Visions and Foundations–Washington, DC, April 11-12, 2014

Second World Urbanity: Between Capitalist and Communist Utopias

Conference 1: Visions and Foundations

Georgetown University

April 11-12, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Location: The Friday morning sessions (9:00am-12:15pm) will be held in the MSFS (Masters in the School of Foreign Service) Conference Room, located on the 7th Floor of the Intercultural Center (ICC) on the campus of Georgetown University. To access the room, take the elevators in the front entrance of the ICC. See map and directions here.

9:00am-9:20am: Coffee and tea

9:20am-10:00am: Opening of the conference and introductory presentation / Daria Bocharnikova and Steven E. Harris

10:15am-12:00pm: Panel I: Rethinking the Centers and Peripheries of the Second World

Chair: Anton Fedyashin (American University)


Zayra Badillo Castro (School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London), “Creating a Soviet Environment in the Muslim Periphery: Khrushchevkas in Tashkent.” This paper looks at the different plans to create a soviet and modern experience through the development of a mikrorayon in the outskirts of Tashkent in the 1950s. The construction of the four-storey panel buildings or khrushchevkas in this area brought to the fore a debate among local officials and Moscow regarding the importance of Central Asian culture and its traditional way of life in the design of any building for the region. These debates and the population’s responses to new housing illustrate two competing visions for the so-called Socialist City of Asia, Tashkent, and the challenges central authorities confronted in integrating Uzbeks to the new Soviet way of life.

Christian Hess (Sophia University), “Second World Urbanity and Chinese Cities: The Case of Dalian, 1945-1955.” Hess examines how Soviet and Chinese Communist authorities remade the northeast port city of Dalian after World War II. With particular attention to a massive redistribution of the city’s housing, he explores how the reinvention of this city drew both incorporated and rejected elements of its colonial past under Japanese control while attempting to create an entirely new, socialist cityscape informed by Soviet models of urbanity.

Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter College), “Socialism as Exchange.” In the so-called Second World, the immediate pattern for the interactions between the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries (but also communist states in Asia) largely grew out of Soviet encounters during the Second World War. The Soviets sought European factories, industrial blueprints, and technical components, in addition to keeping an eye on East European research institutes for innovations they could adopt. Yet it is also true that socialist countries became increasingly involved in exchanging ideas and blueprints among themselves (efforts that were institutionalized, notably, in the Council for Mutual Economic Aid, which was established in 1949). Beyond formal arrangements, socialist states also created opportunities for informal contacts and borrowings. The resulting socialist material culture — most evident in cities — was thus a kind of amalgam: a product of formal and informal acquisitions, centralized planning, imported technology, and a profound sense of a competition with the capitalist West. The obvious places to look for the socialist type have been “model cities,” usually named after Stalin, from Poland to Hungary and Bulgaria. But this paper addresses what happened to the socialist type, such as it was, in light of crucial ideological disputes — like the Sino-Soviet split and China’s challenge to Soviet supremacy in the Second World (and the Third). The contribution is based on evidence gathered from a number of former communist archives (mainly in Albania, Germany, and Russia).

Discussant: Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University)

12:00pm-2:00pm: Lunch on the Georgetown University campus or M Street.

Location: The afternoon session and keynote address will both be held in the Mortara Center on the Georgetown University campus. For a map and directions go here.

2:00pm-3:45pm: Panel II: Typologies of Second World Urbanity: Atom City, Closed City, Science City

Chair: Sarah Cameron (University of Maryland at College Park)


Evangelos Kotsioris (Princeton University), “Zelenograd: A City Made of Electrons.” In this paper, Kotsioris examines the design, construction, and publicity surrounding Zelenograd: an entirely new satellite city outside Moscow that was envisioned as a major center for research, development and production of microelectronics.

Xenia Vytuleva (Columbia University), “On Dwelling and Particular Fragility of ZATO’s Network.” In her paper, Vytuleva examines the origins and evolution of closed cities or ZATOs in the Soviet Union and their relationship to another type of secret Soviet space, the Gulag. She explores how the simultaneously secret and utopian aspects of these cities constituted a new and particular form of socialist urbanity, reflected in later dissident artistic practices.

Anna Veronika Wendland (Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, and Justus Liebig University), “Visions and Foundations of the Atomograd: Nuclear Technology, Urban Utopia, and (Post-)Soviet Social Identities.” In her paper, Wendland explores a new type of city that appeared in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s—the atom city—which was created to serve the nuclear energy industry and, unlike closed cities, was open and incorporated into propaganda about Soviet technology and progress.

Discussant: Steven Barnes (George Mason University)

3:45pm-4:30pm: Coffee break

4:30pm-6:00pm: Keynote Address: Kate Brown (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), “Plutopia: How the Nuclear Weapons Complex Created Capitalist and Communist Utopias”

Kate Brown is an Associate Professor of History at UMBC.  She is the author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013), which won the George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society for Environmental History.  Brown’s A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004) was awarded the American Historical Association’s George Louis Beer Prize for the Best Book in International European History.  Brown’s most recent book Being There: The Misadventures of Writing History, about the difficulties of trying to record the lost histories of modernist wastelands, will be published by the University of Chicago in 2015.

7:00pm: Dinner in Georgetown. Location TBA.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Location: All Saturday sessions will be held in the Mortara Center on the Georgetown University campus. For a map and directions go here.

9:00am-9:30am: Coffee and tea

9:30am-11:15am: Panel III: New Spaces for New Citizens: The Many Visions of Second World Architects

Chair: Daria Bocharnikova (European University Institute, Florence and St. Petersburg State University)


Anna Bokov (Yale University), “A Tale of Sotzgorod: From Flying, Dynamic and Green to a Byproduct of Soviet Industrialization.” Discussions of Socialist resettlement permeated Soviet architectural circles during the first Five-Year Plan. The ambitious task of transforming an agrarian country into an industrialized nation called for a fundamental restructuring in all spheres of life. The notion of a new Socialist city, or “Sotzgorod,” emerged as the key element in that restructuring. Sotzgorod reified the ideas of a new mode of life, or “noviy byt,” and addressed the larger geo-political agenda of the Soviet state. Central to the resettlement discussions were projects by “urbanists” and “disurbanists,” affiliated with Constructivists, as well as utopian visions of Flying, Dynamic and Green “New Cities” led by the Rationalists, members of ASNOVA and ARU. However the realities of Soviet city building had little to do with either of these concepts. This paper will examine Sotzgorod by tracing its origins from the urban utopias of the Avant-Garde to its built realizations. By the early 1930s the utopian quest for “noviy byt” and the dreamy visions of future cities gave way to the harsh realities of rapid industrialization. Confronted with the task of urbanizing vast territories in order to mine natural resources, Soviet leadership abandoned the intellectual city-of-the-future debates and went straight for results by inviting foreign specialists. Several teams of progressive German architects were brought in to design workers housing, but most resources were allocated to the industrial sector, led by American engineers working for Henry Ford. Despite the dedicated city planning efforts, the real socialist cities were often a byproduct – secondary to the gigantic militarized assembly lines they were meant to serve.

James Andrews (Iowa State University), “Narrating the Soviet Metropolis: Display Technology, Visual Culture, and the Rhetorical Value of Underground Architectural Space in Moscow.” This paper examines the visual iconography of the Moscow Metro as a window into the urban politics of Soviet Russia and the ideological and rhetorical power of technological projects in cities. The paper provides a framework to view how everyday practices and public architecture intersected in Soviet times. It uses a synthetic theoretical framework that links Michel de Certeau’s material cultural perspective with the “chronotope” of philologist/literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. In doing so, my aim is to understand visually iconographic architectural spaces in highly politicized urban contexts (i.e. the Moscow Metro) as evolving over time like a novel.

Marie-Alice L’Heureux (University of Kansas), “Selling and Buying the Socialist City: Architectural Practice and the State.” The architectural field has high symbolic value but its stylistic concerns are not completely separate from the political and economic fields even under the most benign or repressive ideological conditions.  Shifting political patronage and economic change alone, however, do not shape cultural production.  The organization of the field of cultural production itself and changes within in—its membership structure, rules, activities, reward system, and values—account for many variations and continuities in the production of the built environment. I look at cities and urban centers considered ‘socialist” and address not only the conceptualization of socialist cities but also how these worked out in practice. Many cities and urban areas created in the 20th century followed modernist principles that isolated specific uses and users from each other spatially and hierarchically in order to create healthier spaces. Western architects, engineers and designers from the Bauhaus and CIAM lived and worked in the Soviet Union and brought ideas about how cities should be designed and organized in an industrializing age thereby intermingling the expression of two very different economic systems. Henri Lefebvre argues that socialism failed in creating a space of its own or revolutionizing the production of the space that it had inherited, but this might be true only at the larger regional scale and not in peripheral and local contexts. Soviet officials explicitly wanted new and revised cities to reflect a clearly distinctive Marxist-Leninist ideology, which was not clearly defined.  This created difficulties for architects in Estonia who resisted the imposition of socialism in their country and worked again it.  They were successful in a negative sense in what was not built.  The legacy of socialist central planning is still evident in Tallinn, Estonia, despite twenty-five years of rampant capitalist global-style development.

Discussant: Julie Buckler (Harvard University)

11:30am-1:30pm: Lunch on the Georgetown University campus or M Street.

1:30pm-3:15pm: Panel IV: Revising Standardization: The Diverse Foundations of Second World Urbanity

Chair: Steven E. Harris (University of Mary Washington)


Annemarie Sammartino (Oberlin College), “Sociology, Urban Planning and the East German Housing Program.” The East German Housing Program was an attempt in the 1970s and 1980s to build over 1 million units of housing before 1990. This paper argues that the East German DBA (Deutsche Bauakademie, German Construction Academy) viewed the Housing Program as an opportunity to create a new socialist citizen, not as a concession to consumer desires. This model of a new socialist citizen was developed in response to sociological and urban planning studies and theory that the DBA began to engage with starting in the mid-1960s, including sociological studies of the GDR’s own cities and West German and American theorists of urban planning. I demonstrate how the WBS-70 apartment model and the housing estate Marzahn were both the result of this rethinking of the meaning and design of private and public space. This paper complicates the role of consumption and consumer desire in understanding housing in the latter part of the socialist period.

Juliana Maxim (University of San Diego), “Socialist Pastoral: Modern Architecture, Vernacular Architecture, and the Role of Nostalgia in Socialist Architectural Culture.” Focusing on Romania in the 1950s and 1960s, Maxim examines the case of the Village Museum in Bucharest, an open-air collection of rural architecture and a beloved destination of the urban (and apartment-dwelling) masses in search of pastoral leisure. The talk discusses the role that the ‘rustic hut’ held in the spatial imagination of socialism and explores the ways in which the vernacular model overlapped with the official agenda of rationalized architectural design and production.

Virág Molnár (New School for Social Research), “Beyond the Socialist Housing Estate: Informal Building Practices and Socialist Suburbanization.” Socialist-era housing in former Eastern Bloc cities is routinely equated with vast prefabricated housing estates, which are considered the ultimate physical expression of the state’s total control over the population and conditions of everyday life. Contrary to this widely held view, private housing construction in some countries such as Hungary outstripped public housing construction throughout the entire socialist period, rendering housing construction highly politicized from below as well. Private dwellings were erected overwhelmingly in the form of single family homes in small towns, villages and the outer areas of large cities. Their construction relied heavily on the informal economy: building services provided by the “second economy” as well as self-help building practices rooted in pre-socialist and pre-modern traditions of reciprocal labor exchange (called kaláka in Hungarian). The paper explores how these informal building practices shaped the built environment and material culture of socialism while also setting the limits of post-socialist urban transformations.

Discussant: Kathleen Smith (Georgetown University)

3:15pm-3:45pm: Coffee break

3:45pm-5:00pm: Roundtable: Teaching the History of Socialist Cities

Marie-Alice L’Heureux (University of Kansas); Annemarie Sammartino (Oberlin College); Steven Harris (University of Mary Washington)

5:15pm-6:00pm: Concluding session: Daria Bocharnikova and Steven E. Harris

7:00pm: Dinner in Georgetown

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