Circulation, Translation, Transition–Tallinn, October 10-12, 2014

Second World Urbanity: Between Capitalist and Communist Utopias

Conference 2: Circulation, Translation, Transition

Institute of Art History, Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn

October 10-12, 2014


Friday, October 10 * All conference sessions will take place at the Estonian Academy of Arts Faculty of Art Culture building, Suur-Kloostri 11, Tallinn 10133, room 103.

12:00-12:30: Preliminary greetings and conference registration

12:30-14:00: Lunch nearby the Faculty of Art Culture Building

14:00-15:15: Introduction to the Conference. Steven E. Harris and Daria Bocharnikova

15:30-17:15 Panel 1: Second World Cosmopolitanism and the Circulation of Architectural Knowledge across Borders

 Chair: Mart Kalm (Estonian Academy of Arts)

 Vladimir Kulić (Florida Atlantic University), “The Hospitality Complex: Yugoslav Architecture and the Infrastructure of Global Encounters.” In 1961, Yugoslavia hosted the historic first Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries in Belgrade, which gathered twenty-five political leaders from around the developing world, thus marking the country’s arrival as an important player on the diplomatic scene. The previous year, the luxury resort of Sveti Stefan at the Montenegrin coast of the Adriatic opened its doors to the world’s jet-set, announcing the diversification of Yugoslavia’s nascent tourism towards the upscale market. These two events marked two different notions of hospitality driven by divergent intentions: the hosting of international events motivated by political representation, and tourism industry motivated by economic gain.  Over the following thirty years, however, these two kinds of hospitality would become increasingly intertwined as large international events led to the establishment of permanent tourism facilities, while the country’s status as an important tourist destination in itself became a political message. The result was, I propose, the emergence of a “hospitality complex,” which merged various forms of tourist industry with politics and ideology and allowed for their mutual reinforcement, while facilitating the circulation of the associated architectural knowledge on the global market. This paper will trace some of the key moments in the establishment of Yugoslavia’s hospitality complex, such as the arrival of Western expertise in the design and management of luxury hotels, the construction of the conference center Sava in New Belgrade for the 1977 meetings of the Conference for European Security and Cooperation, the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, and the construction of various conference centers and hotels in the non-aligned world.

Ines Tolic (University of Bologna), “Building a World City: The Reconstruction of Skopje in the Light of Global Ambitions and Local Needs.” In this paper, Tolic demonstrates how the reconstruction of Skopje after an earthquake in 1963 opened a space in which architects and urban planners on both sides of the Iron Curtain exchanged visions on reshaping cities. She focuses in particular on the role that international designers and planners under the United Nations played in making Skopje a “world city” where competing visions of urbanity and modernity interacted.

Steven E. Harris (University of Mary Washington), “Soviet Airports and Second World Urbanity in the Jet Age.” The worldwide expansion of commercial aviation in the second half of the 20th century spurred the construction of the mass passenger airport, which became an innovative site of cutting-edge architecture and representations of life in the future. Similar to their counterparts in the West, Soviet architects designed airports to communicate their country’s vision of the future and the ordinary passenger’s place in it. In doing so, Soviet architects did not merely copy Western airports but drew upon modernist design principles informed by their own constructivist tradition, as well as contemporary developments abroad. Moreover, they embraced modernist design for both practical and symbolic reasons: it would repair chronic deficiencies plaguing Stalin-era airports and simultaneously project a distinctly socialist path to modernity. The result, the modernist terminal, became the modern gateway to and from the post-Stalinist socialist city. This paper, part of my larger book project on the entangled history of Aeroflot and Pan Am, claims the modernist airport as a critical element of midcentury design and architecture in the socialist city, as well as the global culture of aviation in the jet age. Indeed, Soviet and Western airports were both objects of modernist design that circulated across the Iron Curtain and the very facilitators of such circulation when architects and urban planners traveled through them between East and West in the Cold War.

Discussant: Zayra Badillo Castro (School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London)

17:15-17:30: coffee break

17:30-19:00: Keynote Address by Katherine A. Lebow: “Was Vienna Red? Is Nowa Huta Green? Plans, People, and the Historical Imaginary.”

Katherine Lebow (Ph.D., Columbia University) is a historian of East Central Europe with interests in urban, social, cultural, and intellectual history who has taught widely in Europe and the U.S. Her recent publications include Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949-1956 (Cornell, 2013; forthcoming in Polish with Wydawnictwo ‘Czarne’) and “The Conscience of the Skin: Interwar Polish Autobiography and Social Rights,” Humanity 3:3 (awarded the 2013 Aquila Polonica prize for best article in Polish studies). She is a 2013-14 research fellow at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies.

19.30 Dinner

Saturday, October 11:

9:30: Coffee and tea  

10:00-11:45 Panel 2: Negotiating the Second World Architectural Canon

 Chair: Maros Krivy (Estonian Academy of Arts)

 Marija Dremaite (Vilnius University), “The Awarded: Soviet Architectural Prizes as the Representation of Modernist Urban Ideology?” In her paper, Dremaite examines architectural awards in the Soviet Union as a window onto the debates about urban planning, the impact of transnational contacts on Soviet practice, and the designs produced by Baltic architects and urban planners who won such awards.

 Michael Mackenzie (DePauw University), “Painters, Planners, and Bricklayers: Making the Social Circulate in Otto Nagel’s Young Bricklayer from the Stalinallee.” Otto Nagel’s painting Young Bricklayer from the Stalinallee (1953) is doubly discredited, first because it is a painting done in a discredited style or vocabulary, Socialist Realism, and second because it celebrates a discredited form and vocabulary of modern architecture, the historicist and grandiose, neoclassical style preferred by Stalin. The continuing debates over revisionist histories of Socialist Realist painting reveal the degree to which the history of modern art remains, four decades after the end of Modernism, beholden to aesthetic judgments which are entangled with moral judgments. Is it possible to think, more than twenty years after the end of Communism in East Germany, that this painting expressed a genuine self-identification with the goals and accomplishments of East German society, or even the state? To be more precise, did the painting effectively articulate a specific form of individual experience of the city, even a positive experience of the large-scale historical forces which shaped the built environment and one’s relationship to it, as construction worker, as resident, as pedestrian or shopper? Whose experience counts in such a history, the artist’s, or that of the workers whom he depicted?  And what was the nature of that experience in 1953? Was it only the frustration of the workers who rose up against the state in 1953? Or was there also genuine satisfaction in building a monumental city out of the rubble of the war? This paper will seek to frame the discussion of what Young Bricklayer from the Stalinallee might have authentically represented, and for whom, moving beyond the assumption of bad faith on the part of painter (and architect), using the analytical tools of Actor-Network Theory. It will consider the painting, and the construction project it refers to, as the products of a network of relations between painter, workers, architect, and bureaucrats, but also including elements such as building material supplies and wage pressures, as well as the relevant traditions of portrait painting and architectural typologies, and the weight of their respective symbolic capital.

Francisco Martínez (Tallinn University), “The Linnahall as Heritage in the Making.” A semi-ruined concert hall in Tallinn is examined as a representative case of Soviet heritage, paying attention to the effects and affects generated by its presence in the city. Aiming to outline the multiple meanings that the Linnahall arena produces in those individuals who encounter it, I draw on literature, interview data and personal experience outside and inside the building. I argue that the Linnahall condenses a large amount of people’s experiences, appearing as a palimpsest; also that the building has a threshold quality, enhancing perception, relating the present with events temporally remote and triggering personal consciousness. The Linnahall plays an intermediary role, talking back about loss, displacement and divergent futures envisioned – not just about overcome pasts and totalitarian ideologies. I conclude that the building has turned into an involuntary heritage, which has to be let alive in its entropic becoming (as Machu Picchu and the Acropolis). The Linnahall cannot be interpreted merely according to its life and afterlife, but it has to be understood with the people around it.

 Discussant: Tarmo Pikner (Tallinn University)

 11:45-12:00 Coffee break

 12:00-13:45 Panel 3: Second World Postmodernism: Between Translation of Western Trends and Local Critique of Modernism

 Chair: Patrick Laviolette (Tallinn University)

 Anna Alekseyeva (University of Oxford), “The Uniquely Socialist City: From Modernism to Socialist Realism.” During the 1970s and 1980s, both western and Soviet planners experienced an intellectual turn away from high modernist urban planning norms, spurning the vast, impersonal and utilitarian urban landscape of modernism. As they searched for new ways to promote urban social cohesion, planning professionals on both sides of the Iron Curtain rhetorically embraced an urban landscape characterized not only by a renewed emphasis on historical preservation, but also by a reinterpretation of the ideal spatial structure of the city and an espousal of ‘humanistic’ buildings. The postmodern turn in the West, however, spearheaded as it was by ideas of consumerist materialism, clearly had to be interpreted differently in the Soviet Union. My paper will therefore discuss how intellectual trends in planning and architecture were coded as uniquely ‘socialist’ by Soviet architects in an effort to differentiate them from similar developments in the West.

Fredo Rivera (Duke University), “¡Diez!: The Zafra and Meditations Regarding the Postmodern Plantation.” In 1969 Cuba announced a major campaign – the zafra – to harvest 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, to be exported to the Soviet Union and satellite states.  Following the 1959 revolution in Cuba a period of architectural experimentalism and political ambiguity would become transformed in the face of the Cold War and the rise of the international left, as Havana became a center of intellectual debates on decolonization and a tricontinental, Third World alliance across Asia, Africa and Latin America.  At the same time Cuba became more politically and economically dependent on the Soviet Bloc.  Drawing from scholar Antonio Benitez-Rojo’s notion of postmodernity and the Caribbean plantation – the “machine machine machine” – my paper aims to look at architectural production and urban space in Havana, Cuba from the 1970s (the “Quinquenio Gris”) into the 1990s (the “Special Period”) to understand what might constitute the postmodern condition in Cuba.  Particularly, I hope to show how the utopic aims of socialism in Cuba were impacted by the Cold War, changing markets of tourism, and economic crisis into the 1990s.

Andres Kurg (Estonian Academy of Arts), “Corners, Courtyards, Squares: Reworking Socialist Modernism.” This paper examines how architectural groups in Tallinn, Riga, and Moscow beginning in the 1970s provided a critique of Soviet urban architecture through alternative designs, paper architecture, and competitions. It proposes that these projects should be viewed not as a complete withdrawal from the socialist-modernist values but as reinterpreting and appropriating the dominant discussions and formats, as well as extending them and using them for new meanings. A further question is posed on the ways these groups could be compared to postmodern criticism of architecture in the West in the same time period.

Discussant: Sofia Dyak (Center for Urban History of East Central Europe)

13:45-16:00 – Lunch

16:00-17:45: Panel 4: Transition to and from Second World Urbanity

Chair: Epp Lankots (Estonian Academy of Arts)

Olga Sezneva (European University in St. Petersburg and University of Amsterdam),  “Master Plan, Master Land: city reconstruction and redevelopment in Kaliningrad.” Planning and building professionals in Kaliningrad, the former Koenigsberg annexed and incorporated to Russia in 1945, resettled and renamed, seem to develop a peculiar professional reflux: the material body of Konigsberg which seemed to evaporate from the urban landscape and physical structures of Kaliningrad, keeps coming back in professional visions, plans and designs. What is the specific role of these come backs, and what can they teach us about the circulation of architectural ideas?  The paper uses the case of 2014 architectural competition and contrasts it to master plans from the 1940s. By applying the notion of ‘translation’ as used in material semiotics, it shows that in addition to the horizontal plane of flow (of ideas, techniques and designs), there is a vertical one: history creates its own field of circulation different from the geography’s one. The paper examines master plans as a broad repertoire of practices of problematization, identification and claim formulation around and about history and place. It argues that more than a technical tool of experts, Master plan is the act of translation, of establishing equivalency between the worlds otherwise incommensurable. Architectural competition which results in a master plan, in my interpretation, is a mechanism of actor-network formation by which some of the actors impose themselves and their definitions on situations and others. The analysis thus contributes to studies of power by focusing on the master plan as an expert technology.

Markus Kip (York University), “Soviet Urbanism in Hanoi: The Afterlife of Soviet Landscapes at Nguyen Cong Tru Collective Housing and Thong Nhat Park.” (Co-authors, Lisa Drummond and Douglas Young). This paper highlights different ways in which the built environment, that once was meant to embody Soviet ideas, becomes taken up and is contested as heritage. We will look at two case studies in central Hanoi: Nguyen Cong Tru collective housing block and Thong Nhat Park. While the political regime has largely viewed the urban environment of the Soviet period as inadequate and seeks complete redevelopment, the rationales are remarkably different than in post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In Hanoi, today’s inadequacies of Soviet urbanism are not related to the failure of the socialist experiment, instead they point to the need for renewing socialism. The regime’s ability to inflect the meaning of socialism at will, however, is limited. The case studies demonstrate that the invocation of socialism in the redevelopment plans also raises the spectre of resistance against them.

 Kimberly Elman Zarecor (Iowa State University), “The Ordinary Environment of Socialism in a Post-Socialist World.” In this paper, Zarecor examines the history of Ostrava’s urban plan dating back to the mid-1950s as a key to understanding why some cities of the Second World that were transformed under state socialism have continued to prosper or at least remained stable in the transition to their post-socialist existence. She considers how the absence of a central plan in the city and its incorporation of a well-integrated transportation web have made Ostrava an exceptional city in the face of post-socialist challenges.

Discussant: Tauri Tuvikene (Tallinn University and University College London)

18.15-21.00 — Film screening of Sügisball (Autumn Ball, 2007), followed by a discussion with director Veiko Õunpuu.

21.00 — Late evening dinner in Tallinn.

 Sunday, October 12

 10.00 – 13.00 –  A city tour of Tallinn.

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