Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exchanging Architecture and Urban Planning Practices during the Cold War: Between Political Ideology, Architectural Ambition, and Economic Opportunity

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exchanging Architecture and Urban Planning Practices during the Cold War: Between Political Ideology, Architectural Ambition, and Economic Opportunity

Article excerpt

In 1985 the German architecture critic and historian Udo Kultermann composed one of the first surveys of architecture in postwar Eastern Europe. The second chapter of that groundbreaking collection deals in particular with architecture production in Poland in the 20th century. In the short introduction to that chapter, which discusses some of the avant-garde realizations, Kultermann cites Polish designers' involvement in the conferences of the Congres International d'Architecture Moderne, an association of architects and planners that was founded in 1928 and which assembled the world's most prominent architects of that time to discuss and spread the principles of the Modern Movement. Furthermore, Kultermann mentions Polish architects' employment at the office of the 'grand master' of modernism, Le Corbusier, and their appointment at American universities. The author thus conceptualizes the Polish architectural production of the interwar period as an offspring of the 'International Style'. However, Kultermann also highlights the contributions of Polish designers to international competitions and commissions after the Second World War, organized not only in Dublin, Paris, and Madrid, but also in more 'exotic' places such as Iraq, the Congo, and Syria. The author even catalogs these projects in a subchapter entitled "Polnische Architekten im Ausland" (1985, pages 119-120), emphasizing that Poland became an active player on the international architecture and urban planning scene after 1945. Although it is remarkable that Kultermann includes these projects in a discussion of Polish architecture as early as 1985, he does not elaborate on any of these realizations in countries beyond Europe, let alone their raison d'etre.

Twenty-five years later, Lukasz Stanek finally addresses the work of Polish architects in the so-called 'Third World' (1) through the research, education, and exhibition project South of East-West, initiated in 2009. Through interviews and various kinds of archival research including historic documents, drawings, and photographs, Stanek maps the transfers of building and planning expertise between the 'Second World' and the Third World. Design became an increasingly global profession after the Second World War, with architecture and urban planning practices traveling extensively between the Northern and Southern hemispheres through development aid, imperialism, capitalism, geopolitical alliances, and other routes.

In 2005 Eric Verdeil addressed some of the key issues in the debate about this topic through a mapping of the actors, organizations, networks, and mechanisms involved in the transfers of design practices after the Second World War, particularly between developing countries and the rest of the world. The work of Stanek contributes to this new domain by closely analyzing the means and mechanisms of the export of architecture, urbanism, and building technology from Poland (and by extension 'socialist countries') to Africa and the Middle East during the Cold War (see http://www.south-of-eastwest.net), thus critically repositioning traditional 'center-periphery' narratives (eg, Culot and Thievaud, 1992). Stanek explains these transfers of building and (urban) design practices by arguing that, for Poland, the export of knowledge and expertise was a valued tool to foster and underline geopolitical alliances with 'developing countries'. Such countries, in the early years of the Cold War, became "important players in the confrontation between the socialist and the capitalist West" (Stanek, 2011, page 4). However, while the specificity of Stanek's work lies in the focus on the architecture and urban design practices exported from Poland, the following question remains: how does the Polish case speak 'beyond itself'?

In this review essay I show how the Polish case allows Stanek to develop more general arguments and issues that contribute fundamentally to our understanding of the transnational transfers of architecture and urban planning expertise to the Third World during the Cold War era. …

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