pool_nochkleiner-1024x745 Haludovo Hotel Palace. Photo: Daniele Ansidei 2012. Croatia


Contrary to the enduring emphasis on fundamental differences between East and West in the scholarly literature, the editors bring to our attention the striking similarities between spaces of leisure conceived in different economic and political settings. What do these similarities mean? The editors argue that the governments of both political blocs were surprisingly flexible and eager to learn from their Cold War rivals. At the same time, the citizens of both blocs also shared a common (universal?) desire of “getting away from it all” (53) that resulted in rather comparable cultural practices and holidays routines. All these forces at play contributed to the production of heterotopia that exhibited similar features. This insight into similarities of leisure spaces and practices across the East-West divide allows us to blur even further the boundary between the First and the Second Worlds and to show how mutually constitutive or transnationally constituted both political blocs were. But this also means that the political boundary that separated these worlds needs to be further historicized and problematized. How do we tackle the contradiction between palpable Cold War tensions and striking similarities on both sides of the Iron Curtain? How do we understand the political rhetoric of global difference in the times of intense globalisation and standardisation of the built environment and everyday practices?

Holidays after the Fall, by no means, suggests that the world was simply becoming more and more uniform. On the contrary, the editors and the contributors alike are very attentive to differences. Selecting Croatia and Bulgaria as two case studies, the editors bring the complex diversity within the Second World to the fore. This comparison raises questions about the potentialities of the Second World. It pushes us to further investigate the multitude of possibilities entailed in the project of building socialism as a global alternative to capitalism, and encourages us to study both roads taken and abandoned at the time (as well as some unexpected turns, such as the history of the Haludovo resort pictured above). By tracing the fate of socialist infrastructure beyond 1989, the volume also attempts to grasp the difference between the realities of state socialism and radical marketization in the Bulgarian case and incomplete privatization in the Croatian case. Again, how do we understand these sharp contrasts between different kinds of state socialism? What does the history of transition to the new world order where market economy is essentially viewed as the only possible modus operandi tell us about the specificity of the Second World political economy and the codex of the planning profession?


To continue our discussion of Holidays after the Fall, we have invited Anne Gorsuch (University of British Columbia), Carmen Popescu (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne), and Igor Ekštajn (GSD, Harvard University) to share their questions and observations. The editors Elke Beyer (ETH Zurich/IRS Erkner) and  Michael Zinganel will also contribute to this discussion. And readers of our blog are welcome to post comments on this or other posts.